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Death by boiling


Death by boiling was a form of torture and capital punishment in use in various parts of the world.

In the collective folklore, death by boiling was used by the natives’inhabitants of distant islands. However, this is due to the early tales of explorers that described how those native tribes killed Christian missionaries and wrongly cited boiling as one of the methods to cause death.

This version soon spread and many movies were made where cannibals’ tribes boiled alive missionaries and explorers, making this erroneous piece of information a cliché.


The death by boiling was carried out in a large container, such as a cauldron. This container was filled with liquids such as water, oil, tar or tallow and was equipped with a hook linked to a pulley to hold the condemned.

The death was caused by severe burns of fourth degree. The skin was destroyed, exposing the subcutaneous fat that was also damaged by the intense heat. When used as a torture, only one limb of the victim was immersed in the liquid, or in some cases the entire lower body was put in the cauldron.

In the Dutch city of Deventer it’s still possible to see a cauldron used for these executions.

History of death by boiling

The first evidence of death by boiling dates back to 203 BC in China, where this treatment was reserved for spies.

In the sixteenth century instead it was used in Japan to kill the bandit Ishikawa Goemon in a public execution. This punishment, however, was not only used in Asia but also in Europe. In England, for example,

it became a form of capital punishment in 1532 under the reign of Henry VIII.

It was used with poisoners and traitors. In 1531 it was used to punish Richard Roose, guilty of having poisoned porridge served to various people. Its public execution is described below:

“He screamed real loud and several strong women became ill at the sight and had to be carried away half dead; others did not seem frightened by the boiling but would have preferred to see a beheading.”

In Scotland too there is no shortage executions by boiling, for example

in 1222 Bishop Adam of Melrose and a monk guilty of having collected taxes too aggressively were boiled alive.

Another gentleman was boiled alive in 1321 after being accused of witchcraft.

During the Holy Roman Empire boiling in oil was reserved for counterfeiters of coins and those who committed particularly serious murders. In 1392 in Nuremberg a man was sentenced to death by boiling for raping and murdering his own mother.

We have records of a death by boiling even in 1687 against a man guilty of counterfeiting money.

According to the UN, nowadays boiling is allegedly being used by the government of Uzbekistan, led by Islam Karimov, against terrorists.


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