In ancient Rome, the general rule was that slaves could be tortured freely. In fact, it was strongly suggested that any free man accused of a crime should have his slaves tortured, often executed, at his place before a verdict could be reached. But that didn’t stop the Roman elite from torturing the free men and women of their country. Roman law always had loopholes, and the elite rulers took advantage of every loophole.
The Romans also ushered in the use of the poena cullei, meaning Penalty of the Sack. The criminal was sewn up in a basic leather sack—and drowned, with death being the ultimate goal. The general consensus is poena cullei first appeared in Titus Livy’s History of Rome. In it, Livy describes how Marcus Publicius Malleolus was sewn into a sack and thrown out to sea in 101 BC for killing his mother. Livy’s version of events appears tame compared to later versions of the punishment, which included the use of live animals.
According to Emperor Justinian’s laws from AD 530: “This is not execution by the sword or by fire, or any ordinary form of punishment, but the criminal is sewn up in a sack with a dog, a cock, a viper, and an ape, and in this dismal prison is thrown into the sea or a river…” Luckily, the ancient Romans reserved this rarely given punishment for parricide—killing a parent or other close relative.