Ancient cultures had some really bizarre ways of handling wrongdoing, that even today we can admit are a bit too much. Some people were even punished without even receiving a fair trial – as is still seen today, despite the many technological advances! And they were often carried out in the public eye for two main reasons – to strike fear in the hearts of potential offenders and for pure amusement. Whether they were over-the-top or not is for you to decide. Here are five punishments that really didn’t fit the crime.
1. Poena Cullei – Sewn in a Bag
The Ancient Romans held family in high regard, and bringing harm to one’s parents or relatives brought on one of the worst possible punishments one could suffer. It was called the “Poena Cullei,” or “sewn in a bag” in the English language. Not only was the accused sewn shut in a leather sack, but they had to share that tight space with a monkey, rooster, snake and dog. But it didn’t end there, and the sack was often hurled into the sea for good measure. It was all sorts of cruel – if the animals didn’t take them out, the sea definitely did.
Could you imagine being boiled, like you would a crab or lobster? In a large metal container filled with water, wax, oil or wine no less? That was Emperor Nero’s go-to execution method for early Christians who he considered rebellious because of their faith. King Henry VIII was also a fan of boiling people, especially those guilty of treason or harming their masters or husbands with poison. It was a really slow and unbelievably painful process that went on for at least two hours. And everyone was free to watch since it was a public event.
Scaphism, or “the boats” as it was known, was reserved especially for those who were accused of harming royalty – even without evidence. First, they were bound, then trapped between two boats or tree trunks and placed in a swamp. Next, they were force-fed a mixture of honey and milk that was also spread all over their body. The mixture gave them uncontrollable diarrhea and attracted lots of wild animals, rats and insects that gnawed at them. Awful, right? Dehydration, exposure to the elements or being eaten alive eventually got the best of them in the end.
Disloyalty is a quick way to get on anyone’s bad side and for the Dutch army, keelhauling was the perfect way to teach traitors a valuable lesson. The offender would be tied with a rope to a ship, then dragged underwater from left to right as it sailed through a body of water. Doesn’t sound bad at first, but the real damage was that the ship’s bottom or keel tore them apart, or they would simply drown. It wasn’t always fatal, and those who did survive, were left disfigured with horrible scars that served as a reminder of their treachery.
5. Torture by Rats
This one is less of a punishment and more of a torture method. It was especially favored by governments as a way to extract information from prisoners or simply to teach them a lesson. Long story short, a bucket with a hungry or diseased rat underneath it, would be placed on a suspect’s bare chest or stomach. The bucket would be heated up and, in a frenzy to get out of the heat, the rat would create its own exit, even if it had to go through the prisoner. Those who managed to survive, which were very few, were left with some grave wounds.
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