Death by burning

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Death by burning
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{{redirect|Burned at the stake|the 1981 horror film|Burned at the Stake}}{{redirect|Burned alive|the book about honor killing|Burned Alive}}{{short description|Execution method}}File:Avvakum by Pyotr Yevgenyevich Myasoyedov.jpg|thumb|upright=1.5|The "baptism by fire" of Old Believer leader AvvakumAvvakumDeath by burning is an execution method involving combustion or exposure to extreme heat. It has a long history as a form of capital punishment, and many societies have employed it for criminal activities such as treason, heresy and witchcraft.The best known executions of this type is burning at the stake where the condemned is bound to a large wooden stake and a fire lit beneath them. In this instance, usually only if the fire was small would the condemned actually burn to death; if the fire was large, such as when several prisoners were executed together, death often came quickly from carbon monoxide poisoning.Murphy (2012), pp. 67–68{{TOC limit}}

Historical use


Ancient Near East

Old Babylonia

The 18th-century BC law code promulgated by Babylonian king Hammurabi specifies several crimes in which death by burning was thought appropriate. Looters of houses on fire could be cast into the flames, and priestesses who abandoned cloisters and began frequenting inns and taverns could also be punished by being burnt alive. Furthermore, a man who began committing incest with his mother after the death of his father could be ordered to be burned alive.Roth (2010), p. 5

Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, several incidents of burning alive perceived rebels are attested. Senusret I (r. 1971–1926 BC) is said to have rounded up the rebels in campaign, and burnt them as human torches. Under the civil war flaring under Takelot II more than a thousand years later, the Crown Prince Osorkon showed no mercy, and burned several rebels alive.Wilkinson (2011): Senusret I incident, p. 169 Osorkon incident, p. 412 On the statute books, at least, women committing adultery might be burned to death. Jon Manchip White, however, did not think capital judicial punishments were often carried out, pointing to the fact that the pharaoh had to personally ratify each verdict.White (2011), p. 167 Furthermore, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (fl. 1st century BC) asserts that the Egyptians had a particularly terrible punishment for children who murdered their parents: with sharpened reeds, bits of flesh the size of a finger were cut from the criminal's body, after which he was placed on a bed of thorns and burned alive.Diodorus Siculus, 1.77.8, accessed at LacusCurtius


In the Middle Assyrian period, paragraph 40 in a preserved law text concerns the obligatory unveiled face for the professional prostitute, and the concomitant punishment if she violated that by veiling herself (the way wives were to dress in public):For the Neo-Assyrians, mass executions seem to have been not only designed to instill terror and to enforce obedience, but also as proof of their might. Neo-Assyrian King Asuhurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 BC) was evidently proud enough of his bloody work that he committed it to monument and eternal memory as follows:Olmstead (1918) p. 66

Hebraic tradition

In Genesis 38, Judah orders Tamar—the widow of his son, living in her father's household—to be burned when she is believed to have become pregnant by an extramarital sexual relation. Tamar saves herself by proving that Judah is himself the father of her child. In the Book of Jubilees, the same story is basically told, with some intriguing differences, according to Caryn A. Reeder. In Genesis, Judah is exercising his patriarchal power at a distance, whereas he and the relatives seem more actively involved in Tamar's impending execution.Reeder (2012), p. 82In Hebraic law, death by burning was prescribed for ten forms of sexual crimes: The imputed crime of Tamar, namely that a married daughter of a priest commits adultery, and nine versions of relationships considered as incestuous, such as having sex with one's own daughter, or granddaughter, but also having sex with one's mother-in-law or with one's wife's daughter.Full list in Quint (2005), p. 257In the Mishnah, the following manner of burning the criminal is described:That is, the person dies from being fed molten lead.Quotation from Ben-Menahem, Edrei, Hecht (2012), p. 111 The Mishnah is, however, a fairly late collections of laws, from about the 3rd century AD, and scholars believe it replaced the actual punishment of burning in the old biblical texts.On this view, see Zvi Gilat, Lifshitz (2013), p. 62, footnote 73

Ancient Rome

File:Siemiradski Fackeln.jpg|thumb|300px|Nero's TorchesNero's TorchesAccording to ancient reports, Roman authorities executed many of the early Christian martyrs by burning. An example of this is the earliest chronicle of a martyrdom, that of Polycarp.WEB,weblink ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus – Christian Classics Ethereal Library,, Sometimes this was by means of the tunica molesta,Juvenal has an extended description of the tunica molesta, the punishment as meted out by Emperor Nero as contained in Tacitus matches the concept. See Pagán (2012), p. 53 a flammable tunic:Miley (1843), pp. 223–224In 326, Constantine the Great promulgated a law that increased the penalties for parentally non-sanctioned "abduction" of their girls, and concomitant sexual intercourse/rape. The man would be burnt alive without the possibility of appeal, and the girl would receive the same treatment if she had participated willingly. Nurses who had corrupted their female wards and led them to sexual encounters would have molten lead poured down their throats.Law text found in Pharr (2001), pp. 244–245 The full law was changed in context to the penalties just 20 years later by Constantine's son, Constantius II, for free citizens aiding and abetting in the abduction, to an unspecified "capital punishment". The full severity of the law was to be kept, however, for slaves. p. 245, ibidem In the same year, Constantine also passed a law that said if a woman married her own slave, both would be subjected to capital punishment, the slave by burning.Law text in Codex Justinianus 9.11.1, as referred to in Winroth, Müller, Sommar (2006), p. 107 In AD 390, Emperor Theodosius issued an edict against male prostitutes and brothels offering such services; those found guilty should be burned alive.Pickett (2009), p. xxiIn the 6th-century collection of the sayings and rulings of the pre-eminent jurists from earlier ages, the Digest, a number of crimes are regarded as punishable by death by burning. The 3rd-century jurist Ulpian said that enemies of the state and deserters to the enemy were to be burned alive. His rough contemporary, the juristical writer Callistratus mentions that arsonists are typically burnt, as well as slaves who have conspired against the well-being of their masters (this last also, on occasion, being meted out to free persons of "low rank").See Watson (1998) Ulpian, section, p. 361. Callistratus, sections–12, p. 366 The punishment of burning alive arsonists (and traitors) seems to have been particularly ancient; it was included in the Twelve Tables, a mid-5th BC law code, that is, about 700 years prior to the times of Ulpian and Callistratus.Kyle (2002), p. 53

Ritual child sacrifice in Carthage

{{further|Religion in Carthage}}(File:Bardo National Museum tanit.jpg|left|thumb|100px|Tanit with a lion's head)Beginning in the early 3rd century BC, Greek and Roman writers have commented on the purported institutionalized child sacrifice the North African Carthaginians are said to have performed in honour of the gods Baal Hammon and Tanit. The earliest writer, Cleitarchus is among the most explicit. He says live infants were placed in the arms of a bronze statue, the statue's hands over a brazier, so that the infant slowly rolled into the fire. As it did so, the limbs of the infant contracted and the face was distorted into a sort of laughing grimace, hence called "the act of laughing". Other, later authors such as Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch says the throats of the infants were generally cut, before they were placed in the statue's embraceOn ritual description, Plutarch, and in general, see Markoe (2000), pp. 132–136 On Diodorus, see Schwartz, Houghton, Macchiarelli, Bondioli (2010), Skeletal not support on phrase "the act of laughing", see Decker (2001), p. 3 In the vicinity of ancient Carthage, large scale grave yards containing the incinerated remains of infants, typically up to the age of 3, have been found; such graves are called "tophets". However, some scholars have argued that these findings are not evidence of systematic child sacrifice, and that estimated figures of ancient natural infant mortality (with cremation afterwards and reverent separate burial) might be the real historical basis behind the hostile reporting from non-Carthaginians. A late charge of the imputed sacrifice is found by the North African bishop Tertullian, who says that child sacrifices were still carried out, in secret, in the countryside at his time, 3rd century AD.Generally accepting the tradition of child sacrifice, see Markoe (2000), pp. 132–136 Generally skeptical, see Schwartz, Houghton, Macchiarelli, Bondioli (2010), Skeletal not support

