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Title: Impalement  
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Subject: Capital punishment, Hanging, Vlad the Impaler, Crucifixion, Arauco War
Collection: Execution Methods
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Vertical impalement

Impalement, as a method of execution, is the penetration of a human by an object such as a stake, pole, spear, or hook, often by complete or partial perforation of the torso. It was used particularly in response to "crimes against the state" and regarded across a number of cultures as a very harsh form of capital punishment and recorded in myth and art. Impalement was also used during wartime to suppress rebellion, punish traitors or collaborators, and as a punishment for breaches of military discipline.

Offenses where impalement was occasionally employed include: contempt for the state's responsibility for safe roads and trade routes by committing highway robbery or grave robbery, violating state policies or monopolies, or subverting standards for trade. Offenders have also been impaled for a variety of cultural, sexual and religious reasons.

References to impalement in Babylonia and the Neo-Assyrian Empire are found as early as the 18th century BC. Within the Ottoman Empire, this form of execution continued into the 20th century.


  • Methods 1
    • Longitudinal impalement 1.1
      • Survival time 1.1.1
    • Transversal impalement 1.2
    • Variations 1.3
      • Gaunching 1.3.1
      • Hooks in the city wall 1.3.2
      • Hanged by the ribs 1.3.3
      • Bamboo torture 1.3.4
  • History 2
    • Antiquity 2.1
      • Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East 2.1.1
      • Pharaonic Egypt 2.1.2
      • Neo-Assyrian Empire 2.1.3
      • Ambiguous Biblical evidence 2.1.4
      • Rome 2.1.5
    • Europe 2.2
      • Execution of Paul Wasansky in 1570 2.2.1
      • Dracula 2.2.2
    • Ottoman Empire 2.3
      • Siege of Constantinople 2.3.1
      • Civil crimes 2.3.2
      • Klephts and rebels in Greece 2.3.3
      • Rebels elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire 2.3.4
      • Occurrences in genocides 2.3.5
  • References and notes 3
  • Bibliography 4


Longitudinal impalement

Impaling an individual along the body length has been documented in several cases, and the merchant Jean de Thevenot provides an eyewitness account of this, from 17th century Egypt, in the case of a man condemned to death for the use of false weights:[1]

They lay the Malefactor upon his Belly, with his Hands tied behind his Back, then they slit up his Fundament with a Razor, and throw into it a handful of Paste that they have in readiness, which immediately stops the Blood. After that they thrust up into his Body a very long Stake as big as a Mans Arm, sharp at the point and tapered, which they grease a little before; when they have driven it in with a Mallet, till it come out at his Breast, or at his Head or Shoulders, they lift him up, and plant this Stake very streight in the Ground, upon which they leave him so exposed for a day. One day I saw a Man upon the Pale, who was Sentenced to continue so for three Hours alive and that he might not die too soon, the Stake was not thrust up far enough to come out at any part of his Body, and they also put a stay or rest upon the Pale, to hinder the weight of his body from making him sink down upon it, or the point of it from piercing him through, which would have presently killed him: In this manner he was left for some Hours, (during which time he spoke) and turning from one side to another, prayed those that passed by to kill him, making a thousand wry Mouths and Faces, because of the pain be suffered when he stirred himself, but after Dinner the Basha sent one to dispatch him; which was easily done, by making the point of the Stake come out at his Breast, and then he was left till next Morning, when he was taken down, because he stunk horridly.

Survival time

The survival time on the stake is quite variedly reported, from a few seconds or minutes[2] to a few hours[3] or 1 to 3 days.[4] The Dutch overlords at Batavia, present day

