Tuesday, September 27, 2016

One of the things that throw scholars off...

Crucifixion d'un Chrétien en Algier - detail. Il est empalée aussi!
Source: Gallica.bnf.fr / Biibliothèque nationale de France

Part 2: Length of Survival, or, Time of Expiry for the Executed

One of the things that throw scholars off is the idea that impalement as a death penalty invariably ends with an immediate, or at least a quick, death. Gunnar Samuelsson (Crucifixion in Antiquity, p. 44, n. 31) and John Granger Cook (Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World, p. 3) both hold this conviction. Yet travelogue narratives, as well as sketches, from the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries clearly indicate that this was not so!

In the revised and expanded first part I have shown, with period sketches, how the Turks and others transfixed the impaled person through the length of his body from the rectum and out the back below one of the shoulders without killing him instantly. To the typical Western European of the time was a disgusting and exceedingly vile combination of the utmost cruelty and what they considered unnatural sex.

Now there are several written accounts of how impaled persons suffered a slow lingering death for up to two or three days or even longer while transfixed through. There is even one account of a person surviving this after being recused by his friends!

Perished Straightaway, i.e., during the impalement process.

Now mind you, some who were longitudinally transfixed through certainly perished straightaway, as witnessed by Henry Blount (A Voyage into the Levant, p. 52) in the Levant, Paul Lucas (Voyage du sieur Paul Lucas, pp. 277-278) somewhere in North Africa (Mauretania or Tunisia) on 27 February 1705, Jean de Thevenot (The Travels Of Monsieur De Thevenot Into The Levant, vol. 1, p. 259) in Egypt.

Blount witnessed the impalement of three robbers, two of which perished during the process, and the third having survived the process was instantly killed otherwise:
The other was of three Arabs, who robbed in the wildernesse betweene Rossetto and Alexandria; they were taken at a place called Maidyah, where at my returne I saw execution done in this manner: They were laid naked upon the ground, their face downeward, their hands and legs tyed abroad to stakes; then came the hangman, who putting their own half-pikes in at the Fundament did with a Beetle, drive them up leisurely, till they came out at the Head, or Shoulder: two of them died suddenly, but the third whom the Pike had not toucht neither in the heart, nor braine, would have lived longer, had not the standers not dasht out his braines.
Lucas saw two men impaled, the first died during the process, the second was impaled only partial depth using a wooden stay, or brake, and so survived for at least few hours (“a long time”) sitting on the brake, suspended thus with his legs hanging in the air.
Pendant cette expedition infortunée on avoit surpris quatre Maures avec plusieurs Lettres addressées à quelques personnes de Tunis par les Mécontens retirez aux Frontieres du Roïaume. Le 27. Fevrier 1705 les fit mourir d'une étrange maniere. On en mit deux en croix: on leur cloua les mains & les pieds. Les deux autres surent mis au Cafouque , ou empalez. De ces miserables les deux premiers étoient encore vivans 12. heures aptès: le troisième mourut dans faction. Quelle apparence de-vivre! le bois lui traversoit non seulement les entrailles, mais le cœur, & lui sortoit par les épaules. Le dernier n'étant empalé que jusqu'au milieu du corps, demeura long-temps en vîe: il paroissoit comme assis, & aïant les mains libres; il poussoit vers le Ciel des cris , qui lui demandoient une mort plus prompte, & qui touchoient tous les spectateurs de compassion.
During this unfortunate expedition one sees suddenly four Mauretanians with several letters addressed to certain persons of Tunis for the Mécontens returning to the frontiers of the kingdom. On 27 February 1705 they were put to death in a strange manner. Someone put the two on crosses: he nailed their hands and feet. The two others then were put to the Cafoque, or impaled. Of these unfortunates the first two survived for twelve hours; the third died during the action. What an appearance for the living! The wood traversed not only the entrails, but also the heart and exited the body through the shoulder. The last was not impaled quite to the middle of the body, suffering for a long time alive: he appeared as if seated, and had his hands free, he directed his cries towards the Giel, who demanded that he be given a quicker death and who moved the spectators with compassion. (my transl.)
Thevenot witnessed a similar scene, except at the time to complete the process two or three hours later, the executioner removed the brake and let the impaled person drop and the pale emerged at his breast, killing the person instantly:
Impaling is also a very ordinary Punishment with them, which is done in this manner. They lay the Malefactor upon his Belly, with his Hands tied behind his Back, then they slit up his Fundament with a Razor, and throw into it a handful of Paste that they have in readiness, which immediately stops the Blood; after that they thrust up into his Body a very long Stake as big as a Mans Arm, sharp at the point and tapered, which they grease a little before; when they have driven it in with a Mallet, till it come out at his Breast, or at his Head or Shoulders, they lift him up, and plant this Stake very streight in the Ground, upon which they leave him so exposed for a day. One day I saw a Man upon the Pale, who was Sentenced to continue-so for three Hours alive, and that he might not die too soon, the Stake was not thrust up far enough to come out at any part of his Body, and they also put a stay or rest upon the Pale, to hinder the weight of his body from making him sink down upon it, or the point of it from piercing him through, which would have presently killed him: In this manner he was left for some Hours, (during which time he spoke) and turning from one side to another, prayed those that passed by to kill him, making a thousand wry Mouths and Faces, because of the pain be suffered when he stirred himself, but after Dinner the Basha sent one to dispatch him; which was easily done, by making the point of the Stake come out at his Breast, and then he was left till next Morning, when he was taken down, because he stunk horridly. Some have lived upon the Pale until the third day, and have in the mean while smoaked Tobacco, when it was given them.