Celtic traditions

According to Julius Caesar, the ancient Celts practised the burning alive of humans in a number of settings. In Book 6, chapter 16, he writes of the Druidic sacrifice of criminals within huge wicker frames shaped as men:Slightly later, in Book 6, chapter 19, Caesar also says the Celts perform, on the occasion of death of great men, the funeral sacrifice on the pyre of living slaves and dependants ascertained to have been "beloved by them". Earlier on, in Book 1, chapter 4, he relates of the conspiracy of the nobleman Orgetorix, charged by the Celts for having planned a coup d'état, for which the customary penalty would be burning to death. It is said Orgetorix committed suicide to avoid that fate.Julius Caesar, McDevitt, Bohn (1851) On penalty for conspiracy, p. 4 On criminals in large wicker frames, p. 149 On funeral human sacrifice, pp. 150–151

Human sacrifice around the Eastern Baltic

Throughout the 12th–14th centuries, a number of non-Christian peoples living around the Eastern Baltic Sea, such as Old Prussians and Lithuanians were charged by Christian writers with performing human sacrifice. Pope Gregory IX issued a papal bull denouncing an alleged practice among the Prussians, that girls were dressed in fresh flowers and wreaths and were then burned alive as offerings to evil spirits.This case, and a number of others in Pluskowski (2013), pp.77–78

Christian states

File:Filip2 albigensti.jpg|thumb|The burning of the Cathar heretics]]

Eastern Roman Empire

Under 6th-century emperor Justinian I, the death penalty had been decreed for impenitent Manicheans, but a specific punishment was not made explicit. By the 7th century, however, those found guilty of "dualist heresy" could risk being burned at the stake.Hamilton, Hamilton, Stoyanov (1998), p. 13, footnote 42 Those found guilty of performing magical rites, and corrupting sacred objects in the process, might face death by burning, as evidenced in a 7th-century case.Haldon (1997), p. 333, footnote 22 In the 10th century AD, the Byzantines instituted death by burning for parricides, i.e. those who had killed their own relatives, replacing the older punishment of poena cullei, the stuffing of the convict in a leather sack along with a rooster, a viper, a dog and a monkey, and then throwing the sack into the sea.Trenchard-Smith, Turner (2010), p. 48, footnote 58

Medieval Inquisition and the burning of heretics

File:Templars Burning.jpg|left|thumb|Burning of the Knights TemplarKnights TemplarCivil authorities burned persons judged to be heretics under the medieval Inquisition. Burning heretics had become customary practice in the latter half of the twelfth century in continental Europe, and death by burning became statutory punishment from the early 13th century. Death by burning for heretics was made positive law by Pedro II of Aragon in 1197. In 1224, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, made burning a legal alternative, and in 1238, it became the principal punishment in the Empire. In Sicily, the punishment was made law in 1231, whereas in France, Louis IX made it binding law in 1270.WEB,weblink Folkways, William Graham, Sumner, 26 November 1979, New York : Arno Press, Internet Archive, As England in the 15th century grew weary of the teachings of John Wycliffe and the Lollards, kings, priests, and parliaments reacted with fire. In 1401, Parliament passed the De heretico comburendo act, which can be loosely translated as "Regarding the burning of heretics." Lollard persecution would continue for over a hundred years in England. The Fire and Faggot Parliament met in May 1414 at Grey Friars Priory in Leicester to lay out the notorious Suppression of Heresy Act 1414, enabling the burning of heretics by making the crime enforceable by the Justices of the peace. John Oldcastle, a prominent Lollard leader, was not saved from the gallows by his old friend King Henry V. Oldcastle was hanged and his gallows burned in 1417. Jan Hus was burned at the stake after being accused at the Roman Catholic Council of Constance (1414–18) of heresy. The ecumenical council also decreed that the remains of John Wycliffe, dead for 30 years, should be exhumed and burned. (This posthumous execution was carried out in 1428.)

Burnings of Jews

(File:Jews burned to death in Strasbourg Feb. 14 1349 during the Black Death.jpg|thumb|Jews burned to death in the Strasbourg massacre)Several incidents are recorded of massacres on Jews from the 12th through 16th centuries in which they were burned alive, often on account of the blood libel. In 1171 in Blois 51 Jews were burned alive (the entire adult community). In 1191, King Philip Augustus ordered around 100 Jews burnt alive.Both incidents in Weiss (2004), [{{Google books |plainurl=yes |id=oJOvpkHg7msC |page=104 }} p. 104] That Jews purportedly performed host desecration also led to mass burnings; In 1243 in Beelitz, the entire Jewish community was burnt alive, and in 1510 in Berlin, some 26 Jews were burnt alive for the same crime.Prager, Telushkin (2007), [{{Google books |plainurl=yes |id=VK0llzUqQ2YC |page=87 }} p. 87] During the "Black Death" in the mid-14th century a spate of large-scale massacres occurred. One libel was that the Jews had poisoned the wells. In 1349, as panic grew along with the increasing death toll from the plague, general massacres, but also specifically mass burnings, began to occur. Six hundred (600) Jews were burnt alive in Basel alone. A large mass burning occurred in Strasbourg, where several hundred Jews were burnt alive in what became known as the Strasbourg massacre.Kantor (2005) [{{Google books |plainurl=yes |id=6uK5pa3R4d8C |page=203 |title=Codex Judaica: Chronological Index of Jewish History, Covering 5,764 Years of Biblical, Talmudic & Post-Talmudic History }} p. 203]A Jewish man, Johannes Pfefferkorn, met a particularly gruesome death in 1514 in Halle. He had been charged with a number of crimes, such as having impersonated a priest for twenty years, performed host desecration, stolen Christian children to be tortured and killed by other Jews, poisoning 13 people and poisoning wells. He was lashed to a pillar in such a way that he could run about it. Then, a ring of glowing coal was made around him, a fiery ring that was gradually pushed ever closer to him, until he was roasted to death.Bülau (1860), [{{Google books |plainurl=yes |id=z4YBAAAAQAAJ |page=423 }} pp. 423–424]

Lepers' Plot of 1321

Not only Jews could be victims of mass hysteria on charges like that of poisoning wells. This particular charge, well-poisoning, was the basis for a large scale hunt of lepers in 1321 France. In the spring of 1321, in Périgueux, people became convinced that the local lepers had poisoned the wells, causing ill-health among the normal populace. The lepers were rounded up and burned alive. The action against the lepers didn't stay local, though, but had repercussions throughout France, not least because King Philip V issued an order to arrest all lepers, those found guilty to be burnt alive. Jews became tangentially included as well; at Chinon alone, 160 Jews were burnt alive.Richards (2013), pp. 161–163 All in all, around 5000 lepers and Jews are recorded in one tradition to have been killed during the Lepers' Plot hysteria.John, Pope (2003), p. 177The charge of the lepers' plot was not wholly confined to France; extant records from England show that on Jersey the same year, at least one family of lepers were burnt alive for having poisoned others.Smirke (1865), pp. 326–331

