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Medieval Torture Report

Torture (Latin torquere, to twist), in law, infliction of severe bodily pain either as punishment, or to compel a person to confess to a crime, or to give evidence in a judicial proceeding. Among primitive peoples, torture has been used as a means of ordeal and to punish captured enemies. Examination by torture, often called the question, has been used in many countries as a judicial method. It involves using instruments to extort evidence from unwilling witnesses. In ancient Athens, slaves were always examined by torture, and for this reason their evidence was apparently considered more valuable than that of freemen.

A free Athenian could not be examined by this method, but torture may have been used occasionally in executing criminals. Under the Roman Republic only slaves could be legally tortured, and as a general rule, they could not be tortured to establish the guilt of their master. Under the Roman Empire, however, by the order of the emperor, torture was frequently inflicted even on freemen to obtain evidence of the crime of laesa majestas (injured majesty, or crime against a sovereign power). The statesman Cicero and other enlightened Romans condemned the use of torture.

Until the 13th century torture was apparently not sanctioned by the canon law of the Christian church; about that time, however, the Roman treason law began to be adapted to heresy as crimen laesae majestatis Divinae (crime of injury to Divine majesty). Soon after the Inquisition was instituted, Pope Innocent IV, influenced by the revival of Roman law, issued a decree (in 1252) that called on civil magistrates to have persons accused of heresy tortured to elicit confessions against themselves and others. This was probably the earliest instance of ecclesiastical sanction of this mode of examination.

During the Middle Ages the influence of the Roman Catholic Church contributed to the adoption of torture by civil tribunals. The Italian municipalities adopted torture early, but it did not appear in other European countries until France legalized its use in the 13th century. Ultimately, torture became part of the legal system of every European nation except Sweden and England. Although torture was never recognized in the common law of England, it was practiced by exercise of the royal prerogative. In the American colonies torture was illegal; the few instances of its use were in forms of execution.

The horrors of the Inquisition and the excessive use of judicial torture from the 14th to the 16th century brought about a progressive change of sentiment, which eventually led to the abolition of torture in all countries of Europe. It was last used in England in 1640 to compel a confession of treason. By the middle of the 18th century legal torture was abolished in France, Prussia, Saxony (Sachsen), Austria, and Switzerland. Under a papal bull issued in 1816 the use of torture was banned in Roman Catholic countries.

Torture in Europe through the Ages The history of torture in Europe may seem at first to be a steady progression of barbarous tactics, leading from one social purge to the next, but this is not completely the case. Torture has been used in a progression from primitive methods to the present more modern styles. It has also developed extensively, both in severity and variety of methods used. But in the end, torture has gone full circle; modern forms of torture are more like those methods used by savages than anything in between.

Overall, the severity of torture has fluctuated, growing and receding with the passing of each new time period, but eventually reverting to its original state. There are several varieties of tortures in general. Until the twentieth century, most forms of torture that were recognized as such were purely physical in nature. The breaking of bones, manipulation or mutilation of a person’s body, and the application of flames or other implements of punishment were the main forms of recognized torture. The Wheel was a common, deadly torture used for much of European history.

But there is also psychological torture. In the Spanish Inquisition, inquisitors would show the implements of torture to potential victims to scare them into submission. This form of psychological torture was known as the Second Degree. In more modern times, psychological torture has all but replaced physical torture. Time in jail, for example, is often more paralyzing than many forms of physical torture. So, torture can take on many forms. The Rise of Torture Torture, it seems, has always been a part of the human condition in one form or another.

It developed mainly as an extension of early legal codes. At first natural law – the law of survival and of group cohesiveness – dictated human activity and crime and punishment. The law of primitive humans used exile for punishing major offenses. Alone in the wilderness, the person would most assuredly meet an untimely death. Punishment was thus the removal of criminals from society. As time went on and civilizations grew, the need for a code of laws came. Any actual tortures inflicted would only be committed against enemy tribes and animals.

In many cultures, religious sacrifices were precursors to torture. The early European codes were usually based on the principle of Lex Talionis, the idea of an eye for an eye. Punishment for crimes should be similar to the offense. The Greeks and others of their time still operated under Lex Talionis. At the time, torture was mainly used as a means of extracting vengeance for real or imagined wrongs. Public displays such as stoning and crucifixion were used mainly to discourage other criminals. The Horrors of Roman Brutality Early Roman rulers were actually quite humane.

Julius Caesar only tortured his conquered enemies as an example for other potential foes. Eventually, however, things would change. Roman savagery is second to none in its public appeal and widespread usage. Antiochus Epiphanes tortured numerous Jews in an attempt to make them submit to Roman authority. Slaves and other members of the lower classes were tortured heavily by their superiors for petty crimes. The first Roman gladiatorial contest started in 264 BC as a match of man against man. Eventually, this turned into a full slaughter. When prisoners could not be found for the games, slaves would be used.

