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Decapitation
Decapitation

Decapitation is the complete separation of the head (caput) from the body. Such an injury is fatal to humans and animals, since it deprives all other organs of the involuntary functions that are needed for the body to function, while the brain is deprived of oxygenated blood and blood pressure.

The term beheading refers to the act of deliberately decapitating a person, either as a means of murder or execution; it may be accomplished with an axe, sword, knife, or by mechanical means such as a guillotine. An executioner who carries out executions by beheading is called a headsman.[2] Accidental decapitation can be the result of an explosion,[3] car or industrial accident,[1] improperly administered execution by hanging or other violent injury. Suicide by decapitation is rare but not unknown.[4] The national laws of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Qatar permit beheading, but in practice, Saudi Arabia is the only country that continues to behead its offenders regularly as a punishment for crime.[5]

Less commonly, decapitation can also refer to the removal of the head from a body that is already dead.

Etymology


The word decapitation has its roots in the Late Latin word decapitare. The meaning of the word decapitare can be discerned from its morphemes de- (down, from) + capit- (head).[8]Studies]]The past participle of is decapitatus [9] which was used to create decapitationem, the noun form of decapitatusin Medieval Latin. From the Medieval Latin form, decapitationem, the French word décapitation was produced.[9]

History


Execution by beheading has been used as a form of capital punishment for millennia. The Narmer Palette (c. 3000 B.C.E) shows the first known depiction of decapitated corpses. The terms "capital offence", "capital crime", "capital punishment," derive from the Latin caput, "head", referring to the punishment for serious offences involving the forfeiture of the head; i.e., death by beheading.[10] In some cultures, such as ancient Rome and Greece, decapitation was regarded as the most honorable form of death.[11] The extension of the "privilege" of beheading to criminals of ordinary birth was among the symbolic changes brought about by the French Revolution.[11] In other cases, such as the use of beheading by Japanese troops during World War II, its use was considered a form of contempt.[11] In recent times, it has become associated with terrorism.[11]

Physiological aspects


If the headsman's axe or sword was sharp and his aim was precise, decapitation was quick and was presumed to be a relatively painless form of death. If the instrument was blunt or the executioner was clumsy, multiple strokes might be required to sever the head, resulting in a prolonged and more painful death. The person to be executed was therefore advised to give a gold coin to the headsman to ensure that he did his job with care. Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex,[12] and Mary, Queen of Scots[13] required three strikes at their respective executions. The same could be said for the execution of Johann Friedrich Struensee, favorite of the Danish queen Caroline Matilda of Great Britain. Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury, is said to have required up to 10 strokes before decapitation was achieved.[14] This particular story may, however, be apocryphal since highly divergent accounts exist. Historian and philosopher David Hume, for example, relates the following about her death:[15]

To ensure that the blow would be fatal, executioners' swords usually were blade-heavy two-handed swords.

Finland's official beheading axe resides today at the Museum of Crime in Vantaa. It is a broad-bladed two-handed axe. It was last used when murderer Tahvo Putkonen was executed in 1825, the last execution in peacetime in Finland.[16]

Decapitation is quickly fatal to humans and most animals.

Some animals (such as cockroaches) can survive decapitation, and die not because of the loss of the head directly, but rather because of starvation.[24] A number of other animals, including chickens, snakes, and turtles, have also been known to survive for some time after being decapitated, as they have a slower metabolism, and their nervous systems can continue to function at some capacity for a limited time even after connection to the brain is lost, responding to any nearby stimulus.[25][26][27]

Although head transplantation by the reattachment of blood vessels has been successful with animals,[28] a fully functional reattachment of a severed human head (including repair of the spinal cord, muscles, and other critically important tissues) has not yet been achieved.

Technology


Early versions of the guillotine included the Halifax Gibbet, which was used in Halifax, England, from 1286 until the 17th century, and the "Maiden", employed in Edinburgh from the 16th through the 18th centuries.

The modern form of the guillotine was invented shortly before the French Revolution with the aim of creating a quick and painless method of execution requiring little skill on the part of the operator. Decapitation by guillotine became a common mechanically assisted form of execution.

There is dubious evidence from contemporary accounts that the severed head could remain conscious for up to ten seconds.[29] Furthermore, the observations of Dr. Beaurieux, who witnessed the decapitation of a convict named Languille in 1905, may imply that the severed head also briefly retained the sense of sight.[30]

The French observed a strict code of etiquette surrounding such executions.