Spanish Inquisition against Moriscos and Marranos

File:Witch-scene4.JPG|thumb|The burning of a 16th-century Dutch AnabaptistAnabaptistThe Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478, with the aim of preserving Catholic orthodoxy; some of its principal targets were "Marranos", formally converted Jews thought to have relapsed into Judaism, or the Moriscos, formally converted Muslims thought to have relapsed into Islam. The public executions of the Spanish Inquisition were called autos-da-fé; convicts were "released" (handed over) to secular authorities in order to be burnt.Estimates of how many were executed on behest of the Spanish Inquisition have been offered from early on; historian Hernando del Pulgar (1436–c. 1492) estimated that 2000 people were burned at the stake between 1478 and 1490.Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision., p. 62, (Yale University Press, 1997). Estimates range from 30,000 to 50,000 burnt at the stake (alive or not) at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition during its 300 years of activity have previously been given and are still to be found in popular books.On mercy, and 50,000 estimate, for Marranos Telchin (2004), p. 41 On 30,000 estimate of Marranos killed, see Pasachoff, Littman (2005), p. 151In February 1481, in what is said to be the first auto-da-fé, six Marranos were burnt alive in Seville. In November 1481, 298 Marranos were burnt publicly at the same place, their property confiscated by the Church.{{cn|date=August 2019}} Not all Maranos executed by being burnt at the stake seem to have been burnt alive. If the Jew "confessed his heresy", the Church would show mercy, and he would be strangled prior to the burning. Autos-da-fé against Maranos extended beyond the Spanish heartland. In Sicily, in 1511–15, 79 were burnt at the stake, while from 1511 to 1560, 441 Maranos were condemned to be burned alive.Cipolla (2005), p. 91 In Spanish American colonies, autos-da-fé were held as well. In 1664, a man and his wife were burned alive in Río de la Plata, and in 1699, a Jew was burnt alive in Mexico City.Stillman, Zucker (1993) On the Río de la Plata incident, see Matilde Gini de Barnatan, p. 144, on Mexico City incident, see Eva Alexandra Uchmany, p. 128In 1535, five Moriscos were burned at the stake on Majorca, the images of a further four were also burnt in effigy, since the actual individuals had managed to flee. During the 1540s, some 232 Moriscos were paraded in autos-da-fé in Zaragoza; five of those were burnt at the stake.Carr (2009), p. 101 The claim that out of 917 Moriscos appearing in autos of the Inquisition in Granada between 1550 and 1595, just 20 were executedWEB,weblink The Spanish Inquisition A Historical Revision FOURTH EDITION By Henry Kamen, Henry Kamen, Internet Archive, seems at odds with the English government's state papers which claim that, while at war with Spain, they received a report from Seville of 17 June 1593 that over 70 of the richest men of Granada were burnt.List And Analysis of State Papers Foreign, Jul 1593 – Dec 1594. v.5; p.444 (595): by Public Record Office ({{ISBN|9780114402181}}) As late as 1728 as many as 45 Moriscos were recorded burned for heresy.Matar (2013), p. xxi In the May 1691 "bonfire of the Jews", Rafael Valls, Rafael Benito Terongi and Catalina Terongi were burned alive.WEB,weblink In Majorca, Atoning for the Sins of 1691, Doreen, Carvajal, 20 October 2018, Nachman Seltzer,Incredible, Shaar Press, 2016

Portuguese Inquisition at Goa

In 1560, the Portuguese Inquisition opened offices in the Indian colony Goa, known as Goa Inquisition. Its aim was to protect Catholic orthodoxy among new converts to Christianity, and retain hold on the old, particularly against "Judaizing" deviancy. From the 17th century, Europeans were shocked at the tales of how brutal and extensive the activities of the Inquisition were.{{Citation needed|date=June 2017}} Modern scholars have established that some 4046 individuals in the time 1560–1773 received some sort of punishment from the Portuguese Inquisition, whereof 121 persons were condemned to be burned alive; of those 57 actually suffered that fate, while the rest escaped it, and were burnt in effigy instead.Already noted originally by Hunter (1886), pp. 253–254, see also Salomon, Sassoon, Saraiva (2001), pp. 345–347 For the Portuguese Inquisition in total, not just at Goa, modern estimates of persons actually executed on its behest is about 1200, whether burnt alive or not.See extensive table at Portuguese Inquisition, de Almeida (1923), in particular p. 442

Legislation concerning "crimes against nature"

File:Burning of Sodomites.jpg|left|thumb|Burning of two homosexuals, Richard Puller von Hohenburg and Anton Mätzler, at the stake outside Zürich, 1482 (Spiezer SchillingSpiezer SchillingFrom the 12th to the 18th centuries, various European authorities legislated (and held judicial proceedings) against sexual crimes such as sodomy or bestiality; often, the prescribed punishment was that of death by burning. Many scholars think that the first time death by burning appeared within explicit codes of law for the crime of sodomy was at the ecclesiastical 1120 Council of Nablus in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Here, if public repentance were done, the death penalty might be avoided.See for first time Heng (2013), p. 56 on option of public repentance Puff, Bennett, Karras (2013), p. 387 In Spain, the earliest records for executions for the crime of sodomy are from the 13th–14th centuries, and it is noted there that the preferred mode of execution was death by burning. The Partidas of King Alfonso "El Sabio" condemned sodomites to be castrated and hung upside down to die from the bleeding, following the old testament phrase "their blood shall be upon them".Pickett (2009), p. 178 At Geneva, the first recorded burning of sodomites occurred in 1555, and up to 1678, some two dozen met the same fate. In Venice, the first burning took place in 1492, and a monk was burnt as late as 1771.On Geneva and Venice, see Coward, Dynes, Donaldson (1992), p. 36 The last case in France where two men were condemned by court to be burned alive for engaging in consensual homosexual sex was in 1750 (although, it seems, they were actually strangled prior to being burned). The last case in France where a man was condemned to be burned for a murderous rape of a boy occurred in 1784.Crompton (2006), p. 450Crackdowns and the public burning of a couple of homosexuals might lead to local panic, and persons thus inclined fleeing from the place. The traveller William Lithgow witnessed such a dynamic when he visited Malta in 1616 :In 1532 and 1409 in Augsburg two pederasts were burned alive for their offenses.Osenbrüggen (1860), p. 290

Penal code of Charles V

In 1532, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V promulgated his penal code Constitutio Criminalis Carolina. A number of crimes were punishable with death by burning, such as coin forgery, arson, and sexual acts "contrary to nature".specified as men or women found guilty of same-sex sexual behaviour or guilty of having had sex with animals. Also, those guilty of aggravated theft of sacred objects from a church could be condemned to be burnt alive.As late as in 1730 Posen, a church robber had his right hand cut off, and the stump covered in pitch. Then, the pitch was ignited, and the person was burnt alive on a pyre as well. Oehlschlaeger (1866), p. 55 Only those found guilty of malevolent witchcraftNo fixed penalty was placed on performing acts of witchcraft that had caused no harm could be punished by death by fire.All in Koch (1824) Coin forgers: Article 111, p. 52, Malevolent witchcraft: Article 109, p. 55 Sexual acts contrary to nature:Article 116, p. 58, Arson:Article 125, p. 61, Theft of sacred objects: Article 172, p. 84

Last burnings from 1804 and 1813

According to the jurist {{Interlanguage link multi|Eduard Osenbrüggen|de}}, the last case he knew of where a person had been judicially burned alive on account of arson in Germany happened in 1804, in (:de:Hötzelsroda|Hötzelsroda), close by Eisenach.Osenbrüggen (1854), p. 21 For a similar, more modern assessment, as well as locating the incident to Hötzelsroda, see Dietze (1995) The manner in which Johannes ThomasLast name "Mothas" used in extended account in Bischoff, Hitzig (1832), real name "Thomas" given in Herden (2005), p. 89 was executed on 13 July that year is described as follows: Some feet above the actual pyre, attached to a stake, a wooden chamber had been constructed, into which the delinquent was placed. Pipes or chimneys, filled with sulphuric material led up to the chamber, and that was first lit, so that Thomas died from inhaling the sulphuric smoke, rather than being strictly burnt alive, before his body was consumed by the general fire. Some 20,000 people had gathered to watch Thomas' execution.On the manner of execution according to the original account, see Bischoff, Hitzig (1832), p. 178 Contemporary newspaper notice, Hübner (1804), p. 760, column 2Although Thomas is regarded as the last to have been actually executed by means of fire (in this case, through suffocation), the couple Johann Christoph Peter Horst and his lover Friederike Louise Christiane Delitz, who had made a career of robberies in the confusion made by their acts of arson, were condemned to be burnt alive in Berlin 28 May 1813. They were, however, according to Gustav Radbruch, secretly strangled just prior to being burnt, namely when their arms and legs were tied fast to the stake.Original account by investigating police officer Heinrich L. Hermann, Hermann (1818) Gustav Rudbrach's mention Rudbrach (1992), p. 247 Precise moment of strangulation Gräff (1834), p. 56 Modern newspaper article Springer (2008), Das Letzte FeuerAlthough these two cases are the last where execution by burning might be said to have been carried out in some degree, Eduard Osenbrüggen mentions that verdicts to be burned alive were given in several cases in different German states afterwards, such as in cases from 1814, 1821, 1823, 1829 and finally in a case from 1835.Osenbrüggen (1854), pp. 21–22, footnote 83


