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Decapitation or beheading is the total separation of the head from the body. Such an injury is invariably fatal to humans and most other animals, since it deprives the brain of
oxygenated blood Blood is a body fluid Body fluids, bodily fluids, or biofluids are liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics or more generally continuum mechanics, incompressible flow (isochoric process, isochoric flow) refers t ...
, while all other organs are deprived of the
involuntary functions
involuntary functions
that are needed for the body to function. The term ''beheading'' refers to the act of deliberately decapitating a person, either as a means of murder or as an
execution Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ' ...

execution
; it may be performed with an
axe An axe (sometimes ax in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, ...

axe
,
sword A sword is an edged, bladed weapon intended for manual cutting or thrusting. Its blade, longer than a knife A knife (plural knives; from Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Ge ...

sword
,
knife A knife (plural knives; from Old Norse 'knife, dirk') is a tool or weapon with a cutting edge or blade, often attached to a handle or hilt. One of the earliest tools used by humanity, knives appeared at least Stone Age, 2.5 million years ago ...

knife
,
machete Older machete from Latin America file:Gerber Machete.jpg, Gerber Legendary Blades, Gerber machete/saw combo file:Agustín Cruz Tinoco working.jpg, Agustín Cruz Tinoco of San Agustín de las Juntas, Oaxaca uses a machete to carve wood file:Mexi ...

machete
or by mechanical means such as a
guillotine A guillotine ( , also , ) is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. Th ...

guillotine
or
chainsaw A chainsaw (or chain saw) is a portable gasoline-, electric-, or battery-powered saw that cuts with a set of teeth attached to a rotating chain driven along a guide bar. It is used in activities such as tree felling, limbing, Log bucking, bucki ...
. An
executioner An executioner, also known as a hanging, hangman or Decapitation, headsman, is an official who executes a sentence of capital punishment on a legally Death sentence, condemned person. Scope and job The executioner was usually presented ...

executioner
who carries out executions by beheading is sometimes called a
headsman Photograph ( hand-coloured), original dated 1898, of The Lord High Executioner of the former princely state of Rewah, Central India, with large executioner's sword ( Tegha sword) An executioner, also known as a hangman or headsman, is an o ...
. Accidental decapitation can be the result of an explosion, a car or industrial accident, improperly administered execution by
hanging Hanging is the suspension of a person by a noose A noose is a loop at the end of a rope in which the knot tightens under load and can be loosened without untying the knot. The knot can be used to secure a rope to a post, pole, or animal but ...

hanging
or other violent injury.
Suicide Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death Death is the permanent, irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living Living or The Living may refer to: Common meanings *Life, a condition t ...

Suicide
by decapitation is rare but not unknown. The national laws of
Saudi Arabia (''Shahada'') , national_anthem = "National Anthem of Saudi Arabia, " "National Anthem of Saudi Arabia" , image_map = Saudi Arabia (orthographic projection).svg , capital = Riyadh , coordinates ...

Saudi Arabia
,
Yemen ) , image_map = Yemen on the globe (Yemen centered).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Sana'a Sanaa ( ar, صَنْعَاء, ' , Yemeni Arabic: ; Old South Arabian: 𐩮 ...

Yemen
, and
Qatar Qatar (, , or ; ar, قطر, Qaṭar ; local vernacular pronunciation: ), officially the State of Qatar,) is a country in Western Asia. It occupies the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and shares it ...

Qatar
permit beheading; however, in practice, Saudi Arabia is the only country that continues to behead its offenders regularly as a punishment for crime. Less commonly, decapitation can also refer to the removal of the head from a
body Body may refer to: In science * Physical body, an object in physics that represents a large amount, has mass or takes up space * Body (biology), the physical material of an organism * Body plan, the physical features shared by a group of animals ...
that is already dead. This might be done to take the head as a
trophy A trophy is a tangible, durable reminder of a specific achievement, and serves as a recognition or evidence of merit. Trophies are often awarded for sporting events Sport pertains to any form of competitive Competition arises whenever ...
, for public display, to make the deceased more difficult to identify, for
cryonics Cryonics (from el, κρύος ''kryos'' meaning 'cold') is the low-temperature freezing (usually at ) and storage of human remains, with the speculative hope that resurrection Resurrection or anastasis is the concept of coming back to lif ...
, or for other, more esoteric reasons.


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). The past participle of ''decapitare'' is ''decapitatus'' which was used to create ''decapitationem'', the noun form of ''decapitatus'' in Medieval Latin. From the Medieval Latin form, ''decapitationem'', the French word ''décapitation'' was produced.


History

Humans have practiced
capital punishment Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ' ...

capital punishment
by beheading for millennia. The
Narmer Palette The Narmer Palette, also known as the Great Hierakonpolis Palette or the Palette of Narmer, is a significant Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a spanning the and the of . It is bordered by th ...

Narmer Palette
(c. 3000 BCE) 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. Some cultures, such as ancient Rome and Greece regarded decapitation as the most honorable form of death. In the Middle Ages, many European nations continued to reserve the method only for nobles and royalty. In France, the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

French Revolution
made it the only legal method of execution for all criminals regardless of class, one of the period's many symbolic changes. Others have regarded beheading as dishonorable and contemptuous, such as the Japanese troops who beheaded prisoners during World War II. In recent times, it has become associated with terrorism.


Physiological aspects


Pain

If the headsman's
axe An axe (sometimes ax in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, ...

axe
or
sword A sword is an edged, bladed weapon intended for manual cutting or thrusting. Its blade, longer than a knife A knife (plural knives; from Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Ge ...
was sharp and his aim was precise, decapitation was quick and is presumed to be a relatively painless form of
death Death is the permanent, irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living Living or The Living may refer to: Common meanings *Life, a condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organi ...

