1893: Ai Yone

Add comment May 19th, 2019 Headsman

For today’s post we refer you to the fine and regrettably retired blog Made In Thailand, which describes in detail the May 19, 1893 beheading of a man named Ai Yone. Although the post admits to a bit of novelization in service of dramatization, this was absolutely a real execution in Siam.

At 7:15 a.m., the procession arrived at Wat Matkasan, where preparations for the execution got underway. Ai Yone remained bound and shackled on board the boat, smoking and engaging in animated conversation with those around him. Meanwhile, the executioners — seven in number — began the lengthy ritual, first making offerings of boar’s head, fowls, rice and betels at the temporary altar, erected for the occasion. The swords to be used for the execution were placed on the altar and duly consecrated and anointed. Looking on from the boat, Ai Yone seemed disinterested and detached as he received the last ministrations of the Buddhist monks. He held his head high, and showed no signs of fear.

Promptly, he was brought onto land and placed on the grass. The executioners were arrayed in red, and had wrapped red sashes around their foreheads. They knelt in front of Ai Yone and asked his pardon for what they were about to do. Some of the executioners took Ai Yone a little distance away, where they removed his neck-chain and handcuffs, then tied his elbows to a bamboo post, securely planted in the ground. He sat cross-legged on freshly-cut plantain leaves, neck exposed to receive the fatal blow, murmuring prayers and holding lighted tapers between his pressed palms. Next, his ears were closed with wet clay, so that he would not hear the deadly approach of the executioner. A line was drawn across his neck, to guide the descending sword; a white cloth wrapped around his body. All was ready.

Ready for what? Read on.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Thailand

Tags: , , , ,

1732: Petrus Vuyst, governor of Dutch Ceylon

Add comment May 19th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1732, the deposed Dutch governor of Ceylon was executed by throat-slashing in Batavia (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia) for abuse of power.

Petrus Vuyst (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was a Batavia-born son of a Dutch mercantile empire already well upon its decline phase.

Following a loop back to the mother country for espousing and legal training, Vuyst returned to the East Indies and soon advanced in the colonial bureaucracy — governing Dutch Bengal before being appointed the Low Countries’ proconsul in Dutch Ceylon.

The scant information about Vuyst is mostly in Dutch; this public domain document details the proceeding slating him with corruption and wholesale cruelty.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indonesia,Murder,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Sri Lanka

Tags: , , , , ,

1558: Three reformers at Norwich

Add comment May 19th, 2016 Headsman

From the 16th century tome of Protestant martyrology, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs — with evocative original Early Modern English from the 1570 edition.

The Martyrdome of William Seaman, Thomas Carman, and Thomas Hudson, put to death by the persecuting papistes at Norwich in the county of Norfolke.

Immediatly after William Nicole, succeded in that honorable and glorious vocation of Martyrdome three constant godly me[n] at Norwich in Norfolke, who were cruelly and tyrannically put to death for thee true testimony of Iesus Christ, the 19. of May an. 1558. Whose names be these.

William Seaman.
Thomas Carman.
Thomas Hudson.

The sayd William Seaman was an husbandman, of the age of xxvj. yeares, dwelling in Mendlesham in the county of Suffolke, who was sought for sundry tymes by the commaundement of Syr Iohn Tirrell Knight, and at last hee hym selfe in the night searched hys house and other places for hym: notwithstanding, hee somewhat mist of his purpose, God be thanked. Then he gaue charge to his seruantes, Robert Baulding, and Iames Clarke with others, to seeke for hym. Who hauing no officer, went in the euening to hys house, where he beyng at home, they tooke hym and caryed hym to their master Syr Iohn Tirrell. This Baulding beyng Seamans nigh neighbour, and whom the sayd Seaman greatly trusted as a speciall frend, notwithstandyng to do his Master a pleasure, now became enemy to his chief frend, and was one of the busiest in the takyng of him. Now as they were goyng to cary him to their Master Syr Iohn Tyrrel in the night, it is credibly reported that there fell a light betwene them out of the element and parted them. This Bauldyng beyng in company with the rest whe[n] the light fell, albeit he was then in hys best age, yet after that tyme neuer enioyed good day, but pined away euen vnto the death.

Well, for all that straunge sight (as I sayd) they caried hym to their master. Who when he came, asked hym why he would not go to masse, and receaue the sacrament, and so to worship it? Vnto which William Seaman aunswered, denying it to be a sacrament, but sayde it was an Idoll, and therefore would not receaue it. After which wordes spoken, Syr Iohn Tirrell shortly sent hym to Norwich to Hopton then Byshop, and there, after conference and examination had with him, the Byshop red hys bloudy sentence of condemnation against hym, and afterward deliuered hym to the secular power, who kept hym vnto the day of Martyrdome.

