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10 Most Horrific Torture Devices and Instruments From The Middle Ages

Various forms of torture and punishment have been prevalent since early human existence. This article showcases the most horrific torture devices and instruments used in the middle ages.

Torture and punishment in its various forms has existed since man walked this earth. Although a large number of domestic torture devices used by clans and communities in middle ages were designed for punishment, historians point out that the earliest torture devices made were used on animals in sacrificial ceremonies. As human conflict became rampant, various forms of punishment and torture came into being. Torture instruments were used on individuals to extract information or as punishment for wrongdoing. In ancient times, Emperors and Kings employed individuals that were highly skilled at horrific acts of torture.

In medieval torture chambers gruesome, horrific, grotesque, gory and brutal forms of torture were performed using various torture techniques. Prisoners of war were often subject to unimaginable punishment with torture tools. The devices, instruments and contraptions used for torture were intended to cause excruciating pain to ensure secrets from the enemy camp were revealed. Various methods of torture and punishment were used in the middle ages by Kings to inflict pain for purpose or pleasure.

Punishment and Torture in the Middle Ages

In the middle ages persons convicted of crime had to face severe punishment or death. Brutality and gore was loved by a number of Kings and Emperors during Medieval period. Horrific acts of torture and punishment in public view was common then. Various torture methods were used to cause excruciating pain to the victim. Torture instruments were used in such a way that the victim would suffer, be conscious, and witness the brutality of his/her death. Persons that rebelled against the King were punished in public view to instill fear in the minds of people. Torture in front of public was carried out to warn people of the harsh consequences they would have to face if they chose to oppose the King or went against his rules. Kings had dedicated men who were skilled at carrying out gruesome acts of punishment and torture. Mutilation was the most common torture method used in the middle ages. Medieval torture techniques were some of the most horrific ever in History.

Medieval Torture Devices and Instruments

1. The Head Crusher

The head crusher was a brutal torture device used in the medieval period. The construction was based on compression. The chin of the individual used to be placed on the flat base bar and the over the head of the individual a dome shaped metal cap would compress and tighten. As the screw of the device was turned the metal cap would compress the person’s head first shattering the teeth and jawbone, and then squeezing eyes from their sockets. Eventually the clamped metal cap would fracture the skull with parts of the brain ripping out through the ears and nostrils.

2. The Rack

The Rack was a torture device used when Plantagenet Kings ruled England during the medieval period. This tool was rectangular in shape and had a wooden frame with single or dual rollers at ends. One end of this torture instrument had fixed bar to fasten the victims legs, while the other end had a movable bar where the victims hands were tied. As the handle would be moved slowly the ropes would exert pressure pulling the victims arms and legs and eventually dislocate the victim’s bones from sockets causing excruciating pain. Later in the middle ages variants with spikes on the platform where the victim lay came into existence.

3. Brazen Bull

The Brazen Bull was a torture instrument that came into existence in Ancient Greece. Perillos a highly skilled metal worker from Athens designed this torture device. The hollow bull was made entirely of bronze with an opening made on one side. The victim used to be locked inside the bull after which a large fire would be lit underneath. Heating metal would become red-hot causing the victim locked inside severe burn injuries and eventually roast to death. Perillos who designed this torture instrument for Phalaris, tyrant of Akragas, was forced to test it himself. Perillos was removed from the bronze bull he created after his screams of mercy were heard. He was later thrown from top of a hill by Phalaris. The Romans used this torture device to kill many who rebelled against them. Saint Eustace along with his wife and children was roasted in a Brazen Bull at the command of Emperor Domitian.

4. Scavenger’s Daughter

This torture instrument came into existence during the reign of King Henry VIII of England. This was a compression torture device as opposed to stretching torture instrument which was exceedingly popular popular then. The elongated device compressed the victim’s body in a low crouching kneel-down position. As grip of this device would tighten on a person it would cause blood to gush out through the victim’s ear and nose.

