The Wheel
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Basic Information

The Wheel was a pre-modern instrument of torture and execution consisting - surprisingly enough - of a large wheel, usually from a wagon.

The simplest form of execution using the wheel was, essentially, a form of crucifixion and/or exposure - the condemned had their wrists and ankles bound to the circumference of the wheel and was then left there until dead, albeit usually with the wheel hoisted up onto a gibbet of some kind for the benefit of passers by (and to impede rescue and the like).

The fastest form of execution involved binding the condemned as above and then having them beaten to death with a bludgeoning weapon of some kind - this could potentially still take quite a long time if the executioner started at the extremities and worked inwards, or be over very quickly if the first blows fell on the head or torso. Bribery was often a factor.

In between the two lay various methods where some of the condemned's bones were broken followed by a death by exposure, hurried along by shock from the wounds. Apparently breaking the limbs until they were flexible enough to be threaded securely around the spokes of the wheel was a popular variation.

"The wheel" is also sometimes used for a version of pressing in which the condemned was staked out on the ground and killed by running him over repeatedly with a wheel (attached to a vehicle or otherwise). Versions of this form of execution are still in limited use today.

The Germans were also prone to use the wheel itself to break the bones of the condemned person - typically he would be staked out, his limbs supported by blocks and then broken with the rim of the wheel, lifted and dropped by the executioner. Application was pretty much as any other form of bludgeoning in terms of how long it took to kill (Christman Genipperteinga took nine days to die, having particularly upset all sorts of people). After breaking, the wheel could then be used to display the remains (dead or alive) as usual.

Some powers also used the wheel (or at any rate a wheel) for non-lethal punishment - as late as WW1 the British Army was still using a form of punishment whereby defaulters were bound by their wrists and ankles to a wagon wheel (or occasionally the wheel of a piece of artillery) and left there for a set period of time.


The Wheel on "That Other Wiki".
Ibid on "Field Punishment", including the practice of binding defaulters to a wheel.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Dead or dying people displayed on wheels can make amusing local decorations for your PCs to see when they arrive in a new town.
    • Even better, for those PCs whose moral codes require them to bring prisoners back for trial, watching this can be part of their "reward".
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