The Brazen Bull
According to Diodorus Siculus, in 560BC, Perilaus, a metalsmith from Athens designed the brazen bull. Perilaus made the contraption for the Phalaris, the despot of the Sicilian city of Acragas. Phalaris was known for his excessive cruelty and so, with this in mind, Perilaus designed something especially unpleasant for Phalaris to execute his enemies in.
As the name suggests, the brazen bull was a hollow metal vessel in the shape of a bull. The condemned were forced inside through a trapdoor in the bull’s belly and then enclosed within. Once the victim was secured, a fire was lit beneath the bull, heating the metal- and cooking the unfortunate victim. Pipes fitted to the bulls mouth converted the sounds of the victim’s agonized screams into: “the tenderest, most melodious, most pathetic of bellowing’s” as Perilaus described them when he was pitching the bull to Phalaris.
Phalaris, perhaps shocked to find someone with an even sicker mind than his own, decided that Perilaus should give him a personal demonstration of the bull’s attributes. So he had the hapless metal smith bundled inside his invention and ordered the fires lit. As soon as the terrified Perilaus proved that the bull did indeed bellow âmelodiously and pathetically’ Phalaris ordered the metal smith’s release- only to finish him off by throwing him off a cliff.
Phalaris put the bull to use in Acragus. It was said that once it was opened after an execution, the victim was nothing but bones, so perfectly de-fleshed that they âgleamed.’ These bones were reputedly made into bracelets and sold in the markets of Acragus. However, in 570AD, Telemachus overthrew Phalaris and had the defeated despot thrown into the belly of the bull- quite literally firing him.
However, this was not the last history saw of the brazen bull as a means of execution. The bull was particularly useful in making martyrs of the early Christian saints. Saint Antipas, bishop of Pergamon became the first Christian martyr in Asia Minor when Emperor Domitian ordered him to be roasted alive in the belly of the bull.