Over the many myriads of humankind, our species has managed to devise many treacherous and utterly barbaric forms of punishment. Through various civilisations, we seem to have conceived every and anyway in which a person may be brutalised in the most savage manner. Personally, I would wager that there are few more horrific ways to go than having a desperate and panicking rodent clawing through your abdomen. That is what we will be covering this week on The WORST Of History… This is Rat Torture.
The Premise of Rat Torture
The tortured victim will be tied down with a closed bottom container placed on top of them. Some starved yet still living rats will be placed in the container. These containers are heated where the distressed rats try to escape.
A small rodent-like rat could never bite or scratch through the thick container so has to gnaw downwards and through the body. They would tear through the intestines and bowels. As the screams ring out from the tortured soul, the rats continue to drill in search of safety.
History Of The Horror
Ancient Rome is where this torture form originated, rather unsurprising considering the amount of brutality that stemmed from that era in time. Rats were trapped in a container and heated, prompting them to start a journey to find an escape, going through the body. Nero was reportedly a fan of this execution method. Another way the Romans used this was to dump starving rats into a barrel containing a human, eventually adding more and more rats to devour the man.
Sometimes the guts were even opened to give the rats an opening to work on already. The Torture Museum also notes that on the Indian subcontinent there was another way in which men were tortured with rats. Rats were poured into the pants or underwear of the victim before mauling his genitals, attacking his loins until confession.
Medieval Germany really ramped things up, burning a cage containing rats. This way both the victim was burned and would feel the rats penetrating his skin. Sometimes, this was done over the face, after which the rats eventually died – being left in the cage to rot. Sometimes, victims were just left in a room full of rats, not too dissimilar to the ‘Rats Dungeon’ in England’s Tower Of London in which the River Thames water would wash in, bringing in rats to chomp on a bit of human flesh.
One of the first official and specific documented cases was in the 17th century. During the Dutch Revolt, an ally of William The Silent, Diederik Sonoy, used a pottery bowl with hot charcoal which was said in a later account to “gnaw into the very bowels of the victim.”
The Torture Museum comments that: “This method was very successful in terms of interrogation, as the offender would feel a powerful combination of disgust, fear, and pain. Often he would confess, without waiting for the rodents to dig their holes.” They go on to horrifically describe the case if they were to not submit and confess, “They quickly tear through the intestines, deepening the womb, digging up a viscous broth of human entails….his entire body doubled over in convulsion.”
As much as we would love to think this is a dark side of history far long ago, even that would be wrong.
There seems to have been a resurgence in the latter half of the 20th century in South America. This was prominent under dictatorships in Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. Yet perhaps none were as awful as in Argentina.
Under dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, around 30,000 people were killed or disappeared during the National Reorganisation Process (1976-1983), as it was called. Women commonly went missing, sometimes disappearing right after birth, being led to torture chambers where all kinds of inhumane treatment were dished out on them.
Even more horrific was the use of a ‘recto-tube’, in which pipes containing rats would lead them to the rectum or vagina of the tortured soul. This was largely used on Jewish citizens.
Even in 2010 in New Jersey, a case was reported in which David Wax used rat torture on Israeli citizen Yisrael Bryskman to agree to give his wife a get (a Jewish document for divorce). This was only a single layer of a plan that also involved being urinated on, burned with acid, and buried alive. This was part of the New York divorce coercion gang which operated from the 1980s until 2013, viciously assaulting Jewish men to get a gittin (get). The group have seen lengthy prison sentences. Luckily, in all of history, these cases are extremely rare.
Of all of history’s tortures, Rat Torture could easily be the worst to endure. Actively watching and yelling in agony as you are effectively being eaten alive by a rapid pack of rats, devouring any and everything from the bowels to the eyeballs – it seems the only limit to cruelty is the human mind.
Seen, quite rightly, as a dreadful experience, it has crept up commonly in popular culture. This includes the famous ‘Rat Man’ case by Sigmund Freud in which a patient, fantasises about rats torturing a female friend as well as his own father. Elsewhere, it is used in 1984, in which protagonist Winston is locked in Room 101 with his biggest fear, in which the rats attempt to chomp through his head as he begs for it to stop.
In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum, rats scurry all across the narrator’s chest as he is subject to frightening imagery such as being forced to lie on a rack with a scythe swinging closer to his head each time. TV and film have also used this sadistic torture, as a gruesome way to extract information to make the villain even more tyrannical. Examples include 2 Fast 2 Furious and Game Of Thrones.
As George Orwell himself surmised in 1984, “Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain” and that “of pain, you could wish only one thing: that it should stop.”