- Art Gallery -



TORMENTUM (βάσανος), torture.

In the articles APOTYMPANISMOS and CRUX it has been argued that the Greeks of pre-Macedonian times were far more humane in their modes of inflicting death than has been generally thought. The modes of capital punishment are enumerated by Pollux (8.71: ὁ δὲ παραλαμβάνων τοὺς ἀναιρουμένους καλεῖται δήμιος, δημόκοινος, ὁ πρὸς τῷ ὀρύγματι καὶ τὰ ἐργαλεῖα αὐτοῦ ξίφος, βρόχος, τύμπανον, φάρμακον, κώνειον): of these the only wantonly cruel one, the τύμπανον, has been shown to have been extremely rare. Vague allusions to burning, impalement, and crucifixion, as recognised modes of execution, are still to be found in works of authority, though no instances can be alleged; the fact being that to the Greeks of the best period such punishments were known only as practised by barbarians or tyrants, and formed no part of legal procedure. In this respect they stood far above the Romans in their dealings with all but the privileged classes, and above the practice of most Christian nations until the present century. Almost the only writer who, to our knowledge, has drawn the just and clear distinction between the excesses of irresponsible persons, whether mobs or individuals, and the mind of the people as expressed in its laws, is Westermann (ap. Pauly, s. v. Supplicium), whose words have been already quoted (Vol. I. p. 567a). Some further illustrations of our previous argument may here be given. The earliest crucifixion recorded to have taken place in Greece is that of the leaders of an insurrection at Sicyon by a Macedonian princess, Cratesicleia, the widow of Alexander, son of Polysperchon, B.C. 314 (Diod. 19.67). In the previous year Apollonides, an officer of Cassander, had burnt the prytaneum at Argos with 500 political opponents shut up in it (Id. ib. 63). No such deeds as these disfigure the annals of free Greece; they follow rapidly on the incursion of Macedonian barbarism. The treatment of servile insurrections affords another contrast. We know how the Romans struck terror on such occasions, not merely into slaves, but into free provincials. The Spartans were in mortal dread of their Helots, and privately made away with those whom they thought likely to prove dangerous [CRYPTEIA]; Greek feeling prevented their resorting to wholesale executions by cruel methods. At Athens, also, we hear of insurrections among the mining slaves [SERVUS p. 659], but there are no records of atrocious and unusual punishments.

Judicial torture, employed to extract evidence, was likewise confined at Athens and among the Greeks generally within narrower limits, both as regards the persons on whom it was inflicted and the modes of infliction, than in those European countries which had adopted it from the later Roman law. In particular, the Athenian feeling against barbarity showed itself in very early times (see under CRUX Vol. I. p. 566 a, b). By a decree in the archonship of Scamandrius, of unknown but probably of early date, it was ordained that no free Athenian could be put to the torture (Andoc. de Myst. § 43); and what is more to the purpose, the restriction was fully maintained in practice: Athenian citizens stood in no fear of it (Lys. c. Agorat. § 27). Even in the worst times of panic or exasperation, as in the case of the mutilated Hermae, the power to override the law by a special psephisma, though often demanded, was never really acted upon (see the narrative in Grote, ch. 58, and especially the note at 5.175; other instances in [Dem.] de Synt. p. 170.114, Plut. Phoc. 35). The best authorities are agreed that we have no example of the torture of an Athenian citizen (Thalheim, Rechtsalterth. p. 29, n. 2; Lipsius, Att. Process, p. 896, n. 372). Free aliens, whether ξένοι or μέτοικοι, stood in general upon the same footing; the masters of emancipated slaves (ἀπελεύθεροι) retained the right of giving them up for torture, but Demosthenes expressly says that it would be impious to do so (οὐδ᾽ ὅσιον παραδοῦναι, c. Aphob. iii. p. 856.39, cf. c. Timoth. p. 1200.55), though non-compliance with an opponent's challenge might prejudice the jury against one's case. Some apparent exceptions are discussed by Boeckh (P. E. p. 185 = Sthh.3 1.227 f.): the torture of a free man at Mytilene, who held out when a slave confessed (Antiph. de caed. Her. § § 29, 49, cf. Mahaffy, p. 241), may have been under Lesbian and not Attic law, or the Athenians may have been less scrupulous when their subject-allies were concerned: the case in Lysias (c. Simon. § 33) is of a Plataean youth, who, as such, was not necessarily an Athenian citizen, and who after all was not put to the torture: the orator only argues that he might have been. Even under the Thirty it is admitted by their bitterest enemy that there was no torture of citizens, though the aliens who were the chief victims of murder and confiscation did not escape it (Lys. c. Agorat. § § 54, 59, 61). But under regular governments freemen, not being citizens, were sometimes tortured at moments of panic, e. g. the barber who first spread the news of the Sicilian disaster (Plut. Nicias, 30); Antiphon, an Athenian who had lost his rights (ἀποφηφισθείς, apparently by a διαφήφισις, Dem. de Cor. p. 271.133), and who was accused of a plot to burn the dockyard in Philip's interest. In this case Boeckh (l.c.) thinks that the torture was in aggravation of the punishment; the words στρεβλώσαντες ἀπεκτείνατε, however, do not mean “put to death by torture,” but “put to death after torture:” streblo/w, akin to στρέφω, is always used of torture employed to wring out confession, not of vindictive cruelty, for which the word is αἰκίζεσθαι. So of the female prisoner, who was probably not a free woman, in Antiphon (de Venef. § 20); the words τῷ γὰρ δημοκοίνῳ τροχισθῆναι παρεδ όθη do not imply that she was racked to death, as δημόκοινος is applied [p. 2.852]to a torturer as well as an executioner. These remarks, it may be repeated, apply only to the free ages of Greece: the record of later times in Polybius and Diodorus is naturally very different, and after two centuries of degeneracy we need not be surprised at the statement of Cicero (Part. Orat. 34.118, de institutis Atheniensium, Rhodiorum . . . apud quos liberi civesque torquentur).

