Human imagination knows no bounds, especially when it comes to brutality. The history of capital punishment is a prime example. Case in point, many rulers around the world once believed that it was a good idea to use animals as execution devices. And one can understand why: death by animal certainly made for a good spectacle in the days of public executions, so judicial systems used the punishment to respond to popular demand and to prop up their legitimacy. Furthermore, these methods of execution were often particularly cruel and ostentatious, something which would have convinced many that they provided a better deterrent than less extravagant methods.
Death by animal is a practice that has now been completely abandoned, fortunately, but it’s always good to remind oneself of the depths of human cruelty. Hence, a few historical examples.
Here’s a wood engraving of an execution by elephant in India, published in the 1868 issue of Le Tour Du Monde:
Apparently, this method was still in use as recently as the early years of British colonization. The procedure either involved the crushing of the head as in the image above, or dismembering:
Better known is the fate of many early Christians:
This particular image violates historical accuracy in a number of ways (I guess the burning crucifixes in the background and the peculiar way of setting them on fire – using a long burning stick – is a case of artistic freedom), but it is a fact that many Christians were “fed to the animals” by the Romans. However, those animals were not always or perhaps even rarely lions (dogs and boars are more likely culprits).
Quartering, or dismemberment by horses is also well-known.
More posts in this series here.