Execution by burning

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Death by burning (also known as burning alive or burning to death) is death brought about by combustion. As a form of capital punishment, burning has a long history as a method in crimes such as treason, heresy, and witchcraft.

According to the Talmud, the "burning" mentioned in the Bible was done by melting lead and pouring it down the convicted person's throat, causing immediate death.[1] The particular form of execution by burning in which the condemned is bound to a large stake is more commonly called burning at the stake.

Death by burning fell into disfavour among governments in the late 18th century; it is now considered cruel and unusual punishment in the USA.[2]

Contents

Cause of death

If the fire was large (for instance, when a large number of prisoners were executed at the same time), death often came from carbon monoxide poisoning before flames actually caused harm to the body. If the fire was small, however, the convict would burn for some time until death from heatstroke, shock, the loss of blood and/or simply the thermal decomposition of vital body parts.

When this method of execution was applied with skill, the condemned's body would burn progressively in the following sequence: calves, thighs and hands, torso and forearms, breasts, upper chest, face; and then finally death. On other occasions, people died from suffocation with only their calves on fire. Several records report that victims took over 2 hours to die. In many burnings a rope was attached to the convict's neck passing through a ring on the stake and they were simultaneously strangled and burnt. In later years in England some burnings only took place after the convict had already hanged for half an hour. In many areas in England the condemned woman (men were hanged, drawn, and quartered) was seated astride a small seat called the saddle which was fixed half way up a permanently positioned iron stake. The stake was about 4 metres high and had chains hanging from it to hold the condemned woman still during her punishment. Having been taken to the place of execution in a cart with her hands firmly tied in front of her she was lifted over the executioner's shoulder and carried up a ladder against the stake to be sat astride the saddle. The chains were then fastened and sometimes she was painted with pitch which was supposed to help the fire to burn her quicker.

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