Flagellation or flogging is the act of methodically beating or whipping (Latin flagellum, "whip") the human body. Specialised implements for it include rods, switches, the cat-o-nine-tails and the sjambok. Typically, flogging is imposed on an unwilling subject as a punishment; however, it can also be submitted to willingly, or performed on oneself, in religious or sadomasochistic contexts.
In some circumstances the word "flogging" is used loosely to include any sort of corporal punishment, including birching and caning. However, in British legal terminology, a distinction was drawn (and still is, in one or two colonial territories) between "flogging" (with a cat-o'-nine-tails) and "whipping" (formerly with a whip, but since the early 19th century with a birch). In Britain these were both abolished in 1948.
Disciplinary use and torture
Flogging was a common disciplinary measure in the British navy that became associated with a seaman's manly disregard for pain. Aboard ships, knittles or the cat o' nine tails was used for severe formal punishment, while a "rope's end" or "starter" was used to administer informal, on-the-spot discipline.
Flagellation probably originated in the Near East but then spread throughout the ancient world. In Sparta, young men were flogged as a test of their masculinity. Jewish law limited flagellation to forty strokes, and in practice delivered thirty-nine, so as to avoid any possibility of breaking this law due to a miscount. Additionally they would have a doctor monitor the punishment, who would stop it if it became too much for the person to bear safely.
In the Roman Empire, flagellation was often used as a prelude to crucifixion, and in this context is sometimes referred to as scourging. Whips with small pieces of metal or bone at the tips were commonly used. Such a device could easily cause disfigurement and serious trauma, such as ripping pieces of flesh from the body or loss of an eye. In addition to causing severe pain, the victim would approach a state of hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood.
The Romans reserved this treatment for non-citizens, as stated in the lex Porcia and lex Sempronia, dating from 195 and 123 BC. The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar so as to be stretched out. Two lictors (some reports indicate scourgings with four or six lictors) alternated blows from the bare shoulders down the body to the soles of the feet. There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted - this was left to the lictors to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Flagellation was referred to as "half death" by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter. Cicero reports in In Verrem, "pro mortuo sublatus brevi postea mortuus" ("taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead"). In some cases the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.
Whipping was used during the French Revolution. One of the revolutionary leaders, Anne Josephe Theroigne de Mericourt, went mad and ended her days in an asylum after a public whipping. On 31 May 1793, the Jacobin women seized her, stripped her naked, and flogged her on the bare bottom in the public garden of the Tuileries. After this humiliation, she refused to wear any clothes, in memory of the outrage she had suffered.
Use against slaves
Whipping has been used as a form of discipline against slaves. It was frequently carried out during the period of slavery in the United States, by owners of slaves and their employees. The power was also given to slave "patrollers," mostly poor whites, who had among their powers the ability to whip any slave who violated the slave codes.
Present-day official flogging
No longer used in most Western countries, flogging or whipping is still a common form of punishment in some parts of the world, particularly in many former British territories and in Islamic countries. Medically supervised caning is routinely ordered by the courts as a penalty for some categories of crime in Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
Flogging as military punishment
In the 1700s and 1800s, European armies administered floggings to common soldiers who committed breaches of the military code. During the American Revolutionary War, the American Congress raised the legal limit on lashes from 39 to 100 for soldiers who were convicted by courts-martial. Generally, officers were not flogged. However, in 1745, a cashiered British officer could have his sword broken over his head, among other indignities inflicted on him.
In the Napoleonic Wars, the maximum number of lashes that could be inflicted on soldiers in the British Army reached 1,200. This many lashes could permanently disable or kill a man. Oman, historian of the Peninsular War, noted that the maximum sentence was inflicted "nine or ten times by general court-martial during the whole six years of the war" and that 1,000 lashes were administered about 50 times. Other sentences were for 900, 700, 500 and 300 lashes. One soldier was sentenced to 700 lashes for stealing a beehive. Another man was let off after only 175 of 400 lashes, but spent three weeks in hospital. Later in the war, the more draconian punishments were abandoned and the offenders shipped to New South Wales instead, where more whippings often awaited them. (See Australian penal colonies section.) Oman later wrote,
"If anything was calculated to brutalize an army it was the wicked cruelty of the British military punishment code, which Wellington to the end of his life supported. There is plenty of authority for the fact that the man who had once received his 500 lashes for a fault which was small, or which involved no moral guilt, was often turned thereby from a good soldier into a bad soldier, by losing his self-respect and having his sense of justice seared out. Good officers knew this well enough, and did their best to avoid the cat-of-nine-tails, and to try more rational means -- more often than not with success."
