11 Worst Torture Methods in History

You might have heard a lot of different punishments from detention to jail time. You might even have heard about barbaric historical phrases such as burning, stoning, and hanging. But as dreadful as they were, humans have come up with even more terrible and twisted ways to punish alleged wrongdoers throughout history. 

What sets this shadow apart is the vivid and harsh methods imposed to coerce confessions, inspire fear, or administer punishment. These horrific tools of torture, which include the breaking wheel and the brazen bull, serve as chilling reminders of the cruelty of human nature. 

List of 11 Most Horrifying Torture Methods in History

These are the 11 worst torture methods in the history of mankind.

  1. The Brazen Bull
  2. The Iron Maiden
  3. The Rack
  4. The Judas Cradle
  5. The Pear of Anguish
  6. Chinese Water Torture
  7. The Breaking Wheel
  8. The Spanish Donkey
  9. The Rat Torture
  10. Scaphism
  11. The Blood Eagle

1) The Brazen Bull

Ancient Greece gave rise to the terrifying torture device known as the Brazen Bull. The 6th century BC brass craftsman and inventor Perillos of Athens devised this evil contraption. The Sicilian tyrant Phalaris ordered it to be made in Akragas. The idea behind the design was to create a means of execution that would terrorize people who disagreed with the tyrant’s reign.

A life-size bronze statue of a bull with an entrance on one side was known as the Brazen Bull. This door was used to place the victims inside the bull before it was sealed shut. Beneath the bull, a fire was started, gently heating the metal until it was red hot. The victim endured unbearable anguish as the temperature inside the bull’s cavity increased. The way the bull’s head was crafted made it possible for the victim’s anguish to be heard as ominous, frightening bellowing noises that mimicked a real bull’s cry. This ghoulish component increased the psychological terror that was imposed on the victim and witnesses.

The victim’s experience with the Brazen Bull could best be described as terrifying. The cramped area transformed into a horrible chamber of excruciating pain as the bronze heated. The victim’s flesh would sizzle when it came into contact with the searing metal, causing severe burns. A delayed and excruciating death resulted from the combination of intense heat and inadequate ventilation. The Brazen Bull was one of the most brutal forms of torture in history because of the severity of the agony and the psychological anguish of slowly roasting alive.

Although the Brazen Bull originated in ancient Greece, its application went beyond that country. One of the most well-known historical instances was its application by Phalaris, who inflicted this horrific tool on individuals who dared to challenge his authority. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, the same apparatus was employed to put early Christians to death in another notorious incident. Through the decades, the Brazen Bull’s reputation and terrifying legacy have endured, acting as a sobering reminder of the depths of human cruelty and the inventiveness of torture techniques.

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2) The Iron Maiden

The horrific and well-known Iron Maiden torture device first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. Although its precise historical roots are unknown, it became well-known in the late 18th century as an instrument of terror and torture. Authorities mostly employed this evil invention to force confessions, punish the accused, and strike fear in the minds of potential offenders.

The Iron Maiden looked like a towering, vertical cabinet or tomb, its interior surfaces richly decorated with menacing spikes. Once inside, the subject was confined to an upright position with little movement possible because of carefully fitted restraints. The Maiden’s door closed, and the spikes, which were made to evade important organs, pierced the victim’s flesh, leaving them with severe pain and serious puncture wounds. The spikes were placed deliberately to prolong the victim’s anguish rather than inflicting instant death.

The victim’s experience within the Iron Maiden was unbearably painful. The spikes caused excruciating pain and agony as they gradually penetrated the body. The spikes held the victims’ weight and prevented them from moving, getting deeper as time went on. The victim experienced increasing degrees of discomfort as a result of their limited mobility. The Iron Maiden was one of the most physically and mentally agonizing forms of torture in history, made much worse by the psychological pain of knowing their approaching death.