File:Wickiana5.jpg|thumb|Burning of three witches in Baden (1585), painted by Johann Jakob WickJohann Jakob WickBurning was used during the witch-hunts of Europe, although hanging was the preferred style of execution in England and Wales. The penal code known as the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina (1532) decreed that sorcery throughout the Holy Roman Empire should be treated as a criminal offence, and if it purported to inflict injury upon any person the witch was to be burnt at the stake. In 1572, Augustus, Elector of Saxony imposed the penalty of burning for witchcraft of every kind, including simple fortunetelling.Thurston (1912) Witchcraft, 2010 web resource. {{dead link|date=June 2016|bot=medic}}{{cbignore|bot=medic}} From the latter half of the 18th century, the number of "nine million witches burned in Europe" has been bandied about in popular accounts and media, but has never had a following among specialist researchers.Professional researchers in the 19th, and early 20th century tended to refuse giving any quantification at all but, when pushed, typically landed on about 100,000 to 1 million victims Today, based on meticulous study of trial records, ecclesiastical and inquisitorial registers and so on, as well as on the utilization of modern statistical methods, the specialist research community on witchcraft has reached an agreement for roughly 40,000–50,000 people executed for witchcraft in Europe in total, and by no means all of them executed by being burned alive. Furthermore, it is solidly established that the peak period of witch-hunts was the century 1550–1650, with a slow increase preceding it, from the 15th century onward, as well as a sharp drop following it, with "witch-hunts" having basically fizzled out by the first half of the 18th century.See Wolfgang Behringer (1998) on the history of witch-counting, and on specialist academic consensus, Neun Millionen Hexen Originally published in GWU 49 (1998) pp. 664–685, web publication 2006

Famous cases

File:Jan Hus at the Stake.jpg|thumb|left|Jan HusJan Hus(File:Stilke Hermann Anton - Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake.jpg|upright|thumb|Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake, by {{ill|Hermann Stilke|de|Hermann Stilke|vertical-align=sup}} (1843))Notable individuals executed by burning include Jacques de Molay (1314),Contemporary description of the burning at Ile-des-Javiaux in Barber (1993), p. 241 Jan Hus (1415),Extracts of eyewitness report at website of Columbia University, Peter from Mladonovic (2003), How was executed Jan Hus Joan of Arc (1431),Reconstruction of Joan of Arc's death scene in Mooney, Patterson (2002), pp. 1–2 excerpt from Mooney (1919) Girolamo Savonarola (1498),Eyewitness account provided in Landucci, Jarvis (1927), pp. 142–143 Patrick Hamilton (1528),According to eyewitness Alexander Ales, Hamilton entered the pyre at noon, and died after six hours burning, see Tjernagel (1974, web reprint), p. 6 {{webarchive |url= |date=7 July 2010 }} John Frith (1533),Description of John Frith's death in Foxe, Townsend, Cattley (1838), p. 15 William Tyndale (1536), Michael Servetus (1553),Detailed description of Servetus' death at Kurth (2002) Out of the Flames Giordano Bruno (1600),A perfunctory official notice of the manner of his death 17 February 1600, is contained in Rowland (2009), p. 10 Urbain Grandier (1634),Apparently, Grenadier had been promised to be strangled prior to his burning, but his executioners reneged on that promise as he was fastened to the stake. See modern monograph Rapley (2001), in particular pp. 195–198, for a classic description, see Alexandre Dumas on the execution details in Dumas (1843), pp. 424–426 and Avvakum (1682).Alan Wood describes Avvakum's execution as follows: Avvakum and three fellow prisoners were led from their icy cells to an elaborate pyre of pinewood billets and there burned alive. The tsar had finally rid himself of "this turbulent priest", Wood (2011), p. 44 Anglican martyrs John Rogers,Foxe, Milner, Cobbin (1856), pp. 608–609 Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake in 1555.Foxe, Milner, Cobbin (1856), pp. 864–865 Thomas Cranmer followed the next year (1556).Foxe, Milner, Cobbin (1856), pp. 925–926


In Denmark, after the 1536 reformation, Christian IV of Denmark (r. 1588–1648) encouraged the practice of burning witches, in particular by the law against witchcraft in 1617. In Jutland, the mainland part of Denmark, more than half the recorded cases of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries occurred after 1617. Rough estimates says about a thousand persons were executed due to convictions for witchcraft in the 1500–1600s, but it is not wholly clear if all of the transgressors were burned to death.For Denmark, see Burns (2003), pp. 64–65


Mary I ordered hundreds of Protestants burnt at the stake during her reign (1553–58) in what would be known as the "Marian Persecutions" earning her the epithet of "Bloody" Mary.John Foxe is particularly mentioned in being assiduous at documenting such cases of persecutions. See, Miller (1972), p. 72 Many of those executed by Mary and the Roman Catholic Church are listed in Actes and Monuments, written by Foxe in 1563 and 1570.Edward Wightman, a Baptist from Burton on Trent, was the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England in Lichfield, Staffordshire on 11 April 1612.For a claim of the last heretic burned at the stake, see Durso (2007), p. 29 Although cases can be found of burning heretics in the 16th and 17th centuries in England, that penalty for heretics was historically relatively new. It did not exist in 14th-century England, and when the bishops in England petitioned King Richard II to institute death by burning for heretics in 1397, he flatly refused, and no one was burnt for heresy during his reign.Sayles (1971) p. 31 Just one year after his death, however, in 1401, William Sawtrey was burnt alive for heresy.Richards (1812), p. 1190 Death by burning for heresy was formally abolished by King Charles II in 1676.Willis-Bund (1982), p. 95The traditional punishment for women found guilty of treason was to be burned at the stake, where they did not need to be publicly displayed naked, whereas men were hanged, drawn and quartered. The jurist William Blackstone argued as follows for the differential punishment of females vs. males:However, as described in Camille Naish's "Death Comes to the Maiden", in practice, the woman's clothing would burn away at the beginning, and she would be left naked anyway.{{citation needed|date=June 2018}} There were two types of treason: high treason, for crimes against the sovereign; and petty treason, for the murder of one's lawful superior, including that of a husband by his wife. Commenting on the 18th-century execution practice, Frank McLynn says that most convicts condemned to burning were not burnt alive, and that the executioners made sure the women were dead before consigning them to the flames.McLynn (2013), p. 122The last person to have been condemned to death for "petty treason" was Mary Bailey, whose body was burned in 1784. The last woman to be convicted for "high treason", and have her body burnt, in this case for the crime of coin forgery, was Catherine Murphy in 1789.Comprehensive list at, Burning at the stake. The last case where a woman was actually burnt alive in England is that of Catherine Hayes in 1726, for the murder of her husband. In this case, one account says this happened because the executioner accidentally set fire to the pyre before he had hanged Hayes properly.O'Shea (1999), p. 3 The historian Rictor Norton has assembled a number of contemporary newspaper reports on the actual death of Mrs. Hayes, internally somewhat divergent. The following excerpt is one example:


James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) shared the Danish king's interest in witch trials. This special interest of the king resulted in the North Berwick witch trials, which led more than seventy people to be accused of witchcraft. James sailed in 1590 to Denmark to meet his betrothed, Anne of Denmark, who, ironically, is believed by some to have secretly converted to Roman Catholicism herself from Lutheranism around 1598, although historians are divided on whether she ever was received into the Roman Catholic faith."Some time in the 1590s, Anne became a Roman Catholic." Wilson (1963), p. 95 "Some time after 1600, but well before March 1603, Queen Anne was received into the Catholic Church in a secret chamber in the royal palace" Fraser (1997), p. 15 "The Queen ... [converted] from her native Lutheranism to a discreet, but still politically embarrassing Catholicism which alienated many ministers of the Kirk" Croft (2003), pp. 24–25 "Catholic foreign ambassadors—who would surely have welcomed such a situation—were certain that the Queen was beyond their reach. 'She is a Lutheran', concluded the Venetian envoy Nicolo Molin in 1606." Stewart (2003), p. 182 "In 1602 a report appeared, claiming that Anne ... had converted to the Catholic faith some years before. The author of this report, the Scottish Jesuit Robert Abercromby, testified that James had received his wife's desertion with equanimity, commenting, 'Well, wife, if you cannot live without this sort of thing, do your best to keep things as quiet as possible.' Anne would, indeed, keep her religious beliefs as quiet as possible: for the remainder of her life—even after her death—they remained obfuscated." Hogge (2005), pp. 303–304The last to be executed as a witch in Scotland was Janet Horne in 1727, condemned to death for using her own daughter as a flying horse in order to travel. Janet Horne was burnt alive in a tar barrel.Pavlac (2009), p. 145


