The human race is without a doubt the most ambitious, creative, and innovative species on the planet. As humans, we take pride in our ability to think creatively outside the box. We can create things and act in ways that other beings cannot, but that’s not always a good thing—consider some of the more violent chapters in our history books.
For example, one can’t help but wonder who in their right mind could have conceived of some of the torture devices that were commonly used throughout the centuries. Even worse, according to Sky History, scenes of gruesome torture and execution were frequently broadcast. Once, British historian James Anthony Froude stated: “Wild animals never kill for sport.” Only man finds amusement in the torture and death of his fellow creatures “(via Brainy Quote).
Whether for amusement, punishment, or interrogation, the human race has utilized cruel and incomprehensible methods of torturous savagery for generations. While the vast majority of these diabolical mechanisms were intended to result in the victim’s death, one of the cruelest and most inhumane of them purposefully refrained from doing so. The name “thumbscrew torture” may not sound as scary as “Heretic’s Fork” or “Brazen Bull,” but it was a horrible way to die, and when it was over, there was no promise that death would be a relief.
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WHAT WAS THUMBSCREW TORTURE?
The thumbscrew was a device designed to inflict severe pain without causing significant harm to the victim, at least not harm that could be life-threatening. It was a small device into which the accused would be required to insert his or her thumbs. With the turn of a few screws, the apparatus would begin to close, crushing the victim’s thumbs or fingers into bone fragments and torn flesh. According to History Daily, there are multiple theories as to who conceived the practice of thumbscrew torture. Some believe it originated in Russia in the 1500s and was used to punish army dissidents.
Inasmuch as “benefits” can be factored into the brutal phenomenon of torture, one of the advantages of thumbscrews was that you were unlikely to die as a result of them. However, this was also something of a disadvantage (a rather ironic “twist” of events, no?). Because there was virtually no threshold that the tortured could reach before they died and the pain ceased, thumbscrewing would frequently last for hours without any relief or eventual cessation of pain, and the agony it caused was incomprehensible to the majority of people (via Medieval Chronicles). Consider the last time you accidentally jammed your finger into a wall or slammed it into a door. Get the picture?
WHO WERE THE MOST COMMON THUMBSCREW TORTURE VICTIMS?
Thumbscrew torture was used to extract confessions from people arrested for various crimes in Medieval Europe, according to Horrible Punishments in History. Whether it was a case of petit theft or something far more serious, victims were put to the test by authorities who were looking for an admission of guilt or information that could lead to more serious crimes. Sharp spikes were sometimes added to the inside of the process to make the effects worse, making the whole thing much more painful and unbearable.
When clergy members painstakingly sought confessions from those they deemed heretics and blasphemers during the Spanish Inquisition, torture became extremely popular. The accused were starved, burned, and racked on a regular basis, but the thumbscrew method was always present.
Torturers have even combined methods to increase the likelihood of a confession by exponentially compounding the pain applied. Individuals who “confessed” to being heretics and resolved to abandon their beliefs in favor of the Christian paradigm were frequently spared. If they didn’t, their torture became more intense, and they were eventually executed. The use of thumbscrew torture was also used during the Salem Witch Trials on the other side of the world. Horrible Punishments in History says that other versions of the thumbscrew method tried to use different body parts, like the knees, legs, arms, and head, in the painful process.
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