Instrument of Torture

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Drawing of torture with the help of the stretching ladder in the Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana.

An instrument of tort ure is a tool used to carry out torture, usually designed specifically for this purpose. It can also be a method of physical or psychological torture. In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, torture instruments were used, among other things, to establish the truth in the course of the administration of justice, e.g. during an embarrassing interrogation (ordeal). Since the Middle Ages, the actual torture has often been preceded by the territion, the showing of the instruments of torture. In totalitarian states or in the context of armed conflicts, various instruments are still used today to torture prisoners. The UN Convention against Torture has so far been ratified by 160 UN member states.

About torture devices and degrees of torture one finds in the non-scientific literature more fantasy than historical truth. Also illustrations in old writings and books deserve a cautious evaluation. Leaflets with illustrations of torture scenes were often intended to demonstrate the efficiency of the administration of justice to a public that was not literate. The respective cities commissioning the dissemination of such depictions of torture and executions also hoped for a deterrent effect on the immigration of criminals.

An authentic account of torture methods can be found in the Austrian Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana, the Empress Maria Theresa’s Peinliche Gerichtsordnung of 1769, in which two appendices present the torture devices and methods with pedantically precise instructions for use as they had been in use in Vienna and Prague up to that time.

Torture chambers that have been largely preserved in their original state can be found, for example, in Pöggstall in the Waldviertel or in the Old Town Hall in Regensburg. The torture chamber there is located exactly under the imperial hall in which Emperor Charles V’s Code of Judicial Procedure was promulgated in 1532.

List of known torture instruments and methods

The thorn-studded iron collar of Lambert von Oer, Vischering Castle, Münsterland

Some of these instruments, such as the wheel or the estrapade, are execution tools or methods, or devices for carrying out corporal or honorary punishment that were used as part of threats. The following is a selection of instruments and methods that were also used as tools (such as red-hot tongs)[1]) are listed below:

  • Bamboo Torture
  • Camera silens
  • Thumbscrew
  • Dark detention
  • Estrapade
  • Garrotte
  • Larded hare
  • Kittee
  • Recumbent scale
  • Little Ease
  • Mouth pear
  • Foot in mouth
  • Parrot Swing
  • Piling
  • Wheel
  • Mock Execution
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Swedish Drink
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Spanish goat
  • Spanish boot
  • Strappado
  • Stretch Bench
  • Suruga doi
  • Territion
  • Restroom Ban
  • Waterboarding

Other methods of torture, but it is doubtful whether they actually existed, or whether they were used in the form in which they have been handed down:

  • Breast Ripper
  • Chinese water torture
  • Iron Maiden
  • Judas Cradle
  • Sicilian Bull


  • Instruments of Torture and their Application 1769 – Reprint of the Constitutio criminalis Theresiana or the Römisch-Kaiserl. zu Hungarn und Böheim etc.etc. Royal Apost. Majesty Maria Theresa Archduchess of Austria, etc.etc. the first edition of the ” peinliche Gerichtsordnung”, Vienna 1769, Reprint-Verlag-Leipzig, Holzminden o. J., ISBN 3-8262-2002-1.
  • Horst Herrmann: Die Folter. Eine Enzyklopädie des Grauens, Eichborn Verlag (Frankfurt a. M. 2004), ISBN 3-8218-3951-1.
  • Wolfgang Schild: “Von peinlicher Frag”. Die Folter als rechtliches Beweisverfahren (= Series of publications of the Medieval Criminal Museum Rothenburg o. d. Tauber, No. 4), Rothenburg o. J.
  • Peter Burschel (ed.): Das Quälen des Körpers. A Historical Anthropology of Torture. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-412-06300-2
  • Karl Bauer: Regensburg. History of art, culture and everyday life. 5.Extended and improved edition. Mittelbayerischer Verlag, Regensburg 1997, ISBN 3-931904-19-9, pp. 870-872
  • The use of the most common instruments of torture and punishment. In: Die Gartenlaube. Heft 34, 38, 1864, pp. 539-542, 603-606 (full text[Wikisource ] – handling with pictures).

Web links

Wiktionary: instrument of torture– Meaning explanations, word origin, synonyms, translations

Commons: Torture Museum, Freiburg– Album with pictures, videos and audio files

  • Jürgen Scheffler: Instruments of torture. In: Gudrun Gersmann, Katrin Moeller, Jürgen-Michael Schmidt (eds.): Lexikon zur Geschichte der Hexenverfolgung, on; retrieved on 6 March 2008
  • Robert Zagolla: Torture. In: Gudrun Gersmann, Katrin Moeller, Jürgen-Michael Schmidt (eds.): Lexikon zur Geschichte der Hexenverfolgung, on
  • The torture methods of the Middle A ges.

Individual references

  1. Friedrich Merzbacher: The witch trials in Franconia. 1957 (= Schriftenreihe zur bayerischen Landesgeschichte. Band 56); 2nd, expanded edition: C. H. Beck, Munich 1970, ISBN 3-406-01982-X, pp. 108, 159, 164 and 174 f. (on red-hot tongs and the so-called tong tearing).