For other uses, see Flay (disambiguation).
Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" - St Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin; it is conjectured that Michelangelo included a self-portrait depicting himself as St Bartholomew after he had been flayed (skinned alive). One scholar has theorized that this is reflective of the feelings of contempt Michelangelo had for being commissioned to paint "The Last Judgment."[1]

Flaying, also known colloquially as skinning, was a method of slow and painful execution in which skin is removed from the body. Generally, an attempt is made to keep the removed portion of skin intact. This article deals with flaying in the sense of torture and execution of humans.


A dead animal may be flayed when preparing it to be used as human food, or for its hide or fur. This is more commonly called skinning.

Flaying of humans is used as a method of torture or execution, depending on how much of the skin is removed. This is often referred to as "flaying alive". There are also records of people flayed after death, generally as a means of debasing the corpse of a prominent enemy or criminal, sometimes related to religious beliefs (e.g. to deny an afterlife); sometimes the skin is used, again for deterrence, magical uses, etc. (e.g. scalping).

Causes of death

Dermatologist Ernst G. Jung notes that the typical causes of death due to flaying are shock, critical loss of blood or other body fluids, hypothermia, or infections, and that the actual death is estimated to occur from a few hours up to a few days after the flaying.[2] Hypothermia is possible, as skin is very important in maintaining a person's body temperature, so the removal of it would remove a person's natural insulation.


The Assyrian tradition

Assyrians flaying their prisoners alive

Ernst G. Jung, in his "Kleine Kulturgeschichte der Haut" ("A small cultural history of the skin"), provides an essay in which he outlines the Neo-Assyrian tradition of flaying human beings.[3] Already from the times of Ashurnasirpal II (r.883-859 BC), the practice is displayed and commemorated in both carvings and official royal edicts. The carvings show that the actual flaying process might begin at various places on the body, such as at the crus (lower leg), the thighs, or the buttocks.

In their royal edicts, the Neo-Assyrian kings seem to gloat over the terrible fate they imposed upon their captives, and that flaying seems, in particular, to be the fate meted out to rebel leaders. Jung provides some examples of this triumphant rhetoric, here are some from Ashurnasirpal II:

I have made a pillar facing the city gate, and have flayed all the rebel leaders; I have clad the pillar in the flayed skins. I let the leaders of the conquered cities be flayed, and clad the city walls with their skins. The captives I have killed by the sword and flung on the dung heap, the little boys and girls were burnt.

The Rassam Cylinder, in the British Museum demonstrates this.

Their corpses they hung on stakes, they stripped off their skins and covered the city wall with them.[4]

Other examples

The Aztecs of Mexico flayed victims of ritual human sacrifice, generally after death.

There are numerous reports of Native Americans flaying captives, seeking to keep them alive and suffering as long as possible.[5]

Searing or cutting the flesh from the body was sometimes used as part of the public execution of traitors in medieval Europe. A similar mode of execution was used as late as the early 18th century in France; one such episode is graphically recounted in the opening chapter of Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1979).

In 1303, the Treasury of Westminster Abbey was robbed while holding a large sum of money belonging to King Edward I. After arrest and interrogation of 48 monks, three of them, including the subprior and sacrist, were found guilty of the robbery and flayed. Their skin was attached to three doors as a warning against robbers of Church and State.[6] The Copford church in Essex, England has been found to have human skin attached to a door.[7]

In Chinese history, Sun Hao, Fu Sheng and Gao Heng were known for removing skin from people's faces.[8] The Hongwu Emperor flayed many servants, officials and rebels.[9][10] In 1396 he ordered the flaying of 5000 women.[11] Hai Rui suggested that his emperor flay corrupt officials. The Zhengde Emperor flayed six rebels,[12] and Zhang Xianzhong also flayed many people.[13] Lu Xun said the Ming Dynasty was begun and ended by flaying.[14]

Examples and depictions of flayings

Apollo flaying Marsyas by Antonio Corradini (1658-1752), Victoria and Albert Museum, London
'The Flaying of Marsyas' after challenging Apollo. Painting by Titian.
'The Judgement of Cambyses, part 2' half of a diptych painted by Gerard David in 1498.

See also


  1. Dixon, John W. Jr. "The Terror of Salvation: The Last Judgment". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  2. p.69 Kleine Kulturgeschichte der Haut. p. 69. Ernst G. Jung (2007).
  3. Paragraph based on the essay "Von Ursprung des Schindens in Assyrien" in Jung (2007), p.67-70
  4. Rassam Cylinder. The British Museum. & 636BC, pp. Col.1, L.52 to Col.2, L. 27.
  5. 'Empire of the Summer Moon', S.C. Gwynne; 'Son of the Morning Star', Evan S. Connell
  6. Andrews, William (1898). The Church Treasury of History, Custom, Folk-Lore, etc. London: Williams Andrews & Co. pp. 158–167. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  7. Wall, J. Charles (1912), Porches and Fonts. Wells Gardner and Darton, London. pp. 41-42.
  8. . 中国死刑观察--中国的酷刑
  9. "也谈"剥皮实草"的真实性". Eywedu.com. Retrieved 2013-07-11.
  10. 覃垕曬皮
  11. 陈学霖(2001). 史林漫识. China Friendship Publishing Company.
  12. History of Ming, vol.94
  13. "写入青史总断肠(2)". Book.sina.com.cn. Retrieved 2013-07-11.
  14. 鲁迅. 且介亭雜文·病後雜談
  15. Edward Jay Watts, (2006), City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. "Hypatia and pagan philosophical culture in the later fourth century", pages 197–198. University of California Press

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Flaying.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/3/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.