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 Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Knight of the Garter, KG, Privy Counsellor, PC (; 10 November 1565 – 25 February 1601) was an English nobleman and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Politically ambitious, and a committed general, he was ...

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
, and
Mary, Queen of Scots Mary, Queen of Scots (8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587), also known as Mary Stuart, was List of Scottish monarchs, Queen of Scotland from 14 December 1542 until her forced abdication in 1567. Mary, the only surviving legitimate child of King ...

Mary, Queen of Scots
required three strikes at their respective executions. The same could be said for the execution of
Johann Friedrich Struensee Johann Friedrich, Greve Struensee (5 August 1737 – 28 April 1772) was a German physician, philosopher and statesman. He became royal physician to the mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark Christian VII (29 January 1749 – 13 March 1808) ...

Johann Friedrich Struensee
, favorite of the Danish queen
Caroline Matilda of Great Britain Caroline Matilda of Great Britain ( da, Caroline Mathilde; 22 July 1751 – 10 May 1775) was a member of the House of Hanover The House of Hanover (german: Haus von Hannover), whose members are known as Hanoverians, is a Germans, German dynas ...
.
Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (14 August 1473 – 27 May 1541), was an English peeress. She was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (21 October 144918 February 1478), was a son of Richard ...

Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury
, is said to have required up to 10 strokes before decapitation was achieved. This particular story may, however, be apocryphal (since highly divergent accounts exist). Historian and philosopher
David Hume David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) Cranston, Maurice, and Thomas Edmund Jessop. 2020 999999 or triple nine most often refers to: * 999 (emergency telephone number) 250px, A sign on a beach ...

David Hume
, for example, relates the following about her death: To ensure that the blow would be fatal, executioners' swords usually were blade-heavy two-handed swords. Likewise, if an axe was used, it almost invariably was wielded with both hands. In England a bearded axe was used for beheading, with the blade's edge extending downwards from the tip of the shaft.
Finland Finland ( fi, Suomi ; sv, Finland ), officially the Republic of Finland (; ), is a Nordic country in Northern Europe. It shares land borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and is defined by the Gulf of B ...

Finland
's official beheading axe resides today at the Museum of Crime in
Vantaa Vantaa (; sv, Vanda, ) is a city and municipality A municipality is usually a single administrative division having Municipal corporation, corporate status and powers of self-government or jurisdiction as granted by national and regional ...
. 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.


Physiology of death by decapitation

Decapitation is quickly fatal to
humans Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A speci ...
and most
animals Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular A multicellular organism is an organism In biology, an organism () is any organic, life, living system that functions as an individual entity. All organisms are composed of cells ...

animals
. Unconsciousness occurs within 10 seconds without circulating oxygenated blood (
brain ischemia Brain ischemia is a condition in which there is insufficient blood flow to the brain A brain is an organ (anatomy), organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals. It is located in the head, ...
). Cell death and irreversible
brain damage Neurotrauma, brain damage or brain injury (BI) is the destruction or degeneration of brain cells. Brain injuries occur due to a wide range of internal and external factors. In general, brain damage refers to significant, undiscriminating trau ...
occurs after 3–6 minutes with no oxygen, due to
excitotoxicity In excitotoxicity, nerve cells suffer damage or death when the levels of otherwise necessary and safe neurotransmitter A neurotransmitter is a signaling molecule In biology, cell signaling (cell signalling in British English), or cell-cel ...
. Some anecdotes suggest more extended persistence of human consciousness after decapitation, but most doctors consider this unlikely and consider such accounts to be misapprehensions of reflexive twitching rather than deliberate movement, since deprivation of oxygen must cause nearly immediate coma and death (" onsciousness isprobably lost within 2–3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of intracranial
perfusion Perfusion is the passage of fluid through the circulatory system The circulatory system, also called the cardiovascular system or the vascular system, is an organ system An organ system is a biological system A biological system is a c ...
of blood"). A laboratory study testing for humane methods of euthanasia in awake animals used EEG monitoring to measure the time duration following decapitation for rats to become fully unconscious, unable to perceive distress and pain. It was estimated that this point was reached within 3–4 seconds, correlating closely with results found in other studies on rodents (2.7 seconds, and 3–6 seconds). The same study also suggested that the massive wave which can be recorded by EEG monitoring approximately one minute after decapitation ultimately reflects brain death. Other studies indicate that electrical activity in the brain has been demonstrated to persist for 13 to 14 seconds following decapitation (although it is disputed as to whether such activity implies that pain is perceived), and a 2010 study reported that decapitation of rats generated responses in EEG indices over a period of 10 seconds that have been linked to
nociception Nociception (also nocioception, from Latin ''nocere'' 'to harm Harm is a moral A moral (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was original ...
across a number of different species of animals, including rats. Some animals (such as
cockroach Cockroaches (or roaches) are insects of the order Blattodea, which also includes termites. About 30 cockroach species out of 4,600 are associated with human habitats. Some species are well-known as Pest (organism), pests. The cockroaches are ...

cockroach
es) can survive decapitation, and die not because of the loss of the head directly, but rather because of
starvation Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates t ...

starvation
. A number of other animals, including
snake Snakes are elongated, limbless, carnivore, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes . Like all other Squamata, squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping Scale (zoology), scales. Many species of snakes ...

snake
s, and
turtle Turtles are an order Order, ORDER or Orders may refer to: * Orderliness Orderliness is a quality that is characterized by a person’s interest in keeping their surroundings and themselves well organized, and is associated with other qu ...

turtle
s, have also been known to survive for some time after being decapitated, as they have a slower metabolism, and their
nervous system In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mecha ...

nervous system
s can continue to function at some capacity for a limited time even after connection to the brain is lost, responding to any nearby stimulus. In addition, the bodies of
chicken The chicken (''Gallus gallus domesticus'') is a domestication, domesticated subspecies of the red junglefowl originally from Southeastern Asia. Rooster or cock is a term for an adult male bird, and a younger male may be called a cockerel. A m ...
s and turtles may continue to move temporarily after decapitation. Although
head transplant A head transplant is an experimental surgical operation Surgery ''cheirourgikē'' (composed of χείρ, "hand", and ἔργον, "work"), via la, chirurgiae, meaning "hand work". is a medical or dental specialty that uses operative manual a ...
ation by the reattachment of blood vessels has seen some very limited success in animals, a fully functional reattachment of a severed human head (including repair of the
spinal cord The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue, which extends from the medulla oblongata in the brainstem to the lumbar region of the vertebral column. It encloses the central canal of the spinal cord, which contain ...

spinal cord
, muscles, and other critically important tissues) has not yet been achieved.


