Sunday, May 15, 2011

Iron Maidens

The Iron Maiden is a torture device which consists of a case large enough to hold a standing human. The door to the case can be closed and latched with the person inside, and a small hole at face level allows the torturer to interrogate the victim. The torture is provided by the numerous spikes inside the case and attached to the door of the case, which all pierce the victim when the door is shut. Because the spikes remain in the wounds, the victim bleeds very slowly and can last for days while inside. It was used heavily in the Middle Ages to punish religious heretics. It is well known today, as an example of the barbaric cruelty of medieval Europe.

Or at least, that's the story. In reality, it is believed that the Iron Maiden was never used during the Middle Ages, and in fact didn't even exist during that time. Its history was written largely by Johann Philipp Siebenkees, a German philosopher, in the 1700's. There has never been any evidence of an actual Iron Maiden that dates to earlier than the late 1800's. It's widely believed that the story of the Iron Maiden is a hoax, and although Iron Maidens do exist and may have been used from time to time since their popularization, they are not an authentic medieval torture device.

The Iron Maiden's grisly and dramatic nature has helped it to become an icon in popular culture. We are both attracted and repulsed by extreme torture, and this helps hoaxes which tap into our fears and fascinations to become widespread.


  1. The Tower of London is one of England's most popular tourist attractions. The castle was used as a prison for many many years, and today its central tower holds a museum of Torture. I visited the castle in 4th grade, and still remember the executioners' axe collection, the iron sodomy rod (which was to be warmed in fire before use,) and the famous penis scissors. Thousands of tourists pay money every year to see these gruesome contraptions, which supports our basic attraction to violence and (other's) pain and suffering.

  2. These contraptions mentioned above have a strong fear factor imposed upon them. The device may not be used but they effect everyone with knowledge of them. I believe symbolism is a powerful tool for influencing the masses. The illusionary spell casted upon the viewer is the most efficient way to promote an idea whether it be for justice, liberty, or power.

  3. I have always found torture devices interesting, especially those from the Middle Ages. Although torture continues to exist in today's world, waterboarding is nowhere near as creative as the Judas Cradle or The Breaking Wheel. Granted that inhumane features of the medieval devices were a bit extreme, I imagine that they would serve as a powerful deterrent. Even though the Iron Maiden may have been a hoax, it still plays largely into our curiosity into a time where the use of torture devices was popular as a public spectacle of violence.


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