There are multiple documented uses of the Iron Maiden throughout history. Its use as a form of punishment for convicts in Nuremberg, Germany, is one famous instance. The Iron Maiden was also used as a means of execution in other instances, usually for people convicted of serious crimes. According to historical reports, its use was not confined to a particular period or location. It crossed national boundaries and cultural boundaries, leaving a horrible legacy that endures in the records of history as a symbol of brutality and cruelty.

3) The Rack

The origins of the Rack, an instrument of terrible torture, can be traced to early modern and medieval Europe. It emerged at a time when different forms of physical torture were being created to force confessions and punish those who were thought to have committed wrongdoing. The Rack was in use far into the eighteenth century; the oldest records of its use date from the late fifteenth century.

The Rack was a basic but brutally effective tool. It was made up of a rectangular frame with a set of ropes or chains attached to either end and a roller. The victim’s ankles and wrists were fastened to the rollers, securing them to the frame. The victim’s limbs were stretched in opposite directions by the torturer as the rollers were turned, creating severe anguish. The body’s mechanical strain frequently caused serious muscle damage, fractured bones, and dislocated joints.

The victim went through severe physical and psychological suffering. The agonizing sensation of the body being stretched out was heightened by the terrifying thought that the tormentor may keep up the pressure until the victim confessed or died.

The Rack was a popular technique for getting confessions out of those who were being accused. Torturers thought that the combination of the unbearable agony and the threat of more torture would force the sufferer to confess to any crimes, imagined or real. This technique was especially useful in situations where law enforcement needed information or confessions of guilt, which is why people who were seeking confessions favored the Rack.

The Rack was used in several important historical events. It was employed to force those accused of religious transgressions to confess to blasphemy during the Spanish Inquisition. During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in England, it was used to force confessions from people who were thought to be plotting against the monarchy. The Rack was also applied to the notorious plotters of the Gunpowder Plot.

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4) The Judas Cradle

The terrifying torture device known as the Judas Cradle is evidence of the heinous creativity of those who tried to cause their victims agony and misery. Its use as a means of punishment and coercion to extract confessions dates back to the medieval and early modern eras. Built to be an inhuman tool of torture, the Judas Cradle lived up to its sinister reputation.

The Judas Cradle victim would be forced into an uncomfortable and dangerous position. Usually, a pointed, pyramid-shaped wooden or metal contraption with its tip pointed toward their genitals or anus was hung above them. Often with their hands and feet bound, the victim was gently lowered onto the pyramid’s pointy tip.

The victim was enduring unbearable pain and discomfort. As the weight of the body bore down on the sharp point, it caused deep penetration and injuries. Any movement or struggle would only make the victim’s condition worse, therefore any attempts to relieve the pain would only make it worse. The Judas Cradle’s design ensured prolonged torment, as the victim’s body weight and fatigue intensified the pain.

The Judas Cradle gained prominence in several historical eras and geographical locations. It was a preferred method of forcing confessions from people charged with skepticism and witchcraft during the Spanish Inquisition. It was used as a kind of public punishment in medieval Europe, acting as a public show to discourage others from committing the same crimes. Its application was not limited to any certain class or group, since it could be used to torture both regular criminals and political dissidents.

In addition to causing them physical suffering, the Judas Cradle severely damaged their mental health. The awareness that their tormentors could continue their agony endlessly, the sensation of powerlessness, and the expectation of the descent drop onto the sharp pinnacle produced a terrifying psychological environment. The psychological effects of the Judas Cradle as a tool of coercion and control are shown by the fact that victims frequently confess to crimes they may not have committed to end the constant suffering.

5) The Pear of Anguish

The Pear of Anguish, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Pear or the Choke Pear, is a terrifying and cruel torture device that dates back to the medieval and early modern eras. This device was designed with a sinister ingenuity to inflict pain and humiliation on its victims. It was composed of a metal or wood pear-shaped item that had portions that could be extended by turning a key. The instrument was designed with the express purpose of causing excruciating physical and mental pain.

