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Death by boiling is a method of execution in which a person is immersed in a boiling liquid such as water or oil.



This penalty was carried out using a large cauldron filled with water, oil, tar, tallow or even molten lead. Sometimes the victim was immersed, the liquid then being heated, or he was plunged into the already boiling contents, usually head first. The executioner could then help speed their demise by means of a large hook with which he sank the criminal deeper. An alternative method was to use a large shallow receptacle rather than a cauldron; oil, tallow or pitch then being poured in. The victim was then partially immersed in the liquid and fried to death.[1]

Historical usage

While not as common as other methods of execution, boiling to death has seen widespread use in Europe and Asia over the past two to three thousand years.


In Europe

In Scotland, William de Soulis, a nobleman and Royal Butler was reputedly boiled to death in lead by his disaffected tenantry circa 1320.

In England, statute 22 passed in 1531 by Henry VIII, made boiling a legal form of capital punishment. It was used for poisoners, specifically enacted because one John Roose, who was the cook for the Bishop of Rochester, poisoned a number of people, resulting in two deaths. It was employed again in 1542 for a woman who used poison.[2][3] The act was repealed in 1547.

This form of capital punishment was reserved for counterfeiters during the Middle Ages. These types of executions usually attracted larger crowds than for hangings or beheadings due to their novelty. In the Dutch town of Deventer the kettle that was used for boiling criminals to death can still be seen.[4]

Pomponio Algerio, a civil law student of the University of Padua was boiled in oil for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on 22 August 1556. His sentence was originally for him to have been burned at the stake, but under changes implemented by the Roman Inquisition, this was altered to the new execution method by order of Pope Paul IV shortly before the execution took place.

In Asia

  • In Asia Minor, John the Evangelist is said, by tradition, to have been boiled in oil, and yet miraculously survived, and was thus the only original Apostle of Jesus not to be martyred.
  • The Chinese imperial court used boiling as a form of capital punishment and torture.[citation needed]
  • In 1606, Guru Arjan of the Sikhs was placed on a hot metal plate while searing hot sand was poured on his body from above, for a period of five days after which he died; all this was done on the orders of the Mughal emperor Jahangir.
  • In 19th century Madagascar, Ranavalona I (known as the female Caligula) used boiling as a favourite means of execution for her subjects.
  • In India it is said in "Garuda Puranam", that the people who didn't offer food for orphans and contaminated food are boiled in oil after their death.

Recent events

The government of Uzbekistan under the regime of Islom Karimov[5] have boiled a number of political dissidents. The British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, explains in his memoir Murder in Samarkand that he obtained photos of the corpse of Muzafar Avazov and sent them to a forensic pathologist in Britain, who concluded that the visible injuries were consistent with a living person having been immersed in boiling water.

Popular culture

  • In the video game Dante's Inferno, several shades are shown boiling alive in a metal pot of golden lava (presumably, molten gold) in the fourth circle of Hell where the greedy are punished.


  1. ^ Geoffrey Abbott, Execution blunders, pages 21–22.
  2. ^ Newlin, George (2000), Understanding Great expectations, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, pp. 136, ISBN 9780313299407, OCLC 41488673 
  3. ^ Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie, and Ellery Sedgwick. 1876. Frank Leslie's popular monthly. [New York]: Frank Leslie Pub. House. p 343
  4. ^ Weigh-House, Deventer
  5. ^ Amnesty International - Concerns in Europe and Central Asia July to December 2003

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