The Brazen Bull (Worst Punishment in the History of Mankind)


Welcome back to our macabre series of shows
featuring some of the worst things people have done to each other in the name of punishment. While in other shows we have talked about
instruments of torture and killing that could be said to be basic – claws that rip flesh,
cudgels that smash bones – this particular instrument of horrifyingly inhumane torture
could be said to have been cooked up by creative folks. As with just about anything we have talked
about in this series it would be unimaginable to suffer this treatment, but hey, we aren’t
going to say it’s any worse than having your intestines chewed on by starving rats. Like that punishment, though, this one was
slow, making hanging or head chopping seem very merciful in comparison. This form of execution was created by the
ancient Greeks. It had a few names, and it might also be called
the bronze bull, or the Sicilian bull. But how do we know anything about it at all? One of the answers is because it was written
about in something called the “Bibliotheca historica”, which translates as “Historical
Library.” It consists of many books written by an ancient
Greek historian named Diodorus Siculus. In these books you’ll find his version of
the history of the world, from what went down in ancient Egypt to the leader Alexander the
Great. Quite a lot of it is still intact, but some
parts from the series are missing or in fragments. In one of those books Mr. Siculus wrote about
the brazen bull and this is what he said. The guy who invented it was an inventor by
trade and he was named Perillos of Athens. It’s said before he built this thing, somewhere
between 570 and 554 BC, he actually pitched the idea. He was what you might call a creative technologist
of the past looking for some funding. He got that funding from a man named Phalaris,
the tyrant of Acragas. Given his frightening title you won’t be
surprised to hear that this man was said to be very cruel. In some accounts of his life it’s written
that he enjoyed torture and even went as low as to eat children. We should say that the Encyclopedia Britannica
cites research that says he wasn’t as cruel as some people have written. Whatever the case, it seems he commissioned
the building of the brazen bull. So, how did one perish in the brazen bull? Well, it was certainly a thing conjured up
by a creative yet sadistic imagination. It was said to be the same size of a bull,
but shaped from bronze, with an opening where a man could enter the thing. A fire was then lit under the bull and the
man would slowly roast to death. But get this, it was made so that when the
man was howling in agony his shrieks would emanate through specially distorted pipes
built into the bull so the impression an onlooker would get was an animal bellowing in pain. This might have been the fun part for someone
like the tyrant of Acragas. The smoke would come out through holes in
the bull’s nose, but that nose was filled with incense since burning bodies don’t
smell so good. The bones that were left would then be turned
into bracelets, so the story goes. When the idea was pitched by Perillos it’s
said he said this to the tyrant Phalaris, “The occupant will shriek and roar in unremitting
agony; and his cries will come to you through the pipes as the tenderest, most pathetic,
most melodious of bellowings. Your victim will be punished, and you will
enjoy the music.” When the bull was finished, Phalaris told
the inventor to get inside the thing to test out the sound, but some sources say he lit
the fire and the inventor died there. Others say he pulled him out but then killed
him by pushing him over a cliff. It seems for all his hard work Perrillos was
killed, but perhaps not because Phalaris didn’t want to pay. Even though Phalaris is said to have been
keen on cruelty, it’s written that he said this to Perrilos after hearing about the execution
method, “His words revolted me. I loathed the thought of such ingenious cruelty,
and resolved to punish the artificer in kind. I said to him, ‘If your art can really produce
this effect, get inside yourself, and pretend to roar; and we will see whether the pipes
will make such music as you describe’.” By the way, it’s written that on his downfall
Phalaris was also killed inside the bull. So that’s inventor and commissioner both
killed at their own hands in a way. Word of the brazen bull was passed down and
histories were written and they link the device with these two men, the inventor and the tyrant. But the history of the bull doesn’t stop
there. The Romans it’s said had a taste for the
brazen bull, and if you’ve watched our other shows on Roman torture you won’t be surprised
to hear some people wouldn’t have had many scruples about roasting a man to death and
enjoying his screams. We might look at the story of a man named
Saint Eustace. It’s said he became a martyr after being
killed in the second century. The Romans were punishing many Christians
before they themselves converted to Christianity under the emperor Constantine, but that was
in the fourth century AD. Before that a lot of Christian blood was spilled,
and it seems a few Christians also got cooked to death inside a bronze animal. Saint Eustace was said to have been one of
them. Before he converted to Christianity he had
served under a Roman emperor, but he saw the light so to speak when he had a vision one
day which involved a stag and a crucifix. Christians might tell you that this man then
lost everything, which was one of those tests of God. He lost his cash; his servants and his wife
and kids were taken away from him by of all things a lion and a wolf. Yet his faith remained strong throughout. There are a few different stories as to what
happened to this man, but some people will tell you he got his wealth back as well as
his family, but in the end he, his wife and his children were all roasted to death in
the brazen bull on the orders of emperor Hadrian. We looked at some Christian sources and they
seem to back that up, although they don’t all say his family got the treatment, too. We also found this piece of Christian history,
written in the 1800s. It seems to suggest that when Eustace and
his family got roasted they died, but some miracles did happen. This is from that text:
“The holy martyrs, by Divine power, remained alive for three days, praising and blessing
the great Giver of life and death. At last, when their voices ceased, the bull
was opened, and all four were found without life, but also without any injury to their
bodies or garments.” It’s written that other Christians close
to this time went the same way, for instance a man known as St. Attipas. This is written about him:
“They became enraged and dragged him to the temple of Artemis, and there they threw
him into a glowing, red-hot copper or brazen metal bull where they normally put their sacrifices
to the idols to cast demons out of their own people. He loudly prayed God to receive his soul and
strengthen the faith of the Christians, and begged God to forgive those who were inflicting
on him this torment. He then departed as peacefully as if he fell
asleep.” We should say that there are people who don’t
believe these stories and relate them more to legend than truth. It’s not for us to say what is true or not,
but most serious historians will at least tell you that the stories from the bull’s
surprising beginnings in Greece to Christian martyrs not feeling any pain while being roasted
are hard to verify. What is very much true is that stories of
the brazen bull have been passed down through the ages and those manuscripts can still be
read today. By the way, while you might see a brazen bull
in a museum in the world, it won’t be the real thing, only a depiction of one. Have you seen worse in our other punishment
shows? Tell us in the comments. And then go watch “Eaten Alive (Scaphism)
– Worst Punishments In History of Mankind”. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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