Thys sayd William Seaman left behind him when he dyed, a wife and three children very yonge: and with the sayd younge children, hys wife was persecuted out of the sayd towne also of Mendlesham, because that she would not go to heare Masse, and all her corne & goods seased and taken away by master Christopher Coles officers, he beyng Lord of the sayd towne.

Thomas Carman (who, as is said, pledged Richard Crashfield at hys burning, and thereupon was apprehended) beyng in prison in Norwich, was about one tyme with the rest examined & brought before the sayd Byshop, who aunswered no lesse in hys masters cause then the other, and therefore had the like reward that the other had, which was the Byshops bloudy blessing of condemnation, and deliuered also to the secular power, who kept him with the other vntill the day of slaughter, which hasted on and was not long after.

Thomas Hudson was of Ailesham in Norfolke, by his occupatio[n] a Glouer, a very honest poore ma[n], hauing a wyfe and three children, and laboured alwayes truely and diligently in his vocation, being of thirty yeares of age, and bearing so good a will to the Gospell, that he in the dayes of king Edward thee sixt, two yeares before Queene Maryes raigne, learned to read Englishe of Anthony and Thomas Norgate of the same Towne, wherein he greatly profited about the tyme of alteration of religion. For when Queene Mary came to raigne, and had chaunged the seruice in the church, putting in for wheate, draffe and darnyll, and for good preaching, blasphemous crying out agaynst truth and godlines, he then auoyding all their beggerly Ceremonies of superstition, absented him selfe from his house, and went into Suffolke a long tyme, and there remayned, traueling from one place to an other, as occasion was offered. At the last, he returned backe agayne to Norfolke, to his house at Ailesham, to comfort his wife & hys childre[n], being heauy & troubled with his absence.

Now when he came home, and perceaued his continuaunce there would be daungerous, he and his wife deuised to make hym a place among hys fagots to hyde himselfe in, where he remained all the day (in stede of hys chamber) reading and praying continually, for the space of halfe a yeare, and hys wife like an honest woman being carefull for hym, vsed her self faythfully and diligently towardes him.

In the meane tyme came the Vicar of the towne, named Berry (who was one of the Byshops Commissaryes, a very euill man) and inquired of thys sayd Thomas Hudsons wife for her husband. Vnto whom she aunswered, as not knowing were he was. Then the sayd Berry rated her, & threatned to burne her, for that she would not bewray her husband where he was.

After that, when Hudson vnderstoode it, he waxed euery day more zealous then other, and continually red and sang Psalmes, to the wonder of many, the people openly resorting to hym to heare his exhortations and vehement prayers.

At the last he walked abroad for certayne dayes openly in the Towne, crying out continually agaynst the Masse and all their trompery, and in the end, commyng home in his house, he sat him downe vppon hys knees, hauyng his booke by him, readyng and singyng Psalmes continually without ceassing. for. iij. dayes and iij. nightes together, refusing meate & other talke, to the great wonder of many.

The one Iohn Crouch his next neighbour, went to the Constables Robert Marsham and Robert Lawes in the night, to certifie them therof: for Berry comaunded openly to watch for hym: and þe Constables vnderstadyng the same, went cruelly to catch him in the breake of the day, the., xxij. of the moneth of Aprill. an. 1558.

Now when Hudson saw the come in, he sayd: Now mine houre is come. Welcome frendes welcome: you be they that shall lead me to lyfe in Christ, I thanke God therfore, and the Lord enhable me thereto for his mercies sake. For his desire was, and euer he prayed (if it were the Lordes wil) that he might suffer for the Gospell of Christ. Then they tooke hym, and lead hym to Berry the Commissary, which was Vicare of the Towne, and the sayd Berry asked hym first, where he kept his Church for iiij. yeares before. To the which the sayd Hudson aunswered thus: where soeuer he was, there was the Church.

Doest thou not beleue, saith Berry, in the Sacrame[n]t of the altar? What is it?

Hudson. It is wormes meate: my beliefe (saith he) is in Christ crucified.

Berry. Doest thou not beleue the Masse to put away sinnes?

Hudson. No, God forbid: it is a patched monstre, and a disguised Puppet, more longer a pecing then euer was Salomons temple.

