The Colourful History of Death by Sawing. (Don't read this before bed. Or food.)

in #history4 years ago (edited)

Alright this is a long one.

When we think of ISIS - the now seemingly defunct terrorist regime, not the Egyptian Goddess - we tend to associate the most heinous, disgusting and brutal forms of death and destruction known to man. Their limitless thirst for vile torture and execution makes us separate ourselves to some degree from certain corners of the internet, hoping that a subtle psychological ignorance would basically be preferable.

But I've long been conscious of a certain truth: Isis is tame.

At least when you compare it to almost all of human history, anyway. From the Golden Horde to Ancient Rome and beyond, humanity's capacity for innovative agony has been consistently boundless; only now do we live in a time where most (but certainly not all) of us get the privilege of forgetting, and no longer comprehending, how savage and cruel existence can be.

I come here to pop that little bubble you're living in. Today we're starting a journey of Horrible Histories sans Protection. Rather than explain my intent, let's jump right into it. Careful where you land.

The Saw

Saint Cyriacus - Public Domain

A saw is a pretty handy tool. For humans, it cuts wood, for mosquitoes, it cuts into humans with fantastic precision, and for sawfish, it allows them to look ridiculous for our entertainment. Thanks, God!

But the saw is far more versatile than that, which is why one of history's most imaginably vile torture and execution methods, innovatively named The Saw, saw itself spread all over the world across the centuries until surprisingly recently, but I want to go into some of the fascinating history first.

Simply, death by sawing is accomplished by sawing a human until they're dead. But this in itself lacks imagination. No, we needed to consider the most optimal, painful way to do this. Where to start? Sawing a human's head off would be too immediate, as would sawing top-down from the skull' there would be no point sawing any further once you got a fraction of the way through the brain.

Sawing across the midriff would be pretty agonizing and also lead to a sustained death as you watch the victims guts spill over the floor and the blood drain from their face. But this draining caused a problem; the victim would pass out too quickly and escape from all the joyous torture.

The 'best' method, some found, was to hang a victim upside down and saw them in half lengthways, from the groin to the head. Being upside down allows the sawing to continue at least as far as the chest before death prevails, and all that blood going to the head allowed consciousness to stick around that bit longer. The bonus result is that the onlookers got to watch the victim's own blood and guts droop down and drench their body and face, intestines slapping around and more. This has been beautifully illustrated, as you can probably see by now, with Saint Simon who was traditionally martyred around 65AD in Persia for... being Zealous, apparently?

Reasons for sawing differ through history, it's not only those praised by God who get the opportunity to have their mortal bodies torn asunder.

It's hard to say when Death By Saw was actually first devised, but I can say with fair confidence that it was within the week of saws being invented, which was possibly around the 17tth century BC - almost 4,000 years ago.

Thanks to the Bible, we have written evidence that humans were at least thinking about it based on the aforementioned sawing of a zealot in Persia, but a little more recently we get some insight into yet more Persian sawing in the epic poem Shahnameh around 1,000 AD where the character Jamshid was 'sawn asunder' for growing ungrateful of God... three times. Seemingly for political reasons, his fate would change in scripture depending on the situation at the time:

Jamshid fled away….Zahhak missioned spies to find him and they found him near the coast…. They sawed his hands and legs off….The Tarikh-e Tha'alabi (1990: 13-17)

Jamshid fled away and Zahhak followed him until he found him near the sea of China. Then, he sawed him in half and threw his body in the sea of China. Fars-nameh (2007: 34)

...he fled to India and ruled for one hundred more years in there until his other sons were born…. Finally, he was taken into captivity and brought to Zahhak. They used a piece of fish bone which was similar to a saw, cut him in half, and burned his body. Mojmal al-Tavarikh (2010: 25-40)


Bloody ingrate. Serves him right.

So we can safely assume sawing was pretty popular in Persia. Then again we don't need to assume. There are numerous examples of Persian saw-gutting, including when Parysatis, wife of Darius II (423 BC) had her daughter-in-law's sibling sawn in half, when Hormuzd IV had to watch his wife and son sawn in half, and when Ziselmius, leader of the brutal Thracians tribe sawed a whole bunch of people in half and had their family members eat the remains. (this eating of decapitated loved ones is surprisingly common in history).

But Persia wasn't the only place of Ancient times that enjoyed such heinous acts.


What's with the ugly momma on his chest? Louis le Grand

If you thought crucifixion was the worst that came from the Romans, think again. Around AD 40, a particularly nasty individual, Caligula, took office as the third Roman emperor for less than 5 years. His life had been pretty miserable. His father was rumoured to have been poisoned by Tiberius, his adopted father, for being a political rival. His mother. Agrippina, publicly declared vengeance before being imprisoned until she starved to death - along with all 5 of Caligula's brothers and sisters. Caligula was too young, and thus avoided prison, instead of being made to live with Tiberius where resentment and hatred boiled quietly inside him.

