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Ancient civilizations: Gnarly punishments and more...

Hello fellow classmates of UGC 111! For those of you who missed the title (and yes, gnarly is the word of the day), my group will be discussing the types of punishment of Ancient Greece and Ancient China in this post. We decided to write a blog post on this topic because we think it's important to learn and understand methods of punishment in the ancient world and recognise if some aspects of it are still prevalent in our society today. It also tells us about the degree of humanity that existed in ancient civilizations as well. To start the ball rolling, let us give you a glimpse into the types of punishment in both civilizations.  

Ling Chi in Ancient China

Ling Chi (凌迟) - death by a thousand cuts
Ling Chi (凌迟) - death by a thousand cuts

Punishment was prevalent when legalism, which swiftly replaced the practices of Confucianism during Qin Shi Huang's reign, was practiced in Ancient China. (This can be attributed to the different views that each philosophy has towards maintaining peace in Ancient China's society; where the former believes in humanism and how an individual conducts himself morally whereas the latter placed an emphasis on strict laws and harsh punishments.) One of the gnarliest forms of punishment was Ling Chi (凌迟), otherwise known as death by a thousand cuts, slow slicing or lingering death. Like its name (and its many translations), Ling Chi was conducted by slowly but methodically slicing small portions of the flesh off criminals. The flesh that were being sliced off are usually non-vital and would result in minimal bleeding, in order to prolong the execution of the criminal. Finally, after deeming that the punishment is enough, a last cut would be made to the throat or heart of the criminal to sever his or her life. This punishment was used for those who committed severe crimes such as treason and murder and was said to exist from as early as the Liao Dynasty. Ling Chi was only abolished in 1905, where the last execution was documented to be in 1904 (more graphic and NSFW details here).


Ancient Greece

Like their Chinese counterparts, the Ancient Greeks did have a few grotesque and gnarly punishments of their own, where the Brazen Bull was perhaps the most infamous and painful of them all. The brass structure of the torture and execution device is a metal hollow bull structure where the criminal would be placed inside the bull. The criminal will eventually be roasted alive by the roaring fires beneath the bull. To make matters worse (as if things were not bad enough), the bull was designed with tubes within its nostrils. The tubes would then carry the screams of the person being roasted, simulating the sound of a real bull. Other than being a torture and execution device, some would even say that the bull doubles as a musical instrument. The bull was created by Perillos of Athens... who was killed in his own invention. While Perillos was pitching his invention to Phalaris, a ruler in Greece then, Phalaris asked for Perillos for a demonstration of the Brazen Bull, which ultimately led to Perillos' demise (click for the full story).


Comparison between Ancient Greece and the Ancient Chinese

After providing you with a glimpse into the forms of punishment in Ancient Greece and Ancient China, here are some similarities and differences that my group has uncovered.

Both civilizations' punishments had long lasting effects, where in Ancient China, the punishment would continue to the criminal's death and in Ancient Greece, the criminal would forever be remembered by his crimes and the punishment he or she has received. Aligned with the Chinese beliefs of the afterlife, where a Chinese' life is said to be continued even in his or her death, this punishment was said to be carried over to the criminal's afterlife, where the criminal will not be whole. Similarly, in Ancient Greece, the criminal, his or her crime and the punishment would follow the criminal even after his or her death.

Compared to the Ancient Chinese', however, the Ancient Greece was known to be more lenient. (FYI: Criminals who were jailed and awaiting execution were expected to make a break for it and leave Greece. This is to restore of harmony in society. By doing so, where the criminal is given a new chance at life in a different community, it is apparent that the Greeks were more "forgiving" than their Chinese counterparts.) Unlike the emphasis on harsh punishments in Ancient China, the Greeks' preferred choice of punishment were usually less torturous and swift. Examples of punishments include the imposition of fines, the removal of their rights to vote, exile or death (it is worth noting that the Greeks did not see imprisonment as a form of punishment and it was not typically served as a punishment).

Last but not least, a commonality between both civilizations was that such punishments and torture were tools used by the rulers to arouse fear and subsequently establish and retain dominance and power over the people. The Brazen Bull was used to torture Phalaris' enemies whereas the severe punishments, like Ling Chi, was used to keep the Ancient Chinese in check. (FYI: Laws, and consequently punishments, were created as a result of a domestic dispute.) Perhaps, it was due to the constant conflict and fight for power in both civilizations that called for such harsh and gnarly measures.


Having gone through an example from both Ancient China and Ancient Greece, we hope that you have learned a little more about both civilizations.

p.s. Comparing this to our capital punishment, we do not think that we have it all that bad for us. We know we would rather take the capital punishment any day. What about you?