Evolution of Capital Punishment
Written by: Masone4718
Capital punishment can be defined as the penalty of death for the commission of a crime. The death sentence has been a traditional form of justice through time. But time, trade and geography has altered its form. In many countries today, capital punishment is a fundamental part of criminal justice systems. The death sentence is a major way of ensuring respect and instilling fear in people. It was not until recent times that the punishment of death was reserved for murder and other major offences. Throughout time, capital punishment has evolved from an extremely gruesome public display, to a more painless and serene type of penalty. Capital punishment has been around since approximately 1500 BCE (Laurence 2). The criminal condemned was found “guilty of magic” and was sentenced to death. The exact mode of his death was “left to the culprit, who was his own executioner.” (Laurence 2). In England, there is no record of capital punishment earlier than 450 BCE, when it was “the custom to throw those condemned to die in a quagmire.” (Laurence 2). A quagmire is a soft, wet, yielding land. The Mosaic law is “full of mention of the punishment of death. . . the principal mode of execution being stoning”. (Laurence 2). Forms of capital punishment that were common in early times are: the pouring of molten lead on the criminal, starvation in dungeons, tearing to death by “read-hot pincers and sawing asunder”, plus many others. (Laurence 2). The death penalty was not always used for major offences. In the Twelve Tables, from the Roman Empire from approximately 450 CE, many misdemeanors were recognized to be punished by death. Some of these include: “Publishing libels and insulting songs. . . burning a house or a stack of corn near a house. . . cheating, by a Patron, of his client. . . making disturbances in the City at night”. Many of the penalties were carried out by burning at the stake, or in one instance, being “clubbed to death”. (Laurence 3). In the time of Paul, around 60 CE, crucifixion, burning and decapitation were in use. One of the “cruelties inflicted by Nero on those sentenced to death was impalement”. (Laurence 3). Such an atrocity was practiced as late as 1876 in the Balkan peninsula, “while under Charles V criminals were thrown into their open graves and impaled by pointed stakes”. (Laurence 3). Capital Punishment in the Roman empire for parricides, people who killed their own parents, was malicious, yet strange. They were “thrown into the water in a sack, which contained a dog, a cock, a viper and an ape”. Parricide has always been selected for special punishment in all countries and ages. The Romans also inflicted the death penalty by “drowning at sea; precipitation from the Tarpeian rock; burial alive and burning to death”. (Laurence 3). In all countries capital punishment “was, with comparatively rare exceptions, public.” (Laurence 4). When criminals are executed, the “most public places are chosen, where there will be the greatest number of spectators, and so the most for the fear of punishment to work upon them.” (Laurence 4). This statement states that most executions were held in public, so fear can be instilled to every person, trying to keep them from committing a crime. Crucifixion was a practice that “originated with the Persians and was later passed on to the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians.” The Romans perfected it as “a method of capital punishment, which caused maximum pain and suffering over a significant period of time.” (Crucifixion). In crucifixion, the criminal would have his or her hands and feet nailed to a cross in the shape of a ‘T’ and left to die. This form of execution is “widely associated with Christianity” because it was “the way in which Jesus Christ was put to death.” (Forms of Execution). Burning at the stake dates back to the Christian era, where in 643, an edict declared it illegal to burn witches. This was a popular form of death that was used mostly for heretics, witched and suspicious women. (Bobit). The suspected offender was tied to a wooden stake which was encircled by sticks at the bottom. The sticks were then lit, with flames engulfing the culprit. An old practice was that “before the faggots were lighted round them they were strangled at the stake.” (Laurence 3). The Iron Maiden was a form of capital punishment in medieval times. The offender would be placed inside female effigies constructed of iron, sometimes wood, with the inside hollowed out and filled with sharp iron spikes. The person would then be embraced by the iron maiden, being impaled by the stakes. Often, the effigy would be opened, pulling out the spikes, and then closed again, causing more pain and suffering. (Forms of Execution). The statutory punishment for treason in England from 1283 to 1867 was drawing and quartering. First the prisoner was drawn to the place of the execution on a hurdle, a type of sledge. Originally he was dragged behind a horse. Then he was hanged. He was then cut down while still alive, and disemboweled and his entrails were burned before his eyes. As a final point, the condemned was beheaded, and his body cut into quarters. The remains were often put on display as a warning to others. (Adams). One of the earliest and easiest forms of execution was beheading. The easiest and most uncivil form of beheading was by axe of sword. This form of execution was quite popular in Germany and England during the 16th and 17th centuries, “where decapitation was thought to be the most humane form of capital punishment. An executioner. . . would chop off the person’s head with an axe or sword.” The last beheading by axe took place in 1747. (Bobit). In Scotland, the Maiden was used for beheading. The Maiden was an early form of the guillotine. A blade or axe, “moving in grooves. . . was fixed in a frame about ten feet in height. The blade was raised. . . and then released, severing the victim’s head from his body.” (Laurence 40). Its use was discontinued in 1710. (Laurence 99). “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us” is a popular Yorkshire saying. The Halifax referred to the Halifax gibbet, a “form of guillotine” which flourished in the sixteenth century. (Laurence 99). The Halifax, as described by William Harrison, was a “square block of wood. . . which does ride up and down in a slot. . . between two pieces of timber. . . In the. . . sliding block is an axe. . . there is a long rope fastened that cometh down among the people. . . when the offender hath made his confession and hath laid his neck over the nethermost block, every man there. . . take hold of the rope. . . pulling out the pin. . . wherein the axe. . . doth fall down with such a violence that. . . the neck. . . should be cut. . . at a stroke and roll from the body.” If the offender was apprehended for any such cattle, the cattle, or other of its same kind, had the rope tied to them so that they draw out the pin, executing the offender. The last documented execution by the Halifax Gibbet was in April of 1650. (Laurence 38-39, 99). The guillotine became a popular form of execution in France during the late 1700s. Dr. Joseph Guillotin proposed that all criminals should be executed by the same method. Decapitation was thought to be the least painful and most humane method of execution at the time. (Bobit). The prototype of the guillotine was tested on sheep and calves, and then on human corpses. After the blade was perfected, the first execution by guillotine took place in 1792. The guillotine was widely used during the French Revolution, where many executions took place in public outside the prison of Versailles. The last documented use of the guillotine was in 1977 in France. (Bobit). Hanging was a popular way of both executing and torturing a person. The condemned person stands on a platform. A noose is placed around his neck. When the platform drops, the person falls 6 to 8 feet before the rope tightens and fractures, or sometimes dislocates, the upper spinal column. This breaks, or badly bruises, the spinal cord. This form of execution br
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