By the time he was 25, he became emperor following Tiberius' death, but by this point, he had already gone stark-raving mad. It didn't help that everybody would mock his appearance; a hairy yet bald, pale and lanky individual. The solution was to make mockery punishable by death.

If that wasn't enough, he started killing off his family members and declaring himself as God, even dressing as them in public and replacing the heads of statues of gods with his own. His increasing number of enemies were taken down gruesome, or joyously, depending on whether or not you are Caligula. He would have them sawed in half through the torso while he ate, apparently stating that such suffering served as his meal's appetizer.

Mahomet the Conqueror

Such historical times are full of rumour and fables, propaganda and outright myths. None of the above really proves the Saw ever being used as an execution method. So we need to go into more recent times, past the Jews, the Christians, and the Egyptians who all lay claim to some form of Sawing methodology.

Between 1461 and 1480, the Ottoman Empire was going through a sawing phase under the guidance of Mahomet the Conqueror (derived from Muḥammad). Garnished with a rich variety of horror, it was almost as if he was jealous of Arch Nemesis of the Ottoman at the time, Vlad the Impaler and his status as an impaler. 'Mahomet the Sawer' doesn't quite have the same ring to it, unfortunately. But he certainly tried. On the conquest of constantinople:

They no sooner found themselves masters of it, than they began to exercise On the inhabitants the most unremitting barbarities, destroying them by every method of ingenious cruelty. Some they roasted alive on spits, others they starved, some they flayed alive, and left them in that horrid manner to perish; many were sawn asunder, and others torn to pieces by horses. Three days and nights was the city given to spoil, in which time the soldiers were licensed to commit every enormitySource

The sawing continued for various crimes during the reign of Mahomet. in 1464, a small city was said to have been conquered, whereby 500 prisoners were sent to Saw-haven Constantinople and, you guessed it, sawn asunder. All of 'em.

A year earlier, the Knights Hospitaller Sent a bunch of knights to their doom. But to the knights' fortune, instead they surrendered under Mahomet's promise that their heads would be spared. Keeping to his word, he had alll 400 of them sawed in half, instead. This account really highlights Mahomet's unreasonable brutalities:

A few days after, mahomet had them arrested on a frivolous pretext, because, he said, they had endeavoured to go our of Constantinople without this permission; he caused them both to be strangled. He treated still more cruelly those Christians who had armed and defended Metelin. They had surrendered to the vizier, under the promise of life: Spite of this promise so solemnly given, the sultan had these unfortunate persons sawn asunder between two planks Source

After Mohamet's reign, sawing became a thing of the pa- nah, kidding.

Indeed, death by sawing continued on at least in some accounts as recently as the 1820's in Burma for certain criminal offences. For gruesome's sake, here's an account from the Quarterly Review of some decorative murder methods to go alongside the sawing main course:

One gentleman told me that he had seen a deserter eat a banana with his bowels out, after the executioner had performed more than half his task; and another, also an eye-witness, stated that a woman condemned for murder to be thrown to a tiger, deliberately crept into the cage, made the savage a shi-ko, or obesiance, was killed by a single blow of the animal's fore-foot, and immediateley dragged by him into the recess of his den.Source


It's fair to say that sawing people in half has historically been a popular endeavour. The problem is, it's frustratingly tricky. The body, whether alive or dead, tends to flop around in either panic or flaccidity, so it can be more annoying than ecstatic. The Chinese had a work around for this by crushing the victim between two planks of wood first before commencing the sawing or 'death by 1,000 cuts'. But nowadays it's just easier, for the most part, to stab and shoot.

I have no doubt, however, that in some war-torn regions where accounts of people being forced to eat each other (yes, that happens today) we might possibly also expect to see some sawing action going on. But there is so much going on out there, right now, that we are completely oblivious to that this post can only serve as a brief glimpse of a reminder of it.

So maybe I'll make it a series. What do you think?


Simon the Zealot | China and the Myth of Jam | The Madness of Caligula | The Christian Martyrology | The History of the Turkish, Or Ottoman Empire | The Quarterly Review volume 41

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I know how that feels. 💔

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Oh I dunno. there are a lot of different ways one can be torn apart. I imagine you have it it far worse than this =P

And my posts on violent human behaviour now seem like prawn crackers before the main course. Bloody hell.. literally. I have known of many things humans have used for torture since eons back from skinning to four horses ripping limbs off but sawing... I missed that.
Please continue. After all man's aptitude for cruelty seems bound only by imagination.

Don't give me too many ideas. The more torture methods I learn the more tempted I am to tie these construction men to horses. arghhh!

ahem... anyway, yes human's creativity is both a blessing and a curse in the most extreme possible sense in either direction... pretty interesting

aaaah, my flesh is shaking....!

Good good, get the skin loosened up - more easily removed that way =P

Aaaah! I always enjoy some romantic reading before going to bed... Thanks!

I think you're gonna love this museum if you go to Florence

The museum we have planned is already absurdly vile - without intending to be! Perhaps we can double down here...

