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An image stone on Gotland, Sweden, with imagery from the tradition of the Völsunga saga and Nibelungenlied. Note the slain Sigurd with Andvarinaut on the top of the stone, and a lady who puts snakes into a snake pit. This particular execution is described in Atlakviða and Oddrúnargrátr, and the murdered man is Gunnarr, the King of Burgundy.

Snake pits were a historical European means of imposing capital punishment. Convicts were cast into a deep pit containing venomous snakes, such as vipers. They died from snake venom poisoning as the irritated snakes attacked them. An example of execution by this method is that of the Viking warlord Ragnar Lodbrok in 865, after his army was defeated in battle by King Aelle II of Northumbria.

An older legend recorded in in Atlakviða and Oddrúnargrátr tells that Attila the Hun murdered Gunnarr, the King of Burgundy, in a snake pit.

A similar penalty appeared in ancient China during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-960). The southern Han, one of the states, imposed a penalty in which a prisoner was thrown into a pool of water containing hundreds of venomous snakes. Soon the prisoner was killed by dozens of snake bites.

Other meanings

The Snake Pit is a 1948 film which tells the story of a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum and cannot remember how she got there. In common metaphorical usage, a "snake pit" can mean any institution (such as a school, prison, hospital, or nursing home) or organization led in an inept or inhumane way.

Naval Usage

The snake pit or AMR1 hold is a location in the Forward compartment lower level (fc4p) that contains the camsewage pump and other pumps and auxiliary tanks. It is referred to as the snake pit because of the multiple pipes that snake through it.

Popular culture

Punishment using a snake pit is featured in the Film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), in which Indiana Jones is trapped when he tries to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. Another character, Marion, is then cast into the snake pit with him as punishment. Both make it out alive.

A similar method of execution was depicted in the film The Naked Prey (1966) after a group of elephant hunters offend a local African tribe who, in response, subject them various methods of cruel and torturous executions. One of the hunters is restrained to the ground with his head exposed to a cobra encircled with fire to provoke the snake.

Professional wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts had an interview segment on WWF TV shows called "The Snake Pit".

Slash, former lead guitarist of rock band Guns N' Roses, formed a band called Slash's Snakepit.

A form of Snake pit appears in Deltora Quest in which the hero, Lief, had to plunge into the pit in order to destroy an evil relic, the Sister of the North. The snakes did not harm him because the Ruby he had repelled snakes but the villain who pursued Lief was not so fortunate.

In the 1970s the Rock Creek Lodge of Clinton, Montana (home of the Testicle Festival and site of filming part of A River Runs Through It on the Rock Creek) was called the Snake Pit because of multiple pet snakes the owner had on display for viewing in a back room area of the lodge. There is now an annual music festival and motorcycle rally at the lodge drawing artists, music enthusiasts, and riders from all over the northwest under the name of the sNaKe PiT Music and Motorcycle Connection.








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