steelframe 24 days ago [-]
Upon hearing the sad news of Gene Wolfe's passing in April of this year, I took the occasion to reread his Book of the New Sun series. The protagonist is Severian, a banished member of a Torturers guild, who earns some money during his travels by performing professional executions. It's a little unsettling to immerse yourself in a story written in the first-person narrative of this sort of character.

shpongled 24 days ago [-]
The Book of the New Sun is a masterpiece. Although I recommend having a dictionary on hand... preferably one with old English/arcane words.
umeshunni 24 days ago [-]
Here's an article about what it's like to be an executioner in the modern era (Saudi Arabia, 2003):
mirimir 24 days ago [-]
Compared to TFA, it seems sensible.

In particular:

> Before an execution, nonetheless, he will go to the victim’s family to obtain forgiveness for the criminal. “I always have that hope, until the very last minute, and I pray to God to give the criminal a new lease of life. I always keep that hope alive.”

That's a very different perspective. If the victim's family forgives the criminal, I gather that they go free.

But on the other hand, losing a hand for stealing is horrible.

umeshunni 24 days ago [-]
I believe forgiveness in this context refers to the Islamic concept of Diya (
mirimir 24 days ago [-]
As I understand it, it's not always about money.
mattmanser 24 days ago [-]
Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a medieval RPG, did this quite well. The protagonist Henry does a few jobs for the executioner and they make it clear the isolation and ostracization the executioner suffers, and he lives well out of town.
merrywhether 24 days ago [-]
The Hangman’s Daughter book series gives a pretty great look into this same topic, dramatic flair aside. They’re written by a modern descendent of a Bavarian executioner family who dug into his family’s past and then loosely tied some actual historical events into clever stories (basically the definition of historical fiction, I suppose). They were fun beach reads for me that also taught me a lot about 1600s German life.
digitalengineer 24 days ago [-]
Not in the article, but in the book it self: there is also the function of combating superstition! Lots of people believed incredibly dangerous things. Such as cutting of the (arm or) hand of a new born (and carrying it when you attempt to burglar a house) can make you invisible. This believe was obviously quite dangerous for new borns. Thieves and burglars would sometimes “try their luck”. When they got caught it was the executioners job to also demonstrate/ educate the people.
viach 24 days ago [-]
1573 mentioned in article is not Middle Ages, just saying.
pfortuny 24 days ago [-]
It’s not unimportant. The mistake is (in time) like “what it was to be a computer scientist in WWI”. Like... what?
tlb 24 days ago [-]
Bamberg was not exactly on the cutting edge of the Renaissance, so executions in 1573 might have been about the same as in the middle ages. Bamberg was burning witches into the 1600s.

1123581321 24 days ago [-]
Witch trials were a post-medieval phenomenon.
pfortuny 22 days ago [-]
The burning of witches has little to do with Medieval times: they had the printing press in Bamberg around 1457... One of the very first places to have one.
rurban 24 days ago [-]
It should be added that criminal law that time also meant that executed convicts had to be studied by the general public to inspect any inner deformations or sick organs which could have caused those crimes. So the executioner was also a pathologist who prepared a public autopsy in a special room after the execution. Or there was another special doctor who did that. Many executioners did the autopsy by themselves which raised their profile.

An excellent novel about he executioners business is Pavel Kohout's Katyne.

ryanmarsh 24 days ago [-]
Curious, how many executions per year could there possibly be in Bamberg, Bavaria?
scandox 24 days ago [-]
The only figures I could see casually were that there were approximately 2,000 per year in England during the reign of Henry I guess it's not insane to imagine a mid-size town in Germany having 10 or 15 a year? Which would surely be enough to justify professional help?
trhway 24 days ago [-]
Beside actual executions, there were torture as a part of crime investigation (in particular to extract confession as the religion insisted that criminal must confess to make sure that no innocent gets punished), plus non-capital punishments:

"During this time, he executed 394 individuals by various methods, and also flogged, disfigured, or tortured many hundreds more."

So, it was pretty busy.

technothrasher 24 days ago [-]
Well, in his diary he says he executed more than 350 people in his 45 year career. So... about eight on average?
tsss 24 days ago [-]
Looking at Bavaria and their religious fundamentalism and stupid law-and-order politics today... Probably a lot.
gberger 24 days ago [-]
This site is toxic on mobile. There ads on top of the text.
martin-adams 24 days ago [-]
Yep, same here. Gave up reading because it was impossible to read.
gargarplex 24 days ago [-]
Prepend to the url:
redis_mlc 23 days ago [-]
I went to the torture device museum show when I was in San Diego about a decade ago.

Seeing how cruelty was inflicted stays with you, so I don't recommend it unless you're studying that area.

The closest analogy is that once you see the goatsie picture, you can't unsee it.

At a higher level, learning how government abused punishment in the past does make you question whether they're any more qualified today.

madengr 24 days ago [-]
The article only mentions the clean executions (other than burning at the stake). There were plenty that were gruesome; essentially tortured to death.
24 days ago [-]
bostik 24 days ago [-]
The Count of Monte-Cristo carries a depiction of a public execution that is rather ... vivid. The convicted is clubbed to death. And not too cleanly.

Quick research doesn't say whether this fashion was used in reality or not. The wikipedia article on Italian capital punishment doesn't go into style details.

owlrobot 24 days ago [-]
There is an interesting episode of Last Podcast on the Left where they go into detail about the lives of executioner's in the past. It's especially interesting the amount of alcohol that went into the job.