Ancient Greece may well have become a byword for high civilization but its people could be as barbaric as any other, not least when it came to thinking up cruel and unusual punishments. And no punishments were more disgusting than those reserved for those individuals judged to have broken societal rules. Whether free or enslaved, cause upset or break the moral code of the time and you could expect to have something inserted where the sun doesn’t shine.
As we know, the Ancient Greeks, as well as the Romans, often treated their slaves no better – or sometimes even worse – than their animals. So, the practice of ‘gingering’ a stubborn horse was inevitably adapted to use on slaves. Without going into too much gory detail, an incompetent or disobedient slave girl could be punished by having a skinned piece of garlic inserted into her. This would cause an intense burning sensation, not to mention an intense feeling of humiliation, and could be repeated without the subject getting used to the feeling.
But again, such disgusting practices were not simply reserved for slave girls. Even men of good-standing could be subjected to punishments that can only be regarded as barbaric. Men found guilty of adultery were the most likely to be made to feel a mixture of shame and pain. Indeed, should one man learn that his wife had been with another, it was his right to punish him with radishes. And you can only imagine where the radishes were supposed to go…The practice even has a name. It’s known as ‘Rhapanidosis’, with the historian Aristophanes mentioning it as a means of punishing not just adultery but also other crimes and misdemeanours such as homosexuality and promiscuity.
This was far from the only cruel and unusual punishment dreamt up by the Ancient Greeks. Who can forget the Brazen Bull, a bronze hollow bull into which a man was inserted alive and a fire set under it? The screams of the man being roasted alive came out of the bull’s mouth to amuse the watching crowds. Or how about the practice of dousing a person’s toga in a flammable liquid and then setting them on fire? Or making a poisonous concoction and forcing them to drink it? Yep, the folk of the Hellenistic era certainly had a novel approach to crime and punishment.