Boiling Alive

Boiling someone alive was a rather brutal punishment used by several rulers throughout history. It is believed to be one of the slowest and most painful ways to die. The method is documented to have been commonly used throughout the world in the 16th century.

An example of a British monarch who was known to use this punishment was Henry VIII. He typically used it on individuals accused of poisoning, as he believed it to be an unforgiveable offence. Those found guilty would be suspended via a network of pulleys and ropes above a drum filled with boiling liquid, such as water, tar, acid, wine, oil, molten lead etc. As a method of psychological torture the executioner would often slowly lower the guilty towards the pot, before bringing them back up without actually plunging them into the liquid.
Image from Wikipedia of a London Dungeon exhibit demonstrating the punishment of boiling alive

While being lowered towards the pot, the skin of the prisoner would begin to blister, pop, and then melt away, revealing muscles, veins and arteries that clung to the bone. If clothing is worn during the boiling, this will fuse with the skin and flesh. The body changes its colour to bright red as increased blood is sent to the skin surface before the blistering begins. Blindness often occurs, particularly if the head is dunked under water, as the eyes turn cloudy. The lungs also burn as hot steam is being breathed in.  The individial would typically remain conscious throughout the process, being able to experience the pain and smell their body cooking.

Just like lobsters, humans also turn red when boiled, although not due to a chemical reaction but because of increased blood flow to the surface of skin

In case of the individual being plunged into water/other liquid straight away, the pain felt is intense as the entire body experiences the boiling sensation, while all internal organs boil in their own juices as they also heat up. However, initially the feeling of burning may be experienced as cold due to the nerve endings within the body being initially unable to handle such severe temperatures. The pain would be felt for a significant amount of time before the nerve endings die. The pain and torture leading to death is prolonged if the temperature is gradually increased while the prisoner remains inside the pot since the body does not go into shock as it adjusts to the heat. However, if the head is also submerged, death will occur more quickly due to the brain boiling.

Some well-known examples of the punishment of death by boiling throughout history include the execution of the outlaw Ishikawa Goemon in Japan, the martyrdom of Bhai Dayala in Delhi in the 17th century due to his refusal to convert to Islam, as well as some modern-day ISIS executions.


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