The 15 Worst Torture Devices In History

The 15 Worst Torture Devices In History

Torture has been a constant and horrific element of the human existence throughout history. We just can’t seem to get enough of doing awful things to each other in the name of war, information extraction and religion. Perhaps one of the worst elements to torture is just how ingenious some of the methods and devices that we have invented are. Here are some of the worst.

The Tub

A person was placed into an enclosed wooden tub that had just enough room for their head to poke out. Their face was then covered in honey and milk to attract flies, bees and the like. To make matters worse, the victim was fed so they would marinate in their own excrement and be eaten alive by maggots and worms as they began to rot. Simple, yet effective.

Judas Cradle

A horrifically inventive form of impalement, this involved the victim sitting on top of a pyramid shaped cradle. Their appendages were tied with ropes and then used to slowly force them down, which would stretch their sphincter and slowly impale them. The cradles were rarely washed so infection was often rife with this brand of torture.

Heretic’s Fork

This involved securing a double ended bi-pronged fork between the victim’s chin and sternum. They were then either suspended so they couldn’t lie down or sleep – if they let their head drop they would impale their chest and throat.

The Water Cure

Similar to waterboarding, this would involve shoving a tube down the victim’s throat and forcing them to ingest large quantities of water (or bile and urine if they were unlucky) until their stomach was full. They would then be beaten until they vomited so the whole process could be repeated.

Catherine Wheel

Also known as the breaking wheel, this form of torture was designed to kill a victim slowly. After being strapped in, the wheel was turned and the torturer would break various body parts with an iron hammer. The victim would generally be left on the wheel so birds could feast on their flesh whilst they slowly died of dehydration.

Iron Maiden

No, not the band. This human-sized container was filled with spikes so once a person was enclosed they couldn’t move without impaling themselves in any given direction.


Here’s one for the sailing lovers. Victims would be tied securely to a ship and then thrown overboard where they would be subsequently dragged under the hull. To add to the experience, the underside of most of these ships would be covered in barnacles so they would also get a good flaying with a side of salt water.

Thumb Screws

One of the better known devices used for confessions or information extraction, thumb screws were designed to crush the fingers and toes of their victims. They also came in larger incarnations in order to crush larger appendages such and knees and heads.

The Breast Ripper

Designed exclusively for women, this clawed device (which was often heated first) was used, as the same suggests, to rip chunks of flesh from the breasts. These were generally utilised as punishment for adultery or abortion.

The Lead Sprinkler

Shaped vaguely like a large baby’s rattle, this was filled with either molten lead, boiling water or oil in order to sprinkle over a victim’s body – especially their eyes.

The Rack

With so many contenders on this list it’s difficult to believe that anything in considered to be the most painful form of medieval torture, but the rack allegedly holds the crown. Made from a wooden frame with ropes attached, it was designed to dislocate a victim’s arms and legs. After being tied down, a handle was turned which would gradually stretch their limbs until they not only dislocated but were completely ripped from their body.

Rat Torture

This isn’t one for those with weak stomachs… literally. This particularly sadistic practice involved strapping a cage full of rats or mice to a victim’s naked torso. Heat was then applied to the outside so the rodents would burrow away in the only direction they could – straight down.

The Spanish Donkey

Imagine a wooden pommel horse with a v-wedge and you have a Spanish Donkey. Named for the Spanish Inquisition, this somehow manages to be the even more sadistic brother of the Judas Cradle. Victims were then made to straddle it naked whilst weights were gradually added to their feet so the wedge would slowly slice into them.

The Brazen Bull

Also known as the Sicilian Bull, this torture device fares from ancient Greece. The victim would be placed inside a large brass bull cast over a fire. As the cast heated up the person would slowly roast to death on the inside – their screams purposely amplified to sound like a roaring bull.

Saw Torture

Apparently it wasn’t enough to saw someone vertically in half. Instead, this particular form of torture involved hanging them upside down so the blood that rushed to their heads would prevent them from losing consciousness.