Torture Through the Middle Ages

During the time period from after the fall of Rome till the 13th Century, torture was used mainly as a weapon of private citizens and eventually the State. Frequently, amputation of hands, feet, and genitalia was used as a punishment for sexual offenders, more often than not inflicted without State supervision (Farrington 27). Torture was then adopted by rulers that realized that their citizens respected such a display of force (Scott 10). And as one form of torture would become commonplace, the next generation of people would adopt more harsh forms of punishment (13).


Burning at the stake was a common
method of executing heretics.
Also, during this time period there was some torture used for religious persecution. Christian leaders forced conversion of others with the application of torture (26). During this time period, burning at the stake, drowning, and suffocation were common tortures (51). As the Church used torture in its proceedings, this would prompt civil authorities to adopt the practice as well (Keickhefer 190). But all this would change in the 6th Century, when an order of Pope Gregory I made statements given under torture inadmissible (Mannix 43). Torture was then not used as a legal device except as a punishment for nearly 800 years.

Torture, however, was still an option for mob justice. The ordeals of fire and water were used to prove guilt - if a person was not injured by exposure to extreme conditions, then they were innocent. This remained in fairly common use until its abolition in 1215 by the Papacy (Farrington 22).

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Works on this page by Rhys Moses
Completed May 19, 1998