Executioner’s Song, Dance And Other Movements

executioner2It was suggested that the Euthanasia coaster of the previous post could be used as an implement of capital punishment.  Unusual — yes, but not cruel.  Elegant, no doubt.

To make the whole experience more complete, for instance, the trip to the Euthanasia roller-coaster could be made on roller-blades… The executioner might wear some cute uniform, then simply press the button, and z-z-zoom!

All right, I’ll stop right here.  As I said, I was planning the post on another fascinating and rather morbid subject of myths and facts about executioners.  Let’s get on with it then.

Executioner, in Latin, is carnifex, a composite of caro, carnis, “flesh” and facere, “to make.” Other words, meat-maker, butcher.

Russian палач (palach) originates from Turkish word pala for “broadsword”.  Man with a sword.

German  Scharfrichter  is composed of the words  scharf (sharp/edged), and  richter  (judge) — thus executing justice (richten) by the sword.

English word executioner sounds rather bland and unromantic in comparison, don’t you think?

This should do as illustration of exorcism...

This should do as illustration of exorcism…

Executioner’s hood, a traditional headdress, routinely associated with the visage of executioner, is a historical fabrication. In fact, the executioners did not hide their faces, an exception being a fair number of executions of kings in the notorious for such executions Middle Ages. Bummer. Those hoods looked fascinating, don’t you think?

In the Middle Ages, it was executioner’s task to perform exorcism procedures as well. One of the surest ways to drive out evil spirits out of possessed bodies was — what else? — torture.  Causing pain to the body, executioner was torturing demons, forcing them  out. If in the process the living soul should be forced out of the body… well, things happen. In any case, demons were out and gone!

executioner4Executioner’s position in society  was extremely low, equaled to that of prostitutes and actors.

In the church, the executioner had to stand behind everyone at the door, and the last one to approach the sacrament.

Executioners had the right to take groceries from any stall at the marketplace. This privilege was granted to them because often they couldn’t buy food for money —  many merchants simply refused to take money from their “bloody” hands. Generally, people abhorred even casual contact with executioners.Executioner5

In France, there were also women executioners. The Order of Saint Louis from 1264 stated that “the one who cursed or acted against the law, according to the judges’ decision should be flogged by the person of the same gender — a man by a man, and a woman — by a woman without the presence of men.”

When an executioner was about to retire, he had to find a candidate for the vacant post.

The executioners were often trading body parts and providing medicine, remedies and salves made ​​from cadavers. They sold, as well,  various articles, relating to the execution, mostly things like “hands of glory” (severed hands of the executed men) or pieces of ropes on which the condemned men were hung. These artifacts are often referenced in books on magic and alchemy manuals.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia practices public executions for such crimes as rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery, witchcraft, fornication, drug trafficking and drug consumption. The main department of the country that ensures the compliance with Islamic Sharia laws is called the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Since the days immemorial, death penalty is carried out by beheading or crucifixion. As of late, it was reported, Saudi authorities are facing the significant shortage of executioners  and consider replacing traditional methods of execution with more contemporaneous ones, such as executions by firing squad, which doesn’t require skilled professionals.

Still the most curious, tragic and fascinating is the tale of the 400 gardeners of Istanbul…

A member of Ottoman corps of  gardener-executioners.

A member of Ottoman corps of gardener-executioners.

Historical records indicate that Topkapi, the Palace of the Turkish sultans in Istanbul, had as many as 400 gardeners for at least 3 centuries. The sultan’s gardens were beautiful, all right, but still, why so many gardeners?  Topkapi gardener, as it happened, had many responsibilities, and one of them  — perhaps the most important one — was the job of the executioner.

Master Gardener, bostancı basha, also served as the chief executioner, often tasked with the execution of viziers (ministers), chiefs of eunuchs and other top ranking officials of the court. The ritual of execution was, perhaps, the most peculiar in the recorded history.

The condemned man and the gardener had to  take part in a race, running from the Central Gate to the Fish Market Gate.  The result of the race was, quite literally, a matter of life or death for the convicted man: if he outruns the gardener he would be exiled, if not — he’d be beheaded right there and then, his  corpse thrown into the Bosporus.  Not very many were lucky to win the race. Physical fitness was never in vogue in the court of the Ottomans. (Hat tipped to the The Ottoman Empire’s Life-or-Death Race article for this factoid.)

Often gardeners had to execute women of the harem, those that failed to please the Sultan. The guilty one was put into a sack with stones for added weight, the sack tied up and thrown into the boat. The boat was towed on the rope behind the vessel with the gardener rowing and the eunuch, who had to witness and report the execution to the court. The boat was overturned and the woman drowned.  Intrigues, rivalries and betrayals were frequent in the harem, and so there never was a lack of work for the  bostancı corps. One sultan was known for condemning 300 women at once. But the most heinous mass drowning was recorded under Sultan Ibrahim I (1640-1648), who  drowned his entire harem when he learned that one of his concubines fell in love with a eunuch.  Several hundred women drowned, only one escaped…

And a few remaining images with the executioners in them, some humorous, regardless of the gloomy subject:

lya Repin. Saint Nicholas of Myra saves 3 innocents from death. 1888

llya Repin. Saint Nicholas of Myra saves 3 innocents from death. 1888

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