A very short time.

Jean-Antoine Guer (Moeurs et usages des Turcs, vol. 2, p. 161) in Constantinople, and John Matthias Korbinsky (Geographisch-historisches und Produkten-Lexikon von Ungarn, p. 139) about a case in Hungary both describe impaled persons perishing in a very short time after being impaled. Guer noted that unless the pale went askew, the impaled person perished either during the process or some short time thereafter; he didn’t specify which:
On empale les assassins, & ceux qui font coupables de crimes plus énormes. Un crimine! Qui (Du Pal) doit être empalé, est conduit fur un chariot à une des places de Constantinople; là on le met sur une Espéce de pieu pointu, ayant un poids attaché à chacune de ses jambs, de façon que la pointe entrant par le fondement, pierce jusqu’aux entrailles, & sort par le haut du dos. Si le pieu va de travers, le Criminel languit plus long-tems: on en voit assez communément qui souffrent plusiers jours, avant que d’expirer; en attendant ce dernier moment, les Musalmans charitables vont les consoler, & leur portent des refraîchissmens.
They impaled murderers, and those who are guilty of most heinous crimes. A crime! Whosoever (of the Stake) must be impaled, is led just like a wagon [i.e., on a leash] to one of the squares of Constantinople; there they shove in a kind of pointed stake, with a weight attached to each of its jambs, so that the tip entering through the fundament pierces the entrails, and exits through the upper back. If the stake goes awry, the Criminal languishes much longer: we see them quite commonly suffer several days before expiring; until that last moment, charitable Muslims will comfort them, and carry them refreshments. (my transl.)
Korbinsky on the other hand describes a case in Hungary where the transfixed person perished after only nine minutes (indecipherable 18th-Century German).

Two to three hours, “some” hours, or a “long time.”

In their same accounts as above, both Paul Lucas and Jean de Thevenot described criminals being impaled for only about a foot or eighteen inches, and kept from sliding further down by a stay, or brake. Lucas said the person stayed suspended for a “long time” while Thevenot describes another criminal suspended thusly for three hours, until the time arrived to dispatch him. In his account above Jean-Antione Guer also mentions that if the impaling stake were to go awry (i.e., askew) during the process, the person so impaled would suffer for a much longer time.

Another account was of the 1601 execution of the Archbishop Serapheim (Nomikos M. Vaporis, Witnesses for Christ, pp 101-102 – page view inaccessible), upon which the account of the impalement scene in Ivo Andric's award-winning novel The Bridge on the Drina is dependent.

William Shepard (Paris, in 1802, and 1814, p. 255) recounts that in one of his Paris visits, when viewing the skeleton of an assassin of General Kleber in a museum, one of (I presume) the museum guides explained that the assassin was executed by impalement, and had suffered for “some hours” on the stake alive.
Quitting the wild beasts we visited the Museum of Anatomy. Here the first object pointed out to us was the skeleton of the Assasin of General Kleber. This wretched enthusiast was impaled alive, and though two of his lower vertebrae were broken by the stake, he lived in torture for some hours.
In The Bridge on the Drina, third chapter, Ivo Andric describes the impalement of a Bosnian Serb named Radisav, who tried to sabotage the bridge's construction. A certain unnamed man from Plevlje has been assigned to supervise the impalement of Radisav. The man from Plevlje, who answers to Abidaga, a Turkish official, tells a gypsy assigned to do the dirty task that he would be paid double if he and his two assistants ensure that Radisav survives on the stake until nightfall. The hired man is careful to drive the stake correctly, i.e., askew, and the stake finally emerges below Radisav’s right shoulder. At the end of the short narrative, after Radisav was set upright on the top of the unfinished bridge and thereby suspended over the river Drina, the man from Plevlje checks on the now transfixed Radisav and verifies that he was still alive, conscious and breathing, and that his internal organs had not been damaged. And as the man was checking on him, Radisav uttered a curse on him and the whole Turkish lot:
Through the clenched teeth came a long drawn-out groaning in which a few words could with difficulty be distinguished.

