How Humans Used Animals to Punish Other Humans – History’s Worst and Cruelest Punishments

elephants and their habitat
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Humankind has historically raised livestock animals for meat around the world. Animals have been used for food, transport, medicine, drugs, hunting, fishing, and gardening.

However, do you know humans also used animals for punishing other humans?  

Humans, since the dawn of time, had a knack for cruelty. But do you know humans have used animals in the past to punish humans? 

This article explores four instances of Brutal Punishments From History that involved Animals. 

The following piece contains material that may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised. 

One: Execution by elephant: Execution by elephant was historically a standard method of capital punishment where elephants were used for crushing, dismembering, or torturing captives in public executions. The elephant’s intelligence, domesticability, and versatility gave it considerable advantages over other wild animals. Execution by elephant has been done in many parts of the world by both Western and Eastern empires. During the Mughal era, it was a standard execution mode in those days to have the offender trampled underfoot by an elephant. The Maratha King Chatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj ordered this form of death for several conspirators. Another Maratha leader, general Santaji, inflicted the punishment for breaches in military discipline. 

Second: Death by a dog, snake, monkey, and a chicken: Poena cullei (from Latin ‘penalty of the sack’) under Roman law was a type of death penalty imposed on a subject who had been found guilty of parricide. The punishment consisted of being sewn up in a leather sack with an assortment of live animals, including a dog, snake, monkey, and a chicken or rooster, and then being thrown into the water. The inclusion of live animals in the sack is only documented from Early Imperial times, and at the beginning, only snakes were mentioned. At the time of Emperor Hadrian from the 2nd century AD, the most well-known form of punishment was documented, where a cock, a dog, a monkey, and a viper were inserted in the sack.

Three: Eaten Alive by Rats: Rat torture is the use of rats to torture a victim by encouraging them to attack and consume the victim alive. In this method, a pottery bowl is filled with rats and placed open side down on the naked body of a prisoner. When hot charcoal is piled on the bowl, the rats would “gnaw into the very bowels of the victim” in an attempt to escape the heat. Several South American military dictatorships used rat torture: in Brazil during the military dictatorship of 1964–1985, in Uruguay during the civic-military dictatorship of 1973–1985, in Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990), and in Argentina during the period of the National Reorganization Process. Argentina reportedly used a torture method known as “the recto-scope” (reserved primarily for Jewish prisoners), which consisted of inserting living rats into a victim’s rectum or vagina through a tube. 

The Fourth one is perhaps the worst of them all. 

Four: Scaphism: Scaphism, also known as the boats, is an ancient Persian method of execution. It entailed trapping the victim between two boats, feeding and covering them with milk and honey, and allowing them to fester and be devoured by insects and other vermin over time. Two boats are joined together, one on top of the other, with holes cut in them so that the victim’s head, hands, and feet are only left outside. The man to be punished is placed lying on his back within these boats, and the boats are then nailed together with bolts. Next, they pour a mixture of milk and honey into the wretched man’s mouth till he is filled to the point of nausea, smearing his face, feet, and arms with the same mixture, and so leave him exposed to the sun. This is repeated every day, the effect being that flies, wasps, and bees, attracted by the sweetness, settle on his face and all such parts of him as a project outside the boats and miserably torment and sting the wretched man. Moreover, his belly, distended as it is with milk and honey, throws off liquid excrements, and these putrefying breed swarms of worms, intestinal and of all sorts. Thus the victim lying in the boats, his flesh rotting away in his own filth and devoured by worms, dies a lingering and horrible death.

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