18 Examples of Crime and Punishment in the Ancient Persian Empire

A corrupt judge undergoes the punishment of being flayed alive in this late fifteenth century painting. Wikimedia

2. Some criminals were executed by being flayed alive

It was not unusual under the first Persian dynasty to have criminals executed after they had first endured several other tortures. For some capital crimes the subject was first blinded, then striped, and finally executed by being flayed alive. The living victim was sometimes killed by removing the skin in strips, which prolonged the execution and obviously created agonizing pain as each strip was removed. In other cases the entire skin was removed in a single piece. In both instances death usually occurred as a result of heart failure, according to modern analysis. In some executions, only a few strips of skin were removed and the victim left to die of hypothermia, or the resulting infections of the wounds.

Flaying was not new to the Persians, it was practiced by both the Babylonians and the Assyrians prior to their conquest. During the first Persian empire of the Achaemenid dynasty it was recorded by magistrates in all four of the states which comprised the far-flung realm. In one case, a judge was executed (for accepting bribes) by flaying, with the skin used to upholster a chair which was assigned to the judge who succeeded him at the bench, who happened to be the executed judge’s son. Thus the succeeding judge had a daily reminder of the fate which befell his father, and a warning of what would happen to him, should be succumb to the temptation of profitable but illegal dealings within his office.