Execution is a common punishment throughout the world for cruel and unspeakable acts of violence and acts of rage. The cruelest form of execution is hard to say because there are many different forms of execution. Execution dates back to the middle ages. It was used for a large number of crimes including petty offenses involving property. Most death sentences involved torture, such as burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, and strangulation.
Burning at the stake was a popular death sentence and means of torture, used mostly for witches and suspicious women. Burning dates back to the Christian era, where, in 643, an edict declared it illegal to burn witches. The increased persecution of witches throughout the centuries resulted in millions of women being burned at the stake. Burning at the stake as a punishment for witches came to North America, where, in the famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, twenty people were burned. The last legal execution by burning at the stake came with the end of the Spanish Inquisition in 1834.
The wheel as a method of torture and execution could be used in a number of ways. A person could be attached to the outer rim of the wheel and then rolled over sharp spikes, or down a hill, to their death. Also, the wheel could be laid on its side, like a turntable, with the person tied to it. The wheel would turn, and people would take turns beating the victim with iron bars, breaking bones and eventually causing death.
In 1789, when Dr. Joseph Guillotin proposed that all criminals be executed by the same method and that torture should be kept to a minimum. Decapitation was thought to be the least painful and most humane method of execution at the time. The first execution by guillotine took place in 1792The last official use came in 1977 in France, and the device has not officially been used since.
Hanging was a popular way of executing people. The prisoner could simply be hanged with a noose, fracturing the neck. The Garotte was also a popular method of torture, and similar to hanging. A mechanical device such as a rack or a gag would be tightened around the person’s neck, causing slow strangulation, stretching. A device could also be placed in a prisoner’s mouth and kept in place by tying and locking a chain around his or her neck.
Today capital punishment has become less gruesome than the beheadings and torture that were common centuries before. Lethal injection, electrocution, and lethal gas have become the preferred methods of execution in the United States, mostly because these methods appear to be less offensive to the public, and more humane for the prisoner.