Petronilla de Meath (c. 1300–1324) was the maidservant of Dame Alice Kyteler, a 14th-century Hiberno-Norman noblewoman. After the death of Kyteler's fourth husband, the widow was accused of practicing witchcraft and Petronilla of being her accomplice. Petronilla was tortured and forced to proclaim that she and Kyteler were guilty of witchcraft. Petronilla was then flogged and eventually burnt at the stake on 3 November 1324, in Kilkenny, Ledrede, Wright (1843)de Ledrede, Davidson, Ward (2004) Hers was the first known case in the history of the British Isles of death by fire for the crime of heresy. Kyteler was charged by the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, with a wide slate of crimes, from sorcery and demonism to the murders of several husbands. She was accused of having illegally acquired her wealth through witchcraft, which accusations came principally from her stepchildren, the children of her late husbands by their previous marriages. The trial predated any formal witchcraft statute in Ireland, thus relying on ecclesiastical law (which treated witchcraft as heresy) rather than English common law (which treated it as a felony). Under torture, Petronilla claimed she and her mistress applied a magical ointment to a wooden beam, which enabled both women to fly. She was then forced to proclaim publicly that Lady Alice and her followers were guilty of witchcraft. Some were convicted and whipped, but others, Petronilla included, were burnt at the stake. With the help of relatives, Alice Kyteler fled, taking with her Petronilla's daughter, Basilia.Story of flight in contemporary chronicle Gilbert (2012), p. cxxxivIn 1327 or 1328, Adam Duff O'Toole was burned at the stake in Dublin for heresy after branded Christian scripture a fable and denying the resurrection of Jesus.WEB,weblink Burned at the stake was the original punishment for blasphemy in Ireland, 11 May 2017,, WEB,weblink Heretic was burned at the stake,, WEB,weblink Blasphemy: From being burned at the stake in 1328 to a €25,000 fine in 2017, 9 May 2017,, The brothel madam Darkey Kelly was convicted of murdering shoemaker John Dowling in 1760 and burned at the stake in Dublin on 7 January 1761. Later legends claimed that she was a serial killer and/or witch.WEB,weblink ‘Darkey Kelly’, Brothel Keeper of Dublin, Sarah, Murden, 15 February 2018, WEB, Cathy Hayes,weblink Was Irish witch Darkey Kelly really Ireland's first serial killer?,, 2011-01-12, 2015-03-04, WEB,weblink PodOmatic | Podcast – No Smoke Without Hellfire,, 2011-01-19, 2015-03-04, In 1895, Bridget Cleary (née Boland), a County Tipperary woman, was burnt by her husband and others, the stated motive for the crime being the belief that the real Bridget had been abducted by fairies with a changeling left in her place. Her husband claimed to have slain only the changeling. The gruesome nature of the case prompted extensive press coverage. The trial was closely followed by newspapers in both Ireland and Britain.McCullough (2000), The Fairy Defense As one reviewer commented, nobody, with the possible exception of the presiding judge, thought it was an ordinary murder case.

Slavery and colonialism in the Americas

File:Execution of Mariana de Carabajal.jpg|thumb|Execution of Mariana de Carabajal (converted Jew), Mexico City, 1601]]

North America

(File:Modocs Scalping and Torturing Prisoners.jpg|thumb|Native Americans scalping and roasting their prisoners, published in 1873)Indigenous North Americans often used burning as a form of execution, against members of other tribes or white settlers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Roasting over a slow fire was a customary method.Scott (1940) p. 41 {See Captives in American Indian Wars}In Massachusetts, there are two known cases of burning at the stake. First, in 1681, a slave named Maria tried to kill her owner by setting his house on fire. She was convicted of arson and burned at the stake in (2014), "Maria, Burned at the Stake" Concurrently, a slave named Jack, convicted in a separate arson case, was hanged at a nearby gallows, and after death his body was thrown into the fire with that of Maria. Second, in 1755, a group of slaves had conspired and killed their owner, with servants Mark and Phillis executed for his murder. Mark was hanged and his body gibbeted, and Phillis burned at the stake, at Cambridge.Mark and Phillis Executions (2014)In Montreal, then part of New France, Marie-Joseph Angélique, a black slave, was sentenced to being burned alive for an arson which destroyed 45 homes and a hospital in 1734. The sentence was commuted on appeal to burning after death by stangulation.Marie-Joseph Angélique{{Circular reference|date=June 2018}}In New York, several burnings at the stake are recorded, particularly following suspected slave revolt plots. In 1708, one woman was burnt and one man hanged. In the aftermath of the New York Slave Revolt of 1712, 20 people were burnt (one of the leaders slowly roasted, before he died after 10 hours of tortureMcManus (1973), p. 86) and during the alleged slave conspiracy of 1741, at least 13 slaves were burnt at the stake.Hoey (1974),Terror in New York–1741{{Dead link|date=July 2018 |bot=InternetArchiveBot |fix-attempted=yes }}Bartolomé de las Casas, a 16th-century eyewitness to the brutal subjugation of the Native Americans by the Spanish conquistadores, has left a particularly harrowing description of how roasting alive was a favoured technique of repression:De las Casas (1974), pp. 34–35The last known burning by the Spanish Colonial government in Latin America was of Mariana de Castro, in Lima, Peru {{Why?|date=November 2013}} in February 1732.Carvacho (2004), p. 62 "y que habiendo llegado el caso de practicar lo determinado por el Consejo en auto de 4 de febrero de 1732, ... acordaron, después de revisar la causa de Mariana de Castro y lo determinado por la Suprema el 4 de febrero de 1732"

British West Indies

In 1760, the slave rebellion known as Tacky's War broke out in Jamaica. Apparently, some of the defeated rebels were burned alive, while others were gibbeted alive, left to die of thirst and starvation.Waddell (1863), p. 19In 1774, nine African slaves at Tobago were found complicit of murdering a white man. Eight of them had first their right arms chopped off, and were then burned alive bound to stakes, according to the report of an eyewitness.Blake (1857), pp. 154–155

Dutch Suriname

In 1855 the Dutch abolitionist and historian (:nl:Julien Wolbers|Julien Wolbers) spoke to the Anti Slavery Society in Amsterdam. Painting a dark picture of the condition of slaves in Suriname, he mentions in particular that as late as in 1853, just two years previously, "three Negroes were burnt alive".Woblers (1855), p. 205

Greek War of Independence

The Greek War of Independence in the 1820s contained several instances of death by burning. When the Greeks in April 1821 captured a corvette near Hydra, the Greeks chose to roast to death the 57 Ottoman crew members. After the fall of Tripolitsa in September 1821, European officers were horrified to note that not only were Muslims suspected of hiding money being slowly roasted after having had their arms and legs cut off but, in one instance, three Muslim children were roasted over a fire while their parents were forced to watch. On their part, the Ottomans committed many similar acts. In retaliation they gathered up Greeks in Constantinople, throwing several of them into huge ovens, baking them to death.William St Clair, That Greece Might Still Be Free (2008) Hydra incident, p. xxiv, those suspected of hiding money, p. 45, the three Turkish children, p. 77, baked in ovens, p. 81

Islamic countries

Followers of a false claimant of prophethood

The Arab chieftain Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid ibn Nawfal al-Asad set himself up as a prophet in AD 630. Tulayha had a strong following which was, however, soon quashed in the so-called Ridda Wars. He himself escaped, though, and later was reconverted to Islam, but many of his rebel followers were burnt to death; his mother chose to embrace the same fate.Zurkhana, Houtsma (1987), p. 830{{Citation needed|reason=Please refer to a trustworthy sources, such as Muslims' classical books|date=December 2016}}

Catholic monks in 13th-century Tunis and Morocco

A number of monks are said to have been burnt alive in Tunis and Morocco in the 13th century. In 1243, two English monks, Brothers Rodulph and Berengarius, after having secured the release of some 60 captives, were charged with being English spies, and were burnt alive on 9 September. In 1262, Brothers Patrick and William, again having freed captives, but also sought to proselytize among Muslims, were burnt alive in Morocco. In 1271, 11 Catholic monks were burnt alive in Tunis. Several other cases are reported.Digby (1853), pp. 342–345

Converts to Christianity

Apostasy, i.e. the act of converting to another religion, was (and remains so in a few countries) punishable with death.
The French traveller Jean de Thevenot, traveling the East in the 1650s, says: "Those that turn Christians, they burn alive, hanging a bag of Powder about their neck, and putting a pitched Cap upon their Head."De Thevenot, Lovell (1687), p. 69 Travelling the same regions some 60 years earlier, Fynes Moryson writes:(NOTE: De Thevenot says Christians committing blasphemy against Islam were impaled, rather than burnt, if they do not convert to Islam.{{citation needed|date=May 2019}})

Muslim heretics

Certain accursed ones of no significance is the term used by Taş Köprü Zade in the Şakaiki Numaniye to describe some members of the Hurufiyya who became intimate with the Sultan Mehmed II to the extent of initiating him as a follower. This alarmed members of the Ulema, particularly Mahmut Paşa, who then consulted Mevlana Fahreddin. Fahreddin hid in the Sultan's palace and heard the Hurufis propound their doctrines. Considering these heretical, he reviled them with curses. The Hurufis fled to the Sultan, but Fahreddin's denunciation of them was so virulent that Mehmed II was unable to defend them. Farhreddin then took them in front of the Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Edirne, where he publicly condemned them to death. While preparing the fire for their execution, Fahreddin accidentally set fire to his beard. However the Hurufis were burnt to death.