Depending on the intended humiliation or punishment, the Pear of Anguish was put into different openings of the body. There were several varieties of Pear devices, such as oral, anal, and vaginal pears, each designed to put a particular kind of pain. The tool caused excruciating pain as it stretched and occasionally tore the surrounding tissues when the key was turned, expanding within the selected orifice. The victim’s suffering may be increased by varying the degree to which the key was turned.

The Pear of Anguish has been employed historically in a variety of situations, frequently as a tool for punishment and degrading treatment. It was occasionally applied to penalize people who were charged with blasphemy or sexual offenses Specifically, female victims were punished and shamed in public by having their vaginal pears removed. In contrast, the anal pear was placed rectally and faced the male victims. In addition to inflicting physical suffering, the Pear of Anguish was intended to degrade and shame the victim, reiterating social norms and authority.

The use of the Pear of Anguish has drawn a lot of criticism and controversy. Numerous people have contended that it is an extreme form of cruelty and a violation of human rights. Regarding the extent to which authorities or individuals might go to exercise control and compel confessions, it presents moral and ethical concerns. The usage of the gadget has drawn a lot of criticism, and it is a sobering reminder of the potential for inhumanity throughout human history. 

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6) Chinese Water Torture

Chinese Water Torture is a very unsettling yet surprisingly easy kind of torture. In contrast to other forms of physical torture, this device relies on water droplets as a means of pain. The victim is typically restrained, lying flat or seated, with their head immobilized. A water-filled container is positioned above the victim’s forehead, and a little droplet of water is let to fall onto the same area of the forehead regularly. Although the technique is simple, its combined results are extremely unsettling.

Chinese water torture inflicts severe psychological suffering. The sufferer experiences anxiety and a sensation of helplessness because of the constant, rhythmic drops of water. The effect of the single droplet increases with time as it keeps hitting the same spot. The sensation is typically described by victims as frustrating because, despite being harmless at first, the water droplet starts to seem like a constant hammer blow to the same tiny spot on the forehead.

Chinese Water Torture causes a great deal of psychological stress since the victim’s psyche struggles with the monotony, fear, and helplessness that come with the practice. One unsettling feature of this kind of torture is the gradual degradation of the victim’s mental condition.

Chinese water torture has been shown in popular culture frequently as a sign of mental suffering. It has been used to highlight the vulnerability of the human mind and the extent to which abusers can take advantage of it in literature, movies, and television shows. Its reputation and acceptance as a means of torture have grown as a result of how it has been portrayed in various media.

There are recorded instances of Chinese water torture, despite it not being as common historically as certain other forms of torture. According to several sources, it is used in psychological warfare during hostilities and battles. The technique has also been discussed in research on sensory deprivation and experimental psychology. 

7) The Breaking Wheel

The Catherine Wheel, often called the Breaking Wheel, was a cruel and lethal tool used in medieval Europe. Its intended retribution for its victims was death by horrible means. The invention of the device dates back to the late Middle Ages, especially in Europe, when it was employed as a tool for capital punishment and public spectacle.

The Breaking Wheel was an intimidating device. The victim was usually fastened to a big wooden wheel or cartwheel. They were paralyzed, their limbs stretched wide and strapped to the spokes of the wheel. After that, the wheel was lifted and placed on a tall pole or frame.

The executioner would then use heavy wooden or iron rods to strike the victim’s limbs repeatedly, breaking bones. The intention was to cause significant bodily harm rather than instantaneous death. Every blow damaged bones and caused excruciating suffering for the victim.

The shattered and bruised body was forced to suffer for hours or days as it was on display on the wheel. Death, when it finally came, was a result of blood loss, shock, or dehydration.

Throughout history, the Breaking Wheel has been employed in several situations. It was a preferred manner of punishment in medieval Europe for people found guilty of very horrible crimes, such as treason, murder, and blasphemy. Famous historical people met a gruesome end on the Breaking Wheel, including the notorious German highwayman and outlaw Peter Niers. Its use declined throughout time as more “human” means of execution emerged, though it continued to be employed occasionally into the early modern period. 

