When you think about thedeath by burning, the thought should go immediately to the witch hunts of the ‘500 and ‘600. Am I right? However, you have to know that death by burning was documented in the Code of Hammurabi, the famous Babylonian king, already in 1800 BC.
Capital execution of death by burning
There are many variants of the burning at the stake. Essentially the only difference was the intensity of the fire:
- Fire up: when there were many people to be condemned at the same time, the fire was bigger and more likely victims died of asphyxiation caused by smoking, rather than burns.
- Low Fire: when instead it was a single person to be executed, the fire could be lowerand this led to a longer time before dying. In this case, in fact, the death occurred due to excessive loss of fluids due to burns, a stroke caused by heat or decomposition of vital organs due to heat.
There is evidence of the use of burning at the stake as capital punishment in Babylon and ancient Egypt as early as 1900 B.C. and 1800 B.C., but also in the Assyrian and Jewish tradition.
The burning in Ancient Rome
Even in ancient Rome the burning at the stake was used as capital punishment and sometimes theTunica Molesta was used.
This practice required the condemned man to be tied to a pole wearing a tunic strewn with pitch. Once bound, the executioner would begin to pour hot resin on him or grease on his face, and to make sure that the victim would not lower his head,nails were placed under the chin.
The tunic was then set to fire, catching fire directly on the skin of the condemned.
This method was often used also to execute Christian martyrs.
The fire and witches
During the middle Ages the practice of burning at the stake was rather widely used to burn witches and heretics.
Not only: in Spain also Muslims and Jews who had not wanted to convert to Christianity were burned, or those who had done so but did not convince the Inquisition.
One of the most famous sentences for heresy is that of Joan of Arc. From the stories we know, she was burnt alone and the executioners did not, as it was custom sometimes, make her lose consciousness or suffocate her before burning her.
The Maid was then burned alive, at 19 years old, feeling all the pain of the flames that touched her body and screaming while on fire until death.
The last sentence at the stake was ordered in 1835, but probably was never completed. The last person to die at the stake was Johannes Thomas, in 1804.