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  1. ^ Thévenot (1687) p.259 Other highly detailed accounts on methods are: 1. Extremely detailed description of the execution of Archbishop Serapheim in 1601. Vaporis (2000), p.101-102 2. Jean Coppin's account from 1640s Cairo, very similar to Thévenot's, Raymond (2000), p.240 3. Stavorinus (1798) p. 288–291 4. von Taube (1777) footnote ** p. 70–71 5. The regrettably highly partisan "Aiolos (2004)", notes on methods partly from Guer, see for example, Guer (1747),p.162 6. d'Arvieux (1755), p. 230–31 7. Recollection 20 years after second-hand narration, Massett (1863), p. 88–89 8. Ivo Andric's novel "The Bridge on the Drina", follows Serapheim execution (1.) closely. Excerpt: The Bridge on the Drina 9. A literary rendition in The Casket, from 1827, Purser (1827), p.337 10. Koller (2004), p. 145–46
  2. ^ 2 died during impalement process, Blount (1636), p.52 9 minutes, 1773 case, Hungary: Korabinsky (1786) p.139
  3. ^ 1800 assassin of General Kleber a few hours Shepherd (1814)p.255, six hours Hurd (1814),p.308
  4. ^ fifteen hours Bond (1856) p. 172–73 24+ hours von Taube (1777), footnote ** p. 70–71, Hartmann (1799)p. 520, two to three days von Troilo (1676) p.45, Hueber (1693) p.480, Dampier (1729)p.140, "Aiolos (2004)", 'd'Arvieux (1755), p. 230–31, Moryson, Hadfield (2001), p.170-171 two to three days in warm weather, dead by midnight in cold, Mentzel, Allemann (1919), p.102
  5. ^ de Pages (1791) p.284
  6. ^ Stavorinus (1798)p. 288–291
  7. ^ For following the spine: von Taube (1777), footnote ** p. 70–71, Stavorinus (1798)p. 288–291 Another description, using a 15 cm thick stake, let it pass between the liver and the rib cage, Koller (2004), p.145
  8. ^ von Meyer von Knonau (1855)p.176, column 2, Example of thrusting a roasting spit through the stomach on orders of 16th Central Asian ruler Mirza Abu Bakr Dughlat upon his own nephew, Elias, Ross (1898), p.227
  9. ^ For extra-cardial chest impalement Döpler (1697) p.371
  10. ^ Roch (1687)pp. 350–51
  11. ^ A possible case of 16th century dorsal-to-front impalement is given by di Varthema (1863) p. 147 See also wood block print in Wallachia subsection. In addition, the alleged "bamboo torture" seems to presume a dorsal-to-front impalement, see specific sub-section
  12. ^ Wagner (1687), p.55 NOTE: The German word "Pfahl" (with the associated verb "zu pfählen") refers to a wooden stake, and is the word used in influential law texts like the 1532 Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, so the reader should not assume that the use of a heated metal rod was the standard procedure. For 1532 law text, see for example, Koch (1824) p.63
  13. ^ de Tournefort (1741) p. 98–100 A detailed description of the apparatus and procedure of gaunching can be found in Mundy (1907), p.55-56 and in Moryson, Hadfield (2001), p.170-171
  14. ^ Thévenot (1687)p. 68–69. For a fourth description plus drawing, see Schweigger (1613), p.173 Schweigger adds that many times, people are allowed to shorten the gaunched individual's time of misery by cutting his throat or decapitating him. Alexander Russell, from 1740s Aleppo knew of instances of "gaunching", but said those were rare, compared with other types of capital punishment.Russell (1794)p.334
  15. ^ Breuning von Buchenbach, Hans Jakob
  16. ^ Buchenbach (1612), p.86-87
  17. ^ Thomas Shaw
  18. ^ Shaw (1757) p. 253–254 Shaw's contemporary John Braithwaite reports impalement and throwing onto hooks for Morocco as well, Braithwaite (1729) p.366 On Morocco and Fez, see also the travel account by Sieur Mouette, who was captive there from 1670-1682, Stevens (1711), p.69
  19. ^ Morgan (1729) p.392
  20. ^ in one of his acerbic comments and footnotes to translated accounts from Catholic priests' narratives of the redemption of slaves. Examples of other such acerbic notes: Boyde (1736) p.3, p.25, p.35, p.44 (compares French and Algerine slavery), p.45, p.51, p.52
  21. ^ Boyde (1736) p.75, footnote
  22. ^ Osborne (1745), p.478
  23. ^ Koller (2004), p. 146
  24. ^ Stedman (1813) p.116
  25. ^ As an example of popular promotion of this horror story, see for example:WW2 People's WarJAPANESE TORTURE TECHNIQUES
  26. ^ Middle chronology is used here
  27. ^ Article 153 in: Harper (1904), The Code of Hammurabi
  28. ^ Tetlow (2004) p.34
  29. ^ Hamblin (2006), p.208
  30. ^ Herrenschmidt, Bottéro (2000), p.84
  31. ^ Mayer,ed. (2005), p.141
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b
  34. ^ Ussishkin, Amit (2006), p.346
  35. ^ Ekron incident from Sennacherib's own self-glorification, see Callaway (1995), p.169
  36. ^ Relief and text in Ephʿal (2009), p. 51–52
  37. ^ Relative to later impalement practices, at least
  38. ^ Layard (1850) p.374
  39. ^ Olmstead(1918), p.66
  40. ^ Paul Kern
  41. ^ Kern (1999), p. 68–76, Relative to impalement, for example, Ashurnasirpal II is credited with 5 distinct incidents, Shalmaneser III (r.858-824 BC),For a number of examples of impalement of rebels and subjugated people under Neo-Assyrian king Shalmaneser III, see Olmstead (1921), Battle at Sugania p.348,Siege of Til Bashere p.354, Battle of Arzashkun p.360,Battle of Kulisi p.368, Battle of Kinalua p.378 For the last, see also Bryce (2012), p.244 Tiglath-Pileser III (r.745-727), For some specifics on Tiglath-Pileser's policy, see for example, Crouch (2009), p. 39–41 and Ashurbanipal (r.668-627 BC), Ashurbanipal congratulates himself once over having impaled fleeing survivors from towns he has burnt down, Ehrlich (2004), p.5
