Written by Hayden Lynch
From the Aztec New Year to the can't-miss release of The Wicker Man 2 (you're welcome, Hollywood), there's always a reason to look back fondly on human sacrifice. Which is why Thrillist's Historical Investigations Squad (T.H.I.S.) sifted through all those piles of still-beating hearts to crown the decapitated head of the culture that straight murdered religious murder.
10) Cultures of the Levant
The Phoenicians were into Aaliyah's "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" way before you were
The Old Testament tells of an area known as the "roasting place" where the Canaanites would offer up their children to the gods, but various cultures within the Levant (including the Phoenicians & Carthaginians) were noted for their habit of sacrificing children by everyone from Plutarch to Diodorus Siculus (if you haven't read his Bibliotheca historica, there is a serious gap in your knowledge of early universal history). Worried that slaughtering folks by the thousands might get mundane, they crafted an enormous brass statue of Cronus with sloping hands where they would place their children, watching them roll off... into a giant pit of flames. Perhaps even more astounding: these infants had to consent to their own fiery demise, and were considered the "best loved". The ancient Levants would rank much higher on this list if many modern historians didn't dispute the existence of such practices in the first place. Hey, modern historians -- are you calling Diodorus Siculus a liar?!
9) The Tahitians
"Yes, the BBQ smells great. Is that a skull garden??"
Before Perry Farrell was getting all wasted face and passing out on the beach, the biggest threat under the Tahitian moon was only the possibility of being surreptitiously beaten to oblivion, then subsequently asked if you wouldn't mind maybe, like, hooking up the island with a little good juju, bro? According to famed explorer Captain James Cook, times of famine and pestilence would send local priests into paroxysms of bloodshed, during which unsuspecting souls would find themselves being "suddenly put to death either with a club or by stoning", then asked by a priest if they would "deliver the hogs, women and other things of the island into their hands"... probably so that they could be bludgeoned to death, as well. Note to Tahitian priests: try kissing someone before you F them.
8): The Hawaiians
Ancient Hawaiian Bam-Bam was a d*ck
Staying in Polynesia, the Ancient Hawaiians were literal skinflints, sparing their "best loved" and instead offering up the Kauwa class (essentially slaves and other personae non gratae) to the gods, typically by putting them on a stone and beating the shit out of them. They also enjoyed strangulation, evisceration, and not-at-all-agonizing bone breaking. Bonus bloody fact: the aforementioned Captain Cook was so revered by the Hawaiians that, after stoning him to death during a confrontation over a stolen canoe, they generously performed funerary rites typically reserved for chiefs: disembowelling his body, baking it, removing the flesh, and carefully cleaning the bones before returning the remains to his shocked crew. Bonus non-bloody fact: Mai Tais are delicious!
7): The Dahomey
"Sure, we have mass beheadings, but we also have parasols!"
The inhabitants of the powerful West African country Dahomey made the un-ironic cut by doing the deed right up through the 19th century. When a ruler passed on to the afterlife, hundreds of slaves would be offered up in remembrance, blessedly releasing them from their corporeal shackles to a new plane where they could celebrate their king by... continuing to be his slave! Despite this rather barbaric practice, Dahomey was also a hotbed of women's equality -- by the mid-1800s, nearly a third of the militaristic country's army was composed of women. These "Amazons" were elevated to near-sacred status, and were revered for their physical prowess, especially by their captives, who usually wound up decapitated.
6) The Incas
"Look dude, it's this or measles"
The moral code of Peru's most famed empire -- the largest in pre-Columbian America -- was essentially "don't steal, don't lie, and don't be a lazy a-hole". Conspicuously absent? "Don't kill a sea of unarmed people at once". So no surprise that when the great Huayna Capac passed, the priests had him joined by somewhere around 4000 servants, court officials, concubines, and "favorites", a.k.a., more concubines. Then everyone else died of smallpox.
5) The Mesopotamians
"Don't you want to live in the afterlife with your horrible master... er, king??"
The Cradle of Civilization giveth and the Cradle of Civilization taketh away, especially if you weren't particularly important. Like the Dahomey, the Mesopotamians used to sacrifice the various court folk (guards, handmaidens, overly emotive troubadours...) to travel with their royal lieges to the great unknown. While it was long presumed such mass dispatches were achieved via group poisoning, archeological evidence suggests they were far more tastefully offed by having a pike driven into their heads.
4) The Celts
This is how it feels to sit through The Wicker Man
Rolling in at the four-spot are the ragin' pagans, the Gauls with balls, the Celts! None other than "Dr Julius" Caesar provided detailed accounts of druid priests building enormous wicker effigies, filling them with tributes -- including, you know... people -- and lighting them ablaze. While they typically stocked these wicker men with criminals, they weren't above tossing in the odd innocent when one couldn't be found, not surprising for a group of men known for rolling into battle butt-naked.
3) The Mayans
"Uh, guys, is it too late to be thrown into the pit of death instead?"
Endowed with famously inquisitive and scientific minds, the Mayans swiftly discovered it was way better for morale to off prisoners from neighboring tribes rather than waste a perfectly good big-busted woman. But the Mayans made it into the top three not so much for the scale of their mass murders than their myriad means of death, which included loading up a victim's chest with arrows, cutting out their heart, or tossing 'em into giant freaking sinkholes. Beyond straight sacrificin', the Mayans were way into the bloodletting scene, as priests and young boys alike would use everything from stingray spines to knotted cords to draw blood from their foreskin, then rub it on an idol before burning it. Nothing like getting a bloody dong rub and being set on fire to put you in a good mood for the upcoming harvest!
2) The Moche
"These slaves always go straight to my thighs"
Who exactly are the Moche? Nobody really knows, probably because they killed everyone they came into contact with. But you don't get this high on the list without sprinkling in a few twists to your killings. The Moche were known to actually keep their victims alive for weeks leading up to the big day just so they could torture them... and maybe eat them a little, too. When not killing people, their warriors would get all gussied up and face one another in combat, but instead of stabbing one another, they would attempt to remove one another's headress. The loser's head was then chopped off.
1) The Aztecs
Why so glum, guys? You just made it to the top of the list!
When it comes to the crown of ritual killings, there isn't a culture around that could pry it out of the beating-heart-filled hands of the Aztecs. Hell, they probably murdered a gaggle of virgins on the off chance that something called "the Internet" would eventually be invented and used to rank human sacrifices. Sure, they were just as adept at waging a propaganda war as they were a real one (they claimed to have sacrificed 80,400 prisoners during a four-day temple consecration, or 14 prisoners every minute), but they also kept it real... gross. Their most prevalent ritual involved bringing a victim to the top of the temple, where he (or she) would be placed on a stone slab, eviscerated by a ceremonial knife, and witness his still-beating heart torn out of his chest and placed in a bowl, all before being thrown down the temple stairs to the masses below. But with so much death to deal, they spiced things up by resorting to arrow shooting, immolation, flaying, drowning, rigged gladiatorial fights, and playing an early version of handball, the loser of which would of course be killed.