Breaking wheel (560)
One of the Middle Ages’ most infamous torture devices, the breaking wheel – also known as simply ‘the wheel’ – was as barbaric as it was effective. The breaking wheel consisted of a large wooden wagon wheel with many radial spokes, upon which the torture victim was bound with rope. Once fixed in place, the victim was then slowly beaten with an iron cudgel, with their limbs inevitably giving way and breaking in the gaps left in between the wheel’s spokes. Once all the victim’s limbs were broken they were strung up on the wheel for all to see. Most disturbingly, survival times post-cudgeling were extensive, with the victims taking many days to die.
The rack (65 CE)
A beautifully simple yet devastatingly destructive device, the rack was one of the ancient world’s most horrible torture tools. It consisted of a bedlike open frame that was elevated above the ground. Upon the frame the torture victim was strapped with their ankles and wrists secured by ropes that were fed around axles. As such, when the axles were turned by inserting poles into their sockets, the victim was literally stretched alive, with their knee, hip, shoulder and elbow joints inevitably being dislocated. Despite only being introduced in the West in 1420, according to Roman historian Tacitus, the rack was already in use by the time of Emperor Nero.
To read about ten more torture devices, pick up issue 19 of All About History