  42. ^ where Ashur-uballit I was king at that time
  43. ^ Kuhrt (1995), p.292 and Gadd (1965), p.9
  44. ^ Richardson, Laneri (2007), p.197
  45. ^ Schroeder (1920), Keilschrifttexte aus Assur verschiedenen Inhalts
  46. ^ Jastrow (1921), p. 48–49
  47. ^ Haman conspired to have all the Jews in the empire killed, the Book of Esther tells that story, and how Haman's plan was thwarted, and he was given the punishment he had thought to mete out to Mordecai
  48. ^ Book of Esther, ESV Bible edition
  49. ^ Book of Esther, NIRV Bible edition
  50. ^ Haupt (1908), p. 122, 152, 154, 170
  51. ^ Shaw (2012), Was Haman Hanged or Impaled?
  52. ^ The theologian Adam Clarke was deeply suspicious of whether this passage ought to be regarded as part of the original Biblical text, and wrote: "(The definition of יקע (YaQ'a) in Strong's: "a prim. primitive root; prop. properly to sever oneself, i.e. (by impl. implication) to be dislocated; fig. to abandon; causat. causatively to impale (and thus allow to drop to pieces by rotting):- be alienated, depart, hang (up), be out of joint. The seven sons of Saul, mentioned here, [II Samuel 21:9], are represented as a sacrifice required by God, to make an atonement for the sin of Saul. Till I get farther light on the subject, I am led to conclude that the whole chapter is not now what it would be coming from the pen of an inspired writer; and that this part of the Jewish records has suffered much from rabbinical glosses, alterations, and additions." ),Clarke 1831, Bible ed. p. II 267
  53. ^ Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World by John Granger Cook, 2014, published by Mohr Siebeck,ISBN 9783161531248
  54. ^ For law text, Koch (1824) p.63
  55. ^ Engel, Jacob (2006), p.75 A similar punishment of the couple by impalement for adultery if caught in the act is mentioned in Bavarian sources as well, see His (1928), p.150
  56. ^ Schwetschke (1789), col. 692
  57. ^ Ehrlich (2005), p.42
  58. ^ Fick (1867), p.14
  59. ^ Engelmann (1834)p.158
  60. ^ Osenbrüggen (1868), p.297
  61. ^ Schwab (1827), p.256
  62. ^ Gottfried, van Hulsius (1633), p.462
  63. ^ Han (1669), p.203
  64. ^ Beer (1713), p.127
  65. ^ von Loen (1751), p.420-422
  66. ^ von Imhoff (1736), p.1051
  67. ^ Mannheimer Zeitung (1784), p.638 After the revolt was crushed by early 1785, some 150 rebels are said to have been impaled. Vehse, Demmler (1856), p.318
  68. ^ Woltersdorf (1812)p.267
  69. ^ Other such "heinous murderers" cases that have impalement as a prominent element include, for example a case from 1504 and another from 1519, both in Wiltenburg (2012), pp.124-125, the execution of the murderer nicknamed Puschpeter in 1575, Bastian (1860), p.105, the execution of the head of the Pappenheimer family in 1600, Muir (1997), p. 110–111, as well as an unnamed murder in Breslau in 1615, having confessed to 96 acts of murder, Roch (1687), p.249
  70. ^ Daschitsky (1570), p.12
  71. ^ a b Reid, (2000), p. 440
  72. ^ Florescu (1999)
  73. ^ a b
  74. ^ "er liess kinnder praten die musten ire mütter essen. Und schneyd den frawen den prüst ab den musten ire man essen. Darnach liess er sie all spissen.", Gutknecht (1521), p.7
  75. ^ Philippides, Hanak (2011), p.587
  76. ^ Runciman (1965), p.67
  77. ^ Pears, (2004), p.253
  78. ^ de La Mottraye p.188
  79. ^ Russell (1794) p.331
  80. ^ See de Thévenot(1687), p. 68–69 and p.259
  81. ^ Late Ottoman cases in 1830s Balkans, i) Some five case reported 1833, M***r (1833) p. 440–41 columns 2 ii) 1834, Two such corpses, close to the village Paracini in the vicinity of Jagodina, see: Burgess (1835) p.275 iii) Rarity of such cases in the 1830s,Goodrich (1836)p.308 1835, Retaliative cycle Turkish authorities relative Kurdish "robbers", Slade (1837) p.191
  82. ^ Stephen Massett
  83. ^ Massett (1863), p. 88–89
  84. ^ Layard (1871), p.307
  85. ^ Ranft (1769), p.345
  86. ^ "Aiolos (2004)"
  87. ^ Dumas (2008), volume 8, chapter 3
  88. ^ Hughes (1820) p.454, see also, on roasting incident: Holland (1815) p.194
  89. ^ Makrygiannis Yannis, Memoirs, p. 27. (In greek language) Yannis Makrygiannis (1797-1864) was a general and politician, hero of the Greek Revolution.
  90. ^ Paroulakis (1984)
  91. ^ Turkish reprisals on Greek War of independence, i) 2.June 1821, 10 Greeks at Bucharest, Fick (1821) p.254 ii) During the Waddington (1825) p. 52–54 vi) In early 1822 Cassandreia, some 300 civilians massacred, several reported to have been impaled, Grund (1822) p.4 vii) During the last Siege of Missolonghi, in 1826, the Ottoman besiegers offered opportunity for capitulation for the besieged, while they also sent a message of consequences for refusal by impaling alive a priest, two women and several children in front of the line. The offer of capitulation was declined by the besieged Greeks. Alison(1856), p.206
  92. ^ Green (1827)p. 70–72
  93. ^ Constable (1821) p.275 57 Turks roasted at Hydra, according to one source. Merry (2004), p.470
  94. ^ St Clair (2008) p.25 According to one source, the early spring weeks of 1821 saw the murders of more than 20.000 Turks in Greece. Merry (2004), p.470
  95. ^ 20-50 "daily" brought in, most impaled Urban (1810) p.74
  96. ^ Sowards (2009) The Serbian Revolution and the Serbian State
  97. ^ Obituary James Reid
  98. ^ Reid (2000), p.441
  99. ^ Erish (2012) p.212
  100. ^ Shahbaz (1918), p.142

