Death by unnatural causes

Methods of murder and torture

It is tempting to think of medieval society as a violent society. Many hundreds of the pictures from the collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and Museum Meermanno seem to confirm this. They show a rich variety of people being tortured and killed. Thanks to the method of description, various types of violent acts can even be separately retrieved from the database, as is shown below. Still, it is very difficult to use these pictures as evidence. They may seem to contain realistic detail, but they never provide an eye-witness account of an event in a 'journalistic' way, since they all date from at least a hundred years after any 'reported' event.

Death by the elements, death by internal causes

It may seem a bit too orderly for the subject, but thanks to the way the pictures are indexed, they can be arranged systematically. So, first we see saint Laurence being killed by the heat of a fire, then a group women, killed by water when drowning themselves. The man who has water poured down his throat, and Socrates who has just drunk from the poisoned cup, obviously die from 'internal causes'.

Death by blows, kicks, pricks, and stabs

The scenes above are from a Miracle de Notre Dame, a Valerius Maximus, a bible and a Book of Hours. We have also included some cross references: one is to the 'first murder' - the slaying of Abel by his brother Cain - and the other to the famous martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, who was also pierced by arrows.

More stabbing, pushing, and pulling

Maerlant's Spieghel Historiael shows how Alexander the Great killed King Porus. From the City of God by Saint Augustine: a couple of lovers make sure they will not commit adultery. A History Bible shows Alexander the Great dealing with another one of his enemies, and the prophet Ezekiel being pulled by a team of horses.

Gruesome torture

A Speculum Humanae Salvationis shows another prophet, Isaiah, being sawn in two. Saint Erasmus, from a Book of Hours, and some anonymous Romans, again from the City of God are victims of disembowelment. Finally, from the Spieghel Historiael, Ganelon is being quartered with the help of four horses.

Death by fire: Saint Laurence is roasted on a gridiron -More images

Death by fire: Saint Laurence is roasted on a gridiron -More images

Women escape being raped by drowning themselves -More images

Women escape being raped by drowning themselves -More images

Soldiers are force feeding a man with water -More images

Soldiers are force feeding a man with water -More images

Socrates drinks from the poisoned cup -More images

Socrates drinks from the poisoned cup -More images

A woman has her son-in-law beaten to death -More images

A woman has her son-in-law beaten to death -More images

M. Atilius Regulus is enclosed in a nail-studded barrel -More images

M. Atilius Regulus is enclosed in a nail-studded barrel -More images

King Achab is accidentally shot with an arrow -More images

King Achab is accidentally shot with an arrow -More images

Murder in the cathedral: Thomas Becket is stabbed -More images

Murder in the cathedral: Thomas Becket is stabbed -More images

Alexander defeats King Porus in single combat -More images

Alexander defeats King Porus in single combat -More images

A man and a woman kill themselves with a dagger to prevent adultery -More images

A man and a woman kill themselves with a dagger to prevent adultery -More images

Alexander pushes Nectanebus from a cliff -More images

Alexander pushes Nectanebus from a cliff -More images

Ezekiel is pulled by horses  -More images

Ezekiel is pulled by horses -More images

Isaiah is sawn in two -More images

Isaiah is sawn in two -More images

The intestines of St. Erasmus are pulled out with a windlass -More images

The intestines of St. Erasmus are pulled out with a windlass -More images

Death by disembowelment: tortures during the Roman Civil War -More images

Death by disembowelment: tortures during the Roman Civil War -More images

The traitor Ganelon is drawn and quartered -More images

The traitor Ganelon is drawn and quartered -More images