At which wordes Berry stamped, fumed, and shewed him selfe as a mad man, and sayd: well thou villayne, thou: I will write to the byshop my good Lord, and trust vnto it, thou shalt be handled according to thy desertes. Oh syr, sayd Hudson: there is no Lorde but God, though there bee many Lordes and many Gods. With that, Berry thrust him backe with hys hand. And one Richard Cliffar standing by, sayd: I pray you syr, be good to the poore man. At which wordes Berry was more mad then before, and would haue had Cliffar bound in a recognisance of 40. poundes for his good abearing, both in worde and deede: which hys desire tooke no effecte. Then he asked the sayd Hudson whether he would recant or no. Vnto which wordes Hudson sayd: the Lord forbid: I had rather dye many deathes, then to doo so.

Then after long talke, the sayd Berry seing it booted not to perswade with him, tooke his pen and yncke, and wrote letters to the byshop therof, and sent thys Hudson to Norwich bound like a theefe to hym, which was viij. miles from thence, who with ioye and singing chere went thether, as mery as euer he was at any time before. In prison he was a moneth, where he did continually read and inuocate the name of God.


Original illustration via JohnFoxe.org, which notes that depictions of several triple burnings attest to the certainty that the printer had no block to illustrate three men in a fire.

These three christians and constant Martyrs, William Seaman, Thomas Carman, and Tho. Hudson, after they were (as ye haue heard) condemned, the xix. day of May. 1558. were caryed out of prison to þe place where they should suffer, which was without Bishops gate at Norwich, called Lollards pit.

And being all there, they made theyr humble prayers vnto the Lord. That being done, they rose and went to the stake, and standing all there with chaynes about them, immediately thys sayd Thomas Hudson commeth fourth from them vnder the chayne, to the great wonder of many: wherby diuers feared and greatly doubted of him. For some thought he would haue recanted: other iudged rather that hee went to aske a further day, and to desire conference: and some thought he came forth to aske some of hys parentes blessing: So some thought one thing and some an other: but hys two companions at the stake cryed out to hym to comforte hym what they could, exhorting hym in the bowels of Christ to be of good chere. &c. But thys sweete Hudson, felt more in his hart and conscience, then they could conceaue in hym. For (alas good soule) he was compassed (God knoweth) with great dolour and griefe of mind, not for his death, but for lacke of feeling of hys Christ, and therfore beyng very carefull he humbly fell downe vppon his knees, and prayed vehemently and earnestly vnto the Lord, who at the last, according to hys olde mercyes, sent hym comfort, and then rose he with great ioy, as a man new chaunged euen from death to life, and sayd:

Now I thanke God I am strong, and passe not what man can doo vnto me.

So going to the stake to his fellowes agayne, in the end they all suffered most ioyfully, constantly, and manfully the death together, and were consumed in fire, to the terror of the wicked, the comforte of Gods Children, & the magnifiing of the Lords name, who be praysed therfore for euer, Amen.

After thys, the fore named Commissary Berry, made great styrre about other which were suspected within the sayd towne of Aylesham, and caused two hundred to creepe to the Crosse at Penticost, besides other punishmentes which they susteyned.

On a time this Berry gaue a poore man of his parish of Marsham, a blow with the swingell of a flayle, for a word speaking, that presently theron he dyed, and the sayd Berry (as is sayd) held vp his hand at the barre therefore.

Then, after that in his parish of Aylesham also, an. 1557. there was one Alice Oxes came to his house, and going into the Hall, he meting her (being before moued) smote her with his fist, whereby she was fayne to be caryed home, and the next day was found dead in her chamber.

To write how many concubines & whores he had, none would beleue it, but such as knewe him in the countrey he dwelt in. He was rich and of great autoritie, a great swearer, altogether geuen to wemen, and persecuting of the Gospell, & compelling men to idolatry.

One Iohn Norgate a man learned, godly, and zealous, who would not go to theyr trash, but rather dye, being sore hunted by the sayd Berry, prayed hartely to God, and the Lord shortly after in a consumption deliuered hym. Notwithstanding, the rage of this wicked man waxed more fiercer and fiercer. He troubled sundry men, burnt all good bookes that he could get, and diuorsed many men and wemen for religion.

When he heard say that Queene Mary was dead, and the glory of theyr triumph quailed, the sonday after, being the xx. of Nouember, an. 1558. he made a great feast, and had one of his concubines there, with whom he was in his chamber after diner vntill Euensong. Then went he to church, where he had ministred baptisme, and in going from church homeward, after Euensong, betwene the churchyarde and hys house, being but a litle space (as it were a churchyard bredeth asunder) he fell downe sodeinly to the ground with a heauy grone, & neuer stirred after, neither shewed any one token of repentance. This hapned hys neyghbors being by, to the example of all other. The Lord graunt we may obserue his iudgementes.

