Amsterdam Activiteiten

Instruments of Torture

Implements and machines designed to maim and kill were being made thousands of years ago, and have been used by all societies. Here are a few of the basic but horribly effective instruments you will come across as you make your way through the Dungeons. After many centuries, they still have the power to make you shiver. Take a moment to ponder whether you could refuse to confess to anything, or reveal information, if threatened with any one of them...

Ripping, tearing and digging into flesh is one of the most basic forms of torture. This implement, also known as the ungula and the Spanish spider, emulated the talons of raptors and the claws of bears and other wild creatures. It came in many shapes and sizes. Its primary purpose was to inflict appalling wounds to the limbs, but for women victims it held a special horror and was rou-tinely used in mutilation of the breasts.

Did you know?...

The Roman punishment for killing a parent was known as the ‘Parricide’s Doom’. The condemned was sewn into a leather bag along with a dog, a snake, a rooster and a monkey and the bag was then thrown into a river!


The versatility of this tool made it a torturer’s favourite. Victims might simply be hung on it with the wrists tied together, or upside down by the ankles. It could be similarly used with its point placed at different parts of the body to inflict varying degrees of pain – beneath the jaw, through the ribs, or round the Achilles tendon, as with an animal carcass. It was also ideal for gouging eyes, dragging out entrails or simply raking the skin.

Removal of all or part of the tongue has been a common form of torture or judicial punishment since biblical times. This medieval instrument, sometimes with its jaws red hot, was used to pull the tongue as far forward as possible before severing it. The operation had varying degrees of success and a sharp knife was often required as well. Splitting and piercing of the tongue were variations on this punishment.

This grisly device was a modified version of the workshop vice or clamp. Its upright metal jaws were placed on either side of the victim’s own jaw, and the screw turned to bring them together, at a speed chosen by the torturer. When the victim’s jaw proved particularly tough, a rod would be inserted through the loop in the screw to provide additional leverage. Other crushing devices included the well-known thumbscrew.

THE CASTRATOR - The amsterdam activiteiten
Many methods of torture applied specifically to male or to female victims. For men, castration with shears such as these was a punishment for rape and other sexual crimes, and sometimes simply for homosexuality. As torture in its own right, it was often carried out as a prelude to execution and usually involved total removal of the genitalia, which together with intestines and other organs would be thrown into a fire as the victim watched.

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