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The guillotine (English pronunciation: /ˈɡɪlətiːn/ or /ˈɡiː.ətiːn/; French: [ɡijɔtin]) is a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which a blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body. The device is noted for long being the main method of execution in France and, more particularly, for its use during the French Revolution, when it "became a part of popular culture, celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the Revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Terror by opponents".[1] Nevertheless, the guillotine continued to be used long after the French Revolution in several countries.


French Revolution

Portrait of Dr. Guillotin

The execution of Robespierre

Sensing the growing discontent, Louis XVI banned the use of the breaking wheel.[2] In 1791, as the French Revolution progressed, the National Assembly researched a new method to be used on all condemned people regardless of class. Their concerns contributed to the idea that capital punishment's purpose was the ending of life instead of the infliction of pain.[2]

A committee was formed under Antoine Louis, physician to the King and Secretary to the Academy of Surgery.[2] Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a professor of anatomy at the faculty of medicine in Paris, was also on the committee. The group was influenced by the Italian Mannaia (or Mannaja), the Scottish Maiden, and the Halifax Gibbet. While these prior instruments usually crushed the neck or used blunt force to take off a head, devices also usually used a crescent blade and a lunette (a hinged two part yoke to immobilize the victim's neck).[2]

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