history of violence

Catherine Wheel

The Catherine Wheel was a product of the middle ages, especially popular in Germany. The victim's limbs were crushed with blunt objects. His (or her) still-living remains were subjected to the wheel. This meant the mangled arms and legs were threaded through the spokes. The wheel was then hoisted into the air using a long pole. Hungry vultures and crows picked at the body. Death came slowly.

A seventeenth-century chronicler wrote the victim looked like, "A sort of huge screaming puppet writhing in rivulets of blood, a puppet with four tentacles, like a sea monster, of raw, slimy and shapeless flesh mixed up with splinters of smashed bones."

This was one of the most popular spectacles of the time. This, and similar methods of torture, took place in the squares of Europe from 1450-1750. The masses, both common and noble, watched in fascination, cheering at a good wheeling. A woman (or a number of women in a row) brought even greater enthusiasm.

The wheel was named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria from the early 4th century. She was believed to have been killed in this fashion during the rule of the Roman Emperor Maxentius.

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