One of the defining aspects of humanity is that we’re kinda dicks to each other. Sometimes, in fact, we go so far above and beyond in the dickishness stakes that the results are, frankly scary. Let’s take a look at some of the more extreme examples of man’s inhumanity to man.
A tonne of brass+ two dashes of irony = the Brazen Bull
Secondary to the Brazen Bull’s flagrantly sadistic method of dispatching its victims is the flagrantly sadistic way in which it was designed. Its inventor, a brass-founder named Perillos of Athens, didn’t just conceive of a way of killing his fellow man in one of the most painful ways possible, he also contrived to ensure that it was as amusing as possible to everyone around (or as amusing as listening to a man getting roasted alive could possibly be – what can we say? The Ancient Greeks didn’t have access to internet porn).
The Bull was designed with a complicated series of tubes and stops leading into the head. This made it sound, to the layman, like this smoking, gleaming, inanimate bull was bellowing angrily. In actuality, the screams of the hapless sod trapped in the taurine’s bowels were relayed through the tubes and distorted so that they sounded like the roars of an enraged bull.
Further to this, the tyrant who commissioned the bull, Phalaris, commanded that smoke should rise from the bull like “spicy incense”.
Perillos finished the bull and presented it to the tyrant, pleased with his nefarious instrument of pain. Phalaris wasn’t convinced, however, that the bull would roast, billow smoke, and produce roars of bewildered taurine rage to his satisfaction, so he ordered Perillos to demonstrate.
In a move so utterly stupid that only one other person in history has ever fallen for it (the Witch from Hansel and Gretel, and she was fictional), Perillos eagerly obliged by clambering into the innards of the bull. Phalaris, demonstrating that whilst he was an evil son of a bitch he also had a wickedly sharp sense of irony, ordered the bull closed and set a fire under it.
Phalaris, sadistic motherfucker that he was, wasn’t done yet. After having a good chuckle at Perillos’ expense, he ordered the unfortunate brass-founder pulled out of the bull. You can imagine Perillos’ relief as he was hauled out and led off to get himself cleaned up. You can also imagine his subsequent bewilderment as, minutes later, he was led to the top of the nearest cliff and flung off in one of history’s cruellest instances of “nah, just kidding.”
The irony didn’t let up there, though. Years later, Phalaris himself was thrown in the Brazen Bull. We like to think Perillos’ bitter wraith floated around cackling, screaming “NOT SO BASTARD FUNNY NOW, IS IT?” as Phalaris enjoyed the tangy aroma of his own incense.
Soldier gets drunk and talks smack, gets Cersei’d
A word of warning: if you have a weak stomach or a tendency towards squeamishness, you’re gonna wanna go ahead and skip this one.
The Achaemenid – or Persian – Empire of the 4th century BC was, at the time, the biggest empire in the world. At its height its furthermost borders were the Baltics to the west and the Indus valley to the east, and it controlled 5.5 million square kilometres.
In 404 BC the reigning emperor, Darius II, took sick. Darius had two sons, Arsames and Cyrus the Younger, and one sister-wife named Parysatis.
Parysatis, who could have beaten Cersei Lannister in a scheme-off, favoured Cyrus the Younger over her elder son, and poured honey in her dying brother-husband’s ear to that effect. Alas it didn’t take; Darius chose Arsames as his successor, and Arsames became Artaxerxes II.
Parysatis and Cyrus the Younger didn’t cotton to this. Cyrus, located in the west of the empire, struck a bargain with the Greeks, assembled 10,000 mercenaries, and marched upon his brother.
Cyrus the Younger was no slouch in battle; as a youth he’d reportedly fought and killed a goddamn bear. It was no great surprise, then, that he won the Battle of Cunaxa. What came as more of a surprise was Cyrus being killed by a lucky dart throw.
Here’s where things get really murky; Cyrus’ killer was a soldier named Mithridates, but Artaxerxes wanted everyone to think he’d done it. Mithridates kinda wanted to boast about taking down one of Persia’s greatest warriors. And Parysatis was super pissed and wanted to flay everyone involved in her favourite son’s death.
Mithridates was richly rewarded, but the official story was that his rewards were for bringing the ‘trappings’ of Cyrus’ horse to Artaxerxes. Unfortunately for Mithridates, he got drunk and shot his mouth off about how he was the actual killer of the usurper. This was perhaps the most regrettable bout of drunken smack talk in the history of the human race.
