16 Actual Medieval Torture Techniques, Ranked By Insanity

In Medieval times it was pretty much inevitable that you were going to die a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad death at the hands of your friends and family, likely by some insanely sinister method.

So, naturally, we ranked 16 of the most notorious torture practices—used frequently in the Middle Ages—by level of sheer, inhumane insanity. Be warned: even George R. R. Martin himself would squirm just a bit reading this list.

16. Heretic's fork

This is kind of like Satan's one-step method to better posture, as a sharpened fork was planted beneath your chin, stabbing jowls any time you'd lower your head. I'm sure it resulted in many misunderstandings: "Are you looking down your nose at me, man?" "No, just being tortured for being a heretic."

Insanity rating: 2.5 Tom Cruises

15. Lead sprinkler

If you, like myself, grew up Catholic, you might recognize this as the doo-hickey priests use to sprinkle little drops of Holy Water on the crowds during certain masses. It's basically the same idea, only here, molten hot metal is used in place of refreshing, blessed water. Mainly, the piping hot liquid would be dripped on a victims eyes. Slowly. This almost always resulted in death. 

Insanity rating: 3.3 Tom Cruises

14. Scold's bridle

Sometimes referred to as Brank's bridle, this torture device relied heavily on public-shaming, and was used primarily on women. Aside from having to wear a heavy, iron mask on your face (punishment enough), the device was outfitted with a spiked bridle that dug into the victim's tongue any time he/she tried to speak. Commonly used on women who were considered to be gossips, I have to assume this inhumane torture device squashed that habit, quick. 

Insanity rating: 4.0 Tom Cruises

13. Hanging cage 

Look at this guy. Just hanging out. The hanging cage was designed to be too small for your frame, so you either had to crouch inside—in back-breaking yoga-esque poses—or (if you were lucky) you'd be strung up and able to stretch your legs over the village green. At any rate, most unlucky souls trapped in the hanging cage would die of thirst, exposure, or starvation. Sounds about right. 

Insanity rating: 4.5 Tom Cruises

12. Iron maiden

Aside from being a righteous '80s metal group, the iron maiden was an intense torture device that impaled victims, while also enclosing them in an iron coffin. Not a very nice way to spend a Sunday. Some argue the iron maiden is fictional, and that mentions and actual examples of the device were made for entertainment purposes only. I really hope that's true. 

Insanity rating: 5.1 Bill O'Reillys 

11. Pear of anguish 

Unlike regular pears, which you would probably welcome in your mouth, the aptly-named pear of anguish was designed to go into an orifice—and I mean, any orifice—and expand painfully. It would inevitably cause momentous problems, as you can probably assume, and often death. 

Insanity rating:5.9 Bill O'Reillys

10. The rack

The rack consisted of a table, fitted with straps for all four limbs, which were systematically pulled in opposite directions in order to literally stretch victims until their bodies gave out. You know the rest. I actually gave this a shot once, before I tried out for the JV basketball team, and all I got was a broken pelvis. 

Insanity rating:6.1 Bill O'Reillys

9. Strappado 

Despite sounding like a new item on Starbucks' confusing menu, Strappado is a form of reverse hanging that would suspend a victim from their arms (bending them the wrong way), dislocating them in the process. From there, they'd either systematically add weight to the victim's feet, or just let you hang there.

Insanity rating: 6.4 Bill O'Reillys

8. The Catherine wheel

In this device, the tourture-ee in question would have his/her limbs to tied to the spokes of a giant wheel, which would rotate until the bones broke. Then, a lovable bystander would bludgeon the victim with an iron mallet (because up 'till then, life had been easy for them). If a merciful death was ordered, the executioner would put the victim out of their misery. If not, the wheel would be placed up in the air, so the (barely) living victim could have their severed limbs eaten by the birds. 

Insanity rating: 6.6 DMXs

7. Hanged, drawn, and quartered

Phase 1: The victim is dragged (or drawn) through town behind a galloping horse, to their own execution.
Phase 2: The victim is hanged juuuuust enough to be very uncomfortable, but not dead. They are then further tortured, disemboweled, or beheaded.
Phase 3: The victim is cut into four different pieces, or "quartered." I'm thinking they probably should have called this "drawn, hanged, and quartered," but I'm not surprised that no one questioned the dude who invented this. 

Insanity rating: 7.0 DMXs

6. The saw

This is one of those things that is pretty much exactly what you think it is. A victim would hung up by their legs, only to be sawed COMPLETELY IN HALF by two very mean people. You'd think this wouldn't be as bad as some of the things on this list (because you would die kind of quickly), but often times, the executioners would stop half-way through, before the saw reached major arteries in the abdomen, to turn a quick and horribly painful death into a slow and ridiculously painful death. 

Insanity rating: 7.2 DMXs

5. Crucifixion 

Most people are well aware of what crucifixion is (namely because of Mel Gibson's 2004 classic, The Passion of the Christ), but it certainly ranks as one of the most brutal torture/execution methods of all time. More often than not, victims weren't actually nailed to the cross (they were instead, tied), and many would end up spending several days, painfully suspended out in the elements—without food or water—culminating in a slow, very painful death. 

Insanity rating: 7.7 DMXs

4. Spanish donkey

The Spanish Donkey sounds like a delightful place to grab a Saturday afternoon glass of sangria. It is, in fact, one of the more vicious entries on this list: victims would be straddled to a spiked, triangular block of wood, with weights tied to their feet. Every so often, more weight would be added to the feet. What you got was a wedgie for the ages. Oh yeah, and death.  

Insanity rating: 8.4 Mel Gibsons

3. Brazen Bull

A nice counter-point to the Trojan horse, the brazen bull (often called the Sicilian bull) was an iron cast of a bull, with just enough room inside of it to fit an unlucky individual (I think you see where this is going). The bull was placed over a roaring flame, literally cooking the victim inside. Their screams, echoing throughout the hollowed bull, came out sounding almost identical to the sounds of a real bull. I'm not sure if I'm more impressed, or horrified. 

Insanity rating: 8.9 Mel Gibsons

2. Judas cradle 

Jesus' worst friend has the honor of being the namesake of this completely horrifying device, a pointed pyramid that, yep, people were placed atop, booty first. Of course, weight was added to the victim's feet, leading to either full impalement, septic infection, or at least a few loud groans. Just kidding, it almost always resulted in horrendous death. 

Insanity rating: 9.5 Mel Gibsons

1. Angry rat box

I don't know what it is about the angry rat box that makes it so much worse than the rest of the awful-ness on this list. It's probably the angry rat. But in a move straight out of 1984, executioners would starve some already ill-tempered rats, place them inside a cage strapped to a victims abdomen, then pull out the bottom. The rest you can probably imagine. But probably won't, if you know what's good for you.

Insanity rating: 10 Mel Gibsons - A perfect score

Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Supercompressor. He'd take a Brazen Bull before an angry rat. Any day. Follow him @WilFulton.

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