References and notes

A Russian clergyman visiting ravaged Christian villages in northwestern Persia during the Assyrian genocide found the remains of several impaled people. He notes: "The bodies were so firmly fixed, in some instances, that the stakes could not be withdrawn; it was necessary to saw them off and bury the victims as they were."[100]

"The Turks didn't make their crosses like that. The Turks made little pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood, through the vagina. That's the way they killed - the Turks. Americans have made it a more civilized way. They can't show such terrible things."
[99]", showed the victims nailed to crosses. However, almost 70 years later Mardiganian revealed that the scene was inaccurate and went on to describe what was actually an impalement:Ravished Armenia" by their Ottoman tormentors. The film "Auction of Souls" (1919), which was based on her book "crucified, a survivor of the Armenian genocide of 1915–1923, recalled sixteen young Armenian girls being "Aurora Mardiganian

Allegations of impalement during the Assyrian and Armenian genocides have also been recorded.

Occurrences in genocides

Impaling perceived rebels was an attested practice in other parts of the empire as well, such as the 1809 quelling of a Bosnian revolt,[95] and during the Serbian Revolution (1804–1835) against the Ottoman Empire, about 200 Serbs were impaled in Belgrade in 1814.[96] Historian James J. Reid,[97] in his Crisis of the Ottoman Empire: Prelude to Collapse 1839–1878 notes several instances of later use, in particular in times of crises, ordered by military commanders(if not, that is, directly ordered by the supreme authority possessed by the Sultan). He notes late instances of impalement during rebellions (rather than cases of robbery) like the Bosnian revolt of 1852, within the 1860s Macedonian times of trouble, during the Cretan insurrection of 1866–69, and during the insurrections in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1876–77.[98]

Rebels elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire

The Turkish atrocities against the Greek population were (...) witnessed with horror by many Europeans and soon were reported all over Europe. The initial atrocities in Greece, on the other hand, were seen by very few Europeans. If any were reported they were put down to justifiable hatred arising from extreme provocation, and explained away in the same terms as the occasional atrocities committed by European armies
[94], in his "That Greece Might Still Be Free" warns against the skewed perception the Greek War of Independence received in Europe, and writes:William St Clair [93]Hydra Two months earlier, in August 1821, about the same time that some 40 Ionians were impaled by the Turks, Greek insurgents roasted at least as many Turks alive at [92] in October 1821, where several thousands were massacred, many impaled and roasted.Siege of TripolitsaOne of the worst atrocities committed by the Greeks was the massacre following the

During the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832), Athanasios Diakos, a klepht and later a rebel military commander, was captured after the Battle of Alamana (1821), near Thermopylae, and after refusing to convert to Islam and join the Ottoman army, he was impaled, and died after three days.[89] Diakos became a martyr for a Greek independence and was later honored as a national hero.[90][91]

"Here criminals have been roasted alive over a slow fire, impaled, and skinned alive; others have had their extremities chopped off, and some have been left to perish with the skin of the face stripped over their necks. At first I doubted the truth of these assertions, but they were abundantly confirmed to me by persons of undoubted veracity. Some of the most respectable inhabitants of loannina assured me that they had sometimes conversed with these wretched victims on the very stake, being prevented from yielding to their torturing requests for water by fear of a similar fate themselves. Our own resident, as he was once going into the serai of Litaritza, saw a Greek priest, the leader of a gang of robbers, nailed alive to the outer wall of the palace, in sight of the whole city."
[88], visiting Greece and Albania in 1812–13, says the following about his stay in Ioannina:Thomas Smart Hughes, had rebels, criminals, and even the descendants of those who had wronged him or his family in the past, impaled and roasted alive. For example, Ioannina-born Ottoman noble who ruled Albanian, an Ali Pasha Among other severities, [87].roasted alive, so that the impaled victim might be spitImpalement was, on occasion, aggravated with being set over a fire, the impaling stake acting as a