"Turks, Turks, ..." moaned the man on the stake, "Turks on the bridge ... may you die like dogs ... like dogs."
Another literary account comes from the 43rd issue of The Casket (Purser, “A Turkish Execution,” pp 337-339). This scene describes the impalements of two local Syrian men, who were two of Damascus’ criminal elements, carried out by two very muscular Nubian (black African) executioners; one of them was impaled transversely from back to front, the other in an undescribed manner but presumably the typical longitudinal method. The story finishes the scene with the two suspended men very much alive and conscious, one was even uttering prayers to his Prophet:
The first robber who had suffered still preserved his proud stubborn silence; the distorted and leaden features, and the creeping shivering of the limbs, told of the torments of hell – but the tongue was mute! But the other! The Nubians had been unable, as he struggled beneath them, to stanch the blood, as in his companion, and it issued from the gaping wound, made it still more hideous by his writhings, in a black flood, tricking down his back, matting together with the black masses of his hair, and thence descending in clotted gouts to the ground. His face too! The eye was white and orbless, and the black and frothy lips muttered indistinct curses and appeals to his prophet.

Six hours.

According to William Hurd (A New Universal History of the Religious Rites, Ceremonies and Customs of the Whole World, p. 308), the penalty for converting a Muslim to Christianity was the death sentence – by live impalement – for both the catechist and the catechumen. For punishment for this religious crime, an innovation was added: after the process was completed, the impaled was hung on a cross-shaped gibbet. One man suffered such for six hours at Smyrna:
Near the out parts of the city, at the common place of execution, a gibbet is erected in the form of a cross, and the person condemned by the cadi, or judge, is brought out and stripped naked. A small piece of wood, almost in the shape of a lance is thrust in at his fundament, till the other end comes out at his shoulder, and in this manner he is hung up on the gibbet, and left to expire. When Mr. Thompson was at Smyrna, he saw a man suffer in this manner for changing his religion, and he continued in tortures upwards of six hours, before he expired….

Possibly twelve hours or more.

There is an account in a scholarly or popular book or article somewhere offline except for Google-books, of an impalement event somewhere in the Ottoman Turk-occupied Balkans when sometime during the following night, a strong wind developed and managed to uproot one of the occupied stakes and knock it over to the ground, with the man still attached to it. This person, who was ravenously thirsty, struggled as he crawled to the nearest town to drink some water from the fountain its town square in order to slake his thirst. Once he got to the fountain, he took a drink and dies straightaway. The townspeople found his body next to the fountain with the pale still transfixing it.

Fifteen hours.

Giles Fletcher and Jerome Horsley with Edward A. Bond as editor (Russia at the Close of the Sixteenth Century, p. 172) describe in bad 17th-Century spelling the execution of one Knez Boris Telupa who was found out and convicted of treason and sedition (confederacy with disaffected nobles) was sentenced to be impaled. In this account instead of the pale being driven into him, he was drawn onto the stake – in crucem trahere indeed! Once transfixed and suspended, he suffered in horrible pain for fifteen hours alive on the stake before he perished:
Knez Boris Telupa, a great favorett of that tyme, ‘being’ discovered to be a treason worcker ‘traytor’ against the emperor, and confederatt with the discontented nobillitie, was drawen upon a longe sharpe made stake, soped to enter ‘so made as that it was thrust into’ his fundament thorrow his bodye, which came owt at his næck; upon which he languished in horable paine for fifteen howres alive….

Twenty-four hours or more.

