Torture (Lat. torquere to twist) is pain inflicted as a judicial instrument for extracting evidence from unwilling witnesses or confessions from accused persons. The practice is an ancient one. In ancient Athens slaves were always examined by torture, and their evidence seems on this account to have been deemed more valuable than that of freemen. Any one might give up his slave to torture, or demand that of his opponent, and a refusal to do so was considered as a strong presumption against a person. No free Athenian could be examined by torture, and it was not inflicted upon Roman freemen or citizens until the time of the emperors. Then it was sometimes inflicted upon even freemen to extract evidence of the crime of lesa majestas, and thus it became a part of the Code of Justinian. Hence it was adopted during the Middle Ages by all European states in which the Roman law was made the basis of legislation. It was adopted early and extensively by the Italian municipalities. In Germany elaborate apparatus for its infliction existed, not merely in the dungeons of the feudal castles, but in the vaults beneath the town halls of Nuremberg, and Katisbon, where the various implements used are yet to be seen. It continued to be practiced in the prisons of Germany until they were visited by Howard, in 1770. It ceased to be a part of the judicial system in France in 1789; and in Scotland it was still in frequent use after the Restoration, and was only abolished by Anne, c. 21, sec. 5. In Russia it was done away with in 1801. In the United States it has never been reckoned an adjunct of judicial examination.
The first instance we have of its used in England is in 1310, in aid of the ecclesiastical law, during the struggle between pope Clement V and the Templars. Edward II, when requested to sanction the infliction of torture by the inquisitors in the case of certain Templars accused of heresy and apostasy, at first refused, but, on a remonstrance by Clementi he referred the matter to the council, and on the recommendation of the council the inquisitors were authorized to put the accused to torture, but without mutilation or serious injury to the person or effusion of blood. During the Tudor period, the council assumed the power of directing torture warrants to the lieutenants of the Tower and other officers against state-prisoners and occasionally also against persons accused of other serious crimes. Under James I and Charles I torture was less resorted to, and only in state trials. It was inflicted for the last time in May, 1640. The worst application of torture was found in the hands of the Inquisition. In 1282 pope Innocent IV called on the secular powers to put to the torture persons accused of heresy in order to extract confessions against themselves and others. The necessity of secrecy in the proceedings led to its extensive adoption, and to refinements of cruelty in its use before unknown. SEE INQUISITION.
The instruments of torture have been many and various. The scourge was the usual instrument of torture among the Romans, who also made use of the equleus, a sort of upright rack, with pincers added to tear the flesh, etc. The most celebrated instrument was the "rack," known in the south of Europe as early as the 2nd century, but introduced into the Tower by the duke of Exeter, constable of the Tower. The "boot" was the favorite French instrument of torture. In this, rings of iron were passed around the legs, and wooden wedges driven between them and the flesh until the muscles were reduced to jelly. Among other means of torture were the "thumb-screw," "iron gauntlets;" the "little ease," a narrow cell in which the prisoner was confined for several days, and in which the only position possible was one which cramped every muscle; the "scavenger's (properly Skevington's) daughter," the invention of Sir William Skevington, an instrument which compressed the body so as to start the blood from the nostrils and often from the hands. The torture by water, crucifixion, the fastening of limbs to trees which were forced into proximity to each other and then suffered to fly apart, and pouring melted lead into the ears, are a few of the means by which punishment has been inflicted.
See Barnum, Romanism as It Is (index); Jardine, On the Use of Torture in the Criminal Law of England (Lond. 1889, 8vo); Maclaurin, Introduction to Criminal Trials; Nicolas, Si la Torture est un Moyen Surr a vierfier les Crimes Secrets (1681, 12mo); Reitemaier, Sur la Questions chez les Grecs et les Romuains; Mittermaier, Das deutsche Strafverfahhren, vol. 1. SEE TORMENTOR.