The History of the Death Penalty

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The History of the death penalty goes as far back as ancient China and Babylon. However, the first recorded death sentence took place in 16th Century BC Egypt, where executions were carried out with an ax. Since the very beginning, people were treated according to their social status; those wealthy were rarely facing brutal executions; on the contrary, most of the population was facing cruel executions. For instance, in the 5th Century BC, the Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets included death penalty and methods of executions.

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Aristocrats were usually left free to end their lives, whereas slaves and poor ones were crucified, drowned at sea, buried alive, beaten to death and impaled. Different societies had different laws, and different techniques. For example, in the Mosaic Law, the Jews codified death penalty by adding stoning, hanging, beheading and throwing the culpable from a rock. Furthermore, crimes were seen and valued according to the culture of each society.

In ancient Egypt, being accused of witchcraft was a serious crime; in ancient Athens, death penalty was applicable for all crimes. The Romans were particularly horrified by a family murder, and the culpable was tied in a sack, together with a dog, a rooster, a viper and thrown into the sea. By far, the colonies of the United States have been influenced by Britain and its laws. In fact, Britain had a broad range of methods to execute people, and, one more time, wealthy people were often absolved or left free to end their lives.

On the contrary, most of the population had to face cruel executions, such as in the 10th Century, when hanging was the most frequent method. In mediaeval times, death sentences were accompanied by torture. In 1279, almost three hundred Jews were tortured and hanged, many were burned alive, drawn or quartered. Pressing was a popular method to extort a confession and, every day, prisoners were given little or no food and left to die. 

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The History of the Death Penalty. (2019, Oct 13). Retrieved from