torture devices

Brutal Torture Devices


Today, we will talk about brutal torture devices from various ages. Though most were used for physical torment, we also included psychological torture devices. For thousands of years, humans have dealt with physical and emotional pain from being tormented. Throughout history, people have been punished for committing crimes, but others are tortured just to satisfy personal hatred. Perpetrators often get their sadistic satisfaction just from seeing their victims suffer and scream when they are being tortured. They will watch their painful reactions and show no remorse at all.

Before we go any further, we must warn you that certain content in this post may offend some readers. The post will include images and detailed descriptions of each device. From a device that is used to drive you insane, to devices used to cause excruciating pain, you are going to see brutal things humans have used to torture their victims. Let’s get started with the Chinese Water Torture.

Some people enjoy seeing sideshows with performers who will torture themselves. For pictures of people torturing themselves for entertainment purposes, visit our post called Sideshow Freaks World.

Large Torture Devices

Chinese Water Torture

Chinese Water Torture

An image of a Chinese water torture at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York (around 1860).

Chinese water torture is a process that was designed to make a victim go absolutely insane. This particular form of torture was first described under a different name by a man named Hippolytus de Marsiliis (a lawyer born in 1451). Below is a description of how the torture process would occur:

The victim (or prisoner) is restrained to a table to prevent any movement. Then, either cold or hot water is slowly dripped onto their forehead. The reason the water is dripped onto the forehead is because of its sensitivity. After seeing each drop come down and not knowing when the next one is coming, they are said to eventually go insane. It is even annoying to just imagine this happening.

A Reproduction Of A Chinese Water Torture Apparatus

Above is a reproduction of a Chinese water torture apparatus at a museum and memorial in Germany.

Judas Cradle

Judas Cradle

Judas Cradle Dummy” by Scott Clark is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Judas Cradle was used to cause extremely intense torture. The victim was believed to be placed in a waist harness located directly above a seat shaped like a pyramid. The point was either inserted into their vagina or anus. They were then slowly lowered by ropes to face punishment that is too frightening to even imagine. The victim faced intense pain and discomfort from the pressure and stretching of the orifice. They eventually died from either infection or being impaled.

An example of vertical impalement.

An example of vertical impalement.

Torture Rack

torture rack

A Torture Rack” by David Bjorgen is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The rack is a torture device used as early as 65 A.D. (according to Tacitus). It first appeared in England back in 1447. The brutal device could be used by legal authorities to arrive at the truth. What an extremely frightening and painful interrogation process this would be, to say the least.

The rack torture apparatus is rectangular and usually has a wooden frame. The rack is slightly raised from the ground and has a roller at one or both ends. To secure a victim to the device, their ankles are fastened to one roller, and their wrists are chained to the other. As the interrogating process moves forward, a handle and ratchet mechanism (attached to the top roller) is used. The torturer will gradually increase the tension on the chains, which then causes unimaginable pain. This results in snapping cartilage, ligaments and bone. The snapping makes loud popping noises.

Water And Rack Torture

Above is an image from the torture museum in the Castle of the Counts, Ghent, Belgium. Before the victim is stretched out, they are forced water. It is a way to add even more unwanted discomfort.

Torture Device In The Barcelona Royal Shipyard (Spain)

This is a hanging cage (also called a gibbet) at the Barcelona Maritime Museum in Spain. The gibbet was used in many countries. This includes England, Iran, Germany, Canada, United States and more countries. Until the late 17th century, live gibbeting would take place. Gibbeting was a common law punishment most often used for traitors, murderers, pirates and sheep thieves.

Gibbeting was intended to discourage other people from committing similar crimes. In order to enforce its intentions, the cages were often placed by public highways and waterways. The device was built large enough to fit a victim, but not not large enough to allow movement. To inflict severe punishment, criminals were placed alive in the tight metal cage and left to die of thirst.

William Kidd

The Hanging Of William Kidd

Iron Maiden

An Iron Maiden is a torture device (once thought to be fictional) built tall enough to enclose a human being. The victim would enter the device through the front double doors. The doors were then closed. They were then stuck in a iron cabinet with an interior that was filled with spikes so no matter which direction they were leaning, they would be pierced. The spikes would pierce several vital organs and since they were short, they would not cause instant death, just instant pain.

Though the Iron Maiden is often associated with the middle ages, there has been no account found earlier than 1793. Back in the 1800s, a real used Iron Maiden was found in a castle in Nuremberg,  Germany. This is the reason the device is sometimes known as the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg.

The Electric Chair

The electric chair is an execution method that originated in the United States. It was developed in the late 1800s to create a more humane method of execution that would replace hanging. In an execution by the electric chair, the condemned person is strapped to a wooden chair and then electrocuted. They are electrocuted through electrodes that are placed on their head and leg.

A man by the name of William Kemmler was a convicted murderer who was the very first to be executed by the electric chair. On August 6, 1890, he was executed in New York’s Auburn Prison.

The first woman to be executed by the electric chair was Martha M. Place at Sing Sing Prison on March 20, 1899. She was executed because she murdered her 17 year-old step-daughter.

Electric chair use has declined due to the rising use of lethal injection (believed to be more humane).