Technology


Guillotine

Early versions of the guillotine included the
Halifax Gibbet The Halifax Gibbet was an early guillotine A guillotine ( , also , ) is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned kil ...
, which was used in
Halifax Halifax commonly refers to: *Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada *Halifax, West Yorkshire, England *Halifax (bank), a British bank Halifax may also refer to: Places Australia *Halifax, Queensland *Halifax Bay, North Queensland Canada Nova Scotia *Hali ...
, England, from 1286 until the 17th century, and the "
Maiden Virginity is the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions that place special value and significance on this state, predominantly towards unmarried females, associated with notions ...
", employed in
Edinburgh Edinburgh (; sco, Edinburgh; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 Council areas of Scotland, council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (interchangeably Edinburghshire before 1921), it is ...

Edinburgh
from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The modern form of the
guillotine A guillotine ( , also , ) is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. Th ...

guillotine
was invented shortly before the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

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 Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ' ...

execution
. The French observed a strict code of etiquette surrounding such executions. For example, a man named Legros, one of the assistants at the execution of
Charlotte Corday Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d'Armont (27 July 1768 – 17 July 1793), known as Charlotte Corday (), was a figure of the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) refers to the period that began with the Estates General of 1789 and ...

Charlotte Corday
, was imprisoned for three months and dismissed for slapping the face of the victim after the blade had fallen in order to see whether any flicker of life remained. The guillotine was used in France during the French Revolution and remained the normal judicial method in both peacetime and wartime into the 1970s, although the
firing squad Execution by firing squad, in the past sometimes called fusillading (from the French ''fusil'', rifle), is a method of capital punishment Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killin ...
was used in certain cases. France abolished the death penalty in 1981. The guillotine was also used in
Algeria ) , image_map = Algeria (centered orthographic projection).svg , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Algiers , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , religion = , official_languages = , languages_type = Oth ...

Algeria
before the
French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a transcontinental country This is a list of co ...

French
relinquished control of it, as shown in
Gillo Pontecorvo Gillo Pontecorvo (; 19 November 1919 – 12 October 2006) was an Italian filmmaker. He worked as a film director for more than a decade before his best known film '' La battaglia di Algeri'' (''The Battle of Algiers'', 1966) was released. It won th ...

Gillo Pontecorvo
's film ''
The Battle of Algiers ''The Battle of Algiers'' ( it, La battaglia di Algeri; ar, معركة الجزائر, Maʿrakat al-Jazāʾir) is a 1966 Italian- Algerian historical History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by in ...
''. Another guillotine existed in
Vatican City Vatican City (), officially the Vatican City State ( it, Stato della Città del Vaticano; la, Status Civitatis Vaticanae),—' * german: Vatikanstadt, cf. '—' (in Austria: ') * pl, Miasto Watykańskie, cf. '—' * pt, Cidade do Vatica ...

Vatican City
until recent years. It had been brought in by
Napoleon Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) refers to the period that began with the Estates General o ...

Napoleon
's forces during the early 19th century; and, as of 1870, the
pope The pope ( la, papa, from el, πάππας, translit=pappas, "father"), also known as the supreme pontiff () or the Roman pontiff (), is the bishop of Diocese of Rome, Rome, chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, and head of state o ...

pope
still claimed the authority to use it. The
Holy See The Holy See ( lat, Sancta Sedes, ; it, Santa Sede ), also called the See of Rome or Apostolic See, is the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian ...
has since abolished capital punishment within its own jurisdiction, and recent popes have condemned capital punishment wherever it is still practised.


German Fallbeil

Many German states had used a
guillotine A guillotine ( , also , ) is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. Th ...

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 ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inh ...

Germany
until the abolition of the death penalty in
West Germany West Germany is the common English name for the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG; german: Bundesrepublik Deutschland , BRD) between its formation on 23 May 1949 and the German reunification German reunification (german: Deutsche Wieder ...
in 1949. It was last used in communist
East Germany East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic (GDR; german: Deutsche Demokratische Republik, , DDR, ), was a state that existed from 1949 to 1990 in eastern Eastern may refer to: Transportation *China Eastern Airlines, a current ...
in 1966. In
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany, (lit. "National Socialist State"), ' (lit. "Nazi State") for short; also ' (lit. "National Socialist Germany") officially known as the German Reich from 1933 until 1943, and the Greater German Reich from 1943 to 1945, was ...

Nazi Germany
, the ''Fallbeil'' was reserved for common criminals and people convicted of
political crime In criminology Criminology (from Latin , "accusation", and Ancient Greek , ''-logia'', from λόγος ''logos'' meaning: "word, reason") is the study of crime and Deviance (sociology), deviant behaviour. Criminology is an interdisciplin ...
s, including
treason Treason is the crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition,Farmer, Lindsay: "Cr ...
. Members of the
White Rose The White Rose (german: Weiße Rose, ) was a non-violent, intellectual Widerstand, resistance group in Nazi Germany which was led by five students (and one professor) at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, University of Munich, includi ...

