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Mazzatello (abbreviated mazza) was a method of capital punishment used by the Papal States from the late 18th century to 1870 involving the infliction of head trauma.[1][2] The method was named after the implement used in the execution: a large, long-handled mallet or pollaxe.[1] According to Abbott, mazzatello constituted "one of the most brutal methods of execution ever devised, requiring minimal skill on the part of the executioner and superhuman acquiescence by the victim".[2] Megivern cites mazzatello as one example of an execution method devised by the Papal States that "competed with and in some instances surpassed those of other regimes for cruelty".[1]

The condemned would be led to a scaffold in a public square of Rome, accompanied by a priest (the confessor of the condemned[2]); the platform also contained a coffin and the masked executioner, dressed in black.[1] A prayer would first be said for the condemned's soul.[2] Then, the mallet would be raised, swung through the air to gain momentum, and then brought down on the head of the prisoner, similar to a contemporary method of slaughtering cattle in stockyards.[1] The condemned was usually knocked unconscious[3] rather than being killed instantly, so the throat of the prisoner would then be slit with a knife.[1][4]

Along with drawing and quartering (sometimes, but not always, after a hanging), mazzatello was reserved for crimes that were considered "especially loathsome".[5]

A variation of this method appears in Alexandre Dumas' novel The Count of Monte Cristo as la mazzolata and mazzolato, when a prisoner sentenced to execution is bludgeoned on the side of his head with a mace.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Megivern, James J. 1997. The Death Penalty. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-0487-3. p. 155.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Abbott, Geoffrey. 2007. What a Way to Go. Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-36656-6. p. 239.
  3. Quigley, Christine. 1994. Death Dictionary: Over 5,500 Clinical, Legal, Literary, and Vernacular Terms. McFarland. ISBN 0-89950-869-3. p. 103.
  4. Quigley, Christine. 1996. The Corpse. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0170-2. p. 143.
  5. Allen, John L., Jr. 2001, September 14. "He executed justice - papal execution Giovanni Battista Bugatti's life and work". National Catholic Reporter.
  6. Dumas, Alexandre (2003). "La Mazzolata". The Count of Monte Cristo. Translated by Robin Buss. London: Penguin Group. pp. 381–395. ISBN 978-0-14-044926-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>