20 Facts About Excruciating Methods of Execution and Torture in History

A modern reconstruction of the Brazen Bull, Bruges. Allthatsinteresting

2. The Brazen Bull would cook people alive

The Brazen Bull was invented by Perillus of Athens for Phalaris, the tyrant of Sicily. Phalaris, it seems, had grown weary of the standard means of killing people, and sought a more cruel and entertaining method, which Perillus ably supplied. The Brazen Bull was, as its name suggests, a brass sculpture of a male cow. The sculpture was hollow, with a trapdoor at the rear through which victims could be transferred inside. A fire was lit beneath the Bull, and the unfortunate inhabitant would be cooked alive. Brass was chosen as a material because it heats up quickly.

Another facet of the Brazen Bull reveals an important aspect of torture and execution. For Perillus gave the Bull a system of pipes leading to open nostrils, so that the victim’s screams of agony could emanate from the nasal cavity, to the delight of onlookers. Perillus described the sound as ‘the most melodious bellowing’. Even Phalaris was disgusted by the instrument, according to the historian, Lucian, and so asked Perillus for a demonstration of the sound. When Perillus climbed in, Phalaris shut the trapdoor and roasted him. Perillus was removed, only to be more humanely executed. Phalaris was not hypocritical.

Unfortunately for Phalaris, but doubtless to Perillus’s posthumous delight from the underworld, when his people wearied of his cruelty they tore out the tyrant’s tongue and cooked him in the Brazen Bull. The Bull was also used by Roman emperors to execute Christian martyrs, according to early ecclesiastical historians. Saints martyred in the Bull include Antipas, Pelagia the Virgin, Eustachius, and the latter’s wife and children. In the year 497 AD, a Roman usurper called Burdunellus was also executed by the bloodthirsty Visigoth, King Alaric II, in Toulouse by being cooked in a version of the Brazen Bull.