White Rose
resistance movement, a group of students in
Munich Munich ( ; german: München ; bar, Minga ) is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria. With a population of 1,558,395 inhabitants as of 31 July 2020, it is the List of cities in Germany by population, third-largest city in Germany, ...

Munich
that included siblings
Sophie Sophie is a version of the female given name Sophia (given name), Sophia, meaning "wisdom". People with the name Born in the Middle Ages * Sophie, Countess of Bar (c. 1004 or 1018–1093), sovereign Countess of Bar and lady of Mousson * Sophie of ...
and
Hans Scholl Hans Fritz Scholl (; 22 September 1918 – 22 February 1943) was, along with Alexander Schmorell, one of the two founding members of the White Rose Widerstand, resistance movement in Nazi Germany. The principal author of the resistance mo ...

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 The Weimar Republic (german: Weimarer Republik ) was the German state from 1918 to 1933 when it functioned as a federal constitutional republic. The state was officially named the German Reich (german: Deutsches Reich, link=no, label=none), ...
. Nonetheless, it is estimated that some 16,500 persons were guillotined in Germany and
Austria Austria (, ; german: Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (german: Republik Österreich, links=no, ), is a landlocked Eastern Alps, East Alpine country in the southern part of Central Europe. It is composed of nine States o ...

Austria
between 1933 and 1945, a number that includes
resistance fighter A resistance movement is an organized effort by some portion of the civil population of a country to withstand the legally established government or an occupying power and to disrupt civil order and stability. It may seek to achieve its objectives t ...
s both within Germany itself and in . As these resistance fighters were not part of any
regular army A regular army is the official army of a state or country (the official armed forces A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare War is an intens ...
, they were considered common criminals and were in many cases
transported ''Transported'' is an Australian convict melodrama film directed by W. J. Lincoln. It is considered a lost film. Plot In England, Jessie Grey is about to marry Leonard Lincoln but the evil Harold Hawk tries to force her to marry him and she woun ...
to Germany for execution. Decapitation was considered a "dishonorable" death, in contrast to
execution by firing squad Execution by firing squad, in the past sometimes called fusillading (from the French ''fusil'', ), is a method of , particularly common in the and in times of . Execution by is a fairly old practice. Some reasons for its use are that s are usu ...
.


Historical practices by nation


Africa


Congo

In the
Democratic Republic of Congo The Democratic Republic of the Congo ( french: République démocratique du Congo (RDC) ), also known as Congo-Kinshasa, DR Congo, the DRC, the DROC, or the Congo, and formerly Zaire Zaire (, ), officially the Republic of Zaire (frenc ...

Democratic Republic of Congo
, the conflict and ethnic massacre between local army and Kamuina Nsapu rebels has caused several deaths and atrocities such as rape and mutilation. One of them is decapitation, both a fearsome way to intimidate victims as well as an act that may include 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. 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 Cannibalism is the act of consuming another individual of the same species as food Food is any substance consumed to provide Nutrient, nutritional support for an organism. Food is usually of plant, animal or Fungus, fungal origin, and con ...

cannibalism
. 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", which may be linked to the fact that Congolese militias are particularly brutal in their acts of violence toward women and children. 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 militant carrying the young woman's head, but despite the efforts of the investigation, the head was never found. According to a report published on 29 May 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, where they lost the track of the victim's head.


Asia


Azerbaijan

During the 2016 Armenian–Azerbaijani clashes, an Armenian serviceman, Kyaram Sloyan, was reportedly decapitated by the Azerbaijani servicemen; Azerbaijan refuted this.Armenian soldiers' bodies not decapitated or desecrated, says Azerbaijan
// azvision.az.
Several reports of decapitation, along with other types of mutilation of the Armenian POWs by Azerbaijani soldiers were recorded during the
2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war was an armed conflict between Azerbaijan Azerbaijan (, ; az, Azərbaycan ), officially the Republic of Azerbaijan ( az, Azərbaycan Respublikası ), is a country in the Transcaucasia, Caucasus region of Eu ...

2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war
.


China

In traditional
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

China
, decapitation was considered a more severe form of punishment than
strangulation Strangling is compression of the neck that may lead to unconsciousness Unconsciousness is a state which occurs when the ability to maintain an awareness of self and environment is lost. It involves a complete, or near-complete, lack of re ...
, although strangulation caused more prolonged suffering. This was because in
Confucian Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC ...

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 the English ). 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 The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
due to the lingering death it caused. In some tales, people did not die immediately after decapitation.


India

The British officer
John Masters Lieutenant Colonel John Masters, DSO, OBE (26 October 1914 – 7 May 1983) was a British novelist and regular officer of the Indian Army The Indian Army is the Land warfare, land-based branch and the largest component of the Indian Arme ...
recorded in his autobiography that
Pathans Pashtuns (, or ; ps, پښتانه, ; or Pathans), historically known as Afghan (ethnonym), Afghans,, ''Afğân'' or Bactrian language, Bactrian Abgân - αβγανο are an Iranian peoples, Iranian ethnic group native to Central Asia, Centr ...

Pathans
in British India during the
Anglo-Afghan War Anglo-Afghan War may refer to: * First Anglo-Afghan War The First Anglo-Afghan War ( fa, جنگ اول افغان و انگلیس), also known by the British as the Disaster in Afghanistan, was fought between the British Empire The Bri ...
s would behead enemy soldiers who were captured, such as British and Sikh soldiers.


Japan

In
Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an in ...

Japan
, decapitation was a common punishment, sometimes for minor offences.
Samurai were the hereditary military nobility and officer caste of History of Japan#Medieval Japan (1185–1573/1600), medieval and Edo period, early-modern Japan from the late 12th century to their abolition in 1876. They were the well-paid retainer ...