Barbary States, 18th century

John Braithwaite, staying in Morocco in the late 1720s, says that apostates from Islam would be burnt alive:Similarly, he notes that non-Muslims entering mosques or being blasphemous against Islam will be burnt, unless they convert to Islam.Braithwaite(1729)On apostates citation, see p. 366, on the conditional fate of non-Muslims, see p. 355 The chaplain for the English in Algiers at the same time, Thomas Shaw, wrote that whenever capital crimes were committed either by Christian slaves or Jews, the Christian or Jew was to be burnt alive.Shaw (1757), p. 253 Several generations later, in Morocco in 1772, a Jewish interpreter to the British, and a merchant in his own right, sought from the Emperor of Morocco restitution for some goods confiscated, and was burnt alive for his impertinence. His widow made her woes clear in a letter to the British.Stillman (1979), pp. 310–311In 1792 in Ifrane, Morocco, 50 Jews preferred to be burned alive, rather than convert to Islam.Kantor (1993), p. 230 In 1794 in Algiers, the Jewish Rabbi Mordecai Narboni was accused of having maligned Islam in a quarrel with his neighbour. He was ordered to be burnt alive unless he converted to Islam, but he refused and was therefore executed on 14 July 1794.JOS Calendar Conversion Results, Hirschberg (1981), p. 20In 1793, Ali Benghul made a short-lived coup d'état in Tripoli, deposing the ruling Karamanli dynasty. During his short, violent reign he seized the two interpreters for the Dutch and English consuls, both of them Jews, and roasted them over a slow fire, on charges of conspiracy and espionage.Tully (1817), p. 365


During a famine in Persia in 1668, the government took severe measures against those trying to profiteer from the misfortune of the populace. Restaurant owners found guilty of profiteering were slowly roasted on spits, and greedy bakers were baked in their own ovens.Ferrier (1996), p. 94A physician, Dr C.J. Wills, traveling through Persia in 1866–81 noted that shortly before his (Wills') arrival, a "priest" had been burned alive. Wills wrote:Wills (1891), p. 204

Roasting by means of heated metal

The previous cases concern primarily death by burning through contact with open fire or burning material; a slightly different principle is to enclose an individual within, or attach him to, a metal contraption which is subsequently heated. In the following, some reports of such incidents, or anecdotes about such are included.

The brazen bull

(File:Pierre Woeiriot Phalaris.jpg|thumb|Perillos being forced into the brazen bull that he built for Phalaris)Perhaps the most infamous example of a brazen bull, which is a hollow metal structure shaped like a bull within which the condemned is put, and then roasted alive as the metal bull is gradually heated up, is the one allegedly constructed by Perillos of Athens for the 6th-century BC tyrant Phalaris at Agrigentum, Sicily. As the story goes, the first victim of the bull was its constructor Perillos himself. The historian George Grote was among those regarding this story as having sufficient evidence behind it to be true, and points particularly to that the Greek poet Pindar, working just one or two generations after the times of Phalaris refers to the brazen bull. A bronze bull was, in fact, one of the spoils of victory when the Carthaginians conquered Agrigentum.Grote (2013), p. 305, footnote 1 The story of a brazen bull as an execution device is not wholly unique. About 1000 years later in AD 497, it can be read in an old chronicle about the Visigoths on the Iberian Peninsula and the south of France:

Fate of a Scottish regicide

Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl was a Scottish nobleman complicit in the murder of King James I of Scotland. On 26 March 1437 Stewart had a red hot iron crown placed upon his head, was cut in pieces alive, his heart was taken out, and then thrown in a fire. A papal nuncio, the later Pope Pius II witnessed the execution of Stewart and his associate Sir Robert Graham, and, reportedly, said he was at a loss to determine whether the crime committed by the regicides, or the punishment of them was the greater.Encycl. Perth. (1816), p. 131, column 1

György Dózsa on the iron throne

(File:GeorgheDoja.jpg|thumb|right|Dózsa's execution (contemporary woodcut))György Dózsa led a peasants' revolt in Hungary, and was captured in 1514. He was bound to a glowing iron throne and a likewise hot iron crown was placed on his head, and he was roasted to death.Klein (1833), p. 351

The tale of the murderous midwife

In a few English 18th- and 19th-century newspapers and magazines, a tale was circulated about the particularly brutal manner in which a French midwife was put to death on 28 May 1673 in Paris. No fewer than 62 infant skeletons were found buried on her premises, and she was condemned on multiple accounts of abortion/infanticide. One detailed account of her supposed execution runs as follows:The English commentator adds his own view on the matter:The English story is derived from a pamphlet published in 1673.For full title and provenance, see item 357 in Nassau (1824), p. 17

Pouring molten metal down the throat or ears

Molten gold poured down the throat

A number of stories concern individuals who are said to have been executed by having molten gold (melting point 1064 Â°C/1947 Â°F) poured down their throats. For example, in 88 BC, Mithridates VI of Pontus captured the Roman general Manius Aquillius, and executed him by pouring molten gold down his throat.Steel (2013), p. 98 A popular but unsubstantiated rumor also had the Parthians executing the famously greedy Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus in this manner in 53 BC.Marcus Licinius CrassusFile:HulaguInBagdad.JPG|thumb|Hulagu (left) imprisons Caliph Al-Musta'sim among his treasures to starve him to death. Medieval depiction from "Le livre des merveilles", 15th century.]]Genghis Khan is said to have poured molten gold down the throat of a perfidious governor in 1220,Saunders (2001), p. 57 According to the 13th-century historian al-Nasawi, the governor Inal Khan (who had assassinated the Mongol ambassadors and thus given Genghis Khan cause to invade), had the molten gold poured into his eyes and ears, rather than down his throat. Cameron, Sela (2010), p. 128 and an early 14th-century chronicle mentions that his grandson Hulagu Khan did likewise to the sultan Al-Musta'sim after the fall of Baghdad in 1258 to the Mongol army.Crawford regards the Hulagu story as a legend Crawford (2003), p. 149 (Marco Polo's version is that Al-Musta'sim was locked without food or water to starve in his treasure room)File:Theodor de Bry 78.jpeg|thumb|Theodor de BryTheodor de BryThe Spanish in 16th-century Americas gave horrified reports that the Spanish who had been captured by the natives (who had learnt of the Spanish thirst for gold) had their feet and hands bound, and then molten gold poured down their throats as the victims were mocked: "Eat, eat gold, Christians".Cummins, Cole, Zorach (2009), p. 99From the 19th-century reports from the Kingdom of Siam (present day Thailand) stated that those who have defrauded the public treasury could have either molten gold or silver poured down their throat.Begbie (1834), p. 447

As punishment for inebriation and tobacco smoking

The 16th-/early 17th-century prime minister Malik Ambar in the Deccan Ahmadnagar Sultanate would not tolerate inebriation among his subjects, and would pour molten lead (melting point 327 Â°C/621.43 Â°F) down the mouths of those caught in that condition.Eaton (2005), p. 121 Similarly, in the 17th-century Sultanate of Aceh, Sultan Iskandar Muda (r. 1607–36) is said to have poured molten lead into the mouths of at least two drunken subjects.Peletz (2002), p. 28 Military discipline in 19th-century Burma was reportedly harsh, with strict prohibition of smoking opium or drinking arrack. Some monarchs had ordained pouring molten lead down the throats of those who drank, "but it has been found necessary to relax this severity, in order to conciliate the army"Buckingham (1835), p. 250Shah Safi I of Persia is said to have abhorred tobacco, and apparently in 1634, he prescribed the punishment of pouring molten lead into the throats of smokers.Berger, Sicker (2009), p. 6