The guillotine was also used in Algeria before the French relinquished control of it, as shown in Gillo Pontecorvo's film The Battle of Algiers

Another guillotine existed in Vatican City until recent years. It had been brought in by Napoleon's forces during the early 19th century; and, as of 1870, the pope still claimed the authority to use it. The Holy See has since abolished capital punishment within its own jurisdiction, and recent popes have condemned capital punishment wherever it is still practised.

Many German states had used a guillotine-like device known as a Fallbeil ("falling axe") since the 17th and 18th centuries, and decapitation by guillotine was the usual means of execution in Germany until the abolition of the death penalty in West Germany in 1949. It was last used in communist East Germany in 1966.

In Nazi Germany, the Fallbeil was reserved for common criminals and people convicted of political crimes, including treason. Members of the White Rose resistance movement, a group of students in Munich that included siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl, were executed by decapitation.

Contrary to popular myth, executions were generally not conducted face up, and chief executioner Johann Reichhart was insistent on maintaining "professional" protocol throughout the era, having administered the death penalty during the earlier Weimar Republic. Nonetheless, it is estimated that some 16,500 persons were guillotined in Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945, a number that includes resistance fighters both within Germany itself and in countries occupied by Nazi forces. As these resistance fighters were not part of any regular army, they were considered common criminals and were in many cases transported to Germany for execution. Decapitation was considered a "dishonorable" death, in contrast to execution by firing squad.

Historical practices by nation


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the conflict and ethnic massacre between local army and Kamuina Nsapu rebels has caused several deaths and atrocities like rape and mutilation. One of them is decapitation, which is a fearsome way to intimidate their victims, but it also depicts some ritualistic elements. According to an UN report from Congolese refugees, they believed the Bana Mura and Kamuina Nsapu militias have "magical powers" as a result of drinking the blood of decapitated victims, making them invincible.[32] According to some reports, they indeed feed the blood from their victims' heads to younger members as baptism rite, then they often burn the remains into the fire or sometimes they consume the human remains, committing cannibalism.[33] Besides the massive decapitations (like the beheading of 40 members of the State Police), a notorious case of worldwide impact happened in March 2017 to Swedish politician Zaida Catalán and American UN expert Michael Sharp, who were kidnapped and executed during a mission near the village Ngombe in the Kasai Province. The UN was reportedly horrified when video footage of the execution of the two experts surfaced in April that same year, where some grisly details led to assume ritual components of the beheading: the perpetrators proceeded to cut the hair of both victims first, and then one of them beheaded Catalan only, because it would "increase his power",[34] which may be linked to the fact that Congolese militians are particularly brutal in their acts of violence toward women and children.[35] In the trial that followed the investigation after the bodies were discovered, and according to a testimony of a primary school teacher from Bunkonde, near the village of Moyo Musuila where the execution took place, he witnessed a teenage militian carrying the young woman's head,[36] but despite the efforts of the investigation, the head was never found. According to a report published in May 29, 2019, the Monusco peacekeeping military mission led by Colonel Luis Mangini, in the search for the missing remains, arrived to a ritual place in Moyo Musila where "parts of bodies, hands and heads" were cut and used for rituals,[37] where they lost the track of the victim's head.

Kyaram Sloyan was killed during the 2016 Armenian–Azerbaijani clashes and beheaded by soldiers of Azerbaijani Armed Forces, with videos and pictures of his severed head posted on social media networks.[38][39][40][41]

In traditional China, decapitation was considered a more severe form of punishment than strangulation, although strangulation caused more prolonged suffering. This was because in Confucian tradition, bodies were gifts from their parents, and so it was therefore disrespectful to their ancestors to return their bodies to the grave dismembered. The Chinese however had other punishments, such as dismembering the body into multiple pieces (similar to English quartering). In addition, there was also a practice of cutting the body at the waist, which was a common method of execution before being abolished in the early Qing dynasty due to the lingering death it caused. In some tales, people did not die immediately after decapitation.[42][43][44][45]

The British officer John Masters recorded in his autobiography that Pathans in British India during the Anglo-Afghan Wars would behead enemy soldiers who were captured, such as British and Sikh soldiers.[46][47][48][49]

In Japan, decapitation was a common punishment, sometimes for minor offences. Samurai were often allowed to decapitate soldiers who had fled from battle, as it was considered cowardly. Decapitation was historically performed as the second step in seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). After the victim had sliced his own abdomen open, another warrior would strike his head off from behind with a katana to hasten death and to reduce the suffering. The blow was expected to be precise enough to leave intact a small strip of skin at the front of the neck—to spare invited and honored guests the indelicacy of witnessing a severed head rolling about, or towards them; such an occurrence would have been considered inelegant and in bad taste. The sword was expected to be used upon the slightest sign that the practitioner might yield to pain and cry out—avoiding dishonor to him and to all partaking in the privilege of observing an honorable demise. As skill was involved, only the most trusted warrior was honored by taking part. In the late Sengoku period, decapitation was performed as soon as the person chosen to carry out seppuku had made the slightest wound to his abdomen.