5. Choke Pear

The Choke Pear also referred to as Pear of Anguish was one of the most brutal torture devices used in the middle ages. This torture instrument design consisted of 4 arms that separated when the screw was turned. In the Medieval period this instrument was used to torture women and men. Liars, blasphemers, and homosexuals were punished using this torture device. Adulteress women and women who opted for abortions were also punished with this pear shaped torture tool. The instrument would be forced with the four arms closed into the victim’s mouth, vagina or rectum. The torturer would then screw the top which would cause the arms to expand thereby mutilating the orifice or tear flesh. This form of torture seldom caused death but was often followed up by other painful torture methods.

6. Crocodile Shears

This torture device was designed in late medieval Europe. Crocodile Shears were based on the design concept of pincers. Instead of jaws this torture tool had hemi-cylindrical blades that formed a long narrow tube when held together. Insides of the blades were sharp metal teeth or spikes. This instrument was used on individuals that attempted assassinating a King, assassinated a King or members of aristocratic families. Crocodile Shears used to be heated red hot under a fire after which they used to be applied on the victim’s penis. Pressure exerted would ensure the clamp would rip off the victim’s penis or leave him badly mutilated.

7. Judas Cradle

Judas Cradle also referred to as Judas Chair, was a torture instrument with a pyramid-shaped seat with a sharp end. The victim would be stripped naked harnessed with ropes and lowered in a way that his anus or her vagina rested on the pyramid point. With the rest of the body suspended mid-air the entire bodyweight of the victim would cause excruciating pain and bleeding. This was one of the most feared torture devices during the medieval period.

8. Knee Splitter

The knee splitter was a torture device used significantly during Spanish Inquisition. As the name suggests this tool was used to crush and split a victims knees. Two wooden blocks with spikes and large screws formed the construction of this simple but versatile device. With one wooden arm placed behind the knee and the other in front, the torturer would slowly tighten the handle. This would tighten the grip of the two spiked wooden claws penetrating skin and shattering the knee bone. This device was also used by on other body parts such as arms, elbows, and shin. 

9. Breast Ripper

This instrument was used in the Middle Ages on women who were convicted of adultery, blasphemy, and self induced abortion. Claws of this torture device would be heated red hot and placed on the victims exposed breasts with spikes penetrating in the flesh. The torturer would then exert pressure to rip off the spikes which resulted in victim’s breasts being torn off or reduced to a bloody pulp. This was a brutal punishment for women in the middle ages and often resulted in death of the victim due to severe bleeding. A variant which came out later was called “The Spider” The instrument was similar to Breast Ripper but was attached to the walls. The breasts of the victim would be fixed to the claws. After this the torturer would pull the woman away from the wall often ripping or mutilating breasts.

10. The Cage/ Coffin

The Coffin was a torture instrument made from metal to form a frame similar to that of the human body. An exceedingly common form of torture during the Middle Ages, the victim would be tortured and placed in this cramped metal cage. The time spend by victim in the cage depended on the crime committed. Most times offenders or convicts inside the coffin would be suspended on trees in full public view. An individual given the death sentence would be first be beaten, tortured and then placed in the coffin with bleeding wounds and soars hung over a tree. This would attract birds of prey that would peck and claw open wounds to eat flesh.

Here’s a list of horrific medieval torture devices and instruments

  • Breaking Wheel
  • Lead Sprinkler
  • Wooden Horse/Spanish Donkey
  • Spanish Tickler/ Cat’s Paw
  • Branding Irons
  • Boot/Spanish Boot
  • Iron Chair
  • Drunkard’s Cloak
  • Instep Borer
  • Iron Maiden
  • Scold’s Bridle
  • Cattle Prod
  • Thumbscrew
  • Pillory
  • Manacles
  • Heretic’s Fork
  • Malay Boot
  • Pendulum
  • Saw Torture
  • The Water Wheel
  • Ducking Stools
  • Iron Cage
  • Stocks
  • Brank

Methods of Torture and Punishment techniques from the Middle Ages

  • Impalement
  • Mancuerda
  • Starvation
  • Bastinado
  • Whipping
  • Strappado
  • Brodequin
  • Bone Breaking
  • Roasting
  • Genital Mutilation
  • Flaying
  • Bone Dislocation
  • Dunking
  • Blinding
  • Drowning
  • Finger Removal
  • Choking
  • Starvation
  • Boiling
  • Disfigurement
  • Castration
  • Picquet
  • Tongue Removal
  • Quartering
  • Denailing
  • Foot Roasting
  • Burning

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