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 , sometimes referred to as harakiri (, , a native Japanese kun reading are the adopted logographic In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Writt ...

seppuku
(ritual
suicide Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death Death is the permanent, irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living Living or The Living may refer to: Common meanings *Life, a condition t ...

suicide
by
disembowelment Disembowelment or evisceration is the removal of some or all of the organ Organ may refer to: Biology * Organ (anatomy) An organ is a group of Tissue (biology), tissues with similar functions. Plant life and animal life rely on many organs ...
). After the victim had sliced his own
abdomen The abdomen (colloquially called the belly, tummy, midriff or stomach) is the part of the body between the thorax (chest) and pelvis, in humans and in other vertebrates. The abdomen is the front part of the abdominal segment of the Trunk (anatomy) ...

abdomen
open, another warrior would strike his head off from behind with a
katana A is a Japanese sword A is one of several types of traditionally made sword A sword is an intended for manual cutting or thrusting. Its blade, longer than a or , is attached to a and can be straight or curved. A thrusting sword ...

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 The is a period in History of Japan, Japanese history of near-constant civil war, social upheaval, and intrigue from 1467 to 1615. The Sengoku period was initiated by the Ōnin War in 1467 which collapsed the Feudalism, feudal system of Japan ...
, 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. One of the most brutal decapitations was that of (杉谷善住坊), who attempted to assassinate
Oda Nobunaga was a Japanese daimyo were powerful Japanese magnate A magnate, from the late Latin ''magnas'', a great man, itself from Latin ''magnus'', "great", is a noble or a man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities. ...

Oda Nobunaga
, a prominent ''
daimyō were powerful Japanese magnate A magnate, from the late Latin ''magnas'', a great man, itself from Latin ''magnus'', "great", is a noble or a man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities. In reference to the Middle Age ...
'', in 1570. After being caught, Zenjubō was buried alive in the ground with only his head out, and the head was slowly sawn off with a bamboo saw by passers-by for several days (punishment by sawing; ' (鋸挽き). These unusual punishments were abolished in the early
MeijiMeiji, the Romanization of Japanese, romanization of the Japanese language, Japanese Japanese writing system, characters wiktionary:明, 明 wiktionary:治, 治 , may refer to: Japanese emperor and era * Emperor Meiji, the Emperor of Japan between ...
era. A similar scene is described in the last page of James Clavell's book ''Shōgun''.


Korea

Historically, decapitation had been the most common method of execution in Korea, until it was replaced by
hanging Hanging is the suspension of a person by a noose A noose is a loop at the end of a rope in which the knot tightens under load and can be loosened without untying the knot. The knot can be used to secure a rope to a post, pole, or animal but ...

hanging
in 1896. Professional executioners were called (망나니) and they were volunteered from death-rows.


Pakistan

Pakistan's government employs death by hanging for capital punishment. Since 2007, militants from Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan have used beheadings as a form of punishment for opponents, criminals and spies in the north west region of Pakistan. Severed heads of opponents or government officials in Swat were left on popular street corners in order to terrorize local population. The beheadings have stopped in Swat since the military incursion and sweep-up that began in May 2009 and ended in June 2009. Three Sikhs were beheaded by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2010.
Daniel Pearl Daniel Pearl (October 10, 1963 – February 1, 2002) was an American journalist who worked for ''The Wall Street Journal.'' He was kidnapped and later decapitated by terrorists in Pakistan.' Pearl was born in Princeton University, Princeton ...
was beheaded by his captors in the city of
Karachi Karachi (; ur, ; ; ALA-LC ALA-LC (American Library Association - Library of Congress) is a set of standards for romanization, the representation of text in other writing systems using the Latin script. Applications The system is used to re ...

Karachi
. Despite official condemnation from the state itself, such beheading continues to flourish in the Taliban strongholds of
Baluchistan Balochistan (; bal, بلوچِستان; also romanised as Baluchistan) is an arid A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or preventing the growth and development Development ...

Baluchistan
and
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (; ps, خیبر پښتونخوا; ), often abbreviated as KP or KPK and formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province , conventional_long_name = North-West Frontier Province , common_name = NWFP , nation = British Indi ...
.


Thailand

Historically, decapitation had been the main method of execution in Thailand, until it was replaced by
shooting Shooting is the act or process of discharging a projectile from a ranged weapon (such as a gun, bow and arrow, bow, crossbow, slingshot, or blowgun, blowpipe). Even the acts of launching flamethrower, flame, artillery, dart (missile), darts, ha ...
in 1934.


Europe


Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the
war in Bosnia and Herzegovina The Bosnian War ( sh, Rat u Bosni i Hercegovini / Рат у Босни и Херцеговини) was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. The war is commonly seen as having starte ...
(1992–1995) there were a number of ritual beheadings of Serbs and Croats who were taken as prisoners of war by
mujahedin ''Mujahideen'' ( ar, مجاهدين ') is the plural form of ''mujahid'' (fighter in the way of Allah)( ar, مجاهد, links=no), the Arabic term for one engaged in ''jihad'' (literally, "struggle"). The English term ''jihadists'' grammatical ...
members of the
Bosnian Army The Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (OSBiH; ''Oružane snage Bosne i Hercegovine'' / Оружане снаге Босне и Херцеговине, ОСБИХ) is the official military A military, also known collectively as arme ...
. At least one case is documented and proven in court by the
ICTY The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was a body of the United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and international security, secur ...
where mujahedin, members of 3rd Corps of Army BiH, beheaded
Bosnian Serb The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina ( sr-cyr, Срби у Босни и Херцеговини, Srbi u Bosni i Hercegovini) are one of the three constitutive nations (state-forming nations) of the country, predominantly residing in the politic ...
Dragan Popović.


