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Abacination - Torture Methods in History

Updated on January 29, 2020
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

History is fully of examples of torture used for political, religious, and personal reasons. Governments used torture to keep subjects in line and to protect it from spies. Religion used it to keep their beliefs "pure" and to rid their world of heretics. Some just enjoyed inflicting pain for any reason. It is meant to inflict pain and terror. There are hundreds of ways a person can be tortured with each one of them highly effective. One method of torture used in history was abacination.


No torture is pretty. It's not meant to be as it is torture. That's the whole point. It is meant to be painful and ugly. It is meant to be unpleasant, but some methods happen to be a little more gruesome than others. This is especially true when the torture involves the burning of the flesh. Abacination is the placement of a searing object in front of the eyes and burning them shut. It is meant to punish long after the initial pain.

Attacking Something Precious to Us

Typically, the eyes are naturally protected by a person. Even now we naturally protect them. A person will use his arms to shield his eyes as they are delicate and part of the sensory nervous system. We blink and will pull away from anything that hurts them. To threaten one’s eyes was torture in and of itself. It meant damaging the eyes was a great threat to an individual and could result in getting the information or confession.

To Be Blind in the Middle Ages

To be blind was more than just a handicap during the Middle Ages and any time before that. There was no Braille. There were no audio books or handicap laws. Blindness was a death sentence in this time. It usually meant a person was destined to become a beggar on the streets dependent upon the mercies of others. This meant the inability to provide for one’s family and the odds of a shortened life. Death would come faster to someone who could not contribute to supporting themselves and their family. To live might have been viewed worse than death if one was blind.

The Use of Abacination

It has been suggested that during the Middle Ages and specifically during periods such as the Inquisition that abacination was used. Upon implementing abacination, a torturer was threatening to remove a person’s ability to see, to provide for his/her family, to be a part of society, and to live a long and happy life. That was in addition to the severe pain and possible death from the abacination a person would experience.

History does not document specific uses of this form of torture. It was not commonly used or referred to. The only mention in history can be associated with abacination is the punishment meted out to Samson in the Bible.

Samson was known for his supernatural strength. His secret was sought after by the Philistines who used a harlot to entice the truth from him as to why he of all his countrymen should be so strong. After misleading the woman several times, he finally confessed that the secret was found in keeping the only Nazarite vow he had not broken. He had never cut his hair. He had drunk wine which was forbidden. He had lain with unclean women which were forbidden. But he had not cut his hair. The Philistines waited until he was asleep and cut his hair off. The Spirit of the Lord left and removed all his super strength. To humiliate him further and diminish his ability to function, his captors abacinated him and forced him into slave labor. Despite all this, he repented of his sins and with one last plea of help, God gave him back his strength so that though blind he could destroy the Philistines. In the process, he killed himself.


No other record exists of any form of abacination. The suggestion of its use does imply that it went beyond the time of Samson and probably has been used at some point in history.

The purpose of such torture? It could have been for myriad of reasons. Typically, torture was used to extract information from spies, informants, or political pawns. It was always used to extract confessions from those that supposedly practiced witchcraft or worshiped the devil. It could even be used to exact revenge on an enemy.


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