Monday, June 15, 2009
Books: Your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpappy's torture porn stash.
A new German history on topic of torture reveals that our distant ancestors showed a profound flair for creating truly crappy ways to treat people. Profiled in the English-language edition of Der Spiegel, Extreme Violence in the Visuals and Texts of Antiquity by Martin Zimmerman, the political use of violence intended to inspire "loathing, dread, horror and disgust."
What do we learn from the bloodthirsty depravity of the ancients? Well, mainly that it sucked to be an ancient Assyrian. From the article:
But the Assyrians seem to have been the masters of brutality. They were also extremely verbose about the grisly ends they wreaked upon their enemies. "I will hack up the flesh and then carry it with me, to show off in other countries," exulted Ashurbanipal, an Assyrian king who reigned from 668 to 627 BC. And his heir liked to cut open the bellies of his opponents "as though they were young rams."
"The king was the deadliest," explains Andreas Fuchs, a specialist in the study of the Assyrians. "It was he alone who decided what would happen to the victims. The ability to make those decisions was the very essence of personal, royal power."
Shock and awe at such punishments permeated every dealing one had with the ruler. For example: "A message from the king to the Governor of Kaleh: "700 bales of straw. On the first of the month, at the very latest. One day late and you're dead."
Provincial governors who did not co-operate could reckon with the most horrible of deaths.
Flaying involved the delinquent official being staked to a peg and having the skin on his back torn off. Staking involved the executioner hammering a stake through the victim's lubricated anus. The goal was to place the rounded, wooden stake so carefully that it only just pushed the internal organs aside. Many victims lived for days skewered like this.
Brutal, admittedly, but even more bizarre is how downright surreal some of these sinister tortures were. The Persian practice of "throwing victims to the ashes" for example, sounds like something the writers of Saw XXIV might well throw into their movie:
The sentence, "throw them into the ashes" meant that the candidate would have to stand for days in a room filled with ash. At some stage the person would collapse from fatigue, at which point they would breathe the ash in. Even if they managed to pick themselves up, their lungs would fill up with grey flakes sooner or later, resulting in slow suffocation.
The images above and below come from the lurid, creepy image gallery that accompanies the article.