This account by Friedrich Wilhelm von Taube (Historische und geographische Beschreibung des Königreiches Slavonien und des herxogthumes Syrmien, vol. 2 pp 70-71, n. **) is in barely decipherable 18th-Century German, but once transcribed and fed into Google-translate, one finds out it describes robbers being transfixed through, suspended and then often surviving for twenty-four hours on the stake:
**) Das Spiesten ist fomol in der ganzen Türkey, als ach in den hungarischen Ländern eine geivohnliche Strafe. Nachdem der Uebelthäter nactend auf deu. Baud gelegt und der auf der Erde festgebunden warden: so hauet ihm der Scharf-richter mit einem Beil den hintern auf und stedtet den holzernen Speiss hinein, welcher vorn mit Eifen beschlagen ist von hinten von den henterstnechten mit hoelzernen Reulen in den Leib des Missethaeters hineingetrieben, vom Scharf-richter, nach Inhalt des Urtheils, den Speiss so Lenten, dass solcher inwendig im Leide neben dem Ruedgrade hergehe und im Nachten oder auf den Schultern wieder heraustomme. In diesem Falle lebet der rauber oft 24 Stunden, rauchet am Speisse…
After the malefactors nactend on eng. Baud placed and the warden tied on earth: so he hews the Scharf-richter with an ax to butt in and steadies the hewn spit onto which the iron front end is ‘herded’ from behind by subjoining with a wooden stake in the body of evildoers, the Scharf-richter, according to the instructions of the sentence, drives the spit so slowly that such inwardly in harm shall go beside the spine and coming out again at the neck or the shoulders. In this case, lives of the robbers are often 24 hour, racketed on ‘kebabs’…. (Google-translate transl., modified)

Two to three days.

Jean de Thevenot aboves mentions that “Some have lived upon the Pale until the third day.”

André Raymond, William Wood (Cairo, p. 240) includes Jean Coppin’s report of executions in Egypt in or around 1640. The execution was by impalement, the pale being driven through the anus and out by the shoulders; some of those impaled survived for almost two days.
I once saw two criminals pass by who had been sentenced to impalement …. Each carried a round stake about the thickness of an arm, pointed on the end coated at the top with soap, apparently to penetrate more readily .... When they arrived at the designated place, the hands of one of the criminals were tied behind his back and he was made to lie down on his stomach ... A [man] ... started to make the stake penetrate him as far as possible through the anus, then finished making it pass with great blows from a wooden mallet until it emerged above the shoulders. Next the stake was set into a hole already dug for the purpose, and the subject was left upright ... ... Some remain alive for almost two days in this state before expiring...
William Dampier (A Collection of Voyages: In Four Volumes, vol. 2, p. 140) describes in his account of a method of execution by impalement, longitudinally from the anus to the shoulders. Mr. Dampier actually saw one person suffering on the stake in this manner for two or three days.
One way is by Impaling on a sharp Stake, which passeth up right from the Fundament through the Bowels, and comes out at the Neck. The Stake is about the Bigness of a Man’s Thigh, placed upright, one End is about 12 or 14 Foot high. I saw one man spitted in this manner, and there he remain’d two or three Days
Fynes Moryson, Andrew Hadfield, (edr). Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial Writing in English, 1550-1630, pp. 170-171) describes an account from the 16th or 17th Century, included verbatim in the volume (including the bad spelling!), of an eyewitness to an impalement wherein the malefactor survived on the stake for some two or three days.
The malefactor carryes the wooden stake upon which he is to dye, being eight foot long and sharpe towards one end, and when he comes into the place of execution, he is stripped into his shirt, and laid upon the ground with his face downeward, then the sharpe end of the stake is thrust into his fundament, and beaten with beetles upp into his body, till it come out, at or about his Wast, then the blunt end is fastened in the ground, and so he setts at little ease, till he dye, which may be soone if the stake be driven with favour, otherwise, he may languish two or three days in payne and hunger.
O. F. Mentzel and R. F. Allemann, with Margaret Greenlees translating (Life at the Cape in Mid-eighteenth Century, p. 102), describe a mass execution in the aftermath of a slave revolt with arson at a Cape Colony plantation:
Of the remaining incendiaries, five were impaled; four were broken on the wheel; … four were hanged, and two women were slowly strangled …. In warm weather it is usual for slaves impaled and broken on the wheel to live between two or three days and nights, but on this occasion it was cold and they were all dead by midnight.

Six Days

Monsieur de Pagès (Pierre Marie François), Travels around the World, p. 284
… the tyrannical maxims which actuate the tools of this mercantile government. During my short residence in Batavia [Jakarta, Indonesia] the Dutch beheaded one Indian, and impaled another with circumstances of such savage barbarity, as I believe are scarce to be paralleled in the annals of Turkey. The last unhappy man remained six days alive upon the stake, and was permitted, among those who call themselves Christians, to expire at last in the wind and rain under all the agony of all his wounds.