Decapitation (without seppuku) was also considered a very severe and degrading form of punishment.

Historically, decapitation had been the most common method of execution in Korea, until it was replaced by hanging in 1896. Professional executioners were called mangnani (망나니) and they were volunteered from death-rows.

Pakistan's government employs death by hanging for capital punishment.

Despite official condemnation from the state[51] itself, such beheading continues to flourish in the Taliban strongholds of Baluchistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and are often jarred and unprofessional resulting in increased pain for the victim.

During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995) there were a number of ritual beheadings of Serbs and Croats who were taken as prisoners of war by mujahedin members of the Bosnian Army. At least one case is documented and proven in court by the ICTY where mujahedin, members of 3rd Corps of Army BiH, beheaded Bosnian Serb Dragan Popović.[52][53]

The British Empire used beheading and display of severed heads and other body parts on pikes, etc., as a method to support conquest, territorial expansion, pillage and looting. Heads were displayed to terrify various peoples into submission, such as enslaved Africans, Tasmanians, and Chinese.[54][55]

Historically, beheading was typically used for noblemen, while commoners would be hanged; eventually, hanging was adopted as the standard means of non-military executions.

The Celts of western Europe long pursued a "cult of the severed head", as evidenced by both Classical literary descriptions and archaeological contexts.[56] (5.29.4) had this to say about Celtic head-hunting:

Both the Greeks and Romans found the Celtic decapitation practices shocking and the latter put an end to them when Celtic regions came under their control.

According to Paul Jacobsthal, "Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world."[58] Arguments for a Celtic cult of the severed head include the many sculptured representations of severed heads in La Tène carvings, and the surviving Celtic mythology, which is full of stories of the severed heads of heroes and the saints who carry their own severed heads, right down to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the Green Knight picks up his own severed head after Gawain has struck it off, just as St. Denis carried his head to the top of Montmartre.

A further example of this regeneration after beheading lies in the tales of Connemara's St. Feichin, who after being beheaded by Viking pirates carried his head to the Holy Well on Omey Island and on dipping the head into the well placed it back upon his neck and was restored to full health.

The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded decapitation as a comparatively honorable form of execution for criminals.

In France, until the abolition of capital punishment in 1981, the main method of execution had been by beheading by means of the guillotine. Other than a small number of military cases where a firing squad was used (including that of Jean Bastien-Thiry) the guillotine was the only legal method of execution from 1791, when it was introduced by the Legislative Assembly during the last days of the kingdom French Revolution, until 1981. Before the revolution, beheading had typically been reserved to noblemen and carried out manually. In 1981, President François Mitterrand abolished capital punishment and issued commutations for those whose sentences had not been executed.

The first person executed by the guillotine (in France) was highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier in April 1792. The last execution was of murderer Hamida Djandoubi, in Marseilles, in 1977.[59] Djandoubi's execution was the last judicial use of the guillotine in the world. Throughout its extensive overseas colonies and dependencies, the device was also used, including on St Pierre in 1889 and on Martinique as late as 1965.[60]

  • Fritz Haarmann, a serial killer from Hannover who was sentenced to death for killing 27 young men, was decapitated in April 1925. He was nicknamed "The Butcher from Hanover" and was rumored to have sold his victims' flesh to his neighbor's restaurant.
  • In July 1931, notorious serial killer Peter Kürten, known as "The Vampire of Düsseldorf", was executed on the guillotine in Cologne.
  • On 1 August 1933, in Altona, Bruno Tesch and three others were beheaded. These were the first executions in the Third Reich. The executions concerned the Altona Bloody Sunday (Altonaer Blutsonntag) riot, an SA march on 17 July 1932 that turned violent and led to 18 people being shot dead.[61][62]
  • Marinus van der Lubbe by guillotine in 1934 after a show trial in which he was found guilty of starting the Reichstag fire.
  • In February 1935 Benita von Falkenhayn and Renate von Natzmer were beheaded with the axe and block in Berlin for espionage for Poland. Axe beheading was the only method of execution in Berlin until 1938, when it was decreed that all civil executions would henceforth be carried out by guillotine. However, the practice was continued in rare cases such as that of Olga Bancic and Werner Seelenbinder in 1944. Beheading by guillotine survived in West Germany until 1949 and in East Germany until 1966.
  • A group of three Catholic clergymen, Johannes Prassek, Eduard Müller and Hermann Lange, and an Evangelical Lutheran pastor, Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, were arrested following the bombing of Lübeck, tried by the People's Court in 1943 and sentenced to death by decapitation; all were beheaded on 10 November 1943, in the Hamburg prison at Holstenglacis.
  • In October 1944, Werner Seelenbinder was executed by manual beheading, the last legal use of the method (other than by guillotine) in Europe. Earlier the same year, Olga Bancic had been executed by the same means.
  • In February 1943, American academic Mildred Harnack and the university students Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst of the White Rose protest movement, were all beheaded by the Nazi State. Four other members of the White Rose, an anti-Nazi group, were also executed by the People's Court later that same year. The anti-Nazi Helmuth Hübener was also decapitated by People's Court order.

