Medieval Torture Devices: The Brazen Bull - History & Pictures

The Brazen Bull, also known as the Sicilian Bull, was a torture device used in ancient Greece, though it’s often associated with medieval times due to its notorious reputation.

It was designed in the form of a hollow bronze bull, with a door on one side. This gruesome device was invented by Perillos of Athens in the 6th century BC and was reportedly used by Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas in Sicily, to execute criminals. 

The Brazen Bull in Medieval Times

During the Middle Ages, torture devices and methods varied widely across different regions and time periods. While some methods of execution and torture were certainly brutal, such as hanging, drawing, and quartering, or the use of the rack, the Brazen Bull does not appear prominently in medieval records.

That said, stories of the Brazen Bull likely circulated in medieval Europe through texts and oral tradition, contributing to its reputation as a symbol of barbarity. It may have been used as a cautionary tale or as a means of propaganda to depict the brutality of tyrants and rulers. In medieval literature and art, depictions of torture and punishment were not uncommon, serving as moral lessons or warnings against sin and disobedience.

So, how did the brazen bull work? Victims were placed inside the bull, and a fire was lit underneath. As the metal heated up, the person inside would slowly roast to death. The bull was designed with tubes and pipes that converted the victim’s screams into sounds resembling the bellowing of a bull, hence its name.

Was the Brazen Bull Real?

The historical accuracy of the brazen bull use is debated, and some historians argue that it might have been more of a myth or a symbol of tyranny rather than a regularly employed method of execution.

Regardless, the Brazen Bull remains a chilling symbol of cruelty and inhumanity.

The brazen bull (left) depicted on an old engraving by Hans Burgkmair
The brazen bull (left) depicted on an old engraving by Hans Burgkmair.

Examples of Real Brazen Bulls:
The Bull of Phalaris

Phalaris, a tyrant of Akragas in Sicily during the 6th century BCE, was said to have used a bronze bull as a method of execution. Victims were placed inside the bull, and a fire was lit underneath, slowly roasting them to death. However, the historical accuracy of these accounts is debated among scholars.

Examples of Real Brazen Bulls:
The "Hollow Bull" of Nero

According to some historical accounts, the Roman emperor Nero ordered the construction of a hollow bronze bull to execute Christians. Victims would be placed inside the bull, and a fire would be lit underneath to roast them alive.

More Medieval Torture Devices

Explore the dark history of medieval torture devices. From the infamous iron maiden to the gruesome breaking wheel, uncover the sinister methods used to extract confessions and inflict punishment in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Torture Devices: The Breaking Wheel - History & Pictures

The Breaking Wheel

The Breaking wheel or Catherine wheel involved tying a victim to a large wheel and then breaking their limbs with a hammer or iron bar.

Medieval Torture Devices: Thumbscrew - History & Pictures

The Thumbscrew

The Thumbscrew was a simple but effective device used to crush the victim’s fingers or thumbs, often resulting in pain and permanent damage.

Medieval Torture Devices: The Pear of Anguish - History & Pictures

The Pear of Anguish

The Pear of Anguish was a torture and interrogation device used in medieval Europe. The device could be inserted and then expanded.

Skevington's gyves

The Scavenger’s Daughter

The Scavenger’s Daughter compressed the victim’s body into a compact position, causing extreme discomfort and sometimes asphyxiation.

Books about Medieval Torture
and Weapons of the Middle Ages

A collection of books to help you uncover the gruesome details of torture methods, their historical context, and their impact on society.