And those that had his great riches, since his death haue so consumed with them, that they be poorer now then they were before they had his goodes, such iudgement hath the Lord executed to the eyes of all men.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1865: Not Lambdin P. Milligan, ex parte man

Add comment May 19th, 2015 Headsman

This date in 1865 was the originally scheduled hanging of Indiana pro-slavery gadfly Lambdin P. Milligan — a sentence respited two days prior by President Andrew Johnson, and then subsequently commuted, for which reason Milligan survived to attach his surname to a landmark Supreme Court decision the following year.

During the Civil War, the state of Kentucky was a borderlands claimed by, and viciously fought over, by both North and South. “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky,” Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1861.

Kentucky’s northern neighbor, the Union breadbasket Indiana, had little fighting and no hint of Confederate power — but it was a hotbed of so-called “Copperheads”, northern Democrats who opposed Lincoln’s willingness to prosecute the civil war. So fraught was the Hoosier political situation that in 1862, Indiana’s Republican governor refused to call the Democrat-dominated legislature for fear that it might vote a secession bill or attempt to withdraw Indiana from the war.

The inevitable existence of northern domestic opposition to the war came joined at the hip to impossible statecraft conundrums. Just how much wartime dissent and/or resistance could be countenanced — as a legal matter, and a practical one? President Lincoln would not have received an A+ from the American Civil Liberties Union; he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the Union and resorted to military tribunals and martial law in some places.

Our man Milligan was one of these Copperhead Indiana Democrats born to test Washington’s elasticity. He was an exponent of the Knights of the Golden Circle,* a pro-slavery secret society whose name denoted their aspiration to the antebellum filibusters‘ dream of a human-bondage empire to ring the Caribbean basin.

An attorney,** Milligan briefly became the toast of Democrats nationwide (whatever was left of the nation) for his robust defense of Clement Vallandigham when the former Congressman was prosecuted under the anti-Copperhead General Order 38.

At this point, Milligan was very well-known in what was then called the Northwest, and he was a major political player in Indiana — a pivotal state in the 1864 election.

But according to federal spies who tailed him in 1863-64, his interests in governance ran to more illicit grants of state power. Milligan was arrested in October 1864 as a principal in what was dubbed the “Northwestern Conspiracy”: a plot to mobilize the antiwar factions in that part of the country. This was no mere matter of pamphleteering; the “visionary and desperate” scheme aimed to prolong the hopes of the now-fading South by instigating an armed uprising in the Northwest that would relieve Union pressure on Dixie and perhaps turn the tide of the war.

Milligan was among several of the conspirators swept up in arrests in the following weeks, then tried by military tribunal for treason and sedition. It’s hard to argue that the plot was anything but.

But why a military court? This is the question in Milligan’s great legacy to posterity, the Supreme Court ruling Ex Parte Milligan.†

Milligan himself was not a soldier, and had not been in a war zone. He was a civilian, and Indiana’s regular civilian courts had never ceased to function. The question at stake in Milligan’s appeal to the Supreme Court was whether there was any legitimate recourse to a military tribunal under such conditions — well behind the lines, as it were.

On the morning of March 5, 1866, 34-year-old Republican U.S. Representative James Garfield — the future president whose assassin would command contentious caselaw all his own — strode into the U.S. Supreme Court to eloquently argue Milligan’s side.

“Such a doctrine,” Garfield intoned of the civilian courts’ being intentionally bypassed on national security grounds, “is too monstrous to be tolerated for a moment; and I trust and believe that … it will receive its just and final condemnation. Your decision will mark an era in American history. the just and final settlement of this great question will take a high place among the great achievements which have immortalized this decade. It will establish forever this truth, of inestimable value to us and to mankind, that a republic can wield the vast enginery of war without breaking down the safeguards of liberty; can suppress insurrection, and put down rebellion, however formidable, without destroying the bulwarks of law; can, by the might of its armed millions, preserve and defend both nationality and liberty … if the protection of the law shall, by your decision, be extended over every acre of our peaceful territory, you will have rendered the great decision of the century.

The high court found for Milligan unanimously, establishing as a constitutional bedrock Garfield’s proffered principle that civilian courts must try civilians wherever those courts are open, and ordered Milligan’s release. Although re-indicted by a civilian grand jury, Milligan was not re-prosecuted; he resumed his law practice and died near Fort Wayne, Indiana on December 21, 1899.

* Also known as the Sons of Liberty, a callback to revolutionary patriots.

** Milligan studied law in Ohio, his native soil; his class of nine also included Edwin M. Stanton — Lincoln’s War Secretary during the events of this post. Milligan himself reflected that “I should have probably been hung” but for his fortuitous ancient friendship with Stanton.