Britain

In
British history The British Isles The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe Continental Europe or mainland Europe is the contiguous continent A continent is any o ...
, beheading was typically used for noblemen, while commoners would be hanged; eventually, hanging was adopted as the standard means of non-military executions. The last actual execution by beheading was of
Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (c. 1667 – 9 April 1747, London), nicknamed 'the Fox', was a Scottish Jacobite and Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat, known for his feuding and changes of allegiance. In 1715, he had been a supporter of the Hou ...
on 9 April 1747, while a number of convicts (typically traitors were sentenced to be
hanged, drawn and quartered To be hanged, drawn and quartered became a statutory A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislature, legislative authority that governs the legal entities of a city, State (polity), state, or country by way of consent. Typically, ...
, a method which had already been discontinued) were beheaded posthumously up to the early 19th century. Beheading was degraded to a secondary means of execution, including for treason, with the abolition of drawing and quartering in 1870 and finally abolished by the
Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1973 The Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1973 (c 39) is an Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It implemented recommendations contained in the fourth report on statute law revision, by the Law Commission and ...
. One of the most notable executions by decapitation in Britain was that of
King Charles I of England Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was King of England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. ...

King Charles I of England
, who was beheaded outside the
Banqueting House In English architecture 's 'Gherkin' (2004) rises above the sixteenth century St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London The City of London is a City status in the United Kingdom, city, Ceremonial counties of England, ceremonial county and l ...

Banqueting House
in
Whitehall Whitehall is a road and area in the City of Westminster, Central London. The road forms the first part of the A roads in Zone 3 of the Great Britain numbering scheme, A3212 road from Trafalgar Square to Chelsea, London, Chelsea. It is the main ...

Whitehall
in 1649, after being captured by parliamentarians during the
English Civil War The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of civil wars A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, ...
.


Celts

The
Celts The Celts (, see pronunciation of ''Celt'' for different usages) are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry: Celtic a collection of Indo-European peoples The Indo-European languages ar ...

Celts
of western Europe long pursued a "cult of the severed head", as evidenced by both Classical literary descriptions and archaeological contexts. This cult played a central role in their temples and religious practices and earned them a reputation as
head hunters ''Head Hunters'' is the twelfth studio album An album is a collection of audio recordings issued as a collection on compact disc The compact disc (CD) is a digital Digital usually refers to something using digits, particularly bin ...
among the Mediterranean peoples.
Diodorus Siculus Diodorus Siculus, or Diodorus of Sicily ( grc-gre, Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης ;  1st century BC), was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern ...
, in his 1st-century '' Historical Library'' (5.29.4) wrote the following 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. However, Greeks and Romans both employed decapitation and other horrific tortures, highlighting a tendency to view practices as more shocking when carried out by an outside group, even if the practices are essentially similar. According to
Paul Jacobsthal Paul Jacobsthal (23 February 1880 in Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as of 31 December 2019 makes ...
, "Amongst the Celts the
human head In human anatomy, the head is at the top of the human body The human body is the structure of a Human, human being. It is composed of many different types of Cell (biology), cells that together create Tissue (biology), tissues and subsequentl ...

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." 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 The Green Knight ( cy, Marchog Gwyrdd, kw, Marghek Gwyrdh, br, Marc'heg Gwer) is a character from the 14th-century Arthurian legend, Arthurian poem ''Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'' and the related medieval work ''The Greene Knight''. His ...
picks up his own severed head after Gawain has struck it off, just as Saint Denis carried his head to the top of
Montmartre Montmartre ( , , ) is a large hill in 18th arrondissement of Paris, Paris's 18th arrondissement. It is high and gives its name to the surrounding district, part of the Rive Droite, Right Bank in the northern section of the city. The histori ...

Montmartre
.Wilhelm, James J. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." The Romance of Arthur. Ed. Wilhelm, James J. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994. 399–465. A further example of this regeneration after beheading lies in the tales of
Connemara Connemara ( ga, Conamara ) is a region on the Atlantic coast of western County Galway County Galway ( ; gle, Contae na Gaillimhe) is a in . It is in the , taking up the south of the of . There are several in the west of the count ...

Connemara
's Saint Féchín, who after being beheaded by
Vikings Vikings—"pirate", non, víkingr is the modern name given to seafaring people primarily from Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skadesi-suolu''/''Skađsuâl''. ( ) is a in , with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. In ...

Vikings
carried his head to the Holy Well on Omey Island and on dipping it into the well placed it back upon his neck and was restored to full health.Charles-Edwards, ''Early Christian Ireland'', p. 467 n. 82.


Classical antiquity

The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded decapitation as a comparatively honorable form of execution for criminals. The traditional procedure, however, included first being tied to a stake and whipped with rods. Axes were used by the Romans, and later swords, which were considered a more honorable instrument of death. Those who could verify that they were Roman citizens were to be beheaded, rather than undergoing the much more horrific experience of
crucifixion Crucifixion is a method of capital punishment Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the ...

crucifixion
. In the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the classical Roman civilization, run through public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an indiv ...
of the early 1st century BC, it became the tradition for the severed heads of public enemies—such as the political opponents of Marius and
Sulla Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (; 138–78 BC), commonly known as Sulla, was a Roman general A general officer is an officer of high rank in the armies, and in some nations' air forces, space forces, or marines Marines or naval infan ...

Sulla
, for example—to be publicly displayed on the
Rostra The rostra ( it, Rostri, links=no) was a large platform built in the city of Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metrop ...

Rostra
in the
Forum Romanum The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Th ...

