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10 Terrible Torture Tools from the Middle Ages

Terrible Torture Tools from the Middle Ages

Modern torture is certainly not inferior, but even in the Middle Ages people knew all too well what really terrified people. Many tortured people therefore died a gruesome death as a result of the ten following medieval torture devices.

10. Torture Chest

torture box

The torture box made torture as terrible as it was simple. The victim is pushed into the steel box, which has the shape of a human body. Depending on how much it fits in the coffin or not, the process is more or ‘less’ painful. When it came to a death penalty, victims were then left for dead. This usually implied that they were eaten by birds and/or wild animals.

9. Wheel Breaking

breaking the wheel

This is perhaps the most well-known medieval torture device today. Breaking the wheel guaranteed a slow, but certain death. The victim was tied to the wheels (spokes) of the wheel, after which they were (slowly) turned. The torturer also used a hammer to break the limbs and bones of the broken-hearted. Once that was done, it was left on the wheel until death. In addition, it was considered an act of compassion for the dying to receive blows to the stomach or chest to hasten the dying process. The memory of this practice can still be found today in words such as ‘coup de grace’.

8. Knee Splitter

Knee Splitter

The knee splitter was a commonly used tool of the Spanish Inquisition. Not only knees, but also other body parts can simply be cut from the body by this dangerous tool. Once brought together, the sharp teeth rip through the flesh, cutting through the bones. In some cases, the splitter of the knees was additionally heated to make the torture even more painful.

7. Halve


Halving was seen as a very effective and cheap way of torture. The victim is gagged here and hung upside down, so that the blood draws to the brain and the body bleeds out very slowly. Usually, medieval victims were then (only) sawn open between the crotch and the belly. To speed up the process, or to make an extremely gruesome statement, it could also happen that a victim was sawed completely in half, from the cross.

6. Pear

bell pear

The bell pepper was used on women who were blamed for crimes such as blasphemy or spreading lies. Homosexuals and abortionists were also machined. The pear is inserted into the rectum or vagina, and sometimes also into the mouth (in case of lies or blasphemy). The device consists of four ‘blades’, which can be opened via a screw. This is done after the pear has been administered. The result is severe mutilations and dislocations of the skeletal system.

5. Iron Spider

iron spider

In its loose form, this torture device is also called ‘breast tearer’. After all, it was mainly applied to female victims. They were condemned when they cheated on their husbands or had an abortion. The harness not only causes terrible pain, it mutilates the breasts in an irreparable way and then causes the victim to bleed out.

4. The Rad

the wheel

Another torture device that most of us will remember is the wheel. Medieval victims feared this rig most of all. The wooden frame contains ropes at the bottom and on the turning handle (at the top). The wrists and ankles of the victim were tied with these bandages. Then the torturer turned the wheel via the lever. This slowly stretched the tortured to the point where the limbs tore open. Sometimes arms and legs were effectively torn off from the body. In later years, skewers were additionally added to the wheel. They slowly penetrated the back of the unfortunate.

3. Impale


This ancient technique forces the victim to sit on the sharp end of a pole. Then it slowly slides down. The entrails are torn apart along the way, until the skewer leaves the body on the other side. Depending on which parts are hit, the victim will die sooner or later. Sometimes one could be impaled for up to three days.

2. Main breaker

head breaker

Another favorite rig of the Spanish Inquisition was the head breaker. On this harness, the victim places his chin over the metal bar at the bottom. The screw cap is then placed on his upper head. Then the head is literally broken (crushed, shattered) via downward pressure. Teeth break first, followed by the rest of the skull. On some models, a tray is provided for protruding eyes.

1. Judas cradle

Judas cradle

The Judas cradle is a form of impalement. The victim’s vagina or rectum is suspended over a metal skewer via an abdominal belt and bandages. By releasing and/or lowering the ropes, he/she then slides slowly over the post. That way, the impalement could of course take an extremely long time.

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