In Nordic countries, decapitation was the usual means of carrying out capital punishment. Noblemen were beheaded with a sword, and commoners with an axe. The last executions by decapitation in Finland in 1825, Norway in 1876, Faroe Islands in 1609, and in Iceland in 1830 were carried out with axes. The same was the case in Denmark in 1892. Sweden continued the practice for a few decades, executing its second to last criminal – mass murderer Johan Filip Nordlund – by ax in 1900. It was replaced by the guillotine, which was used for the first and only time on Johan Alfred Ander in 1910.

Nordlund's execution was the last (legal) manual beheading in the Western world except for in Germany, where it prevailed until the days of World War II (see above).

The official beheading axe of Finland resides today in the Museum of Crime, Vantaa.

In Spain executions were carried out by various methods including strangulation by the garrotte. In the 16th and 17th centuries, noblemen were sometimes executed by means of beheading. Examples include Anthony van Stralen, Lord of Merksem, Lamoral, Count of Egmont and Philip de Montmorency, Count of Horn. They were tied to a chair on a scaffold. The executioner used a knife to cut the head from the body. It was considered to be a more honourable death if the executioner started with cutting the throat.[63]

Though not officially sanctioned, legal beheadings were carried out against at least 50 prostitutes and pimps under Saddam Hussein as late as 2000.[64]

Beheadings have emerged as another terror tactic especially in Iraq since 2003.[65] Civilians have borne the brunt of the beheadings, although U.S. and Iraqi military personnel have also been targeted. After kidnapping the victim, the kidnappers typically make some sort of demand of the government of the hostage's nation and give a time limit for the demand to be carried out, often 72 hours. Beheading is often threatened if the government fails to heed the wishes of the hostage takers. Sometimes, the beheadings are videotaped and made available on the Internet. One of the most publicized of such executions was that of Nick Berg.[66]

Judicial execution is practiced in Iraq, but is generally carried out by hanging.

Saudi Arabia has a criminal justice system based on a hardline and literal form of Shari'ah law reflecting a particular state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam. Crimes such as rape, murder, apostasy, and sorcery.[67] are punishable by beheading.[5] It is usually carried out publicly by beheading with a sword.

A public beheading will typically take place around 9am.

According to Amnesty International, at least 79 people were executed in the kingdom in 2013.[71] Foreigners are not exempt, accounting for "almost half" of executions in 2013.[71]

The Syrian Government employs hanging as its method of capital punishment.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Ignacio Allende, José Mariano Jiménez and Juan Aldama were tried for treason, executed by firing squad and beheaded during the Mexican independence in 1811. Their heads were on display on the four corners of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, in Guanajuato.

During the Mexican Drug War, some Mexican drug cartels turned to decapitation and beheading of rival cartel members as a method of intimidation.[73]

The United States government has never employed beheading as a legal method of execution.

US soldiers have committed decapitations in various invasions and/or conquests, including of the Native Americans, the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam.[75]

Regarding Vietnam, correspondent Michael Herr notes "thousands" of photo-albums made by US soldiers "all seemed to contain the same pictures": "the severed head shot, the head often resting on the chest of the dead man or being held up by a smiling Marine, or a lot of the heads, arranged in a row, with a burning cigarette in each of the mouths, the eyes open".

General George S. Patton III, son of the famous WWII general, was known for keeping "macabre souvenirs", such as "a Vietnamese skull that sat on his desk."

As a terror tactic, "some American troops hacked the heads off... dead [Vietnamese] and mounted them on pikes or poles".[76]

Although the Utah Territory permitted a person sentenced to death to choose beheading as a means of execution, no person chose that option, and it was dropped when Utah became a state.[79]

Notable people who have been beheaded


See also


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