Forum Romanum
after execution. Perhaps the most famous such victim was
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Cicero
who, on instructions from
Mark Antony Marcus Antonius (14 January 1 August 30 BC), commonly known in English as Mark Antony, was a Ancient Rome, Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the Crisis of the Roman Republic, transformation of the Roman Republic f ...
, had his hands (which had penned the ''
Philippicae The ''Philippics'' ( la, Philippicae) are a series of 14 speeches composed by Cicero in 44 and 43 BC, condemning Mark Antony. Cicero likened these speeches to those of Demosthenes against Philip II of Macedon; both Demosthenes’s and Cice ...
'' against Antony) and his head cut off and nailed up for display in this manner.


France

In France, until the abolition of capital punishment in 1981, the main method of execution had been by beheading by means of the
guillotine A guillotine ( , also , ) is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. Th ...

guillotine
. Other than a small number of military cases where a firing squad was used (including that of
Jean Bastien-Thiry Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry (; 19 October 1927 – 11 March 1963) was a French Air Force The French Air and Space Force (AAE) (french: Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace, ) is the air File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Ear ...
) the guillotine was the only legal method of execution from 1791, when it was introduced by the
Legislative Assembly Legislative assembly is the name given in some countries to either a legislature A legislature is an deliberative assembly, assembly with the authority to make laws for a Polity, political entity such as a Sovereign state, country or city. ...
during the last days of the kingdom
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

French Revolution
, until 1981. Before the revolution, beheading had typically been reserved to noblemen and carried out manually. In 1981, President
François Mitterrand François Marie Adrien Maurice Mitterrand (26 October 19168 January 1996) was a French statesman who served as President of France The president of France, officially the President of the French Republic (french: Président de la Républiqu ...
abolished capital punishment and issued commutations for those whose sentences had not been carried out. The first person executed by the guillotine (in France) was highwayman
Nicolas Jacques Pelletier Nicolas Jacques Pelletier (c. 175625 April 1792) was a French highwayman A highwayman was a robber Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take anything of value by force, threat of force, or by putting the victim in fear. Accor ...
in April 1792. The last execution was of murderer
Hamida Djandoubi Hamida Djandoubi ( ar, حميدة جندوبي; September 22, 1949 in Tunis ''Tounsi'' french: Tunisois , population_note = , population_urban = , population_metro = 2869529 , population_densit ...
, in Marseilles, in 1977. Throughout its extensive overseas colonies and dependencies, the device was also used, including on in 1889 and on
Martinique Martinique ( , ; gcf, label=Martinican Creole Antillean Creole (Antillean French Creole, Kreyol, Kwéyòl, Patois) is a French-based creole languages, French-based creole, which is primarily spoken in the Lesser Antilles. Its grammar and ...

Martinique
 as late as 1965.


Germany

*
Fritz Haarmann Friedrich Heinrich Karl "Fritz" Haarmann (25 October 1879 – 15 April 1925) was a German serial killer, known as the Butcher of Hanover, the Vampire of Hanover and the Wolf Man, who committed the sexual assault, murder, mutilation and dismemberm ...
, a serial killer from
Hannover Hanover (; german: Hannover ; nds, Hannober) is the capital and largest city of the German States of Germany, state of Lower Saxony. Its 534,049 (2020) inhabitants make it the List of cities in Germany by population, 13th-largest city in Germa ...

Hannover
who was sentenced to death for killing 27 young men, was decapitated in April 1925. He was nicknamed "The Butcher from Hannover" and was rumored to have sold his victims' flesh to his neighbor's restaurant. * In July 1931, notorious serial killer
Peter Kürten Peter Kürten (; 26 May 1883 – 2 July 1931) was a German serial killer, known as "The Vampire of Düsseldorf" and the "Düsseldorf Monster", who committed a series of murders and sexual assaults between February and November 1929 in the city of ...
, known as "The Vampire of Düsseldorf", was executed on the guillotine in
Cologne Cologne ( ; german: Köln ; ksh, Kölle ) is the largest city of Germany, Germany's most populous States of Germany, state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and the List of cities in Germany by population, fourth-most populous city and one of t ...

Cologne
. * On 1 August 1933, in Altona,
Bruno Tesch Bruno Emil Tesch (14 August 1890 – 16 May 1946) was a German chemist and entrepreneur. Together with Gerhard Peters and Walter Heerdt, he invented the insecticide Zyklon B. He was the owner of Tesch & Stabenow (called ''Testa''), a pest contr ...
and three others were beheaded. These were the first executions in the
Third Reich Nazi Germany, (lit. "National Socialist State"), ' (lit. "Nazi State") for short; also ' (lit. "National Socialist Germany") officially known as the German Reich from 1933 until 1943, and the Greater German Reich from 1943 to 1945, was ...
. 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. *
Marinus van der Lubbe#REDIRECT Marinus van der Lubbe Marinus van der Lubbe (13 January 1909 – 10 January 1934) was a Dutch communist who was tried, convicted and executed for setting fire to the German Reichstag building on 27 February 1933, an event known as the R ...

Marinus van der Lubbe
by guillotine in 1934 after a
show trial A show trial is a public trial Public trial or open trial is a trial (law), trial that is open to the public, as opposed to a secret trial. It should not be confused with a show trial. United States The Sixth Amendment to the United States ...
in which he was found guilty of starting the
Reichstag fire The Reichstag fire (german: Reichstagsbrand, ) was an arson attack on the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament in Berlin, on Monday 27 February 1933, precisely four weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. Hit ...
. * 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. Stellbrink had explained the raid next morning in his Palm Sunday sermon as a "trial by ordeal", which the Nazi authorities interpreted to be an attack on their system of government and as such undermined morale and aided the enemy. * In October 1944, Werner Seelenbinder was executed by manual beheading, the last legal use of the method (other than by guillotine) in both Europe and the rest of the Western world. 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 Hans Fritz Scholl (; 22 September 1918 – 22 February 1943) was, along with Alexander Schmorell, one of the two founding members of the White Rose Widerstand, resistance movement in Nazi Germany. The principal author of the resistance mo ...