Meanwhile, during the French Revolutionary Wars the French Army stopped floggings altogether. The King's German Legion (KGL), which were German units in British pay, did not flog. In one case, a British soldier on detached duty with the KGL was sentenced to be flogged, but the German commander refused to carry out the punishment. When the British 73rd Foot flogged a man in occupied France in 1814, disgusted French citizens protested against it.
One of few countries where corporal punishment is still officially used in the armed forces is Singapore, where military legislation provides that errant soldiers can be sentenced by court-martial to strokes of the cane.
Australian penal colonies
Common in the British Army and British Royal Navy as a means of discipline, flagellation also featured prominently in the British penal colonies in early colonial Australia. Given that convicts in Australia were already "imprisoned", punishments for offenses committed in the colonies could not usually result in imprisonment and thus usually consisted of corporal punishment such as hard labour or flagellation. Unlike Roman times, British law explicitly forbade the combination of corporal and capital punishment; thus, a convict was either flogged or hanged but never both.
Flagellation took place either with a single whip or, more notoriously, with the cat o' nine tails. Typically, the offender's upper half was bared and he was suspended by the wrists beneath a tripod of wooden beams (known as 'the triangle'), while either one or two floggers administered the prescribed number of strokes, or "lashes" to the victim's back. During the flogging, a doctor or other medical worker was consulted at regular intervals as to the condition of the prisoner - if the offender had fainted from blood loss or suffered extreme skin and flesh loss from the back, the punishment was usually suspended until such time that the offender had sufficiently healed. Once healed, the remainder of the required lashes were administered. Punishment was usually limited to 20, 50 or 100 lashes at one flogging, though records exist of prisoners in Australian penal colonies such as Norfolk Island or Port Arthur receiving more than 3,000 lashes over a number of months or years.
Female convicts were also subject to flogging as punishment, both on the convict ships and in the penal colonies. Although they were generally given fewer lashes than males (usually limited to 40 in each flogging), there was no other difference between the manner in which males and females were flogged. Women were stripped naked down to the waist, and secured to the "triangle" in the same manner as the male convicts. Floggings were especially dreaded by female convicts, partly because of the exposure involved, but mainly because of the effect of "wrapping". Wrapping was a characteristic of flogging whereby the ends of the whip's thongs wrapped around the victim's side as the lashes were delivered, and was virtually unavoidable when the cat o' nine tails was used. The effect of wrapping was invariably to cause severe weals and lacerations to the exposed breast and underarm region, on the side opposite to that on which the flogger stood, where the cat's "tails" wrapped around the victim's side and cut in. Flogging of female convicts was eventually abolished in 1817.
Floggings of both male and female convicts were public, administered before the whole colony's company, assembled especially for the purpose.
Due to its prevalence, flagellation featured prominently in the culture of early colonial Australia. It was often a mark of pride for a flogged former convict to "show his stripes" (expose his flagellation scars) as an "iron man", or to hide them at all costs if an emancipated convict was attempting to rebuild a normal life in society. Children in the Australian colonies were often observed playing "flogging games" where a doll or another child would pretend to be "strung from the triangles" and whipped.
(See also: History of Australia).
Association with religion
Various pre-Christian religions, like the cult of Isis in Egypt and the Dionysian cult of Greece, practiced their own forms of ritual flagellation. During the Ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia young men ran through the streets with thongs cut from the hide of goats which had just been sacrificed, and women who wished to conceive put themselves in their way to receive blows, apparently mostly on the hands. Greco-Roman mystery religions also sometimes involved ritual flagellation, as famously depicted in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, apparently showing initiation into the Dionysian Mysteries.
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The Flagellation refers in a Christian context to the Flagellation of Christ, an episode in the Passion of Christ prior to the Jesus' crucifixion. The practice of mortification of the flesh for religious purposes was utilized by some Christians throughout most of Christian history, especially in Catholic monasteries and convents. In the 13th century, a radical group of christians, known as the Flagellants, took this practice to an extreme. The flagellants were later condemned by the Catholic Church in the 14th century. Self-flagellation remains common in the Philippines and Latin America. Some members of strict monastic orders, and some members of the lay organization Opus Dei, practice mild self-flagellation using an instrument called a "discipline", a cattail whip usually made of knotted cords, which is flung over the shoulders repeatedly during private prayer. Within the past few decades the practice has become rare within the Catholic Church, particularly as rigorism and heresies such as Jansenism which over-emphasized God's severe justice, are rejected. St. Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun of late 19th century France who has now been declared a Doctor of the Church, is an influential example of a Catholic Saint who questioned prevailing attitudes toward physical penance. Her view was that loving acceptance of the many sufferings of daily life was pleasing to God, and fostered loving relationships with other people, moreso than taking on oneself extraneous sufferings through instruments of penance.