The Breaking Wheel has left a long-lasting effect on public perception. Literature, art, and mythology have all portrayed their gruesome nature, which frequently acts as a metaphor for the cruelty of the past. Many historical narratives and artistic creations refer to the Breaking Wheel, serving as a constant reminder of human’s continued obsession with brutality and the consequences of inhumanity.

8) The Spanish Donkey

The Spanish Donkey, also known as the “Donkey’s Perch” or “Wooden Horse”  is a bizarre and cruel torture device originating in medieval and early modern Europe. This painful tool gets its name from the shape it resembles: a wooden construction with a thin, triangular saddle that resembles a donkey.

The Spanish Donkey’s victim was forced to balance with their legs on each side of the triangular saddle’s pointed edge. The pressure and agony were exacerbated by the fact that their hands were frequently shackled or fastened to weights. The victim’s perineum, genitalia, or rectal region experienced excruciating pressure and anguish as their weight rested on the thin edge. The sharpness of the edge, combined with the body’s weight, led to excruciating pain and could result in severe injuries.

The Spanish Donkey holds an important place in the history of torture and punishment. It was often employed as a form of public punishment and humiliation, or to force confessions. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the device was used in several European nations as well as during the Spanish Inquisition. Because of the intensity of the suffering and the way it was used in public, it was an effective means of establishing control and terror.

The historical significance of the Spanish Donkey comes from its representation of the odd and harsh types of punishment that were formerly accepted in society. Its use and the pain it inflicted serve as a terrifying reminder of the lengths to which people and government will go to get justice or vengeance.

The Spanish Donkey has long been a popular topic in artistic expression. This horrifying device has been portrayed in paintings, sculptures, and other works of art, frequently serving as a symbol of the worst facets of human history. These artistic representations help to preserve the memory of the device and its role in the historical narrative of cruelty and punishment.

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9) The Rat Torture

Rat torture is a graphic and terrifying form of torture in which the victim is subjected to agony at the hands of rodents, specifically rats. It is defined by the introduction of rats into an enclosed area, typically a cage or container, along with the victim, and subjecting them to extreme conditions. Fearful or hungry, the rodents use the victim’s body as a means of escape, turning them into torture tools.

The pain caused by the rat torture is severe both mentally and physically. When rats see the victims up close, they become aware of the imminent threat. Even more terrifying than the physical agony can be the anguish and anxiety brought on by this awareness. In their desperate endeavor to get away, the mice, driven by their instincts, bite and claw at the victim, creating deep puncture wounds and intense pain.

Rat torture has a particularly severe psychological effect since the victims must put up with constant physical suffering as well as constant fear due to the rodents’ unpredictable behavior. This kind of torture is horrifying because it combines pain, fear, and a sense of helplessness.

Rat torture has been applied historically, frequently to force confessions or as a form of public punishment. It was used in Europe during the Middle Ages as a means of execution and torture. In one notorious historical instance, prisoners of war were tortured with rats during the Vietnam War, resulting in serious bodily and psychological harm.

Rat torture is seen with horror and disgust in the modern era. It is commonly seen as a heinous act of cruelty and a gross violation of human rights. International human rights organizations strongly denounce its application and stress the importance of shielding people from such abuse.

The history of the Rat Torture serves as a warning about the extremes to which some have gone to control and frighten others. Its image as a cruel and brutal kind of torture has been strengthened by historical narratives and popular cultural depictions of it, highlighting the significance of protecting human rights and rejecting such practices in modern society.

10) Scaphism

Scaphism, also known as “the boats,” is a horrific and old-fashioned Persian technique of torture and execution. The horrific practice was first documented in the first century AD by the Greek historian Plutarch, who defined it as a kind of capital punishment involving excruciating pain and suffering.

The victim of scaphism was placed inside two small boats or hollowed-out tree trunks. The victim’s body was contained inside the boats, but their limbs were left exposed. After that, the victim would be forcefully fed a mixture of milk and honey by the executioners in an attempt to cause extreme diarrhea. This mixture had two functions: diarrhea attracted insects and encouraged dirt and infection, while the nourishment kept the victim from dying too soon.