Hans Scholl
, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst of the
White Rose The White Rose (german: Weiße Rose, ) was a non-violent, intellectual Widerstand, resistance group in Nazi Germany which was led by five students (and one professor) at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, University of Munich, includi ...

White Rose
protest movement, were all beheaded by the Nazi Germany, Nazi State. Four other members of the
White Rose The White Rose (german: Weiße Rose, ) was a non-violent, intellectual Widerstand, resistance group in Nazi Germany which was led by five students (and one professor) at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, University of Munich, includi ...

White Rose
, an anti-Nazi group, were also executed by the People's Court (Germany), People's Court later that same year. The anti-Nazi Helmuth Hübener was also decapitated by People's Court order. * In 1966, former Auschwitz doctor Horst Fischer was executed by the German Democratic Republic by guillotine, the last executed by this method outside France. Beheading was subsequently replaced by shooting in the neck.


Nordic countries

In Nordic countries, decapitation was the usual means of carrying out capital punishment. Noblemen were beheaded with a
sword A sword is an edged, bladed weapon intended for manual cutting or thrusting. Its blade, longer than a knife A knife (plural knives; from Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Ge ...

sword
, and commoners with an
axe An axe (sometimes ax in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, ...

axe
. The last executions by decapitation in
Finland Finland ( fi, Suomi ; sv, Finland ), officially the Republic of Finland (; ), is a Nordic country in Northern Europe. It shares land borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and is defined by the Gulf of B ...

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 axe in 1900. It was replaced by the guillotine, which was used for the first and only time on Johan Alfred Ander in 1910. The official beheading axe of Finland resides today in the Museum of Crime,
Vantaa Vantaa (; sv, Vanda, ) is a city and municipality A municipality is usually a single administrative division having Municipal corporation, corporate status and powers of self-government or jurisdiction as granted by national and regional ...
.


Spain

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.


Middle East


Iran

Iran, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has alleged it uses beheading as one of the methods of punishment.


Iraq

Though not officially sanctioned, legal beheadings were carried out against at least 50 prostitutes and pimps under Saddam Hussein as late as 2000. Beheadings have emerged as another terrorism, terror tactic especially in Iraq since 2003. 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 beheading video, beheadings are videotaped and made available on the Internet. One of the most publicized of such executions was that of Nick Berg. Judicial execution is practiced in Iraq, but is generally carried out by
hanging Hanging is the suspension of a person by a noose A noose is a loop at the end of a rope in which the knot tightens under load and can be loosened without untying the knot. The knot can be used to secure a rope to a post, pole, or animal but ...

hanging
.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a criminal justice system based on Shari'ah law reflecting a particular state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam. Crimes such as rape, murder, apostasy, and sorcery are punishable by beheading. It is usually carried out Public execution, publicly by beheading with a sword. A public beheading will typically take place around 9am. The convicted person is walked into the square and kneels in front of the executioner. The executioner uses a sword to remove the condemned person's head from his or her body at the neck with a single strike. After the convicted person is pronounced dead, a police official announces the crimes committed by the beheaded alleged criminal and the process is complete. The official might announce the same before the actual execution. This is the most common method of execution in Saudi Arabia. According to Amnesty International, at least 79 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2013. Foreigners are not exempt, accounting for "almost half" of executions in 2013.


Syria

The Syrian government employs hanging as its method of capital punishment. However, the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State, which controlled territory in much of eastern Syria, had regularly carried out beheadings of people. Syrian rebels attempting to overthrow the Syrian government have been implicated in beheadings too.


North America


Mexico

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Ignacio Allende, José Mariano Jiménez and Juan Aldama were tried for treason, executed by
firing squad Execution by firing squad, in the past sometimes called fusillading (from the French ''fusil'', rifle), is a method of capital punishment Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killin ...
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. This trend of beheading and publicly displaying the decapitated bodies was started by the Los Zetas, a criminal group composed by former Mexican special forces operators, trained in the infamous ''US Army School of the americas'', in enhanced interrogation techniques, torture techniques and psychological warfare.


United States

The United States government has never employed beheading as a legal method of execution. However, beheading has sometimes been used in mutilations of the dead, particularly of black people like Nat Turner, who led a rebellion against slavery. When caught, he was publicly hanged, flayed, and beheaded. This was a technique used by many enslavers to discourage the "frequent bloody uprisings" that were carried out by "kidnapped Africans". While bodily dismemberment of various kinds was employed to instill terror, Dr. Erasmus D. Fenner noted postmortem decapitation was particularly effective. US soldiers have committed decapitations in various invasions and/or conquests, including of the Native Americans, the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam. 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". Some of the victims were "very young". General George Patton IV, son of the famous WWII general George S. Patton, was known for keeping "macabre souvenirs", such as "a Vietnamese skull that sat on his desk." Other Americans "hacked the heads off Vietnamese to keep, trade, or exchange for prizes offered by commanders." As a terror tactic, "some American troops hacked the heads off... dead [Vietnamese] and mounted them on pikes or poles". 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.


Notable people who have been beheaded


See also

* Atlanto-occipital dislocation, where the human skull, skull is dislodged from the Vertebral column, spine; a generally, but not always, fatal injury. * Beheading in Islam * Beheading video * Blood atonement * Blood squirt, a result from a decapitation. * Cephalophore, a martyred saint who supposedly carries his/her severed head. * Chhinnamasta, a Hindu goddess who supposedly decapitates herself and holds her head in her hand. * Cleveland Torso Murderer, a serial killer who decapitated some of his victims. * Dismemberment * François-Jean de la Barre * Headhunting * List of methods of capital punishment * Mike the Headless Chicken


Notes


References


External links


Crime Library


{{Capital punishment Decapitation, Execution methods Capital punishment Causes of death