Gaunching was a specialized form of impalement. Rather than insert the stake or pole directly into the individual, they were instead dropped or thrown onto metal spikes or hooks. French Botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort witnessed gaunching in the Levant during the early eighteenth century. He described how a rope hoisted the condemned up, so he hovered above a bed of sharp hooks. The executioner then released him and the victim was impaled, multiple, random times. The length of time it took a convict to die of gaunching was very much left to chance as it depended on how he fell upon the hooks. However, cutting their throats or beheading them could shorten the victim’s suffering.
A variation on gaunching by rope was to force the victim onto a hook fixed on a gallows’ crossbar. A German traveler Hans Jacob Von Buchenbach witnessed an incident of this nature in Turkey in 1579. Von Buchenbach recorded how the unfortunate man was forced onto a hook fixed to a horizontal beam which pierced him through the abdomen. He was left hanging upside down in this way until he died.
Hooks could also be placed on walls and used to execute criminals and enemy soldiers in a very public way. This was the practice in Algiers where executioners threw the condemned from the city battlements onto hooks fitted in the walls below. Thomas Shaw, Chaplain for the Levant Company in Algiers in the 1720s, gave an account of this form of gaunching in practice. “The Moors and Arabs …. are thrown upon the chingan or hooks that are fixed all over the walls below, ” Shaw wrote, “where sometimes they break from one hook to another and hang in the most exquisite torments, thirty or forty hours.”
Alexander Russell, living in Aleppo in the 1740s knew of gaunching but said it was rarely used because of its extreme cruelty, Others verified this, such as Captain Henry Boyde who was held captive in Algiers for twenty years. Boyde recalled how during this time, he knew of only a few cases of gaunching, one of which was a Christian slave who had murdered his master.
However, in central Europe, gaunching was often used in times of war. The Thirty Years War, a particularly bloody conflict saw many atrocities committed by both sides. One instance was in 1677 when, in retribution for German atrocities against captured Hungarian troops, a Hungarian general flung his German captives onto hooks implanted in his fortress wall.