A pictorial journey
• During the Middle Ages, torture was a
very common way to punish offenders.
Following are the most common torture
devices used during the Middle Ages.
Viewer discretion is advised.
• Torture was frequently employed during
the Middle Ages to punish criminals and
extract confessions. Hundreds of
devices were used including The Rack
and The Chair.
Did torture work?
• Even though thousands died in
unimaginably painful ways, torture
wasn't as frequent as most of us
believe. During the Inquisition only 1 or
2 percent of the heretics or criminals
were subject to long periods of torture -
the rest were simply incarcerated or
punished in other ways.
Who determined torture?
• Most medieval towns had a council to
determine a person's guilt. Only in the
most severe of cases, such as murder
or treason, was the victim tortured. In
the majority of cases he was
incarcerated or simply vanished from
the town and never allowed back.
• In bigger cities such as London the law was
more harshly enforced. Many castles had
torture chambers, usually located in the
dungeon or tallest tower, where many could
be tortured at the same time. Burning at the
stake and other methods were not the
Sunday spectacle we think. When they
happened, they often occurred inside the
castle - away from the population. When a
town was becoming rebellious, open acts of
torture frequently occurred.
• The Middle Ages were not a
period one would like to live
in, but they were not
extremely unfair and
bloodthirsty either. Many
towns never tortured a
person, resorting to
banishment instead. On the
contrary, many leaders used
torture extremely frequently
such as Vlad the Impaler.
The Spanish Tickler
• The victim was naked and tied
making him or her completely
defenseless. Then the torturers
began the (sometimes public) act of
mutilating the victim. They often
began with the limbs and slowly
moved into the chest, back, neck
and finally the face.
In short, the Spanish Tickler or Cat's
Paw, is nothing but an extension to
the torturer's hand. The spikes were
sharp enough to tear anything in
• The triangular-shaped end of the judas cradle was
inserted in the victim's anus or vagina. This torture
could last, depending on some factors discussed
below, anywhere from a few hours to complete days.
The time it took someone to die varied enormously
from individual to individual. Torturers would
sometimes add weight to the victim's legs as to
increase pain and hurry the victim's death. Other
torturers would place oil on the device which
increased pain considerably.
This device was rarely, if at all, washed. If the victim
did not die quickly enough, or their painful execution
was interrupted, they would invariantly die from an
The victim was sometimes rocked or made fall
repeatedly onto the "pyramid". This was done so
torturers could acquire vital information from the
victim. If he or she refused to talk, the torturer
would either add more weight to the victim or make
him or her fall repeatedly on the device.
• The victim was placed inside the "coffin".
Torturers were well-known for forcing
overweight victims into the device, or even
making the "coffin" slightly larger than
normal to make the victims more
The period of time a victim was to be kept
inside the coffin was determined by his or
her crime. Very serious crimes, such as
blasphemy, were punished by death inside
the coffin where the victim was to be kept
inside under the sun with animals eating his
or her flesh.
The Rack Torture
• The torturer turned the handle causing the
ropes to pull the victim's arms. Eventually, the
victim's bones were dislocated with a loud
crack. If the torturer kept turning the handles,
some of the limbs were torn apart, usually the
• Sometime this method was limited to
dislocating a few bones, but the torturer often
went too far and rendered the legs or arms
(sometimes both) useless. In the late Middle
Ages, some new variants of this instrument
appeared. They often had spikes that
penetrated the victim's back - as the limbs
were pulled apart, so was his spinal cord
increasing not only the physical pain, but the
psychological one of being handicapped at
The Wheel Torture
• The device consists of a large wooden wheel with many spokes. The
victim's limbs were tied to the spokes and the wheel itself was slowly
revolved. Through the openings between the spokes, the torturer
usually hit the victim with an iron hammer that could easily break the
victim's bones. Once his bones were broken, he was left on the wheel to
die, sometimes placed on a tall pole so the birds could feed from the
• This device was used as a capital punishment during the Middle Ages.
Reserved for hated criminals, The Wheel always killed its victim, but did
so very slowly.
• The victim's fingers were placed
inside the instrument and slowly
crushed as the torturer turned
the handle on top. This method
was primarily used to extract
confessions as it was both
painful and very lasting.
• The same instrument was also
used to crush victim's toes.
The Rat Torture
• The victim was completely restrained
and tied to the ground or any
horizontal surface. A rat was then
placed on his stomach covered by a
metallic container. As the container
was gradually heated, the rat began
to look for a way out - through the
Digging a hole usually took a few
hours of agonizing pain for the
victim. This almost invariantly
resulted in death.
• The victim was tied to an inverted
position. This had several "benefits":
first, it assured sufficient blood
diverted to the brain, second, it
slowed down the loss of blood and
third, it humiliated the victim.
• While some victims were cut
completely in half as a symbolical
gesture, most had only up to their
abdomen cut, this was done to
prolong the time of death.