Brazen Bull of Phalaris: Greek Torture Device
The Brazen Bull, also known as the Bronze Bull, Sicilian Bull, or Bull of Phalaris, is one of the most infamous torture devices used in ancient Greece. It was designed in the 6th century BC (between 570 BC and 554 BC) by Perillus of Athens and was commissioned by Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas (modern-day Agrigento, Sicily).
Some scholars from the beginning of the 20th century indicated a possible connection between the Phalaris bull and the images of the Phoenician cults (see the biblical golden calf) and hypothesized a continuation of the practice of human sacrifices from the East. However, this idea later lost favour, although the original arguments have not been refuted.
The Bull of Phalaris
The Sicilian Bull was made of bronze and designed to look like a bull. It was approximately 2 meters tall and had a door on one side. Inside the bull was a series of pipes and a grate.
The victim was placed inside the bull and a fire was lit underneath it. As the fire grew hotter, the pipes would heat up and the victim would be slowly cooked alive. The victim was subjected to a slow and agonizing death as they were roasted alive.
The screams of the victim were also amplified through the bull’s brass horns, creating a horrifying spectacle for onlookers that echoed through the city. According to legend, when the bull was reopened after a body was charred, the victim’s scorched bones then “shone like jewels and were made into bracelets”.
Despite its brutal nature, this Ancient Greek Torture Device was considered a work of art by some ancient Greeks and was even praised for its engineering. It was said to be the perfect example of the combination of art and technology in ancient Greece.
Victims of the Bronze Bull
The Bull of Phalaris was used in the execution of several people during its time. It is said that to test the sound device, Phalaris pushed Perillos inside his own creation and lit the fire. Phalaris released the inventor of the bull before he died. He then proceeded to kill him by throwing him down a steep hill.
The Romans were reputed to have used this torture device to kill some Christians, especially Saint Eustace, who, according to Christian tradition, was roasted on a bronze bull with his wife and children by Emperor Hadrian.
The same thing happened to Saint Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum during the persecutions of Emperor Domitian and the first martyr in Asia Minor, who was roasted to death on a bronze bull in 92 AD.
Centuries later: another Christian, Pelagia of Tarsus, would have been burned in one of them in 287 AD by the Emperor Diocletian.
According to the Caesaraugustan Chronicle, Burdunellus, a Roman usurper, was roasted on a bronze bull by King Alaric II in 497.
However, the Bronze Bull’s use as a torture device eventually led to its downfall. In a cruel twist of fate, Phalaris was said to have been executed inside the Greek Torture Device himself, after being overthrown by the people of Akragas who revolted against Phalaris.
The Bull of Phalaris is a gruesome reminder of the cruelty that humans can inflict on one another. It stands as a testament to the power of tyrants and the lengths they will go to in order to maintain their rule. The Bull is also a reminder of the importance of freedom and the need to stand up against oppressive regimes.
In conclusion, the Sicilian Bull remains one of the most infamous and grotesque examples of ancient Greek technology and its impact on the course of human history. Despite its brutal nature, it remains a fascinating and cautionary tale about the dangers of power and the need for the humane treatment of all individuals.
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