Torture Chamber In Prague Castle (The Czech Republic)

Small Torture Devices

Electroshock Weapon

electroshock weapon

Stun Guns

Though stun guns are sold for the purpose of immobilizing an attacker without causing serious injury, just like any weapon, they can be used for torturing. The stun gun device includes multiple transformers that can boost the voltage in the circuit usually between 20,000 and 150,000 volts.


According to a report that was from a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the committee was worried that the use of Taser X26 weapons (provoking extreme pain) constituted a form of torture. They were also concerned that in certain cases it could even cause death. The worry of the taser causing death was shown by several reliable studies and certain cases that had happened after practical use. Unlike the stun gun, the taser was designed to be used at a distance.

Although both stun guns and tasers were not designed to kill, it is possible that both can cause death.

Electric Cattle Prod

Electric Cattle ProdAn electric cattle prod is a device (with electrodes) that is used to make cattle (or other livestock) move. Before stun guns and tasers were developed, electric cattle prods were used on humans for different purposes. They were used during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s by police officers.

There is a recent story of a cattle prod being used as a torture device on a human. Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the brother of crown prince of Abu Dhab (a capital and city in the United Arab Emirates) Due to a falling out with an Afghan business associate, he inserted a cattle prod in his anus.

The electric cattle prod can cause a lot of physical harm. When it’s applied continuously to the skin, the current eventually causes heating, searing, burning, and scarring of skin at the contact point.

What Is The Difference Between A Cattle Prod And A Stun Gun?

Cattle prods and stun guns are almost the same thing. Both devices can be used on humans and animals. They also have a shape that allows for easy carry and function. So what is the difference between the two? The stun gun is like a cattle prod, but on steroids. Except recently, a 5-milion volt cattle prod was developed and said to have the same incapacitating effect as a stun gun does.

Choke Pear

The name “choke pear” is the modern name given for a certain type of instrument that is displayed in some museums. It is a instrument with a pear-shaped (generally) metal body that is divided into segments that resemble a spoon. By simply turning a screw, the segments can be spread apart.

Though the device is often dated back to the 1600’s, there is no contemporary first-hand account of them or their use. But according to museum descriptions (including recent sources), it was used for two purposes. It was used internally for torturing, and as a gag to prevent people from speaking.


The Thumbscrew (also called pillywinks) was first used in medieval Europe. To torture a victim, either their thumbs, fingers or big toes would be placed in the vise and then slowly crushed (talk about pain). To inflict even more intense pain, crushing bars were occasionally lined with sharp metal points. This was done to puncture the thumbs and cause a lot more pain in the nail beds. A larger type of Thumbscrew design was also used to crush knees, elbows, feet and even the ears.

Scold’s Bridle

Scold's Bridle

17XX Schandmaske Anagoria” by Anagoria is licensed under CC BY 3.0

A scold’s bridle (also called a brank’s bridle or branks) was a device that was used as a form of torture and public humiliation for women (mostly). The women were punished because they were said to be spending too much time gossiping and arguing. The mask was also used on wives who were seen as witches. The first recorded use of the scold’s bridle was in Scotland (and England) in 1567. In the 1500s, the method eventually spread to other European countries (such as Germany).

The scold’s bridle fit tightly on the head. A 2 inch long and 1 inch broad bridle-bit (usually studded with spikes) projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue. Not only did this make it impossible for the victim to talk, but it also would inflict pain if they moved their tongue.

A 1885 lithograph of a branked scold in New England.

A 1885 lithograph of a branked scold in New England.

Rat Torture

rats used to torture victims

Though rats are not an actual device, we still had to mention them in this torture device post. So you think these little guys are creepy? If you do, you definitely don’t want to be a victim of rat torture. Even rats have been used to torture victims. It is a cruel, cheap and effective way to cause extreme fear and intense pain. Though there were various ways rats have been used to torture victims, a common approach was to force a rat through the victim’s body. Ouch! It is believed that rat torture took place in Chile during the regime of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It is also said to have occurred in Argentina during the period of the National Reorganization Process (1976-1983).

In Argentina, the torture method was known as “the recto-scope“. Through a tube, live rats were inserted into a victim’s vagina or rectum. The method was reserved mostly for Jewish prisoners.

Here is how the method of rat torture would usually take place:

1. The victim was restrained and tied to either the ground or any horizontal surface.

2. A rat is placed on their stomach (covered by a metal container).

3. The heat in the container is raised so the rat will have no choice but to escape through the victim’s body.

4. The rat usually digs for hours, causing excruciating pain and eventually death.


rat torture

A depiction of rat torture.

Final Words

Today, virtually every time you turn on the news, you hear about torture taking place somewhere in the world. If often occurs to satisfy personal hatred. From being buried alive, to literally losing your head and feeling every slice of a sharp knife, the world is definitely filled with a plethora of sick perpetrators. They are determined to inflict unimaginable pain on their helpless victims.

We talked about many large and small devices used throughout human history. They are capable of inflicting both physical and psychological pain. Out of all of the devices mentioned in the post, which one do you think is the most brutal? Is it the Judas Cradle, or maybe the Thumbscrew? One thing we know for sure is that all of the torture devices are brutal and used for a twisted purpose.