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Death by Fire: Burning Practices throughout History II

The use of fire as a punishment is often seen in historical accounts of religious events or the treatment of certain religious or political groups. In this article, you will encounter some of the kinds of people that were punished by fire for the kinds of beliefs that they held, including Jewish rabbis and people that did not follow the Christian faith.

One of the Jewish Ten Martyrs

In a period after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jewish history, there were ten rabbis that lived during the era of the Mishnah, who were martyred by the Romans. The rabbis are known as the Ten Martyrs and are mentioned during special Jewish occasions. All of their deaths were horrific with one of the rabbis being wrapped in Torah scrolls and set afire.

Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion was executed for being defiant against Emperor Hadrian and his edicts that went against the practice of the Jewish religion. He is said to have been burned at the stake. The Talmud states that the rabbi was placed on a pyre of green brush and it was set on fire. Wet wool was positioned on his chest so that he would suffer a longer death. The executioner gave in when he heard the rabbi hold onto his beliefs to the very end. He removed the wool and fanned the flame so that his death was swifter. The executioner then leaped into the flames.

Ancient Druid Paganism

Julius Caesar spoke of an ancient Celt way of dealing with thieves and prisoners of war. It is said that they burned people to death inside what they called giant “wicker men.” A large statue of a human was made out of wicker and used for human sacrifice.

The Byzantine Empire

It is believed that Zoroastrians that did not obey the rules during the Byzantine Empire, were subjected to burning as a punishment because a characteristic of their culture was to worship fire. During the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian, he made it a practice to order death by fire coupled with the confiscation of possessions by the State for people against the Christian faith. He made this a method of punishment for heretics in his Codex Iustiniani.

Death by Fire during the Inquisition

Burning people for being a heretic took place throughout history and was seen during the medieval Inquisition. A historian reviewing the burning deaths associated with the Spanish inquisition estimated that 2,000 died on the stake by 1490. This was 10 years after the Inquisition had first started.

Witch Hunts of Europe

The Roman Catholics and Protestants used burning as a form of death for people accused of witchcraft during the hunts that took place in Europe.