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By the standards and attitudes of Medieval Europe with respect to torture and violence, this "flute of shame" looks pretty tame, actually.

It's hard to fathom from a present perspective, but Medieval Europe was insanely more violent and willing to torture than today's Western societies. Consider: Homicide rates were one to two orders of magnitude (~10 to ~100 times) greater back then.[a] There was a proliferation of devices designed to inflict pain and suffering that would make even Dr. Evil blush.[b] Just search for "medieval torture" online to see what I mean.

Steven Pinker has a good summary of the violent nature of Medial Europe in his book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature."[c]

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[a] https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/life-violence-m...

[b] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_methods_of_torture#Med...

[c] https://www.amazon.com/Better-Angels-Our-Nature-Violence/dp/...




I suspect that most of the medieval torture devices were rarely, if ever used. Morbid curiosity and horror stories have always been a thing. Torture museums are a popular thing, and I can easily imagine people making torture devices just to sell tickets. The Iron Maiden is an example of a torture device that was just for show.

The value of human life was much less back then, so that it was a lot more violent makes sense. But I don't think it is specific to medieval Europe. People happily killed and tortured each other everywhere in the world. Modern western society is an exception, not the norm.


> I suspect that most of the medieval torture devices were rarely, if ever used.

Do you have any evidence backing or consistent with your suspicion?


The Faithful Executioner is a great book with a lot of detail from a primary source (the executioners diary over several decades) on law, order and punishment in 16th century Nuremberg. All the punishments are fairly pedestrian - hanging, flogging, branding, etc. with a handful of ‘creative’ ones that stand out enough to warrant special mention in the diary. Note that while the executioner obviously performed capital punishment he was also responsible for carrying out less severe punishment as well. Now maybe other places had more sadistic executioners but that kind of behavior would have attracted notice - they were public servants who answered to local government.


even up past the renaissance, the bar for killing was low. we forget sometimes that newton was master of the mint and he hanged a lot of counterfeiters. for making fake money. newton killed dudes for making fake money.


As mentioned in one of the above articles, that was a modern liberal punishment. They used to BOIL forgers.


forgers and regicides apparently. don't touch the king's loot!


The penalties were fairly stiff too -- if anyone is unsure if harsher sentencing cuts crime, Medieval times are a pretty strong argument against:

Hanging was the penalty for dozens of crimes, not just murder. Hanging was public and a slow hang unless you bribed the hangman.

Serious crimes would see you hanged, drawn and quartered -- dragged through the town, hanged almost to unconsciousness, emasculated and gutted (while conscious if the hangman did his job right), then beheaded and chopped into 4 bits. The head and parts usually went on prominent display like at the gates of the city.

Then there's the religious offences, which get ugly. Theft from the church would see you flayed alive (skinned). The skin was sometimes nailed to the church door. Apostasy (rejecting your required religion) might see you slow burned alive -- publicly of course. and so it goes on. Medieval Christians seem like a vengeful lot.

Forgot one: Boiling alive -- the penalty for coin counterfeiting.


> if anyone is unsure if harsher sentencing cuts crime, Medieval times are a pretty strong argument against

But it sure was 100% effective against repeat offenses. Not like for instance the French system where someone can plot a terror attack, get sentenced to 8 years of prison (a shamefully low duration to begin with) and then do it again (possibly one the attacker role this time). In a way death penalty exists, but is reserved to the victims of previous convicts.


Per the article above, Oxford’s homicide rate is believed to have been _one hundred times_ higher than today (though this was exceptional; normal rate was moe like 10x higher). Not really great evidence for the ol’ state-sanctioned murder.


I'm not necessarily saying that I advocate harsher sentencing. However, I think it's possible that both the high incidence of crime and the severity of the sentences could be a result of the difficulty of catching a criminal, bringing them to trial, and carrying out sentences in a time before an organized law enforcement system.




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