History’s Most Gruesome and Brutal Executions

Long before the US Constitution laid down the law against “cruel and unusual” punishment, the world had some pretty brutal methods of executing people, often making public sport out of killing condemned criminals in some very nasty ways.

Have you ever heard of death by elephant, or by vaginal impalement? Those are just two that make our list of the most brutal and bizarre ways people have been put to death in the past.

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Death by Elephant – Ancient execution methods were often brutal, but few were as terrifying as this. Elephants were used to crush and even stab crooks to death in Medieval South and Southeast Asia. They were particularly popular in India, where the beasts were used to kill crooks as recently as the 19th Century.

The Brazen Bull – The Ancient Greeks (and some say the Romans as well) used to punish people by cooking them inside a huge bronze bull. A criminal was locked inside the device via a door on its side and a fire was then lit underneath, slowly burning the victim to death. Reportedly, the execution method served as entertainment (and/or a warning) for passersby. The bull had small metal pipes fitted into its nose. As the victim screamed in pain, their cries played through it, supposedly emulating the low bellow of the bull.

Impalement – As if being roasted to death inside of a bronze bull was not bad enough, this one is certainly not for the squeamish. Execution by “impalement” was a method famously used by Vlad the Impaler in the 15th-century. Vlad was a brutal ruler of Wallachia, which is present-day Romania, and his atrocities and bloodlust were the inspiration behind the creation of Count Dracula. He earned the name “Vlad the Impaler,” for his favorite method of dispatching his enemies.

Images of this method usually depict people being skewered through their stomachs but historians claim the real process was actually even more brutal. It is thought that the method employed by Vlad and others, was to sharpen a stake and place a victim on top of it. The spike would be inserted partway up their rectum or vagina. Then gravity would come into play and the bodyweight on the victim would drag them down the greased pole as the sharp point pierced through their organs. Eventually, it would make an exit wound through their skin in the shoulder, neck or throat region.

Skin Removal – Skin removal, also known as flaying, was a slow execution method used by various cultures. The victim would be tied down so they couldn’t move and then their skin would be cut away. Several people usually got involved in the cutting. Death would occur due to several factors including blood loss, shock, infections, and hypothermia.

Unfortunately for the flayed, the process could be spread out over hours or even weeks.

Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered – The British Crown had a particularly nasty method of executing traitors. Not happy with just one painful and torturous way of offing someone, the 14th Century royals came up with the jolly good show of being hanged, drawn and quartered. The hanging part is pretty obvious. The prisoner was first hanged by the neck, and on the edge of death, they would be cut down.

But that wasn’t a last-minute act of mercy, it was just the beginning of the horror to come. The victim was then tied to four horses by the arms and legs. While bound, The person usually had his genitals sliced off and was disemboweled. Then finally, the horses were made to run in opposite directions, thus “drawing and quartering” the traitor into four pieces!

This method of execution was most famously used on William Wallace, the leader of the Scottish War of Independence, portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart.”  Believe it or not, drawing and quartering remained a punishment on the books in England until the 1800s, when it was finally banned.


Which of these ancient execution methods do you find the most shocking? Are there others you may have heard of that we left out? Let us know in the comments below.

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