The Middle Ages: Executions And Torture In Medieval Europe

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Beginning in the 5th century and ending in the 15th, the population of Europe entered a time of disease and famine, where the arches of Gothic architecture rose as high as the Church’s power. The Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, were a period of dwindling innovation and rising strife. Religious loyalty, a rise in crime, and violence “...induced legislators to increase the horrors of tortures.” (Alchin.) These methods of punishment were commonplace in Medieval Europe, resulting from a lack of basic human rights. Executions and torture significantly influenced medieval Europe due to its effect on the treatment of various people, creation of torture devices, and the involvement of the church in the justice system.
Torture was exacted for a multitude of reasons, including homosexuality, witchcraft, blackmail, and punishment for petty crimes, such as “...fights and thefts” or more intense crimes such as “…brutal assaults or murders.” (Westergren) Severity of torture relied heavily on age, sex, and social status of the convicted. Multiple convictions for similar crimes also lead to harsher punishments. For example, a peasant’s first punishment for thievery may be public humiliation, however, the second or third conviction would result in loss of a finger, a hand, or an entire arm. The majority of torture
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Without a legitimate defense for human rights, torture and execution became the norm for punishment. For many, prisons were not an option for those convicted. The Catholic Church defaulted to the main justice system in the land, leading to a rise of religious punishments such as burning and branding. Torture was finally abolished in the year 1640 after the morality of punishments were put into question. The effects of executions and torture still echo today within debates and historical education, and serve as a reminder of the results of prejudice and persecution of

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