I never quite saw anything like this :D

Me neither, I have split opinions on whether or not it's the worse way to go

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I like this series. Please continue

You mean continue sawing, right?

Yes, I'd buy you an electric saw, it appears the medieval saw ain't that effective :)

You could say the old saws didn't make the cut

That will be too much pun that my heart could take. Lol

He should start a campaign on fundition. I would certainly pitch in

That sounds like an offer someone couldn't refuse.

Hi @mobbs!!

I liked this post a lot!! It is really cool and thrilling seeing those demon kind of work (sawing people).. ;)

I agree with @trumpman, please continue the series!! :)

Thanks, I guess I will then! I have a lot of ideas lined up already...

We will wait to see then!! :)

How about Salem's witch trial of the 1690's where "witches" die by pressing? The men of those times are simply savages, strangely enough, no one seems to mind the tortures then. It is even approved by men of high reputation as a way of keeping the society safe from sorcerers.

Do you see any witches around? Maybe the "savage" men were into something after all? 😎

Hehehehe, some of the "witches" can currently be found in the psychiatric ward of our modern hospitals; probably suffering from nothing but delusions.

Damm! What a brutal way to take someone's life.
"......sentenced to death by sawing."
Why not just stab the person in the heart and be done with it?

@mobbs, I remember the story of Caligula very vividly because i had previously read about the vile Roman entity. His acts of torture and wickedness took gruesome to a whole new level.
There is even a movie about him titled "Caligula".

However, the movie focused not so much on the vile tortures he meted out, but a lot more on the very immoral activities that were carried out during his time which Caligula obviously enjoyed. You would need to see the movie to grasp the level of psychological accident that dude's brain must have suffered as a child, which led him to commit so many heinous acts.

There were two scenes that depicted very gruesome ways to murder someone though. One in particular was a special type of head mowers.....which chopped off heads of people on a death field, so to say. And I dare say, it is better watched than retold.

It's an old movie but its vivid depiction of the vile acts of those times led to the film being banned in so many countries.

I just checked and strangely, i still have the movie...not proud of it though...but from the tone of your write-up, you seem like you'd enjoy the movie @mobbs.

I am not familiar with the movie, but definitely interested, Gonna see if I can get a hold of it! I suppose stabbing doesn't leave much of a message for everyone else, and for some people, it's just less fun...

Hello @mobbs

I had read historical account of man's wickedness to fellow man. I had read the atrocities committed by federal troops against the people of Eastern Nigerians during the event of Nigeria Civil War, I had read atrocities committed in Liberia, Sierra Leon and many other places. What I have never read, however, is humans sawing fellow humans into halves. Please do the series on this. I am a good student of history and will always be grateful to read one. Terrible happens indeed.


@eurogee of @euronation and @steemstem communities

Colonialists coming over to African countries are well known for doing pretty terrible things - including the sawing method - In some cases they say it's because they never considered indigenous people to be people at all, but i don't see the torture of animals to be any less insane, so It's weird to think how far people can go and how capable even you and I are of doing these things under the right circumstances

Leg the series be forthcoming. It is gonna an opportunity for me to appreciate the scale of these atrocities. How opportuned we are to be born of this age liberty and freedom!

Reading this, I have come to totally agree that heart of man is full of wickedness! Sacrileges were committed in the time past. How devilish is humanity. Thank God for civilisation. Thanks God for America for they remained the chief originator of freedom and justice for all humans.

I will like to read your series on the various atrocities of mankind.

Thanks for sharing the dark part of human history.

STEM contributor

Thank God for civilisation.

Do we also thank God for Sawing execution method? =P

Soooo, I saw Saw and thought I had enough cruelty... but, this is very interesting, please show more.

to a sustained death

Nothing worse than those unsustained deaths. I know what you meant, but I can't get the wrong connotation out of my head.

This article reminded me of seeing a "Chainsaw beheading" video on bestgore. Terrorists of today must have an ancestor from these pathetic rulers. They r maintaining their family tradition of brutal behavior. :/

I must confess, I'm just hearing this for the first time. Death by sawing? OMG That's a brutal one.

we might possibly also expect to see some sawing action going on. But there is so much going on out there, right now, that we are completely oblivious to that this post can only serve as a brief glimpse of a reminder of it.

I don't think this practice should continue. It's so horrible. It was like a horror movie script I was reading, but later I realized it's a reality. Now making me somehow feeling nervous cos I pity those victims

Don't really know about this before but now I know this ever existed. Thanks for the info @mobbs

So maybe I'll make it a series.

Expecting the series

slightly lame its impossible to re-steem older posts, its like fashion this way in a fashion, so much great stuff out there but if you're not at it fast enough you can't spread it, or vote on it ...

maybe the voting is not a bad idea, ... trolls could somewhat go back in time on you with whalepower but not being able to re-steem after seven days, i think that's a flaw in the system really ... i'm always catching up on something lately but at least i'm catching up, i think that's an improvement coming from total stasis :)

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