The Horror And The Folly

by Nick

There is an interesting, if pretty horrific, article by Anthony Grafton in The New Republic about torture in the early modern period. He looks at Jews charged with blood libel, and women charged with witchcraft, and the techniques their accusers used to make them “confess”:

As soon as the answers seemed evasive or stubborn, the torturer tied the accused person’s arms behind his or her back. Using a pulley, he would lift the defendant, agonizingly, toward the ceiling. Then, at the podesta’s orders, the torturer would make the accused “jump” or “dance” –pulling him or her up, then releasing the rope, dislocating limbs and inflicting stunning pain.

Other, complementary ways of making the Jews speak included placing onions and sulphur under their noses, which seems to have had a powerful effect, and holding hot eggs under their arms. But the pulley system, known as a strappado, was enough for most.

Not surprisingly, the victims of these methods were willing to confess to anything their accusers wanted.