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Horrific Prolonged Capital Punishments in Ancient Times

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Sts Savinus and Cyprian are tortured (circa 1100) Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe (Public Domain)

Horrific Prolonged Capital Punishments in Ancient Times

All are familiar with the burning of witches and criminals – who often died by asphyxia or cardiac arrest before their flesh was consumed by the flames - but since antiquity the cruel ingenuity of torturers inspired astonishingly horrific measures to punish transgressors and prolong their agonizing and excruciating deaths, often to gratify the sadistic pleasures of their executioners.

Depiction of a Wicker Man, stocked with victims to be burnt. (Archivist/ Adobe Stock)

Depiction of a Wicker Man, stocked with victims to be burnt. (Archivist/ Adobe Stock)

Roasted Alive and Swallowing Molten Lead

According to legend the Celtic druids held Roman legionaries captive in wicker men baskets, and then set them alight, as sacrifices to their gods. Although Cicero, Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, commented on human sacrifice among the Celts, it is only Julius Caesar in his Commentary of the Gallic Wars, who ascribes this particular practice to the druids. There is a possibility that the wicker man baskets could have been Roman spin to fan fear and disdain among the Roman populace towards the vicious Celtic enemies and to justify the invasions of the Celtic lands. However, there may be truth to it as a much later comment is found in the 10th-century Commenta Bernensia, (or Bern scholia preserved in the Burgerbibliothek of Bern, Switzerland) referring to Lucan's De Bello Civili’s epic poem Pharsalia, describing the Celts burning people in a wooden effigy as sacrifice to Taranis, god of thunder.


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