Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Execution Techniques

In his chapter on the development of Athenian democracy, from the book The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History, John Fine discusses some of the methods employed for executions among the Greeks.

One widespread practice, especially in earlier times, was stoning. In Athens, at least, this was usually the result of an informal lynch mob, rather than an officially sanctioned punishment. It was practiced as late as 479BC. The Persian Mardonius, while occupying Athens, sent a messenger, Murychides, to Salamis with an offer for the Athenians. Lycides, an Athenian councillor, merely suggested that the proposal be sent to the assembly for consideration, and he was stoned to death by his fellow councillors. Herodotus relates the story (9.5):
τῶν δὲ βουλευτέων Λυκίδης εἶπε γνώμην ὡς ἐδόκεε ἄμεινον εἶναι δεξαμένους τὸν λόγον, τόν σφι Μουρυχίδης προφέρει, ἐξενεῖκαι ἐς τὸν δῆμον. ὃ μὲν δὴ ταύτην τὴν γνώμην ἀπεφαίνετο, εἴτε δὴ δεδεγμένος χρήματα παρὰ Μαρδονίου, εἴτε καὶ ταῦτά οἱ ἑάνδανε: Ἀθηναῖοι δὲ αὐτίκα δεινὸν ποιησάμενοι οἵ τε ἐκ τῆς βουλῆς καὶ οἱ ἔξωθεν ὡς ἐπύθοντο, περιστάντες Λυκίδην κατέλευσαν βάλλοντες, τὸν δὲ Ἑλλησπόντιον Μουρυχίδην ἀπέπεμψαν ἀσινέα. γενομένου δὲ θορύβου ἐν τῇ Σαλαμῖνι περὶ τὸν Λυκίδην, πυνθάνονται τὸ γινόμενον αἱ γυναῖκες τῶν Ἀθηναίων, διακελευσαμένη δὲ γυνὴ γυναικὶ καὶ παραλαβοῦσα ἐπὶ τὴν Λυκίδεω οἰκίην ἤισαν αὐτοκελέες, καὶ κατὰ μὲν ἔλευσαν αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα κατὰ δὲ τὰ τέκνα.

[Lycides, one of the councillors, proposed that it seemed best to take the offer which Murychides brought before them and put it to the people. He declared this plan, either having taken money from Mardonius, or because it was pleasing to him. Immediately the Athenians were furious, both those from the council, and those outside when they heard of it. Circling Lycides and throwing, they stoned him to death; but they sent off Murychides the Hellespontian unharmed. With much noise growing in Salamis about Lycides, the women of the Athenians learned the news, hearing from one another and encouraging each other, they went to the house of Lycides on their own, and stoned to death his wife and children.]

This story was very popular among patriotic orators of the 4th century, according to Fine, and was used to illustrate the commitment of their forefathers to freedom; but in their versions it had become a deliberate decree rather than a spontaneous lynching.

Another method of execution at Athens until the end of the 5th century involved τὸ βάραθρον, a rocky gulf behind the Acropolis fixed with spikes and hooks, into which victims (οἱ βάραθροι) were hurled to their death. The word βάραθρον also came to be used metaphorically for ruin or perdition, as in Demosthenes 8.45, ἐν τῷ βαράθρῳ χειμάζειν, to winter in that hellish place. Herodotus relates the story of a messenger from Darius being thrown ἐς τὸ βάραθρον (7.133):
ἐς δὲ Ἀθήνας καὶ Σπάρτην οὐκ ἀπέπεμψε Ξέρξης ἐπὶ γῆς αἴτησιν κήρυκας τῶνδε εἵνεκα: πρότερον Δαρείου πέμψαντος ἐπ᾽ αὐτὸ τοῦτο, οἳ μὲν αὐτῶν τοὺς αἰτέοντας ἐς τὸ βάραθρον οἳ δ᾽ ἐς φρέαρ ἐμβαλόντες ἐκέλευον γῆν τε καὶ ὕδωρ ἐκ τούτων φέρειν παρὰ βασιλέα.

