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Inventive (Horrific) Punishments for Debtors Throughout History

by on July 26, 2012

Inventive (Horrific) Punishments for Debtors Throughout History

If you think that getting hounded by collection agencies for your credit card debt is unbearable, then thank your lucky stars that you weren’t born 700 years ago. A few angry phone calls and a lower credit score are nothing compared to the methods people used to deal with debtors back back in medieval and Renaissance times.

If you didn’t pay down your debts when armor-clad knights were still in vogue, you would most likely be paraded around town by your creditors, who would then remove a few of your body parts as a penalty. And that’s only if they decided to go easy on you. If leniency wasn’t in the cards for you, then … well, why don’t you just read on to find out? Here’s a look back at some of the most innovative and horrific punishments for debtors throughout history.

The Stone of Shame, Italy.

Creditors in medieval Italy reserved a unique punishment for debtors who couldn’t pay. Rather than being whipped or imprisoned, the wretched borrower was forced to remove his or her pants and sit on the Pietra del Vituperio, or “Stone of Shame,” located in the town center. In full view of the public, they had to declare “I give away everything!” three times. Then they were exiled and sent off to live a miserable, pant-less life somewhere else.

Additionally, each city in Italy had its own interpretation of this punishment. In Florence, debtors were chained to the  stone and paddled on their bare behinds, sort of like this. In Goslar, creditors apparently made debtors run around naked in the streets. The gold pieces which had been (temporarily) lodged in their buttocks were explained by the shouted phrase “I have performed alchemy!”

Can You Hear Me Now? England.

English banks during the reign of Henry VIII really hated liars, and the worst of the lot were those debtors who lied about their assets and tried to declare bankruptcy to avoid repaying a loan. So the banks got Parliament to pass a law outlining a very specific punishment for any debtor found to be guilty of perjury in his or her bankruptcy trial.

First, you’d be paraded through town so that law-abiding citizens could throw rotten food and rocks at you. Then you would be locked up in a pillory, which is a device made to restrain the head and arms, similar to the stocks. After two hours in the pillory, you would be released – right after they nailed your ear to the restraint and cut it off. This nasty little exercise was known as ear-cropping, and it was incredibly painful.

The Starving Creditor, India and Nepal.

Back in the days when bankruptcy law didn’t exist and pretty much every infraction was punishable by death, being a creditor was tough. If you lent someone money, you had to figure out a way to make them pay you back without threatening them with harm, or else you’d risk being imprisoned and tortured yourself.

Creditors in India and Nepal came up with a clever solution to this problem. Rather than threaten the debtor outright, they simply sat down on his or her door step and refused to eat until they were repaid. If the debtor couldn’t find the money before the creditor starved to death, he or she was held responsible for the creditor’s demise and was subsequently tortured and executed. Needless to say, this passive-aggressive collection technique ended up being remarkably successful.

Drawn and Quartered, Rome.

If you think this punishment has anything to do with colored pencils and coins, then you are in for a spectacularly horrible surprise. The process of drawing and quartering a prisoner is one of the most brutal tortures ever conceived by humans, and it’s proof that Rome did not play around when it came to unpaid loans. For all of you debtors out there, here’s how it works.

First, you were hanged until you were almost dead. Then the executioners let you down and strapped you to a table. They proceeded to disembowel you and cut off your genitals. Your severed bits were then thrown into a fire. Afterwards, they cut off your head and cut the rest of you into quarters, which they separated and displayed in various corners of the county. It was gross. It was brutal. And it was a pretty gruesome way to get your money back from someone.

The takeaway here is clear: if you ever wake up in the midst of an ongoing Renaissance fair, just deal with the time travel and don’t borrow anything. Ever. Forget all about your treasured little pieces of modern plastic, because if you take out a loan here, medieval creditors will exact any sort of bizarre revenge they want for your failure to pay up. Then, assuming you live, they’ll throw you in an expensive, privately owned prison for the rest of your life. In that dark, subterranean chamber, you’ll fantasize for decades about the debt collectors you used to know. You’ll dream of how great it would feel to get chewed out over the phone by an angry suit in a skyscraper downtown.

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