10 Medieval Execution Methods That Are The Definition Of Cruel And Unusual

Published November 27, 2020
Updated November 30, 2020

Death By Impalement

Women Being Impaled

PinterestWomen were impaled through their vaginas, while men were impaled through their rectums.

There was perhaps no greater proponent of impalement than Vlad the Impaler, who reigned over Wallachia (present-day Romania) in the 1400s. He was so adamant about skewering his enemies that his bloodlust later inspired the legendary character Count Dracula.

As for the process itself, impalement was a macabre and prolonged torture that preceded an inevitable death. Traditionally, a stake would be partially sharpened and then planted in the ground with the point facing upward. The victim would then be placed over the spike. They would then be skewered through the rectum if they were a man or the vagina if they were a woman.

The semi-greased stake would forcibly penetrate the victim’s insides until the person eventually died, and the stake would often exit near their neck, throat, or shoulders. Some of these poles were purposefully blunted to prolong the torture — with some cases of impalement going on for hours or even days.

Khusru Supporters Impaled

Wikimedia CommonsKhusrau, the son of Mughal’s emperor, is forced to watch his supporters be impaled.

While Vlad the Impaler was often praised for his military exploits and for bringing order to Wallachia, he was also undeniably cruel. In 1459, he had dozens of Saxon merchants impaled in Kronstadt. That same year, he nailed the hats of diplomats to their skulls after they refused to remove them out of religious devotion.

In total, Vlad the Impaler is estimated to have slaughtered 80,000 people in various ways. Around 20,000 of them were impaled — and put on display outside the city of Targoviste. The sight was so terrifying that the invading Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II immediately turned around after seeing it.

Medieval Execution By Impalement

Wikimedia Commons A 1593 illustration of impalement — which Vlad the Impaler forced upon 20,000 people.

Some envision impalement as a victim being skewered through the torso, which is a common misconception. While transverse impalement certainly existed and proved to be a far more efficient death, that was typically not the intention.

Generally, impalement was meant to be a long, torturous punishment — and a warning to enemies to not mess with the person who was responsible for it. After all, Mehmed II wasn’t the only one who was terrified at the sight of thousands of impaled people. Any invading army would surely have its bravery tested while witnessing something like that.

Interestingly enough, the earliest records of this type of torture come from 1772 B.C. in Babylon, where King Hammurabi ordered a woman to be executed in this way for killing her husband. But the use of this largely Medieval execution method continued until as recently as the 20th century, when the Ottoman government employed it during the Armenian genocide.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "10 Medieval Execution Methods That Are The Definition Of Cruel And Unusual." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 27, 2020, https://allthatsinteresting.com/medieval-execution-methods. Accessed June 22, 2024.