A recollection of a report of one surviving this process!

This recollection was years after a second-hand narration to Stephen C. Massett ("Drifting About", pp. 88-89) from a certain Jeems Pipes who related what he saw and had heard. In this account he describes the mass impalement of thirteen or fourteen robbers in Adrianople (Edirne, Turkey) who were strangled first, although the locals told him that the Turks formerly had impaled criminals alive:
They were formerly set upon the stake alive, and I heard of a case in which a man was at night removed from his stake by his friends, and none of the vital parts having been touched, he lived for many years afterwards, but never subsequently stood straight.
This apparent crookedness in the survivor’s posture seems to be very similar to the curvature in the torso of the victim in the image, Crucifixion d’un Chrétien en Algier that was shown in my previous post.


With the sketches and narrative descriptions of impalements by the Ottoman Turks and others, it is quite clear that executioners can rectally impale a condemned man so that he survives for a long, long time, up to two or three days before perishing, and even speaks after they did the deed. I have also shown two previous articles that the ancient Greeks knew how it could be done, too, using both literary and visual sources. Now what does this mean for certain scholars preferring to use the word “suspend” or even “crucify” when referring to the known ancient writers’ described suspensions on wood during and before their time? It means in my opinion that one must look to see not only if there is explicit language describing an impalement, but implicit – at least strongly implicit – verbiage also; it also means that one can classify the suspension as “crucifixion” only if the language is explicit and acccording to the context of the event (ex., did the Romans do it, or did the Barbarians?).

Credits – books:

Andric, Ivo. The Bridge on the Drina. Chicago, University Of Chicago Press (1977).

Blount, Henry. A Voyage into the Levant. London: Andrew Crooke (1636).

Bond, Edward A. (edr); Fletcher, Giles; Horsley, Sir Jerome. Russia at the Close of the Sixteenth Century. New York City: Burt Franklin (1856).

Dampier, William. A Collection of Voyages: In Four Volumes. London: James and John Knapton (1729), Volume 2.

Guer, Jean-Antoine. Moeurs et usages des Turcs, leur religion, leur gouvernement civil, militaire at politique, avec un abregé de l’Histoire Ottomane, Volume 2, Paris: Chez F. G. Merigot et Piget (1747).

Hurd, William. A New Universal History of the Religious Rites, Ceremonies and Customs, of the Whole World. London: Richard Evans, (1814).

Korabinsky, Johann Matthias. Geographisch-historisches und Produkten-Lexikon von Ungarn. Pressburg, Weber u. Korabinsky, (1786).

Lucas, Paul & Fourment, Etienne. Voyage du sieur Paul Lucas, Amsterdam (1714).

Massett, Stephen C. "Drifting About"; Or, What "Jeems Pipes, of Pipesville," Saw-and-did. An Autobiography. New York: Carleton, Publisher (1863).

Mentzel, O. F.; Allemann, R. F.; Greenlees, Margaret (transl.) Life at the Cape in Mid-eighteenth Century: Being the Biography of Rudolf Siegfried Allemann, Captain of the Military Forces and Commander of the Castle in the Service of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope. Capetown: Van Riebeck Society (1919).

Moryson, Fynes; Hadfield, Andrew, (ed.). “Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary (1617)” Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial Writing in English, 1550-1630. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2001).

de Pagès, Monsieur (Pierre Marie François), Travels around the World, in the Years 1767, 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771. London: J. Murray (1791).

Raymond, André; Wood, William (transl.). Cairo, Cambridge, Mass. London UK Harvard University Press (2000), contains: Coppin, Jean (ca 1640). Description de l'Egypte

Shepherd, William. Paris, in eighteen hunderd and two, and eighteen hundred and fourteen. London: Strahan and Preston (1814),

von Taube, Friedrich Wilhelm. Historische und geographische Beschreibung des Königreiches Slavonien und des herxogthumes Syrmien, Volume 2. Leipzig (1777).

de Thévenot, Jean; Lovell, Archibald (tr.). The Travels Of Monsieur De Thevenot Into The Levant: In Three Parts, Volume 1. London: H. Faithorne, J. Adamson, C. Skegnes, and T. Newborough, (1687).

Vaporis, Nomikos M. Witnesses for Christ. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (2000).

Credit – periodical:

Purser (1 December 1827), “A Turkish Execution,” The Casket, Vol 1, No. 43, London: Cowie and Strange and Co. (1827).

Credit – web page:

Wikipedia, “Impalement” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impalement accessed May 24,2016. Includes links for the books, where included. 

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