[Xerxes did not send messengers to Athens and Sparta demanding earth for this reason: previously, when Darius sent men with the same demand, at one place the requester was thrown into the pit, and at the other into a well, and told to fetch earth and water for the king from those places.]

Yet another method was ἀποτυμπανισμός. In the intermediate LSJ the verb ἀποτυμπανίζω is defined as to cudgel to death. But in 1923 a book on the subject by Antonios Keramopoullos, based on excavations in Phaleron, argued that the practice involved chaining a person to a wooden board and standing it upright in the ground. The newer LSJ defines ἀποτυμπανισμός as a crucifixion, and the supplement updates this further: "for crucifixion read prob. destruction." The verb ἀποτυμπανίζω in the supplement is updated to read: to put to death, execute.

The excavations on which Keramopoullos based his book revealed 17 skeletons with iron cramps around the wrists and ankles, and an iron collar around the neck. Although scholars seem to agree that these men were executed by ἀποτυμπανισμός, there is disagreement about whether they were merely left to die slowly, or whether the collar around the neck was tightened until they died. Those who suggest the latter recall a scene from the Thesmophoriazusae of Aristophanes, where a guard is ordered to arrest a man and "bind him on the board": δῆσον αὐτὸν ... ἐν τῇ σανίδι (lines 930-931). Later the prisoner asks the guard to loosen the nail, χάλασον τὸν ἧλον, but the guard only drives it tighter. With lines 1052-1055 the prisoner laments:
οὐ γὰρ ἔτ᾽ ἀθανάταν φλόγα λεύσσειν
ἐστὶν ἐμοὶ φίλον, ὡς ἐκρεμάσθην,
λαιμότμητ᾽ ἄχη δαιμόνων αἰόλαν
νέκυσιν ἐπὶ πορείαν

[For the immortal light does not look dear to me still, since I was hung, strangled, suffering pain, on the quick path to the dead.]

In the dictionaries λαιμότμητος is defined as with severed throat, but it must be either an injured throat or cut from strangling, since he is still able to speak. If the cause of death here is the strangling, there is another instance of hanging someone tied to a board in the Odyssey where the aim is to extend the suffering for as long as possible (22.173-177):
σφῶϊ δ᾽ ἀποστρέψαντε πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
ἐς θάλαμον βαλέειν, σανίδας δ᾽ ἐκδῆσαι ὄπισθε,
σειρὴν δὲ πλεκτὴν ἐξ αὐτοῦ πειρήναντε
κίον᾽ ἀν᾽ ὑψηλὴν ἐρύσαι πελάσαι τε δοκοῖσιν,
ὥς κεν δηθὰ ζωὸς ἐὼν χαλέπ᾽ ἄλγεα πάσχῃ

[But you two twist back his feet and hands above and throw him into the storage room, and bind boards at the back, and having tied fast from his body a twisted cord, draw him up the tall pillar near the roof-beams, so that living for a long time he may suffer grievous pain.]

Recall the use of δέω and σανίς above in Aristophanes.

At least from the end of the 5th century, drinking κώνειον, a poison made from hemlock seeds, was the common method of execution. In addition to Socrates, famous people such as Theramenes and Phocion were killed in this manner. According to Fine, the first specific reference to hemlock for execution is during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants (404/3), but he thinks it was probably used before that time, since it seems to be well known enough to serve as a joke in the Frogs of Aristophanes (123-124), produced in 405BC. Discussing the quickest way to Hades, Heracles suggests:
ἀλλ᾽ ἔστιν ἀτραπὸς ξύντομος τετριμμένη
ἡ διὰ θυείας.

[But there is a short, well-worn, direct path, through the mortar.]

The word τετριμμένη is used of road that are well-worn and smooth, but it also used of things crushed or ground, such as the seeds of the hemlock plant in a mortar. Dionysus responds:
ἆρα κώνειον λέγεις;

[Do you mean hemlock?]

But although hemlock became the more common method, the ἀποτυμπανισμός continued to be used, according to Fine, possibly for those convicted of especially heinous crimes.


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