Insects would gradually eat away the victim’s exposed flesh, causing them great discomfort and eventual death. Scaphism was one of the most excruciating methods of execution ever developed because of the unrelenting pain and the constant invasion of insects and parasites.

Scaphism is infamous for its sadistic and violent tendencies. It was not exclusive to ancient Persia, despite its origins there. Remarkable historical narratives recount its application in several locations, such as Greece and the Middle East. It was applied as a means of punishment and execution, frequently for people convicted of serious crimes and political dissidents. 

11) The Blood Eagle

Blood eagle might be the worst torture method in the history of mankind. This concept was also shown in the Vikings series. This ritualistic punishment was saved for those who had either committed the most horrible crimes or were enemies of the Viking society. It was regarded as the height of cruelty. It was an inhuman and gruesome show of power and vengeance.

The Blood Eagle was a graphic and disturbing procedure. The victim would have their back sliced open along the vertebrae while they were tied and lying face down. The executioner would next pull the victim’s lungs and ribs out through the wounds, forming an outline that looked like an eagle’s spread wings. The victim would die as a result of this agonizing and drawn-out procedure, typically from a combination of organ damage, shock, and blood loss.

The Blood Eagle was a gruesome and notorious form of punishment because of its violent character and the ritualistic aspects of its execution. It was practiced during the Viking Age, which spanned from the late eighth to the early eleventh century. It was a time of complex myths, battles, and raids. The Blood Eagle has mythological associations and is believed to be inspired by the stories of Norse gods and legends.

In modern times, the Blood Eagle is seen with dread and condemnation. It is seen as gravely cruel conduct and a human rights violation. The Blood Eagle’s historical and mythological background hasn’t lessened the controversy or the outrage it elicits.

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The Decline of Torture Methods

Torture was a common and accepted tactic in many civilizations for information extraction, control, and punishment. It used to be frighteningly common to utilize torture devices, such as the ones covered in this article, as tools of terror and agony. As time went on, the use of these violent torture methods started to fade away. The decline of torture methods marks a significant shift in human history, reflecting changing attitudes and evolving societal norms. 

This decline can be attributed to several factors, such as the evolution of legal frameworks, the spread of human rights principles, and the growing consciousness of the moral and ethical consequences of torture. The systematic use of torture has declined as civilizations have developed, making room for more reasonable and compassionate methods of punishment and dispute resolution.

The spread of contemporary human rights ideas and ethical considerations is intrinsically connected to the decrease in the use of torture techniques. International agreements and institutions have been essential in denouncing torture and promoting the defense of human dignity. Torture and other cruel, brutal, or degrading treatment or punishment are expressly forbidden under the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This proclamation has served as a guide for initiatives to end torture and protect each person’s fundamental rights and worth.


Examining the worst torture methods in history has shown a terrifying and painful aspect of human history. These techniques, distinguished by their savagery, sadism, and inhumanity, have left indelible scars on the records of history. These cruel tools and methods, which range from the Brazen Bull to the Blood Eagle, have been employed to coerce confessions, inspire terror, or exact retribution.

However, it is crucial to understand that these traditions have mainly been consigned to the past at this point in history. The decrease in the use of torture is evidence of the advancement of human rights principles, the evolution of societal norms, and the expanding awareness of the moral and ethical ramifications of torture. Global commitment to human dignity, legal frameworks, and international treaties have cleared the path for a world that is more just and compassionate. This article discussed the 11 worst torture methods in human history, which do you think was the worst one?


What Is the Most Brutal Torture Method in History?

The blood eagle was one of the most brutal and painful torture methods in history. The victim was kept alive during the whole procedure of breaking ribs and forming an outline that looked like an eagle.

What Is the Most Painful Torture Device in the World?

The Brazen Bull has to be on the list of the top most painful torture devices in the world. Not just the pain, but the sound of the victim left a psychological scar on the people hearing it.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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