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Flagellation or flogging is the act of methodically beating or whipping (Latin flagellum, "whip") the human body. Specialised implements for it include rods, switches, the cat o' nine tails and the sjambok. Typically, flogging is imposed on an unwilling subject as a punishment; however, it can also be submitted to willingly, or performed on oneself, in religious or sadomasochistic contexts.

In some circumstances the word "flogging" is used loosely to include any sort of corporal punishment, including birching and caning. However, in British legal terminology, a distinction was drawn (and still is, in one or two colonial territories) between "flogging" (with a cat-o'-nine-tails) and "whipping" (formerly with a whip, but since the early 19th century with a birch). In Britain these were both abolished in 1948.


Disciplinary use and torture

Flogging was a common disciplinary measure in the British navy that became associated with a seaman's manly disregard for pain. Aboard ships, knittles or the cat o' nine tails was used for severe formal punishment, while a "rope's end" or "starter" was used to administer informal, on-the-spot discipline.

Flagellation probably originated in the Near East but then spread throughout the ancient world. In Sparta, young men were flogged as a test of their masculinity. Jewish law limited flagellation to forty strokes, and in practice delivered thirty-nine, so as to avoid any possibility of breaking this law due to a miscount. Additionally they would have a doctor monitor the punishment, who would stop it if it became too much for the person to bear safely.

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