Mongol punishment for horse thieves

According to historian Pushpa Sharma, stealing a horse was considered the most heinous offence within the Mongol army, and the culprit would either have molten lead poured into his ears, or alternatively, his punishment would be the breaking of the spinal cord or beheading.Sharma, Srivastava (1981), p. 361

Chinese tradition of Buddhist self-immolation

Apparently, for many centuries, a tradition of devotional self-immolation existed among Buddhist monks in China. One monk who immolated himself in AD 527, explained his intent a year before, in the following manner:A severe critic in the 16th century wrote the following comment on this practice:

Japanese persecution of Christians

{{further|Persecution of Christians in Japan}}In the first half of the 17th century, Japanese authorities sporadically persecuted Christians, with some executions seeing persons being burnt alive. At Nagasaki in 1622 some 25 monks were burnt alive,Lee (2010),pp. 121–122 and in Edo in 1624, 50 Christians were burnt alive.Matsumoto (2009), p. 73

Stories of cannibalism


Even fateful encounters with cannibals are recorded: in 1514, in the Americas, Francis of Córdoba and five companions were, reportedly, caught, impaled on spits, roasted and eaten by the natives. In 1543, such was also the end of a previous bishop, Vincent de Valle Viridi.Perckmayr (1738), p. 628


In 1844, the missionary John Watsford wrote a letter about the internecine wars on Fiji, and how captives could be eaten, after being roasted alive:The actual manner of the roasting process was described by the missionary pioneer David Cargill, in 1838:

Immolation of widows

Indian subcontinent

File:A Hindoo Widow Burning Herself with the Corpse of her Husband.jpg|thumb|A HinduHindu(File:Burning of a Widow.jpg|thumb|Ceremony of Burning a Hindu Widow with the Body of her Late Husband, from Pictorial History of China and India, 1851)Sati refers to a funeral practice among some communities of Indian subcontinent in which a recently widowed woman immolates herself on her husband's funeral pyre. The first reliable evidence for the practice of sati appears from the time of the Gupta Empire (AD 400), when instances of sati began to be marked by inscribed memorial stones.Shakuntala Rao Shastri, Women in the Sacred Laws—the later law books (1960), also reproduced online at weblink {{Webarchive|url= |date=8 April 2014 }}.According to one model of history thinking, the practice of sati only became really widespread with the Muslim invasions of India, and the practice of sati now acquired a new meaning as a means to preserve the honour of women whose men had been slain. As S.S. Sashi lays out the argument, "The argument is that the practice came into effect during the Islamic invasion of India, to protect their honor from Muslims who were known to commit mass rape on the women of cities that they could capture successfully."Sashi (1996), p.115 It is also said that according to the memorial stone evidence, the practice was carried out in appreciable numbers in western and southern parts of India, and even in some areas, before pre-Islamic times. For Yang's full discussion back and forth, see Yang, Sarkar, Sarkar (2008), pp.21–23 Some of the rulers and activist of the time sought actively to suppress the practice of sati.S.M. Ikram, Embree (1964) XVII. "Economic and Social Developments under the Mughals" This page maintained by Prof. Frances Pritchett, Columbia UniversityThe British began to compile statistics of the incidences of sati for all their domains from 1815 and onwards. The official statistics for Bengal represents that the practice was much more common here than elsewhere, recorded numbers typically in the range 500–600 per year, up to the year 1829, when the British authorities banned the practice. These statistics are further researched and discussed by other scholars, for their reliability (in particular, objections to that) and representation, see For detailed official statistical information 1815–1829,Yang, Sarkar, Sarkar (2008), pp.23–25 see pages 24 and 25 in particular, history behind them, p.23 Since 19th – 20th Century, the practice remains outlawed in Indian subcontinent.Jauhar was a practice among royal Hindu women to prevent capture by Muslim conquerors.

Bali and Nepal

The practice of burning widows has not been restricted to the Indian subcontinent; at Bali, the practice was called masatia and, apparently, restricted to the burning of royal widows. Although the Dutch colonial authorities had banned the practice, one such occasion is attested as late as in 1903, probably for the last time.For notice of estimate of last time, see Schulte Nordholt (2010), pp. 211–212, footnote 56 For estimate of restriction to royal widows, see Wiener (1995), p. 267 In Nepal, the practice was not banned until 1920.Mittra, Kumar (2004), p. 200

Traditions in sub-Saharan African cultures

C.H.L. HahnBiographical entry of C.H.L. Hahn at BIOGRAPHIES OF NAMIBIAN PERSONALITIES wrote that within the O-ndnonga tribe among the Ovambo people in modern-day Namibia, abortion was not used at all (in contrast to among the other tribes), and that furthermore, if two young unwed individuals had sex resulting in pregnancy, then both the girl and the boy were "taken out to the bush, bound up in bundles of grass and ... burnt alive."Hahn (1966), p. 33

Legislation against the practice

In 1790, Sir Benjamin Hammett introduced a bill into Parliament to end the practice of judicial burning. He explained that the year before, as Sheriff of London, he had been responsible for the burning of Catherine Murphy, found guilty of counterfeiting, but that he had allowed her to be hanged first. He pointed out that as the law stood, he himself could have been found guilty of a crime in not carrying out the lawful punishment and, as no woman had been burnt alive in the kingdom for more than half a century, so could all those still alive who had held an official position at all of the previous burnings. The Treason Act 1790 was duly passed by Parliament and given royal assent by King George III (30 George III. C. 48).Wilson (1853), p. 4

Modern burnings

While deaths by burning were formerly carried out by the authorities, as punishment for a crime, in the modern era, deaths by burning are largely extra-judicial in nature. These killings may be committed by mobs or small numbers of criminals.

Retaliation against Nazis

Benjamin B. Ferencz, one of the prosecutors in the Nuremberg trials who, in May 1945, investigated occurrences at the Ebensee concentration camp, narrated them to Tom Hofmann, a family member and biographer. Ferencz was outraged at what the Nazis had done there. When people discovered an SS guard who attempted to flee, they tied him to one of the metal trays used to transport bodies into the crematorium. They then proceeded to light the oven and slowly roast the SS guard to death, taking him in and out of the oven several times. Ferencz said to Hofmann that at the time, he was in no position to stop the proceedings of the mob, and frankly admitted that he had not been inclined to try. Hofmann adds, "There seemed to be no limit to human brutality in wartime."Hofmann (2013), p. 86

Lynching of Germans in Czechoslovakia

During the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after the end of World War II, a number of massacres against the German minority occurred. In one case in Prague in May 1945, a Czech mob hanged several Germans upside down on lampposts, doused them in fuel and set them on fire, burning them alive.Wilfried F. Schoeller: Rückkehr in die verschollene Geschichte, 16 December 2007.Gernot Facius: Kleines Wunder an der Moldau, 10 November 2008.{{better source|date=June 2018}}


Necklacing is the practice of summary execution and torture carried out by forcing a rubber tire, filled with petrol, around a victim's chest and arms, and setting it on fire. The victim may take up to 20 minutes to die, suffering severe burns in the process. The method was widely used in Haiti and South Africa.{{citation needed|date=May 2019}}