During the Ottoman rule of Greece, impalement became an important tool of psychological warfare, intended to put terror into the peasant population. By the 18th century, Greek bandits turned guerrilla insurgents (known as klephts) became an increasing annoyance to the Ottoman government. Captured klephts were often impaled, as were peasants that harbored or aided them. Victims were publicly impaled and placed at highly visible points, and had the intended effect on many villages who not only refused to help the klephts, but would even turn them in to the authorities. The Ottomans engaged in active campaigns to capture these insurgents in 1805 and 1806, and were able to enlist Greek villagers, eager to avoid the stake, in the hunt for their outlaw countrymen.[86]

Klephts and rebels in Greece

Impalement of pirates, rather than highway robbers, is also occasionally recorded. In October 1767, for example, Hassan Bey, who had preyed on Turkish ships in the Euxine Sea for a number of years, was captured and impaled, even though he had offered 500.000 ducats for his pardon.[85]

Highway robbers were still impaled into the 1830s, but one source says the practice was rare by then.[81] Travelling to Smyrna and Constantinople in 1843, Stephen Massett[82] was told by a man who witnessed the event that "just a few years ago", a dozen or so robbers were impaled at Adrianople. All of them, however, had been strangled prior to impalement.[83] Writing around 1850, the archaeologist Austen Henry Layard mentions that the latest case he was acquainted with happened "about ten years ago" in Baghdad, on four rebel Arab sheikhs.[84]

Within the Ottoman Empire, some civil crimes (rather than rebel activity/treasonous behavior), such as highway robbery, might be punished by impalement. For some periods at least, executions for civil crimes were claimed to have been rather rare in the Ottoman Empire. For example, Aubry de La Motraye, lived in the realm for 14 years from 1699 to 1713 and claimed that he hadn't heard of twenty thieves in Constantinople during that time. As for highway robbers, who sure enough had been impaled, Aubry heard of only 6 such cases during his residence there.[78] Staying at Aleppo from 1740–54, Alexander Russell notes that in the 20 years gone by, there were no more than "half a dozen" public executions there.[79] Jean de Thévenot, traveling in the Ottoman Empire and its territories like Egypt in the late 1650s, emphasizes the regional variations in impalement frequency. Of Constantinople and Turkey, de Thévenot writes that impalement was "not much practiced" and "very rarely put in practice." An exception he highlighted was the situation of Christians in Constantinople. If a Christian spoke or acted out against the "Law of Mahomet", or consorted with a Turkish woman, or broke into a mosque, then he might face impalement unless he converted to Islam. In contrast, de Thévenot says that in Egypt impalement was a "very ordinary punishment" against the Arabs there, whereas Turks in Egypt were strangled in prison instead of being publicly executed like the natives.[80] Thus, the actual frequency of impalement within the Ottoman Empire varied greatly, not only from time to time, but also from place to place, and between different population groups in the empire.

Civil crimes

The Ottoman Empire used impalement during, and before, the last siege of Constantinople in 1453.[71] For example, during the buildup phase to the great siege the year before, in 1452, the sultan declared that all ships sailing up or down through the Bosphorus had to anchor at his fortress there, for inspection. One Venetian captain, Antonio Rizzo, sought to defy the ban, but his ship was hit by a cannonball. He and his crew were picked up from the waters, the crew members to be beheaded (or sawn asunder according to Niccolò Barbaro[75]), whereas Rizzo was impaled.[76] In the early days of the siege in May 1453, contingents of the Ottoman army made mop-up operations at minor fortifications like Therapia and Studium. The surrendered soldiers, some 40 individuals from each place, were impaled.[77]

Siege of Constantinople

Longitudinal impalement is an execution method often attested within the Ottoman Empire, for a variety of offenses.

Ottoman Empire

He let children be roasted; those, their mothers were forced to eat. And (he) cut off the breasts of women; those, their husbands were forced to eat. After that, he had them all impaled
— [74]

As an example of how Vlad Țepeș soon became iconic for all horrors unimaginable, the following pamphlet from 1521 pours out putative incidents like this one:

Purported image of a Polish prisoner of war being tortured by Bolshevik soldiers, Polish–Soviet War, 1920 image by Frenchman telling his story to The New York Times, 1920 Sees Bolshevism as Hideous Religion

During the 15th century, Vlad III ("Dracula"), Prince of Wallachia, is credited as the first notable figure to prefer this method of execution during the late medieval period,[71] and became so notorious for its liberal employment that among his several nicknames he was known as Vlad the Impaler.[72] After being orphaned, betrayed, forced into exile and pursued by his enemies, he retook control of Wallachia in 1456. He dealt harshly with his enemies, especially those who had betrayed his family in the past, or had profited from the misfortunes of Wallachia. Though a variety of methods was employed, he has been most associated with his use of impalement. The liberal use of capital punishment was eventually extended to Saxon settlers, members of a rival clan,[73] and criminals in his domain, whether they were members of the boyar nobility or peasants, and eventually to any among his subjects that displeased him. Following the multiple campaigns against the invading Ottoman Turks, Vlad would never show mercy to his prisoners of war. After The Night Attack of Vlad Ţepeş in mid-June 1462 failed to assassinate the Ottoman sultan, the road to Târgovişte, the capital of Vlad's principality of Wallachia, eventually became inundated in a "forest" of 20,000 impaled and decaying corpses, and it is reported that Mehmet II's invading army of Turks turned back to Constantinople in 1462 after encountering thousands of impaled corpses along the Danube River.[73] Woodblock prints from the era portray his victims impaled from either the frontal or the dorsal aspect, but not vertically.