It was in taking the evidence of slaves, whose willing testimony was not accepted, that the torture was most commonly employed: for the rule which prevailed on this subject see MARTYRIA p. 128 b, 129 a; SERVUS p. 658 b. The argument often recurs in the orators, that evidence thus extorted was of more value than that of freemen: this was partly, no doubt, owing to the low standard of veracity among the Greeks, but much of it is mere rhetorical artifice; it is to persuade the jury that the other side refuse to tender their slaves for examination, not from humanity, but from the consciousness of a bad case; and we always find it employed when the demand to give them up has been refused (Antiph. Tetral. i. 2.7, de Choreut. § 25; Isae. Or. 8 [Ciron.], § 12;--Dem. c. Aphob. iii. p. 848.13; c. Onet. i. p. 874.37;--Lycurg. c. Leocr. § § 29, 30). There is good reason to think, as has been seen under SERVUS that the contemporaries of Demosthenes were more humane in this respect than those of Antiphon. Either party might offer his own slave to be examined by torture, or demand that of his adversary, and the offer or demand was equally called πρόκλησις εἰς βάσανον. This πρόκλησις was usually in writing, and specified the particular allegations to be substantiated, the “terms of the torture” (καθ᾽ ὅ τι ἔσται ἡ βάσανος, Dem. c. Steph. i. p. 1120.61; cf. c. Pantaen. p. 978.40). We do not think that these words mean “what kind of torture was to be inflicted:” it appears both from the orators and the grammarians that only one mode of torture was in general use in the Attic courts, the rack (τροχός: τροχίζειν: ἀναβιβάζειν ἐπὶ τὸν τρόχον: cf. ECULEUS). There seem to have been exceptions: a comic passage of course proves nothing (Aristoph. Frogs 618 ff.), but cf. Antiph. de Choreut. § 23, βασανίζειν τρόπῳ ὁποίῳ βούλοιτο: Isocr. Trapez. § 15, μαστιγοῦν τὸν ἐκδοθέντα καὶ στρεβλοῦν. The suitor who put an opponent's slave to the torture was liable for damages for any loss of time or bodily hurt resulting from it (Dem. c. Pantaen. l.c.; Aristoph. Frogs 624); a proviso which must have gone some way to check the excesses of cruelty. The state-torturer, a slave, was called δήμιος or δημόκοινος (Poll. l.c.; cf. Thalheim, Rechtsalterth. p. 124, n. 8); the parties might themselves agree to act as βασανισταί, or choose certain persons for this purpose (Antiph. de Venef. § 10; Dem. c. Pantaen. p. 978, § § 40, 42); but we find an agreement repudiated when private βασανισταὶ had presented themselves instead of δημόκοινοι: the former could not venture to carry out the torture on their own responsibility, and the plaintiff's case broke down (Isocr. Trapez. § 15). The torture was usually administered in private: instances occur of its infliction in open court (Aeschin. de F. L. § 126; [Dem.] c. Everg. et Mnes. p. 1144.17), but these are exceptional (βασανίζειν οὐκ ἔστιν ἐναντίον ὑμῶν, Dem. c. Steph. i. p. 1106.16). The general practice was to read at the trial the depositions of the slaves, which were called βάσανοι (Hyperid. ap. Harpocrat., Suid. s.v. Dem. c. Nicostr. p. 1254.24), and to confirm them by the evidence of those who had been present at the torture. (Att. Process, pp. 889-897, Lipsius; Becker-Göll, Charikles, p. 37 ff.; Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece, ed. 3, pp. 240-243.)

