During the Middle Ages, torture was considered a legitimate way to extract confessions, punish offenders, and perform executions. Some methods were considerably crueler than others — these 10 being among the most barbaric and brutal.
Europe's Medieval period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. During this time, torture was often used to extract confessions, or obtain the names of accomplices or other information about crimes. Laws and local customs did not impose limits on the treatment of prisoners or the extent to which torture could be inflicted. In fact, confessions were not considered genuine or sincere when so-called "light torture" was used (such as toe wedging and strappado).
Different types of torture were used depending on the victim's crime, gender, and social status. Skilled torturers would use methods, devices, and instruments to prolong life as long as possible while inflicting agonizing pain. Many prisoners were tortured prior to execution in order to obtain additional information; in many of these cases, the execution method was part of the torture endured by prisoners.
There are dozens upon dozens of different torture techniques and devices. I recently visited the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments in Prague where these 10 caught my eye. But before you read any further, be warned that they are very graphic and disturbing.
1. The Judas Cradle
Also called the Judas Chair, this Italian invention was particularly cruel.
Using ropes, a prisoner would be lowered above the pyramid-shaped "seat" with the point inserted into the anus or vagina. Victims would be tortured by intense pressure and stretching of the orifice, resulting in permanent damage. In many cases, the victim would succumb to rips in the muscle tissue that would later become infected. Weights would be added to facilitate the effect, often resulting in death by impalement.
A similar device, called the Spanish Donkey (or wooden horse), achieved a similar effect. Victims straddled the triangular "horse" and were forced to place their full body weight on their crotch, which rested on the point of the angle.
2. Saw Torture
This was a form of execution in which a living person was sawed in half, either longitudinally or transversely, through the central body mass.
This was done either by sawing the individual in half across or along the body length.
3. Pear of Anguish
This heinous contraption was used during the Middle Ages as a way to torture women who were accused of facilitating a miscarriage. It was also used to punish liars, blasphemers, and homosexuals. The device was inserted into one of the prisoner's orifices — the vagina for women, the anus for homosexuals, and the mouth for liars and blasphemers (which is why it's also known as the Choke Pear).
The device featured four metal leaves that slowly separated from each other as the torturer turned the screw at the top. The torturer could use it to tear the skin, or expand it to its maximal size to mutilate the victim. It rarely caused death, but was often followed by other torture methods.
4. Breaking Wheel
Also known as the Catherine wheel, this torture device was used to torture and kill prisoners for public executions.
The device was typically a large wagon wheel with radial spokes. Offenders were were lashed to the wheel and their limbs beaten with a club or iron cudgel. The gaps in the wheel allowed the limbs to give way and break. Disturbingly, the survival time after being "broken" could be extensive, with some accounts of victims living for several days prior to succumbing to their mortal injuries.