† Court precedents with names like Furman v. Georgia are most familiar to us, signifying two disputing parties; by contrast, the phrase ex parte (by/for the party) theoretically indicates a decision issued on behalf of the named party, without need of any opposing party’s intervention. (Ex parte Quirin is another notable death penalty case using this terminology.)

While the ex parte locution was once a common one for habeas corpus appeals, such cases were in practice almost invariably contested by some organ of the state — as Milligan’s was.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Indiana,Lawyers,Not Executed,Notable Jurisprudence,Pardons and Clemencies,Politicians,Power,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1864: Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s “civil execution”

Add comment May 19th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1864, the Russian writer Nikolay Chernyshevsky was publicly executed in St. Petersburg.

Then he was shipped to Siberia.

Chernyshevsky’s punishment was only a pantomime “civil execution,” somewhat akin to the symbolic executions by effigy elsewhere in Europe. In this case, the faux death penalty was imposed not upon a peeling portrait but on Chernyshevsky’s actual person: “The hangmen led Chernyshevsky to the scaffold on Mytninskaya Square in St. Petersburg, made him kneel down, broke a sword over his head and then chained him to the pillory. Chernyshevsky stood calmly under the rain waiting for this mockery to come to an end.” (Source)

The pillory, exposed to the hoots and brickbats of an offended populace, was supposed to be a humiliation to its sufferer; occasionally, it even proved lethal. Not so for Chernyshevsky: the crowd stood silently. Someone threw a bouquet of flowers.

This ludicrous theater was enacted to punish Chernyshevsky for his leadership of the St. Petersburg intellectual circle that gave birth to the Narodnik movement. Literally “going to the people,” this was a peasant-focused populist-democratic-socialist philosophy paradoxically germinated among Russia’s small coterie of intellectual elites.

Think Marxism for a feudal society here: the Narodnik adaptation was the hope that Russia’s vast peasantry could be roused to serve the part of a revolutionary working class, and skip Russia directly to a socialism still preserving communal traditions unsullied by that interim period wherein (per Marx in the Communist Manifesto) capitalism had “pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties … [and] left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest.”

This is why Chernyshevsky and the Narodniks viewed the “emancipation” of serfs of 1861 with a gimlet eye: it was a shift towards capitalist property relations, in which the feudal shackles were merely replaced with new, and heavier irons. Chernyshevsky subversively urged his “emancipated” countrymen to view the move as a heist.

It is of course unlikely that many of the actual peasant malcontents stirred up in the wake of the emancipation perused Chernyshevsky’s “To the Manorial Peasants from Their Well-Wishers, Greetings”. But other bourgeois radicals who did read that sort of thing would in due time — after the suppression of the Narodniki in the 1860s and 1870s drove its underground remnants to terrorism — spawn the revolutionary network Narodnaya Volya, and assassinate the tsar who enacted that emancipation, Alexander II.

Chernyshevsky was more a writer than a fighter. He spent his pre-“execution” imprisonment in Peter and Paul Fortress forging his definitive contribution to the movement — the novel What Is To Be Done?.*

(Our own Sonechka regards What Is To Be Done? as quite possibly Russia’s single worst literary product, but the didactic novel imagined (in the dreams of its principal character, Vera Pavlovna) an egalitarian future, including for women. Chernyshevsky himself wrote that he “possess[ed] not one bit of artistic talent … any merit to be found in my tale is due entirely to its truthfulness.”)

Whatever its artistic shortcomings, What Is To Be Done? entered the revolutionary literary canon. Vladmir Ilyich Ulyanov — better known as Lenin — wasn’t even born until 1870 but as a young man he admired What Is To Be Done? In 1902 Lenin himself published a political pamphlet under that same title.

Far less impressed were the likes of Dostoyevsky, himself a former radical who also underwent mock execution in his time. Unlike Chernyshevsky, Dostoyevsky apostasized from his revolutionary credo; Dostoyevsky’s 1864 Notes from the Underground is “a bitter artistic answer” to (and in several spots a direct parody of) Chernyshevsky’s magnum opus.

* What Is To Be Done? responds to Turgenev‘s Fathers And Sons. A previous Narodnik classic by Alexander Herzen asked the parallel question Who Is To Blame?.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Artists,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Mock Executions,Not Executed,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

399 BCE: Socrates

2 comments May 19th, 2013 Headsman

It might have been May 19, 399 BCE* — and if not, we’re in the neighborhood — that the original gadfly** philosopher Socrates obeyed a death sentence from his native Athens and quaffed a cup of deadly hemlock. It’s one of the most famous executions in history, and arguably one of the most consequential.

