It looked like it came straight from a gruesome movie; the Iron Maiden was one of the many medieval torture devices.

First mentioned in the late 1700s, the iron maiden is a torture device that looks like a coffin, only that the coffin decided to go grunge and now has tons of spikes inside. The person inside would be stabbed in the flesh with these spikes, of course, once you shut it close. What’s worse is that these spikes were just long enough and designed to avoid vital organs. Only the arms, legs, stomach, eyes, shoulders, and buttocks were stabbed so the person wouldn’t die immediately but would bleed to a slow and painful death.

Johann Philipp Siebenkees, a German philosopher, allegedly witnessed a coin-forger executed through the iron maiden in the city of Nuremberg in 1515. Despite this claim, there was no solid evidence that the iron maiden was indeed used in a way that it was popularly described. Perhaps it was supposed to be for acupuncture?  Perhaps the mere threat of it being used against you would be enough for you to give up any information or wealth that your captors wanted to acquire.  We may never know for sure.

Medieval Iron Maiden from the Ripley’s Exhibit Collection. Photo: Ripley’s

This method of execution was also associated with Spartan King Nabis. He invented the Apega of Nabis, which was similar to iron maiden, built as a replica of his wife, Apega. According to Polybius, the replica was even dressed in expensive clothing. This was to lure drunk Spartans who were unwilling to give him money into thinking it was the real Apega, with her arms outstretched. It is said that once the unsuspecting victim hugged the machine, it would trigger the arms to close, and the victim would be pressed and crushed against its arms, hands, and breasts of Apega that were covered with iron nails.