These games would involve, more often than not, starving victims being torn to pieces by savage animals. The insatiable bloodlust of the Roman public was hard to satisfy; there were often 1000 or more victims in the arenas at a time. Torture Through the Middle Ages During the time period from after the fall of Rome till the 13th Century, torture was used mainly as a weapon of private citizens and eventually the State. Frequently, amputation of hands, feet, and genitalia was used as a punishment for sexual offenders, more often than not inflicted without State supervision.

Rulers that realized that their citizens respected such a display of force then adopted torture. And as one form of torture would become commonplace, the next generation of people would adopt more harsh forms of punishment. Also, during this time period there was some torture used for religious persecution. Christian leaders forced conversion of others with the application of torture. During this time period, burning at the stake, drowning, and suffocation were common tortures. As the Church used torture in its proceedings, this would prompt civil authorities to adopt the practice as well.

But all this would change in the 6th Century, when an order of Pope Gregory I made statements given under torture inadmissible. Torture was then not used as a legal device except as a punishment for nearly 800 years. Torture, however, was still an option for mob justice. The ordeals of fire and water were used to prove guilt – if a person was not injured by exposure to extreme conditions, then they were innocent. This remained in fairly common use until its abolition in 1215 by the Papacy. The Inquisition and Beyond At first, there were many leniencies even in the punishment of heretics up till the 13th Century.

Then, the rise of the Albigeneses and other religious sects prompted Pope Innocent III to start the Holy Inquisition of Toulouse to purge the apparent threat to the Catholic Church. He had previously authorized the use of torture in a Bull in 1252, so the stage was now set for the events to come. The movement against heretics spread rapidly to Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, and eventually most of Europe. The procedure adopted by the Inquisition, which would be used later in the witch-trials, reintroduced torture to Europe. These Inquisitions were all conducted with great expertise and under a rigorous procedure.

There was a lengthy process of examination, followed by torture. The accused were rarely allowed to see witnesses against them, and were subjected to such tortures as pulleys and the rack stretching limbs, and the treatment of body parts with fire. Eventually, the focus of persecution would shift from religious sects, to the purging of supposed witches and sorcerers. This purge carried into the British Isles, and eventually out of Europe. In Scotland and Ireland in the 16th and 17th Centuries torture was commonly used to get the accused to confess their crimes. As time went on, the tortures increased in severity.

By this time, iron gauntlets, floggings, amputation of women’s breasts, and being bitten by scores of rats were common tortures. One horrible torture, called the bootes, would crush a person’s lower leg, usually rendering the victim permanently unable to walk. Only in 1808 would Napoleon’s capture of Almanza and other cities in Spain end the Spanish Inquisition, the last remaining part of this operation. The Fall of Torture Even from the beginnings of civilization, there have been a few notable individuals who voiced their objections to torture in its many forms.

Seneca, Cicero, and St. Augustine all recognized that torture may result in the unjust conviction of innocents. Unfortunately, they were a minority whose opinions did not shape events to come later. While torture was not used consistently during Europe’s history, is has been frequently used by the Church and various States in proving cases of treason and heresy. Torture was looked upon as an almost infallible method of proof during the witch-craze. Only after the 16th Century did stronger voices oppose torture openly. Throughout Europe, torture in its current state would decline quickly. It was abolished by Frederick the Great in Prussia in 1740.

Italy followed suit in 1786, followed by France in 1789 and Russia in 1801. Eventually, nearly every nation of Europe would abolish most forms of torture. While occasional aberrations would arise over the years, there were few government-sanctioned tortures besides incarceration after this time. Law enforcement in the past Stocks and pillory: There is sometimes a confusion in the denominations of these restraint devices. Usually the stocks are a wooden device restraining the feet (or both hand and feet) whereas the pillory has an opening for the neck and the hands.

The normal kind of pillory is a non-movable, wooden structure mostly set up in a public place, the stocks can be situated in public but they can also be used inside a prison cell. Another type (sometimes called portable pillory) is the yoke that also restrain both hands and neck but is supported by the prisoners shoulders. An interesting device is the \”Shrew’s fiddle\” similar to the yoke with the difference that the hand openings are in front of the neck hole. The brank (also called scold’s bridle, gossip’s bridle, and hags harness) seems to be mostly been used on women.

Reports suggest it was in 1856 when this cruel and humiliating punishment was last used on too-talkative women. This treatment was based upon the principle: \”Women have to stay silent in churchand elsewhere! In 1856, a woman, whose tongue had been working overtime was led round the streets of Bolton in scold’s bridle to suffer the jeers of the townsfolk. Branks were iron cages, hinged to enclose the head. Some resembled iron masks, with holes for mouth, nose and eyes. The victims mouth was clamped shut by an iron band passing under the chin and a flat piece of iron projected inside her mouth.

This mouthpiece was sometimes armed with a short spike. The whole contraption was fastened round the neck with a heavy padlock. Branks were not only used to punish nagging wives. Any women found guilty of malicious gossip and slander, abusive language or breaches of the peace were silenced in this way. The branks were also padlocked on women convicted of witchcraft and condemned to die at the stake – but for a different reason. They prevented the unfortunate creatures for screaming horrible curses on their tormentors.

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