Artaxerxes was furious that his lie had been exposed and ordered Mithridates’ execution. Parysatis, already noted for being Cersei levels of manipulative and cruel, persuaded him to choose the most awful possible method of execution: scaphism.
What was scaphism?
We’ll let Greek biographer Plutarch take this one:
“Taking two boats framed exactly to fit and answer each other, they lay down in one of them the malefactor that suffers, upon his back; then, covering it with the other, and so setting them together that the head, hands, and feet of him are left outside, and the rest of his body lies shut up within, they offer him food, and if he refuse to eat it, they force him to do it by pricking his eyes; then, after he has eaten, they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, pouring it not only into his mouth, but all over his face. They then keep his face continually turned towards the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the multitude of flies that settle on it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat and drink must needs do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed. When the man is manifestly dead, the uppermost boat being taken off, they find his flesh devoured, and swarms of such noisome creatures preying upon and, as it were, growing to his inwards.”
Thus, for the crime of getting drunk and bragging, poor Mithridates was subjected to possibly the most disproportionately harsh punishment ever. He lasted eighteen days before eventually expiring. Parysatis showed clemency to the next guy she blamed for her son’s death, merely having him flayed alive.
As an aside, the Greek mercenaries who accompanied Cyrus the Younger? They found themselves stranded in enemy territory and had to bop their way back to the Mediterranean. This formed the basis of the epic Greek tale the Anabasis, which in turn inspired one of the greatest movies of all time.
Eunuch schemes, gets death by a thousand cuts
Eunuchs were a pretty big deal in Imperial China. Notable for having their junk cut off so they could be around the Emperor’s women without getting frisky, eunuchs instead devoted their energies to scheming. Oh so much scheming.
One of the perks of being a eunuch was access to – and enormous influence over – the Emperor’s heir. In 1505, a new emperor ascended to the throne. The emperor in question, Zhangde, had basically been raised by eunuchs, and they wielded massive influence over him.
Emperor Zhangde was only 14 when he ascended to the throne, and he kinda wasn’t into being Emperor at all. This was a fourteen-year-old kid who’d just been given unlimited power, and all he wanted to do was party. He was therefore more than happy for the eunuchs to run the country, and the eunuchs were more than happy to do this for him. Thus was formed the all-powerful cabal of eunuchs known as the Eight Tigers.
The Eight Tigers, led by a guy called Liu Jin, were pretty much nasty pieces of work. Liu Jin has been described as “wily, rapacious and cruel”. He controlled the official messages sent to and from the Emperor, established a Gestapo-style secret police to persecute his enemies, and amassed a huge personal fortune via graft and corruption. He even built himself a goddamn palace in his hometown.
One official who called out Liu Jin on his bullshit received thirty lashes for his troubles. He complained twice more, each time being flogged. The third flogging killed him. Liu Jin, presumably stroking a white cat and laughing maniacally, continued to enjoy his position as de facto emperor.
Liu Jin got a little bit too big for his boots, however. He managed to alienate people in his home province of Shaanxi so much that the local prince, pissed off with the eunuch’s heavy taxes, staged a banquet and Red-Weddinged the court officials and local eunuchs before launching a rebellion. The rebellion was put down, but it cast further suspicion upon the eunuch. Further to this, Liu Jin was being a total dick to the other members of the Eight Tigers.
It took a while to bring Liu Jin down – the guy could think his way through a corkscrew – but after much more intrigue and counter-intrigue, the Emperor was handed irrefutable proof of the corruption of his most trusted adviser. It was with a presumably heavy heart, then, that Emperor Zhangde handed down the decree to execute the eunuch. Since the guy had basically raised him, however, he obviously gave him a swift and merciful death. Oh, what’s that? He sentenced him to die in the most excruciating way possible?
Lingchi, or death by a thousand cuts
One of the most infamous methods of capital punishment in China certainly deserves its reputation. The condemned was fixed to a wooden frame in a public place and then had pieces of flesh cut from their body over a period of days. In Liu Jin’s case, he lasted two days and endured some 300-400 cuts before perishing. For whatever reason, the executioners continued to mutilate his body for a further day. Liu Jin’s body eventually received over 3,000 cuts.
In a truly fucked-up move, onlookers were said to have purchased pieces of the eunuch’s flesh and consumed them along with rice wine as they watched his execution. If you’re gonna watch a two-day execution, after all, we guess throwing in a little light cannibalism doesn’t hurt.
The lesson here, we guess, is just be nice to people and keep scheming to a bare minimum.