Flagellation is a form of punishment used in certain cases under Islamic Sharia law. In Islam, lashes for punishment are to be performed with a book under one arm to minimise the swing, are not supposed to leave permanent scars, and when the number of lashes are high, are frequently done in batches to minimise risk of harm.
While self-harm is forbidden in Islam, certain sects of Shi'a Muslims found solely in villages in Iran and the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia perform self-flagellation when participating in the Zanjeer Zani ritual to mourn the death of Hussain during Muharram, on the Day of Ashura. Although officially done with a special leash, most Shi'as usually beat their chests with their hands, but the use of metal chains and spikes is common as well. The practice is common among Shiites in the Middle East and Asia, although is often frowned upon by Sunnis and other Muslims.
Ecstatics and Mystics
Because practices such as starvation, sleep denial and flagellation are known to induce altered states, flagellation may be used by religious ecstatics and mystics as part of ritualistic practices or ceremonies to achieve unusual states of mind.
In the sexual sub-culture of BDSM, "flagellation" involves beating the submissive partner and is a form of impact play. Such a flogging begins with soft blows, desensitizing the skin somewhat and triggering the body's endorphin response to pain, similar to "runner's high". The gradual increase in force heightens this response, often to a near-catatonic state in the bottom. Flogging for erotic thrill, typically with implements such as floggers, whips, paddles, or canes, has been called the "English vice". See also paraphilia.
The flogger used in this context consists of a handle with an number of attached thongs known as "falls". Falls are typically made of materials such as suede, leather, rubber, rope, or other or flexible materials. The length, number, and composition of the falls determines the sensation caused by the flogger. Floggers are usually characterized by the sensation they cause. "Thuddy" floggers typically impart a broadly felt deep muscle impact, while "stingy" floggers are felt as a sharp stinging sensation over the skin. The sensation of floggers can also vary with the techniques used by the dominant (or top).
Floggers are typically applied to areas of the body which are well muscled, or protected by body fat, such as the upper back or buttocks. Vulnerable areas such as the abdomen, kidneys, and face are to be avoided. Some areas, such as female breasts, can be lightly flogged safely if appropriate care and skill is used. Intense flogging can leave bruising but typically does not cut or permanently mark the skin.
References and further reading
- Bean, Joseph W. Flogging, Greenery Press, 2000. ISBN 1-890159-27-1
- Conway, Andrew. The Bullwhip Book. Greenery Press, 2000. ISBN 1-890159-18-2
- Gibson, Ian. The English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian England and After. London: Duckworth, 1978. ISBN 0-715612-64-6
- Martin, James Kirby & Lender, Mark Edward. A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789. Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1982. ISBN 0-88295-812-7
- Oman, Charles. Wellington's Army, 1809-1814. London: Greenhill, (1913) 1993. ISBN 0-947898-41-7
- Rothenburg, Gunther E. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-253-31076-8
- Tomasson, Katherine & Buist, Francis. Battles of the '45. London: Pan Books, 1974.
- ↑ Roudinesco, Elisabeth. (1992) Madness and Revolution: The Lives and Legends of Theroigne de Mericourt, Verso. ISBN 0-86091-597-2. p.198
- ↑ Martin, p 76.
- ↑ Tomasson, p 127.
- ↑ Oman, p 239.
- ↑ Oman, p 246.
- ↑ Oman, p 254.
- ↑ Oman, p.43.
- ↑ Rothenberg, p.179.
- ↑ http://www.opusdei.org/art.php?w=32&p=9316
- ↑ Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, "Ruling Jolts Even Saudis: 200 Lashes for Rape Victim", New York Times, 16 November 2007.
- ↑ Gibson
- "Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion" by Dr. Frederick Zugibe
- Pilot Guides - Flogging in penal Australia (including animation)
- Zanjeer Zani
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Flagellation
- Suffering and Sainthood The importance of penance and mortification in the Catholic Church
- "whipping". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. ar:جلد (تعذيب)