20 Of The Most Gruesome Methods Of Execution From History

Blood Eagle

A blood eagle is a ritualistic method of execution described in Nordic poetry. The condemned individual’s ribs would be cut near the spine and broken to resemble wings. Their lungs would then be pulled out from the opening.

There is some debate about whether or not the ritual was a fictional literary device or an actual historical practice, but many agree the details are too lurid not to have some basis in historical fact.

The Gridiron

Imagine slowly roasting alive above a bed of hot coals. That’s what happened to victims of the gridiron, a method of execution even worse than the well-known practice of burning at the stake.

Death came slowly as skin peeled and fleshed melted from the victim’s bones.


Crushing was both a torture technique and a method of execution. If a defendant “stood mute”, or refused to enter a plea in a legal dispute, they would be placed under a large wooden board. Weights would slowly be added until the defendant spoke, otherwise fatal suffocation would occur.

In other words, refusing to cooperate with the court was itself a death sentence.

Breaking Wheel

The breaking wheel is one of the most brutal and recognizable execution methods on our list. Reserved for particularly nasty offenders, the condemned was strapped to a large, spoked wheel. They were then beaten with clubs or other blunt instruments.

The gaps in the wheel allowed the bones to break cleanly, prolonging death by hours or days.