Extrajudicial burnings in Latin America

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, burning people standing inside a pile of tires is a common form of murder used by drug dealers to punish those who have supposedly collaborated with the police. This form of burning is called micro-ondas (microwave oven).Grellet (2010) Autorizado a visitar família..NEWS,weblink Polícia encontra 4 corpos que seriam de traficantes queimados com pneus, Portuguese, Federação Nacional dos Policiais Federais, 18 September 2008, O Globo, 6 July 2013, Rio de Janeiro,weblink" title="">weblink 25 September 2013, dead, dmy-all, WEB,weblink micro-ondas, WordReference, 6 July 2013, The film Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) and the video game Max Payne 3 contain scenes depicting this practice.França (2002), Como na Chicago de CaponeDuring the Guatemalan Civil War the Guatemalan Army and security forces carried out an unknown number of extrajudicial killings by burning. In one instance in March 1967, Guatemalan guerrilla and poet Otto René Castillo was captured by Guatemalan government forces and taken to Zacapa army barracks alongside one of his comrades, Nora Paíz Cárcamo. The two were interrogated, tortured for four days, and burned alive.Paige (1983), pp. 699–737 Other reported instances of immolation by Guatemalan government forces occurred in the Guatemalan government's rural counterinsurgency operations in the Guatemalan Altiplano in the 1980s. In April 1982, 13 members of a Quanjobal Pentecostal congregation in Xalbal, Ixcan, were burnt alive in their church by the Guatemalan Army.Garrard-Burnett (2010), p. 141On 31 August 1996, a Mexican man, Rodolfo Soler Hernandez, was burned to death in Playa Vicente, Mexico, after he was accused of raping and strangling a local woman to death. Local residents tied Hernandez to a tree, doused him in a flammable liquid and then set him ablaze. His death was also filmed by residents of the village. Shots taken before the killing showed that he had been badly beaten. On 5 September 1996, Mexican television stations broadcast footage of the murder. Locals carried out the killing because they were fed up with crime and believed that the police and courts were both incompetent. Footage was also shown in the 1998 shockumentary film, Banned from Television."MEMBERWIDE">DATE=5 SEPTEMBER 1996TITLE=UPROAR IN MEXICO OVER FOOTAGE OF ACCUSED KILLER BEING BURNED ALIVE, Associated Press, A young Guatemalan woman, Alejandra María Torres, was attacked by a mob in Guatemala City on 15 December 2009. The mob alleged that Torres had attempted to rob passengers on a bus. Torres was beaten, doused with gasoline, and set on fire, but was able to put the fire out before sustaining life-threatening burns. Police intervened and arrested Torres. Torres was forced to go topless throughout the ordeal and subsequent arrest, and many photographs were taken and published. Approximately 219 people were lynched in Guatemala in 2009, of whom 45 died.HTTP://WWW.DAILYMAIL.CO.UK/NEWS/ARTICLE-1236323/FEMALE-ARMED-ROBBER-STRIPPED-BEATEN-SET-ALIGHT-LYNCH-MOB.HTML>DATE=17 DECEMBER 2009TITLE=FEMALE ARMED ROBBER STRIPPED, BEATEN AND SET ALIGHT BY ANGRY LYNCH MOBLOCATION=LONDON, In May 2015, a sixteen-year-old girl was allegedly burned to death in Rio Bravo by a vigilante mob after being accused by some of involvement in the killing of a taxi driver earlier in the month.WEB,weblink Video of mob burning teen in Guatemala spurs outrage – CNN, Annie Rose Ramos, Catherine E. Shoichet and Richard Beltran,, CNN, 20 October 2018, In Chile during public mass protests held against the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet on 2 July 1986, engineering student Carmen Gloria Quintana, 18, and Chilean-American photographer Rodrigo Rojas DeNegri, 19, were arrested by a Chilean Army patrol in the Los Nogales neighborhood of Santiago. The two were searched and beaten before being doused in gasoline and burned alive by Chilean troops. Rojas was killed, while Quintana survived but with severe burns.ANNUAL REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, 1987–1988. Case # 01a/88; Case 9755. Chile, 12 September 1988.

Lynchings and mass killings by burning in the United States

During the 1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary riot, a number of inmates were burnt to death by fellow inmates, who used blow torches. Modern burnings continued as a method of lynching in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the South. One of the most notorious extrajudicial burnings in modern history occurred in Waco, Texas on 15 May 1916. Jesse Washington, an African-American farmhand, after having been convicted of the rape and subsequent murder of a white woman, was taken by a mob to a bonfire, castrated, doused in coal oil, and hanged by the neck from a chain over the bonfire, slowly burning to death. A postcard from the event still exists, showing a crowd standing next to Washington's charred corpse with the words on the back "This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe". This attracted international condemnation and is remembered as the "Waco Horror".DuBois (1916), pp. 1–8 (weblink" title="">Archive)Goodwyn, Wade. "Waco Recalls a 90-Year-Old 'Horror'." National Public Radio. 13 May 2006. (Transcript of radio story)

Unconfirmed act of execution in the Soviet Union

A former Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) officer writing under the alias Victor Suvorov described, in his book Aquarium, a Soviet "traitor" being burned alive in a crematorium.Victor Suvorov (1995) There has been some speculation that this officer was Oleg Penkovsky.WEB,weblink Collector's Item, 20 October 2018, However, during a radio interview with the Echo of Moscow, Suvorov denied this, saying "I never mentioned it was Penkovsky".WEB, Виктор, Суворов, Интервью / Дело Пеньковского / Виктор Суворов,weblink Эхо Москвы, 20 October 2018, ru, 14 February 2010, No executed GRU traitors other than Penkovsky are known to match Suvorov's description of the spy in Aquarium.Suvorov profile,

Executions in North Korea

In connection to the purge of Jang Song-taek, O Sang-hon, a deputy minister at the Ministry of Public Security (North Korea) associated with Jang, was 'executed by flamethrower' in 2014, according to unconfirmed reports.WEB,weblink North Korean official 'executed by flame-thrower', Julian, Ryall, 7 April 2014, 20 October 2018,,

African cases

In South Africa, extrajudicial executions by burning were carried out via "necklacing", wherein rubber tires filled with kerosene (or gasoline) are placed around the neck of a live individual. The fuel is then ignited, the rubber melts, and the victim is burnt to death.U.S. Sanctions against South Africa, 1986 {{webarchive |url= |date=14 October 2007 }}, College of Arts and Sciences, East Tennessee State University; retrieved 14 October 2007.Hilton, Ronald. worksmerica_latinamerica03102004.htm "Latin America{{dead link|date=September 2017 |bot=InternetArchiveBot |fix-attempted=yes }}", World Association of International Studies, Stanford University; retrieved 14 October 2007. {{dead link|date=June 2016|bot=medic}}{{cbignore|bot=medic}}It was reported that in Kenya, on 21 May 2008, a mob had burned to death at least 11 accused witches.Kanina (2008) "Mob burns to death 11 Kenyan 'witches'"

Cases from the Middle East and Indian subcontinent

Dr Graham Stuart Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, and his two sons Philip (aged ten) and Timothy (aged six), were burnt to death by a gang while the three slept in the family car (a station wagon), at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar District, Odisha, India on 22 January 1999. Four years later, in 2003, a Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh, was convicted of leading the gang that murdered Staines and his sons, and was sentenced to life in prison. Staines had worked in Odisha with the tribal poor and lepers since 1965. Some Hindu groups made allegations that Staines had forcibly converted or lured many Hindus into Christianity.BBC News (1999) Missionary widow continues leprosy workSangvi (1999) A Kill Before DyingOn 19 June 2008, the Taliban, at Sadda, Lower Kurram, Pakistan, burned three truck drivers of the Turi tribe alive after attacking a convoy of trucks en route from Kohat to Parachinar, possibly for supplying the Pakistan Armed Forces.weblink {{webarchive |url= |date=4 November 2012 }}In January 2015, Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh was burned in a cage by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The pilot was captured when his plane crashed near Raqqa, Syria, during a mission against IS in December 2014.WEB,weblink Jordanian pilot 'burned alive' by IS, 3 February 2015, 20 October 2018,, In August 2015, ISIS burned to death four Iraqi Shia prisoners.NEWS, Isis releases graphic video showing four men burning alive in 'act of vengeance',weblink The Independent, 31 August 2015, In December 2016, ISIS burned to death two Turkish soldiers,NEWS, ISIL video shows 'Turkish soldiers burned alive',weblink Al Jazeera, 23 December 2016, publishing high quality video of the atrocity.WEB,weblink WATCH: New ISIS Video Burns 2 Caged Turkish Soldiers to Death in Aleppo, Heavy, 2016-12-22, S. J. Prince, The victims are shown burning to death in the last three minutes of the film.


On 20 January 2011, a 28-year-old woman, Ranjeeta Sharma, was found burning to death on a road in rural New Zealand. The police confirmed the woman was alive before being covered in an accelerant and set on fire.Feek (2011), Burnt body victim named Sharma's husband, Davesh Sharma, was charged with her murder.WEB,weblink Husband of burnt woman charged with murder, 29 January 2011, The New Zealand Herald, 27 September 2011,

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Eastern Philosophy
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