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Perillos being forced into the brazen bull that he built for Phalaris

The brazen bull, bronze bull, or the Sicilian bull is a torture and execution device designed in ancient Greece. Perillos of Athens, a brass-founder, proposed to Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas, Sicily, the invention of a new means for executing criminals.[1] Accordingly, he cast a bull, made entirely of brass, hollow, with a door in the side. The condemned were shut in the bull and a fire was set under it, heating the metal until it became yellow hot and causing the person inside to roast to death.

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History

A brazen bull as depicted by Hans Burgkmair the Elder

Phalaris commanded that the bull be designed in such a way that its smoke rose in spicy clouds of incense.[2 ] The head of the ox was designed with a complex system of tubes and stops so that the prisoner's screams were converted into sounds like the bellowing of an infuriated bull.[3] It is also said that when the bull was reopened, the scorched bones of the remains shone like jewels and were made into bracelets.[2 ]

Perillos said to Phalaris: “[his screams] will come to you through the pipes as the tenderest, most pathetic, most melodious of bellowings”.[4] Phalaris ordered its horn sound system to be tested on Perillos himself. When Perillos entered, he was immediately locked in, and the fire was set, so that Phalaris could hear the sound of his screams.[4] Before Perillos could die, Phalaris opened the door and took him away. Perillos believed he would receive a reward for his invention; instead, after freeing him from the bull, Phalaris threw him from the top of a hill, killing him. Phalaris himself is said to have been killed in the brazen bull when he was overthrown by Telemachus, the ancestor of Theron.[2 ]

Uses of device

The Romans were recorded as having used this torture device to kill some Christian martyrs, notably Saint Eustace, who, according to Christian tradition, was roasted in a brazen bull with his wife and children by the Emperor Hadrian. The same happened to Saint Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum during the persecutions of Emperor Domitian, and the first martyr in Asia Minor, roasted to death in a brazen bull in c. 92.[2 ] The device was still in use two centuries later, when another Christian martyr, Saint Pelagia of Tarsus, is said to have been burned in one in 287 by the Emperor Diocletian.

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