Woodblock print of Vlad III "Dracula" attending a mass impalement


Paul Wasansky, who in 1570 was executed in Ivančice, in present day Czech Republic, on account of 124 confessed murders (he was a roaming highwayman), underwent a particularly gruelling execution procedure: First, his limbs were cut off and his nipples were ripped off with glowing pincers. He was then flayed, afterwards impaled and finally roasted alive.[70] The pamphlet, which purports to give Wasansky's verbatim confession, does not record how Wasansky was apprehended, nor what means of torture was used to extract his confessions.

Occasionally, individual murderers were perceived to have been so heinous that standard punishments like beheading or to be broken on the wheel were not regarded as sufficiently commensurate with their crimes, and extended rituals of execution that might include impalement were devised. The case of Paul Wasansky may serve as an example here.[69]

Execution of Paul Wasansky in 1570

From 1748 and onwards, German regiments organized manhunts on "robbers" in Hungary/Croatia, impaling those caught.[68]

In 1677, a particularly brutal German General Kops leading the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I designed to keep Hungary dominated by the Germans, rather than to become dominated by the Turks, began impaling and quartering his Hungarian subjects/opponents. An opposing general for the Hungarians, Wesselényi, responded in kind, by flaying alive Imperial troops, and fixing sharp iron hooks in fortress walls, upon which he threw captured Germans to be impaled. Finally, Emperor Leopold I had had enough of the mutual bloodshed, and banished Kops in order to establish a needed cessation of hostilities.[65] After the Treaty of The Hague (1720), Sicily fell under Habsburg rule, but the locals deeply resented the German overlords. One parish priest (who exhorted his parishioners to kill the Germans) is said to have broken into joy when a German soldier arrived at his village, exclaiming it was gone a whole eight days since last he killed a German, and shot the soldier off his horse. The priest was later impaled.[66] In the short-lived 1784 Horea Revolt against the Austrians and Hungarians, the rebels gained hold of two officers they promptly impaled. On their side, the imperial troops got hold of Horea's 13-year-old son, and impaled him. That seems to have merely inflamed the rebel leader's determination, although the revolt was quashed shortly afterwards.[67]

Individuals perceived of collaborating with the enemy have, on occasion, been impaled. For example, in 1632 during the Thirty Years' War, the German officer Fuchs was impaled on suspicion of defecting to the Swedes,[61] a Swedish corporal was likewise impaled for trying to defect to the Germans.[62] In 1654, under the Ottoman siege of the Venetian garrison at Crete, several peasants were impaled for supplying provisions to the besieged.[63] Likewise in 1685, some Christians were impaled by the Hungarians for having provided supplies to the Turks.[64]

Cases of longitudinal impalement can be found typically in the context of war or as a punishment of robbers, the latter being attested as practice in Central and Eastern Europe.

Longitudinal impalement

Rapists of virgins and children are also attested to have been buried alive, with a stake driven through them. In one such judicial tradition, the rapist was to be placed in an open grave, and the rape victim was ordered to make the three first strokes on the stake herself; the executioners then finishing the impalement procedure.[59] Serving as an example of the fate of a child molester, in August 1465 in Zurich, Switzerland, Ulrich Moser was condemned to be impaled, for having sexually violated six girls between the ages four and nine. His clothes were taken off, and he was placed on his back. His arms and legs were stretched out, each secured to a pole. Then a stake was driven through his navel down into the ground. Thereafter, people left him to die.[60]

Within the Holy Roman Empire, in article 131 of the 1532 Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, the following punishment was stated for women found guilty of infanticide. Generally, they should be drowned, but the law code allowed for, in particularly severe cases, that the old punishment could be implemented. That is, the woman would be buried alive, and then a stake would be driven through her heart.[54] Similarly, burial alive, combined with transversal impalement is attested as an early execution method for people found guilty of adultery. For example, from the 1348 statutes of Zwickau, it seems that an adulterous couple could be punished in the following way: They were to be placed on top of each other in a grave, with a layer of thorns between them. Then, a single stake was to be hammered through them.[55] A similar punishment by impalement for a proven male adulterer is mentioned in a 13th-century ordinance for Bohemian mining town Iglau,[56] whereas in a 1340 Vienna statute, the husband of a woman caught in flagrante in adultery could, if he wished to, demand that his wife and her lover be impaled, alternatively demand a monetary restitution.[57] Occasionally, women found guilty of witchcraft have been condemned to be impaled. In 1587 Kiel, 101-year-old Sunde Bohlen was, on being condemned as a witch, buried alive, and afterwards had a stake driven through her heart.[58]

Transversal impalement


"Video istic cruces ne unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas; capite quidam conuersos in terram suspendere, alii per obscena stipitem egerunt, alii brachia patibulo explicuerunt; video fidiculas, video uerbera..." [53]
"I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made differently by different [fabricators]; some individuals suspended their victims with heads inverted toward the ground; some drove a stake (stipes) through their excretory organs/fenitlas; others stretched out their [victims'] arms on a patibulum [cross bar]; I see racks, I see lashes..."

