The Web seems obsessed by all things Russian at the moment, so what could kindle our curiosity more than a selection of torture devices from that colossal country, preserved for our pleasure? OK, so they’re more Spanish Inquisition than KGB interrogation, but that makes little difference when all we care about is how sadistically sick they are. Enjoy.
1. The Mask of Infamy
More a form of public humiliation than a torture device, the Mask of Infamy nevertheless made the culprit pay their sins. Locked onto the head for a time decided by the accuser, the Mask itself kept physical torment to a minimum – though sadists will be pleased to know wearers were often chained to a post, where people in the vicinity could torture them.
The Mask of Infamy: Who’s been a dirty devil?
Sometimes the Mask contained a ball or some other device to stop the wearer’s wailing. The design of the Mask is said to have been left up to the fantasies of local craftsmen, though it may also have been linked to the type of offense – a case of the punishment fitting the crime.
2. The Street Sweeper’s Daughter
This contraption may have got its name from the Scavenger’s Daughter, an identical model of cruel ingenuity kept in the Tower of London. Born in the 1500s, it’s a charming example of the constraint devices that were all the rage in the Inquisition. Like the Rack in reverse, it worked by compressing rather than stretching the body: the victim’s head was locked into the top point of the A-frame, with their hands at the mid-point and legs at the lower end.
The Street Sweeper’s Daughter: Wrapped up in her lovely arms
Through carefully studied design, the head was pushed down and knees forced up into a crouching position so squashed it quickly caused acute muscular cramps in the guts and forced blood from the nose and ears. In time the person went from a state of suffering to one of utter madness. Lovely.
3. The Jerking
Although far from a form of self-stimulation, the Jerking was believed to be a light type of torture, and was widely used in the trials of yesteryear. The arms of the accused were bound behind their back, and a rope around their wrists was tied to a winch. Victims were left hanging by their arms in this less than compromising position or – you guessed it – violently jerked in what appears to have been a form of Strappado or reverse hanging.
Strappado: Caught in an uncompromising position
If all this sounds too timid, weights were often tied to the ill-fated person’s feet and their flesh ripped with pliers. Apparently jurists of the time thought witchcraft enabled the guilty to endure torture without confessing. It must have been some witchcraft.
4. Water Torture
To, erm, execute this form of torture, the accused was placed on a kind of rack that consisted of a long wooden frame with a raised central part, as well as a pillory-like design at one end. Once the victim’s hands and feet were locked, the torturer went about his dirty work in one of several ways.
Water Torture: Beyond the pale
One method involved forcing the none-too thirsty individual to swallow large amounts of water via a funnel, with the bloated body then beaten repeatedly with heavy blows. Another technique saw a cloth tube inserted as deeply – and roughly – as possible down the victim’s throat before being slowly filled with water, thus choking them. Thanks but no thanks.
5. The Witch’s Chair
This “remedy” must have extracted a confession or two in its time with the pain it was capable of inflicting. Under suspicion of being a witch or in some other way in union with the devil, the accused was undressed and made to sit in the chair against those tasty spikes in the back- and arm-rests, while the wrists and ankles were shackled. The procedure sometimes dragged on well beyond 24 hours, and even surviving the torture without confessing was deemed proof of guilt of witchery, punishable by death. A no-win situation if there ever was one.
The Witch’s Chair: Definitely no armchair ride
In later, more sophisticated versions – described below – the iron points could be heated up for an added dose of searing agony.
6. The Head Crusher
This grisly product of the Dark Ages didn’t need a fancy name. With the chin placed over the bottom bar and the skull snugly beneath the domed cap, the torturer would begin turning the screw that must have been anything but music to the ears of the accused. The screw pressed against the cap, slowly compacting the head. Thus in awful sequence, first the teeth were crushed, shattering the jaw; then the eyes were squeezed from their sockets; and lastly the brain matter was forced from the ears.
The Head Crusher: What it says on the tin – forget the aspirin
Another sure-fire method of wringing out a confession, this method of torture could be drawn out for hours if the torturer was a particularly sadistic specimen. Shockingly, versions of the Head Crusher may still be used in parts of the world today.
7. The Rack
A classic. One of the most feared and agonising of all torture devices, The Rack was also mechanically precise and so perfect for the incremental pain of interrogation. It consisted of a rectangular frame, to which the wrists and ankles of the accused were tied or chained at either end.
7. The Rack: Torn limb from limb
Rollers, a handle and ratchet were used to gradually increase the tension on the victim’s arms and legs, inducing unspeakable pain. The bones were slowly dislocated with a horrendously loud crack before the limbs were plucked from their joints and eventually torn apart with similarly sickening popping sounds. Models that appeared in the late Middle Ages often had spikes to pierce the victim’s back, increasing the torment and the chance of crippling injury if they were spared.
8. The Guided Cradle
OK, let’s get this over with: an excruciating looking instrument sometimes referred to as the Judas Cradle or Chair. The accused was sat on top of a pyramid-shaped seat, with the point implanted rudely in their naked nether regions.
8. The Guided Cradle: Intruding where it really hurts
Some theories suggest the idea was to stretch and slowly impale the victim, with weights perhaps added to their legs. Others reckon the emphasis lay on hoisting and repeatedly lowering the victim onto the tip, varying the pressure while keeping them awake – hence its other name: the Vigil. Either way, it was pretty near unbearable. Apparently originally designed to get people to talk without causing undue injury and breakage of bones, it could still easily break the skin – while also leaving a few mental scars – and was potentially fatal. Heard enough?
9. The Hand Saw
Torture devices don’t come more downright extreme than the Hand Saw, and the diagram leaves little to the imagination. The victim was hung upside down to supply the brain with oxygen and slow down the blood loss so that they didn’t lose consciousness and died a suitably slow and excruciating death.
The Hand Saw: Straight down the line brutality
This cheap but effective two-man torture method was used to cut people in half throughout the Middle Ages, with those accused of adultery and blasphemy among the many who felt the Saw’s teeth bite. In Russia it seems to have been a favourite with judges for witches impregnated by “nightmare devils” or even by Satan himself. Now there’s an argument in favour of contraception.
10. The Chair of Torture
The Chair of Torture dates back to the Middle Ages but may have been used till the late 19th Century. Not quite Russian Revolution territory, then, though fear of those myriad spikes might have kept a few of the masses in line. This ultimate interrogation chair had spikes covering the seat, back, and arm-, leg- and footrests – but there was no rest, for the wicked or anyone else who sat in this thing.
10. The Chair of Torture: are you sitting comfortably?
The victim’s wrists were strapped in to prevent movement, while bars and other movable parts pressed against the limbs ensuring the tips penetrated the flesh deeper. A quick death was far from guaranteed. No vital organs were pierced and the pressure of the spikes themselves plugged wounds, slowing blood loss and often keeping victims alive for a day or more.
The psychological fear these torture devices aroused was often enough to extract a confession, and victims were frequently forced to watch others subjected to the treatment and witness the pain they too could soon be facing.