Socrates left no original writings that survive for us. Posterity sees him via the works of his students Xenophon and especially Plato, but he was a well-known figure to contemporaries in the polis.

For decades, the man with the method and the familiar daemon had been philosophizing around town. Socrates comes in for mockery in an Aristophanes play lampooning newfangled intellectual trends in the 420s BCE


“Like Ozzy Osbourne, [Socrates] was repeatedly accused of corruption of the young.”

The weird and unsatisfying corrupting-the-young and impiety charges which putatively caused the man’s trial and death sentence have been much-debated in the centuries since. It seems clear that at some level the “real” crime in the eyes of the hundreds of fellow-citizens who judged Socrates had to do with the students who weren’t reverential successor-eggheads, but toxic contemporary politicians. Socrates tutored the treacherous demagogue Alcibiades, who convinced Athenians to mount a catastrophic invasion of Sicily that cost Athens the Peloponnesian War; he rolled with Critias, one of the notorious tyrants of Athens during the 404-403 Spartan puppet dictatorship that resulted from losing that war.

All the while, Socrates had openly preached a dim view of the Athenian democratic system. Again, we don’t have the master’s direct words here, but something like the dialogue presented by the Socrates character in Plato’s allegory of the cave — in which non-philosophers are a lot of purblind morlocks — is difficult to square with anything but an elitist take of civilization. There’s a reason this could be a bit of a sore subject in a city that had just seen the glories of its late imperial apex possessed by Spartan hoplites, especially when espoused by a guy who rubbed chitons with the tyrants themselves.

Even so, Socrates was only narrowly convicted. Once convicted, the legal game had both the prosecution and the defendant propose a punishment, and the jury select one.

Were this system still practiced somewhere, game theorists would have a field day with it. But Socrates just opted out of the match by proposing that he be “punished” with a public pension for his services to the polis. There’s being a gadfly, and then there’s telling your jury to go take a long walk off a high rock: he was death-sentenced by a larger margin than had voted to convict. Plato makes this a much more martyr-like scene than Xenophon; the latter emphasizes that the septuagenarian chin-waggler didn’t much mind being excused from the frailties of advancing age.

Plato used Socrates repeatedly in various dialogues, and it goes without saying that these are cornerstones of the literary canon. The dialogues of most relevance† for his execution specifically are:

  • the Apology, Plato’s account of the defense Socrates mounted at trial: it’s in this text that Socrates is reported to utter the words, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • Crito, a conversation between a wealthy guy of that name and the condemned Socrates in which the philosopher expounds his theory of citizenship and social contract in refusing Crito’s blandishments to escape before execution.
  • the Phaedo, in which Socrates argues for the immortality of the soul, and then gets down to the business of swallowing his fatal draught.

Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven, entered and stood by him, saying:—To you, Socrates, whom I know to be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me, when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison—indeed, I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and not I, are to blame. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be—you know my errand. Then bursting into tears he turned away and went out.

Socrates looked at him and said: I return your good wishes, and will do as you bid. Then turning to us, he said, How charming the man is: since I have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and at times he would talk to me, and was as good to me as could be, and now see how generously he sorrows on my account. We must do as he says, Crito; and therefore let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared: if not, let the attendant prepare some.

Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and I know that many a one has taken the draught late, and after the announcement has been made to him, he has eaten and drunk, and enjoyed the society of his beloved; do not hurry—there is time enough.

Socrates said: Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in so acting, for they think that they will be gainers by the delay; but I am right in not following their example, for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should only be ridiculous in my own eyes for sparing and saving a life which is already forfeit. Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me.

Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by; and he went out, and having been absent for some time, returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed. The man answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of colour or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not? The man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough. I understand, he said: but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world—even so—and so be it according to my prayer. Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept, not for him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having to part from such a friend. Nor was I the first; for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up, and I followed; and at that moment, Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: What is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet then, and have patience. When we heard his words we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked him if he could feel; and he said, No; and then his leg, and so upwards and 118upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said—they were his last words—he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth.

Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.

A few books about the death of Socrates

* The Phaedo places Socrates’ trial on the day after Athens consecrated a ritual boat for its annual pilgrimage. (This was supposed to be the very boat that the hero Theseus had sailed back after defeating the minotaur in time immemorial, and the Athenians maintained it for centuries in a seaworthy state to make ceremonial voyages to the island of Delos, a sanctuary for Theseus’s patron Apollo. This is also the very conveyance in question in the “Ship of Theseus” paradox, a philosophical conundrum proceeding from the question of whether the thing was still “Theseus’s ship” if every single component of it had been replaced in the intervening years.) Anyway, Theseus aside, that mention of the consecration gives us Mounichion 7 on the confusing lunisolar Attic calendar for the trial of Socrates.