From John Granger Cook, 2014, - "Stipes is Seneca's term of the object used for impalement. This narrative and his Ep. 14.5 are the only two textually explicit references of impalement in Latin texts..."


Although conclusive evidence might be wanting either way for whether Hebrew Law allowed for impalement, or just hanging, the Neo-Assyrian method of impalement as seen in the carvings could, perhaps, equally easily be seen as a form of hanging upon a pole, rather than focusing upon the stake's actual penetration of the body.

"And they handed them over to the Gibeonites, and they impaled them ויקיעם (VeYiQY`aM) on the mountain before YHVH, and all seven of them fell together. And they were killed in the first days of the harvest, at the beginning of the barley harvest."<[52]

Other passages in the Bible allude to the practice of impalement, such as II Samuel 21:9, concerning the fate of the sons of Saul.

[51] Some controversy exist between different Bible translations concerning the actual fate of the 5th century BC Persian minister

Ambiguous Biblical evidence

If a woman with her consent brings on a miscarriage, they seize her, and determine her guilt. On a stake they impale her, and do not bury her; and if through the miscarriage she dies, they likewise impale her and do not bury her

Although impalement of rebels and enemies is particularly well-attested from Neo-Assyrian times, the 14th century BC Mitanni king Shattiwaza charges his predecessor, the usurper Shuttarna III for having delivered unto the (Middle) Assyrians[42] several nobles, who had them promptly impaled.[43] Some scholars have said, though, that it is only with king Ashur-bel-kala (r.1074-1056) that we have solid evidence that punishments like flaying and impaling came into use.[44] From the Middle Assyrian period, we have evidence about impalement as a form of punishment relative to other types of perceived crimes as well. The law code discovered and deciphered by Dr. Otto Schroeder[45] contains in its paragraph 51 the following injunction against abortion:[46]

Paul Kern,[40] in his (1999) "Ancient Siege Warfare" provides some statistics on how different Neo-Assyrian kings from the times of Ashurnasirpal II commemorated their punishments of rebels[41]

"I cut off their hands, I burned them with fire, a pile of the living men and of heads over against the city gate I set up, men I impaled on stakes, the city I destroyed and devastated, I turned it into mounds and ruin heaps, the young men and the maidens in the fire I burned"
[39] (r.883-859 BC) was evidently proud enough of his bloody work that he committed it to monument and eternal memory as follows:Ashurnasirpal II that they took pride in. For example, Neo-Assyrian King might rather than along the full body length. For the Neo-Assyrians, mass executions seem to have been not only designed to instill terror and to enforce obedience, but also, it can seem, as proofs of their [38] about the "Neo-Assyrian" way of impaling was that the stake was "driven into the body immediately under the ribs",[37] A peculiarity[36]'s time (r.722-705 BC), a relief from his palace at Khorsabad shows the impalement of 14 enemies during an attack on the city of Pazashi.Sargon II From Sennacherib's father [35] during the same campaign.Ekron (r.705-681 BC), who proceeded similarly against the inhabitants of Sennacherib under King [34],Siege of Lachish is a detail from the public commemoration of the Assyrian victory in 701 BC after the Judeans (rough dating, 934-609 BCE). The image of the impaled Neo-Assyrian empireEvidence by carvings and statues is found as well, for example from

Neo-Assyrian Empire

During Dynasty 19, Merenptah had Libu prisoners of war impaled ("caused to be set upon a stake") to the south of Memphis, following an attempted invasion of Egypt during his Regnal Year 5.[32] The relevant determinative for ḫt ("stake") depicts an individual transfixed though the abdomen.[33] Other Egyptian kings employing impalements include Sobekhotep II, Akhenaten, Seti, and Ramesses IX.[33]

Pharaonic Egypt

The earliest known use of impalement as a form of execution occurred in civilizations of the ancient Near East. For example, the Code of Hammurabi, promulgated about 1772 BC[26] by the Babylonian king Hammurabi specifies impaling for a woman who killed her husband for the sake of another man.[27] In the late Isin/Larsa period, from about the same time, it seems that, in some city states, mere adultery on the wife's part (without murder of her husband mentioned) could be punished by impalement.[28] From the royal archives of the city of Mari (at the Syrian-Iraqi border by the western bank of Euphrates), most of it also roughly contemporary to Hammurabi, it is known that soldiers taken captive in war were on occasion impaled.[29] Roughly contemporary with Babylonia under Hammurabi, king Siwe-Palar-huhpak of Elam, a country lying directly east of Babylonia in present day Iran, made official edicts in which he threatened the allies of his enemies with impalement, among other terrible fates.[30] For acts of perceived great sacrilege, some individuals, in diverse cultures, have been impaled for their effrontery. For example, roughly 1200 BC, merchants of Ugarit express deep concern to each other that a fellow citizen is to be impaled in the Phoenician town Sidon, due to some "great sin" committed against the patron deity of Sidon.[31]

Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East

Impalement of Judeans in a Neo-Assyrian relief



A recurring horror story on many websites and popular media outlets is that Japanese soldiers during World War II inflicted bamboo torture upon prisoners of war. The victim was supposedly tied securely in place above a young bamboo shoot. Over several days, the sharp, fast growing shoot would first puncture, then completely penetrate the victim's body, eventually emerging through the other side.[25] The cast of the TV program MythBusters investigated bamboo torture in a 2008 episode and found that a bamboo shoot can penetrate through several inches of ballistic gelatin in three days. For research purposes, ballistic gelatin is considered comparable to human flesh, and the experiment thus supported the viability of this form of torture, if not its historical use.

Bamboo torture

A slightly variant way of executing people by means of impalement was to force an iron meat hook beneath a person's ribs and hang him up to die slowly. This technique was in 18th century Ottoman-controlled Bosnia called the cengela,[23] but the practice is also attested, for example, in 1770s Dutch Suriname as a punishment meted out to rebellious slaves.[24]

"A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows," by William Blake. Originally published in Stedman's Narrative.

Hanged by the ribs

[22] Taken captive in 1596, the barber-surgeon William Davies relates something of the heights involved when thrown upon hooks (although it is somewhat unclear if this relates specifically to the city of Algiers, or elsewhere in the Barbary States): "Their ganshing is after this manner: he sitteth upon a wall, being five fathoms high, within two fathoms of the top of the wall; right under the place where he sits, is a strong iron hook fastened, being very sharp; then he is thrust off the wall upon this hook, with some part of his body, and there he hangeth, sometimes two or three days, before he dieth." Davies adds that "these deaths are very seldom", but that he had personally witnessed it [21] that in his own 20 years of captivity there, he knew of only one case where a Christian slave who had murdered his master had met that fate, and "not above" two or three Moors besides.[20] of throwing persons on hooks in Algiers, Capt. Henry Boyde notesfrequency As for the actual [19]According to one source, these hooks in the wall as an execution method were introduced with the construction of the new city gate in 1573. Before that time, gaunching as described by de Tournefort was in use.
"..but the Moors and Arabs are either impaled for the same crime, or else they are hung up by the neck, over the battlements of the city walls, or else they are thrown upon the chingan or hooks that are fixed all over the walls below, where sometimes they break from one hook to another, and hang in the most exquisite torments, thirty or forty hours."

Thomas Shaw,[17] who was chaplain for the Levant Company stationed at Algiers during the 1720s, describes the various forms of executions practiced as follows:[18]

While gaunching as de Tournefort describes involves the erection of a scaffold, it seems that in the city of Algiers, hooks were embedded in the city walls, and on occasion, people were thrown upon them from the battlements.

Hooks in the city wall

Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, travelling on botanical research in the Levant 1700–1702, observed both ordinary longitudinal impalement, but also a method called "gaunching", in which the condemned is hoisted up by means of a rope over a bed of sharp metal hooks. He is then released, and depending on how the hooks enter his body, he may survive in impaled condition for a few days.[13] Forty years earlier than de Tournefort, de Thévenot described much the same process, adding that it was seldom used because it was regarded as too cruel.[14] Some 80 years prior to de Thevenot, in 1579, Hans Jacob Breuning von Buchenbach[15] witnessed a variant of the gaunching ritual. A large iron hook was fixed on the horizontal cross-bar of the gallows and the individual was forced upon this hook, piercing him from the abdomen through his back, so that he hung from it, hands, feet and head downward. On top of the cross bar, the executioner situated himself and performed various torture on the impaled man below him.[16]

Original in-image text from 1741 edition of Tournefort: "The Gaunche, a sort of punishment in use among the Turks."



In the Holy Roman Empire (and elsewhere in Central/Eastern Europe), women who killed their newborn could be liable to be placed in an open grave, and have a stake hammered into their heart. A detailed description of an execution in this manner comes from 17th century Košice (then in Hungary, now in eastern Slovakia). A woman was to be executed for infanticide, the executioner had two assistants to help him. First, a grave, some one-and-a-half ell deep was dug. The woman was placed within it, her hands and feet secured by driving nails through them. Then, the executioner placed a small thorn bush upon her face. He then placed and held vertically a wooden stave at her heart, while his assistants piled earth on the woman. Her head, though, was kept free of earth, at the behest of the clerics, because that would have quickened her death process. Once the earth had been piled upon her, the executioner grabbed with a pair of tongs a rod made of iron, which had been made red hot. He positioned the glowing iron rod beside the wooden stave, and as one of his assistants hammered the rod in, the other assistant emptied a trough of earth upon the woman's head. It is said that a scream was heard, and that the earth actually moved upwards for a moment, before all was over.[12]

Alternatively, the impalement could be transversally performed, for example in the frontal-to-dorsal direction, that is, from front (through abdomen,[8] chest[9] or directly through the heart[10]) to back or vice versa[11]

Transversal impalement


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