List of methods of capital punishment

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This is a list of methods of capital punishment.

Method Description
Back-breaking A Mongolian method of execution that avoided the spilling of blood on the ground[2] (example: the Mongolian leader Jamukha was probably executed this way in 1206).[3]
Blowing from a gun Tied to the mouth of a cannon, which is then fired.
Blood Eagle Cutting the skin of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim's back. Used by the Vikings.
Boiling to death This penalty was carried out using a large cauldron filled with water, oil, tar, tallow, or even molten lead.
Breaking wheel Also known as the Catherine wheel, after a saint who was allegedly sentenced to be executed by this method.
Buried alive Traditional punishment for Vestal virgins who had broken their vows.
Burning Most infamous as a method of execution for heretics and witches. A slower method of applying single pieces of burning wood was used by Native Americans in torturing their captives to death.[4]
Cooking Brazen Bull
Crucifixion Roping or nailing to a wooden cross or similar apparatus (such as a tree) and allowing to perish.
Crushing By a weight, abruptly or as a slow ordeal.
Decapitation Also known as beheading. One of the most famous execution methods is execution by guillotine.
Disembowelment Often employed as a preliminary stage to the actual execution, e.g. by beheading; an integral part of seppuku (harakiri), which was sometimes used as a form of capital punishment.
Dismemberment Being drawn and quartered sometimes resulted in dismemberment.
Drawing and quartering English method of executing those found guilty of high treason.
Electrocution The electric chair.
Falling The victim is thrown off a height or into a hollow (example: the Barathron in Athens, into which the Athenian generals condemned for their part in the battle of Arginusae were cast).[5] In Argentina during the Dirty War, those secretly abducted were later drugged and thrown from an airplane into the ocean.
Flaying The skin is removed from the body.
Garrote Used most commonly in Spain and in former Spanish colonies (e.g. the Philippines), used to strangle or choke someone.
Gas Death by asphyxiation or poison gas in a sealed chamber.
Gibbeting The act of gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the victim was usually placed within a cage which is then hung in a public location and the victim left to die to deter other existing or potential criminals.
Hanging One of the most common methods of execution, still in use in a number of countries.
Immurement The confinement of a person by walling off any exits; since they were usually kept alive through an opening, this was more a form of imprisonment for life than of capital punishment (example: the countess Elisabeth Báthory, who lived for four more years after having been immured).
Keelhauling European maritime punishment.
Poisoning Lethal injection. Before modern times, sayak (사약, 賜藥) was the method of capital punishment of nobles (yangban) and members of the royal family during the Joseon Dynasty in Korea due to the Confucianist belief that one may kill a seonbi but may not insult him (사가살불가욕, 士可殺不可辱).
Pendulum[6] A type of machine with an axe head for a weight that slices closer to the victim's torso over time. (Of disputed historicity.)
Sawing (Of disputed historicity.)
Scaphism An Ancient Persian method of execution in which the condemned was placed in between two boats, force fed a mixture of honey and milk, and left floating in a stagnant pond. The victim would then suffer from severe diarrhea, which would attract insects that would burrow, nest, and feed on the unfortunate victim. The unfortunate victim would eventually die from septic shock.
Slow slicing
Smothering (Asphyxia) Suffocation in ash
Starvation / Dehydration Immurement
Stoning The condemned is pummeled by stones thrown by a group of people with the totality of the injuries suffered leading to eventual death.
Thumbscrew More of a torture device, it was used to extract information from prisoners. Many a times, the punished would succumb to injuries and ultimately die.


  1. This Won't Hurt a Bit: A Painlessly Short (and Incomplete) Evolution of Execution.
  2. Chingis Khan
  3. The Secret History of the Mongols, book 8, chapter 201.
  4. Frederick Drimmer (ed.) "Captured by the Indians - 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870", Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 1985.
  5. Xenophon, "Hellenica", book I, chapter VII.
  6. R.D. Melville (1905), "The Use and Forms of Judicial Torture in England and Scotland," The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 2, p. 228; Geoffrey Abbott (2006) Execution: the guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death, MacMillan, ISBN 0-312-35222-0, p. 213. Both of these refer to the use of the pendulum (pendola)by inquisitorial tribunals. Melville, however, refers only to its use as a torture method, while Abbott suggests that the device was purposely allowed to kill the victim if he refused to confess.

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