During the ship’s sacred voyage, Athens was to remain ritually “cleansed.” This condition included not conducting any executions. A date for the death of Socrates is established by Xenophon and Seneca reporting that the boat returned after 30 days — which was about twice as long as ordinarily required, but the archaic craft was very vulnerable to bad weather. 30 days is an eminently doubtable nice round number, but where ancient dates are concerned, we takes what we can gets.

“Counting inclusively, as was then the custom, Socrates died on Thargelion 6, which is the very day recorded for his birth,” notes Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy. It’s possible that Socrates’s birthday became associated with Thargelion 6 because Thargelion 6 was associated with Socrates via his execution … but Thargelion 6 became known as man’s execution date. It also happened to be the Athenian festival “Thargelia” (and the day before Plato’s Thargelia 7 birthday).

There are other dates out there. In particular, a number of easily accessible pages claim that the hemlock was downed on May 7, 399. I’m not positive, but it appears to me that this might have originally been arrived at by counting 30 days exclusively from Mounichion 7 to reach Thargelion 7, then noticing that Thargelion typically began sometime in May, and smushing together “May” and “7” from alien calendars … after which it’s been repeated on the basis of previous source’s authority. If there’s better support for this date than I infer, I welcome correction.

For my part, I’ve dated this entry based on the astounding Hellenic Month Established Per Athens calendar, specifically its dates for Thargelion of the 1st year of the 95th Olympiad. Thargelion 6 corresponded to May 18/19, says HMEPA — Greek days began at sundown — and since Socrates died at the end of daylight, just before sunset, that’s a Gregorian May 19th. Again, though, all this is built upon a chain of questionable inferences based on a few questionable passing remarks from just a couple of ancient sources. In the end, one just can’t know for sure.

** Plato reports in the Apology Socrates characterizing himself as such this way — “a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life” by his stings — bequeathing to us the evocative metaphor.

† Find these essential execution-related dialogues here, here, or here, or just the highlights here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,History,Intellectuals,Language,Myths,Notable Jurisprudence,Poison,Popular Culture,Scandal,Uncertain Dates,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1998: Wissam Issa and Hassan Abu Jabal

Add comment May 19th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1998,* Wissam Issa and Hassan Jabal were shockingly hanged in public in Tabarja, Lebanon.

Executions hadn’t seen the outside of prison walls in that country for 15 years at that time — back when there was a civil war on.

But Issa and Jabal were condemned for a home burgling attempt gone wrong(er): when the owners unexpectedly returned, Issa fled — but Jabal gunned them down. They both answered for the murders.

Marched out onto a somewhat jerry-built hanging platform (Issa was stoic; Jabal, unmanned), the two died at dawn before a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 spectators … and plenty of cameras. The grisly proceedings made the nightly news, of course.

“It was horrible,” one Tabarja woman remembered. “The kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at school.”

Oddly enough, it was also the last hanging (private or public) for over five more years to come. Later in 1998, a staunch death penalty foe became Prime Minister, and refused to approve any execution warrants.

* Reports of May 25 instead of May 19 are out there, but that’s easily disproven by, e.g., this Robert Fisk dispatch on the hanging which saw print on May 21, 1998.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1942: Shimon Cohen, ladykiller

2 comments May 19th, 2011 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1942, at close to 11:00 p.m., Shimon Cohen was shot to death in the village of Kalesnik, Lithuania.

A barber by trade, he had somehow managed to evade the roundup and mass shooting of all the Jews in the area eight months before. But he could only postpone capture and death for so long.

The details of Shimon’s death were recorded in the diary of 22-year-old Abelis Veinsteinas, later known as Aba Gefen, a fellow Jew who was also hiding in the area. Gefen and his brother were staying in the home of the Matulevich family in exchange for payment.

On May 18, Gefen wrote:

[Two days ago] Shimon Cohen was caught at friends of his. A fight broke out between the wife of the farmer who was hiding him and the farmer’s sister. One of the women informed on Shimon to the mayor of the village, who told the police. Shimon and the farmer were arrested. They say Shimon asked a priest to come and convert him, because he knows that he will die and he wants to die a a Catholic. I am very sorry to hear that — that he’ll die as a traitor to his people.

