Torture In The Middle Ages: Revisited

Torture rack in the Tower of London

Frank Thadeusz presents a light-hearted perspective of the common tortures of the Dark Ages:

A German researcher has studied medieval criminal law and found that our image of the sadistic treatment of criminals in the Dark Ages is only partly true. Torture and gruesome executions were designed in part to ensure the salvation of the convicted person’s soul.

Peter Nirsch would have been seen as a monster at any time in history. While traveling south through Germany, he had a penchant for cutting open pregnant women and removing their unborn babies. Nirsch butchered more than 500 people before he was captured near Nuremberg in September 1581.

The courts were not squeamish in their treatment of the serial killer. First he was tortured, and then hot oil was poured into his wounds. Then the culprit was tied to the rack, where his arms and legs were broken. In the end, he was quartered.

Anyone who, like Nirsch, was convicted of serious crimes in medieval Germany was subjected to similarly resolute forms of punishment.

The enforcers of the law tormented suspects with red-hot iron bars or boiled them alive in water. “The carrying out of inhuman sentences was part of everyday life,” concludes Wolfgang Schild, a legal scholar from the western German city of Bielefeld.

Continues at SpiegelOnline

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    This single biggest thing I think I took out of this article was the desperation those medieval people showed in wanting the ‘suspect’ to openly admit wrongdoing.

    I don’t want to loose sight of the basic immorality of the torture procedure, but maybe it’s useful for us to understand why criminality is so deeply offensive. My guess is that even worse than the destuction of life, limb or property is the destruction of trust inflicted by the violation.

    I think I’ve read somewheres that a study has shown medical malpractice cases reduced by some enormous percentage by the simple procedure of medical staff honestly and sincerely expressing regret to victims and survivors. If that’s true, I’d glady help fund a thinktank to design positive, non-destructive methods to encourage these types of reconciliations on the broadest level possible.

    More than one commenter on this site has pointed out how the U.S. economy can never begin to recover until trust is regained. I totally agree.

    • Hadrian999

      people dislike crime not really because of destruction of life, limb, property or trust,
      it damages the social order, it lets some peasants rise to the power of lords and disrupts
      orderly work and the class structure.cant have people committing or afraid of crime when they should be eating drinking and punching a clock, buying crap they don’t want until they are told to want them.

      • Fiver

        Hadrian999, you sound like some sort of bizarro version of Glenn Beck.

        Crime may sometimes be about class, but it’s very, very seldom about class war. Aside from a few short-lived ejaculations of horror, honest, working folks don’t want some asshole (or collection thereof) pillaging and burning the land (whether or not it’s in their name). They want decent pay for decent work and not to be treated like strangers in their own homes. Don’t get me wrong, the Liberal (and even Radical) movement has brought us plenty of good things. But y’all need to move beyond this binary, neo-Marxist worldview that insists that everything is “us” or “them”. I know its great fuel for your ideological engines, but it’s a destructive and limiting way to view the world.

        So, to be specific, how was Peter Nirsch about class war?

  • Anonymous

    This single biggest thing I think I took out of this article was the desperation those medieval people showed in wanting the ‘suspect’ to openly admit wrongdoing.

    I don’t want to loose sight of the basic immorality of the torture procedure, but maybe it’s useful for us to understand why criminality is so deeply offensive. My guess is that even worse than the destuction of life, limb or property is the destruction of trust inflicted by the violation.

    I think I’ve read somewheres that a study has shown medical malpractice cases reduced by some enormous percentage by the simple procedure of medical staff honestly and sincerely expressing regret to victims and survivors. If that’s true, I’d glady help fund a thinktank to design positive, non-destructive methods to encourage these types of reconciliations on the broadest level possible.

    More than one commenter on this site has pointed out how the U.S. economy can never begin to recover until trust is regained. I totally agree.

  • Hadrian999

    people dislike crime not really because of destruction of life, limb, property or trust,
    it damages the social order, it lets some peasants rise to the power of lords and disrupts
    orderly work and the class structure.cant have people committing or afraid of crime when they should be eating drinking and punching a clock, buying crap they don’t want until they are told to want them.

  • Haystack

    “But the executioners of the Middle Ages were not driven by such sadistic impulses. Instead, for the general good, they sought to pacify the “offended God.” “The Christian authorities also subjected wrongdoers to gruesome punishments so that they could attain eternal life,” says Schild.”

    …says Schild, who has no bullshit filter.

  • Haystack

    “But the executioners of the Middle Ages were not driven by such sadistic impulses. Instead, for the general good, they sought to pacify the “offended God.” “The Christian authorities also subjected wrongdoers to gruesome punishments so that they could attain eternal life,” says Schild.”

    …says Schild, who has no bullshit filter.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Don’t look now…I think I saw Cheney whackin it in the corner over this article.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Don’t look now…I think I saw Cheney whackin it in the corner over this article.

  • Fiver

    Hadrian999, you sound like some sort of bizarro version of Glenn Beck.

    Crime may sometimes be about class, but it’s very, very seldom about class war. Aside from a few short-lived ejaculations of horror, honest, working folks don’t want some asshole (or collection thereof) pillaging and burning the land (whether or not it’s in their name). They want decent pay for decent work and not to be treated like strangers in their own homes. Don’t get me wrong, the Liberal (and even Radical) movement has brought us plenty of good things. But y’all need to move beyond this binary, neo-Marxist worldview that insists that everything is “us” or “them”. I know its great fuel for your ideological engines, but it’s a destructive and limiting way to view the world.

    So, to be specific, how was Peter Nirsch about class war?

  • berginer

    theyre able to make out some of the terrible things that europe ever did as “justified”. yet if the united states does ONE thing, be it good or bad, we’re crucified?

  • berginer

    theyre able to make out some of the terrible things that europe ever did as “justified”. yet if the united states does ONE thing, be it good or bad, we’re crucified?

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