Flaying or skinning alive is another very ancient method of execution. The victim was stripped and their hands and feet secured to stop movement. Then, the executioner would slash the skin with a sharp knife and peeled it away from the muscles. The face was often flayed first to cause maximum suffering, as the victim was still conscious. To make the punishment worse, the executioner could part boiling the victim first for a few minutes as this softened the skin, making it easier to tear away.
The procedure left not only muscles but also nerves exposed. This was agonizing, but it also left the victim’s body vulnerable. So if the shock of the pain did not kill them, blood loss, and hypothermia or, if they survived long enough, infection would bring about death.
A number of cultures practiced flaying. An enraged Christian mob flayed the female philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria by killing her “with potsherds.” The Aztecs and Assyrians both flayed their enemies. In the Aztec’s case, prisoners of war were flayed alive while the Assyrians liked to make an example of the defeated rulers of their enemies by skinning them.
The displayed skin of a flayed person could act as a warning and a deterrent. A legend from Hadstock, Essex, in England told how medieval parishioners nailed the flayed skin of a Danish raider to the church door as a warning to other unchristian marauders. The legend proved to be true. When the door came to be repaired, pieces of human skin were found under the doornails.
From 900AD until it was banned in 1905, the Chinese practiced a type of flaying called Ling chi or death of a thousand cuts. This prolonged death was only awarded to those guilty of treason. One such person was Lui Jin, a sixteenth-century imperial eunuch. Lui Jin was the leader of “The eight tigers” a group of powerful Ming dynasty eunuchs. When their emperor began to neglect imperial affairs due to his dissolute lifestyle, Lui Jin effectively organized a coup and began to pass laws in the emperor’s stead.
However, once the emperor became aware of the situation, he had Lui Jin arrested and sentenced to Ling chi. The former court official was sentenced to 1,000 cuts a day over a three day period. Lui Jin only survived until the second day, just long enough received 300-400 of his second day of cuts.