Shimon, it seems, was quite the ladies’ man, juggling multiple romantic partners at the same time. As often happens in these cases, it came back to bite him in the ass:

It seems that Shimon was betrayed by Marta, his mistress. When the Germans began to remove Jews from the town, Marta suggested that he hide with her family in the country. He agreed and lived with her at her brother’s house. But Marta’s sister-in-law also fell in love with him. Jealousy and hatred got the better of the two women. Shimon thought he would be able to save his life by declaring his love for both of them. But Marta was furious that he was making love to her sister-in-law and turned him in.

It would be kind of a funny story if it didn’t involve Nazis and death.

As Gefen recorded in subsequent diary entries, one of Shimon’s lady friends tried to save him by pulling some boards loose from the wall of the prison outhouse so he could escape. Shimon did indeed run away, but the authorities quickly caught him and he wasted no time in selling out the woman who had facilitated his escape attempt. (She was arrested, but her ultimate fate is unrecorded.)

In the days prior to his death, Shimon took religious instruction from a priest and was baptized.

At great risk, Gefen would occasionally leave his attic hideout and go to the village to retrieve some more of his family’s valuables to give to the Matuleviches.

He wrote in his diary that he was out on one of those surreptitious excursions, tiptoeing in the dark in his stocking feet, when he heard Shimon Cohen being executed:

When Mrs. Matulevitch and I went to Kalesnik at night and crossed the railroad tracks not far from the road that leads there, we heard shots … Today, when Mrs. Matulevich came back from the village, it turned out that those shots were bullets that killed Shimon Cohen, a Jew who converted just before his death. May Shimon rest in peace — but it was still no way to die.

[…]

Piletsky the partisan shot him. He had shot Jews before. In fact, they say he’s shot seventeen Jews. Now he’s killed Shimon, and he got 15 German marks for his trouble.

Gefen and his brother survived the war, staying with various villagers and occasionally in the fields. He moved to Israel in 1948. He published his diary under the title Hope in Darkness.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Jews,Lithuania,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Shot,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

2005: Richard Cartwright, uncensored

3 comments May 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Richard Cartwright was executed in Texas for robbing and murdering a gay man in Corpus Christi.

Cartwright attained some recognition (if not exactly a plausible purchase on clemency) as the writer of Uncensored from Texas Death Row, a sort of death row blog.

(As befits a blogger in the early 2000s, Cartwright also had a MySpace page, which remains active. “Chi-town” grew up in Chicago. He played youth hockey there, for this club. This is the sort of thing one learns about bloggers.)

Cartwright was admittedly involved in the robbery-murder, though he insisted he wasn’t the one who did the murdering.

Whatever one makes of that, his fairly prolific “Uncensored” series over the last six months of his life furnish a sometimes bracingly personal chronicle of a man among the lowest of the dead … and drawing nearer and nearer to a fate he realizes he cannot avert.

People are looking at me differently, like they are trying to instill into memory or something. They don’t mean to, but they do, and it is spooky. Like I am already dead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Pelf,Texas,USA

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1817: Three criminals in Rome, as witnessed by Lord Byron

5 comments May 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1817, the day before he left his Roman holiday for Venice, Lord Byron saw three criminals beheaded at the Piazza del Popolo.

He wrote all about it in his correspondence with John Murray.

The day before I left Rome* I saw three robbers** guillotined. The ceremony — including the masqued priests; the half-naked executioners; the bandaged criminals; the black Christ and his banner; the scaffold; the soldiery; the slow procession, and the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe; the splash of the blood, and the ghastliness of the exposed heads — is altogether more impressive than the vulgar and ungentlemanly dirty ‘new drop’, and dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence. Two of these men behaved calmly enough, but the first of the three died with great terror and reluctance, which was very horrible. He would not lie down; then his neck was too large for the aperture, and the priest was obliged to drown his exclamations by still louder exhortations. The head was off before the eye could trace the blow; but from an attempt to draw back the head, notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair, the first head was cut off close to the ears: the other two were taken off more cleanly. It is better than the oriental way, and (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. The pain seems little; and yet the effect to the spectator, and the preparation to the criminal, are very striking and chilling. The first turned me quite hot and thirsty, and made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close, but determined to see, as one should, see every thing, once, with attention); the second and third (which shows how dreadfully soon things grow indifferent), I am ashamed to say, had no effect on me as a horror, though I would have saved them if I could.

— Venice, May 30, 1817

* The date is not stated directly in Byron’s missive, but his movements are known in some detail — for instance, this timeline.

** According to the notes of executioner Mastro Titta, the three criminals “‘decapitati’ al Popolo, per omicidi e grassazioni” this day were Giovanni Francesco Trani, Felice Rocchi and Felice De Simoni.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guillotine,Italy,Murder,Papal States,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

June 2019
M T W T F S S
« May    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!