9 Insane Torture Techniques

So you think your mother-in-law is torturous? Or your boss with the lame sense of humor? Get a load of the following nine insane torture techniques used in different parts of the world to kill, dismember, or otherwise cause inordinate amounts of pain. We promise: you'll never use the word torturous the same way again.

1. Chinese Bamboo Torture

As you probably know, bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Although there's no real proof that it was used, Chinese Bamboo Torture took advantage of bamboo's propensity to grow quickly. How quickly? Well, some varieties in parts of China grow as much as three feet in a single day. In addition to ancient China, many believe that the Japanese used Chinese Bamboo Torture on POWs during WWII.

How it worked:

1. Tips of living bamboo were cut sharp to create a spear.
2. The victim was suspended horizontally above such a patch of bamboo.
3. The bamboo pierced through the victim's skin and continued to grow through his abdomen, ultimately causing one of the most painful deaths ever inflicted.

Watch the Mythbusters prove that Chinese Bamboo Torture is possible.

2. The Iron Maiden

Like bamboo torture, the Iron Maiden is sometimes thought to be fictional. But this torture technique, using an upright sarcophagus with spikes on the inner surfaces, definitely existed. Invented in the late 18th century, this is the device that the metal band Iron Maiden took their name from.

How it worked:

1. The victim was forced into the spiked sarcophagus and shut in.
2. The short spikes welded into the chamber weren't long enough to kill anyone, but did plenty of damage and inflicted enough pain that an interrogator on the outside was usually able to get a confession.
3. If not, nails and other sharp objects like knives, were inserted into the chamber, inflicting more pain.
4. Generally, between the spikes and the knives, victims would bleed to death after said confession, or sometimes before.
5. Some Iron Maidens also had spikes in place to puncture the eyes.

3. Scaphism (aka "The Boats")

The word scaphism comes from the Greek word skaphe, meaning scooped or hollowed. An ancient Persian method of torture, wherein the victim was eaten alive by bugs, scaphism was also known as "the boats" for reasons you'll understand momentarily.

How it worked:

1. A captive was stripped naked and chained to a pair of back-to-back narrow rowboats or hollowed out tree trunks.
2. The captive was then left to float on a stagnant pond.
3. He was then force fed copious amounts of milk and honey.
4. The victim would develop serious diarrhea, which would in turn attract insects.
5. The insects would then feed on the victim's exposed flesh.

4. The Choke Pear

The Choke Pear was popular during the Middle Ages. Crimes worthy of choke pear torture included blasphemy, lying, having a miscarriage, and homosexual intercourse. Depending on the crime, the torturer would insert the pear into a different part of the criminal's body. Women usually got it in the vagina, homosexuals in the anus, and liars and blasphemers in the mouth.

How it worked:

1. An instrument consisting of sharpened leaf-like segments was inserted into the victim's orifice.
2. The torturer turned a screw at the top, causing the leafs to open, slowly.
3. As the leafs separated, severe internal mutilation occurred.

5. The Brazen Bull

Designed in ancient Greece, the Brazen Bull was a hollowed brass bull statue designed and invented by Perillos of Athens, commissioned, if you will, by Phalaris, the tyrant of Acragas in Sicily.

How it worked:

1. Victims were locked into the hollowed brass bull.
2. A fire was lit under the bull.
3. The victim was roasted alive.
4. The design of the bull's head was such that the victim's screams were made to sound like the bull roaring.
5. The scorched remains were often made into bracelets and sold at market.

6. Rat Torture

One of the most widely recognized forms of bizarre torture, thanks in part to the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious, rat torture is thought to be an ancient Chinese technique. Below, however, we'll describe a particular form of rat torture developed by Diederik Sonoy, a leader during the Dutch revolt of the 16th century.

How it worked:

1. A prisoner was chained down naked on a table.
2. Large, heavy bowls with disease-infected rats were placed open-side down on the prisoner.
3. Hot charcoal was piled on top of the bowls, agitating the rats.
4. In an attempt to escape from the hot bowls, the rats would gnaw their way through the victim's flesh.

7. Judas Cradle

The Spanish Inquisition was known for its many torture devices, and the Judas Cradle was one of the most painful. Also known as the Judas chair, victims usually died of infection, as the seat was never cleaned between uses.

How it worked:

1. The victim was placed on top of a pyramid-shaped seat, with both legs tied together.
2. The chair's point was usually inserted into the anus or vagina, stretching the orifice.
3. The victim was slowly lowered via ropes.
4. The torture might last a few hours or, sometimes, a few days.

8. Crushing by Elephant

For thousands of years, crushing by elephant was a commonly practiced form of torture in Southeast Asia and India. Given the animals' sheer weight, intelligence and susceptibility to training (as we know from the circus), elephants were an obvious choice.

How it worked:

1. Victims were tied down on the floor.
2. Elephants were led into the room to stomp on the victim's head.
3. Often they prolonged the agony by first dismembering victims.

9. The Rack

What short list of torture techniques would be complete without the infamous rack? Consisting of a long wooden board and a couple of rollers, the rack was first used on early Christian martyrs like Vincent of Saragossa, who was tortured to death around the year 300. And, as we've seen all too often in bad Hollywood films, as interrogation assistance, simply forcing a prisoner to watch someone else suffering on the rack was generally enough to get him talking. Anyone who survived the rack was generally unable to use his muscles for the remainder of his life. Good times!

How it worked:

1. The victim was chained to rollers at both ends of the device's wooden frame and then pulled in opposite directions.
2. By ratcheting up the tension on the rollers, the victim's limbs were ripped out of their sockets.

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s first book—and is still her best known. But had the beloved author not had the confidence to publish the book on her own terms, we might not have ever known her name (or Peter Rabbit's) today.

The origin of Peter Rabbit dates back in 1893, when Potter wrote the beginnings of what would become her iconic children’s book in a letter she sent to Noel Moore, the ailing five-year-old son of Annie Carter Moore, Potter's friend and former governess. “I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” the story began.

According to The Telegraph, it was Carter Moore who encouraged Potter to turn her story and its illustrations into a book. Initially, she attempted to go the traditional route and sent the book to six publishers, each of whom rejected it because Potter was insistent that the book be small enough for a child to hold while the publishers wanted something bigger (so that they could charge more money for it). It wasn't a compromise that Potter was willing to make, so she took the matter into her own hands.

On December 16, 1901, a 35-year-old Potter used her personal savings to privately print 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book turned out to be a hit—so much so that, within a year, Frederick Warne and Co. (one of the publishers that had originally rejected the book) signed on to get into the Peter Rabbit business. In October 1902, they published their own version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, complete with Potter's illustrations, and by Christmastime it had sold 20,000 copies. It has since been translated into nearly 40 different languages and sold more than 45 million copies.

In August 1903, Frederick Warne and Co. published Potter's next book, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. A few months later, Warne published The Tailor of Gloucester, which Potter had originally self-published in 1902 for reasons similar to her decision to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

"She was very dogmatic about what she wanted it to look like and couldn’t agree with Warne," rare book dealer Christiaan Jonkers told The Guardian about why Potter self-published The Tailor of Gloucester. "Also he wanted cuts, so she published 500 copies privately. By the end of the year Warne had given in, cementing a relationship that would save the publishing house from bankruptcy, and revolutionize the way children's books were marketed and sold."

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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