2. Roman
During the time of the Republic, freemen were never put to the torture, at least. by lawful authority; the cruelties inflicted on two military tribunes by Pleminius at Locri were the acts of a madman (Liv. 29.9). The rule as to slaves' evidence was the same at Rome as in Greece; their voluntary statements were not received except under special circumstances, as when they gave information of conspiracies against the state; they were tortured to make them confess what it was sought to prove. Slaves, however, could not be tortured to prove the guilt of their own master, except in the case of incestus, which was a crime against the gods,. or unless the senate made a special exception, as was done in the Catilinarian conspiracy (Cic. pro Mil. 22, § 59; pro Deiot. 1.3; Partit. Orat. 34.118). Under Augustus the law was so far modified that, when the emperor suspected conspiracy against his government, he could demand the compulsory sale of slaves to the state or to himself, in order that they might be tortured; this did not pass without a protest (D. C. 55.5; Tac. Ann. 2.30, 3.67). The suspicious tyrants who immediately followed Augustus extended the law of majestas to the torture of free persons [MAJESTAS]; and we read of cases in which senators and equites were exposed to it (Suet. Tib. 58, Cal. 27 ff.). Claudius began his reign by abolishing the law of majestas, and is said never to have punished any one under it (D. C. 60.3); but his wives and freedmen abused his authority, and the practice was revived (Id. ib. 15). It remained the general law of imperial times that only freemen of low degree (humiliores) could be tortured in prosecutions for majestas: slaves might be compelled to bear witness against their masters in cases of majestas (Cod. 9, 8, 6, 7) and adultery (Dig. 48, 18, 17; Cod. 9, 9, § § 3, 6, 32). Ammianus takes, perhaps, a malicious pleasure in recording the cruelties inflicted upon free citizens by the Christian emperors Constantius, Valentinian, and Valens (Amm. Marc. 14.5, 15.3, 16.8, 18.3, 19.12, 21.16, 26.10, 28.1, 29.1,2).

As to the modes of torture, see ECULEUS, FIDICULA, and FLAGELLUM, in Vol. I. Cicero mentions some atrocious cases: “ignes candentesque laminae ceterique cruciatus admovebantur” (in Verr. 5.63.163: cf. pro Cluent. 63.177; 66.187); but in general we get few details. The hooks (unci) with which the bodies of criminals were dragged after execution (Juv. 10.66, with Mayor's note) were likewise employed to lacerate the living (Ammian. 14.5; sulcatis lateribus, Id. 26.10). The torturers,. (tortores, carnifices) were probably public slaves (CARNIFEX; cf. Mommsen, Staatsr. i.2 313). On the torture of slaves by their masters, see Marquardt, Privatl. 180: on the whole subject, Dig. 48, 18, de Quaestionibus; Walter, Gesch. des römischen Rechts, ed. 1, p. 875 ff.; Rein, Criminalrecht, p. 542.

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities

Ancient Greece

Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire

Modern Greece

Science, Technology , Medicine , Warfare, , Biographies , Life , Cities/Places/Maps , Arts , Literature , Philosophy ,Olympics, Mythology , History , Images

Science, Technology, Arts, , Warfare , Literature, Biographies, Icons, History

Cities, Islands, Regions, Fauna/Flora ,Biographies , History , Warfare, Science/Technology, Literature, Music , Arts , Film/Actors , Sport , Fashion



Hellenica World