Depiction of the martyrdom of the Sikh Bhai Dayala by being boiled alive on the orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in November 1675 AD

Death by boiling is a method of execution in which a person is killed by being immersed in a boiling liquid. While not as common as other methods of execution, boiling to death has been practiced in many parts of Europe and Asia. Due to the lengthy process, death by boiling is an extremely painful method of execution. Executions of this type were often carried out using a large vessel such as a cauldron or a sealed kettle filled with a liquid such as water, oil, tar, or tallow, and a hook and pulley system.[1] Instances of boiling alive as a legal punishment were quite rare and infrequent compared to other forms of execution, such as drowning.[2]

Historical practice


In England, the use of boiling alive as a method of execution was rare.[2] The ninth statute passed in 1531 (the 22nd year of the reign of King Henry VIII) made boiling alive the prescriptive form of capital punishment for murder committed by poisoning, which by the same Act was defined as high treason.[3] This arose from a February 1531 incident in which the Bishop of Rochester's cook, Richard Roose, gave several people poisoned porridge, resulting in two deaths.[4] A partial confession having been extracted by torture, the sentence was thus imposed by attainder and without benefit of clergy. His execution took place on April 15, 1532, at Smithfield.[2] A contemporary chronicle reports the following:[5]

He roared mighty loud, and divers women who were big with child did feel sick at the sight of what they saw, and were carried away half dead; and other men and women did not seem frightened by the boiling alive, but would prefer to see the headsman at his work.

Boiling to death was employed again in 1542 for a woman, Margaret Davy,[6] who had also used poison.[7][8] During the reign of Edward VI, in 1547, the 1531 act was repealed.[2]

Numerous people have been boiled to death in Scotland. For example, with the consent of Jon Haraldsson, the "Bloody Earl" of Orkney, the bishop of Caithness, Adam of Melrose, and a monk named Surlo are said to have been boiled to death by angry husbandmen in 1222 over the bishop's aggressive means of collecting tithes. Alexander II is said to have executed upwards of eighty persons as a punishment for killing the bishop and monk, and the earl fled his lands.[9] But according to the Melrose Chronicle, Adam of Melrose was "burned alive", rather than boiled, and Alexander II executed up to 400 for the crime against the clergy.[10]

Execution cauldron at Deventer (Netherlands)

William de Soules, a nobleman involved in a conspiracy against Robert the Bruce, was reputed to be a sorcerer consorting with evil spirits, and was boiled alive in 1321 at Ninestane Rig.[11] Around 1420, Melville, the sheriff of the Mearns and laird of Glenbervie, who was resented for his strictness, was apprehended by some other nobles and thrown into the kettle. The nobles are said to have each taken a spoonful of the brew afterwards.[12]

Boiling as an execution method was also used for counterfeiters, swindlers and coin forgers during the Middle Ages.[13] In the Holy Roman Empire, for example, being boiled to death in oil is recorded for coin forgers and extremely grave murderers. In 1392, a man was boiled alive in Nuremberg for having raped and murdered his own mother.[14] Coin forgers were boiled to death in 1452 in Danzig[15] and in 1471 in Stralsund.[16] Even as late as 1687, a man in Bremen was boiled to death in oil for having been of valuable help to some coin forgers who had escaped justice.[17]

In the Dutch town of Deventer, the kettle that was used for boiling criminals to death can still be seen.[18]


Execution of Ishikawa Goemon and his son

In 16th-century Japan, the semi-legendary Japanese bandit Ishikawa Goemon and his son were boiled alive in the 1590s by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.[19] In 1675, a Sikh martyr called Bhai Dayala was boiled to death in Delhi after he refused to convert to Islam. He was put into a cauldron full of cold water which was then heated to boiling point. Sikh scriptures record that Dayala recited the Japji of Guru Nanak and the Sukhmani of Guru Arjan as he died.[20]


Thomas Ewbank relates in his 1856 book Life in Brazil that he was told of an enslaved Afro-Brazilian being publicly boiled to death by a plantation owner as punishment for acts of insubbordination.[21]

Modern times

According to InSight Crime, of the 31,000 people killed by militants of Shining Path in Peru between 1980 and 2000, some were murdered by boiling.[22]

The government of Uzbekistan under Islam Karimov (1991–2016) has been alleged to have boiled suspected terrorists.[23]

In a United States Department of State document from 2004, the following is written:

During the year, there were no developments or investigations in the following 2002 deaths in custody: Mirzakomil Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir who were tortured to death in Jaslyk Prison in Karakalpakstan resulting in extensive bruises and burns, the latter reportedly caused by immersion in boiling water.[24]

Former ISIS commander Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi referred to ISIS's brutal execution methods, among which was boiling prisoners alive in engine oil:

Some people were boiled alive in oil. Engine oil. They burned wood on a fire for an hour before throwing the victim into boiling oil. It's the Tunisians who were responsible for that.[25]

In the 2010 documentary El Sicario, Room 164, the masked sicario interviewee claims that the Mexican cartels boil in oil those found to be working for the police.

Depictions in Western culture

Early reports of cannibals from places in the Pacific, such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea, killing Western Christian missionaries were assumed to involve some form of boiling alive.[26] This became a fertile ground for film makers and especially cartoonists, whose clichéd depiction of tourists or missionaries sitting restrained in a large cauldron above a wood fire and surrounded by bone-nosed tribesmen was a staple of popular magazines and films for decades. Examples include the 1980 television miniseries Shōgun and its 2024 remake,[27] the 1985 film adaptation of King Solomon's Mines[28] and the dream sequence in the film Bagdad Café.[29]

Fromental Halévy's 1835 opera La Juive ends with Rachel (the title character) being boiled alive in a vat of oil after her relationship with the Christian prince Léopold is discovered by antisemitic state and church authorities.


  1. ^ Geoffrey Abbott, Amazing True Stories of Execution Blunders, pp. 21–22.
  2. ^ a b c d Andrews, William (1883-07-13). "Modes of execution - boiling alive". The Newcastle Weekly Courant. p. 2. Retrieved 2024-03-15.
  3. ^ Anno 22 Henry VIII (1530–31), Chapter 9, in The Statutes of the Realm Vol. 3: The Statutes of King Henry VIII (By Command 1817), Reprint (Dawsons of Pall Mall, London, 1963), p. 326 Archived 2020-06-15 at the Wayback Machine (HathiTrust).
  4. ^ Kesselring, K.J. (September 2001), A Draft of the 1531 'Acte for Poysoning', The English Historical Review Vol. 116, No. 468, pp. 894–899, JSTOR 579196 Archived 2020-06-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Burke, S. Hubert (1870). The Men and Women of the English Reformation. London, United Kingdom: R. Washbourne. p. 240. Archived from the original on 2023-06-12. Retrieved 2023-03-13.
  6. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Boiling to Death". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 153.
  7. ^ Newlin, George (2000), Understanding Great expectations, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, pp. 136, ISBN 978-0-313-29940-7, OCLC 41488673
  8. ^ Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie, and Ellery Sedgwick. 1876. Frank Leslie's popular monthly. [New York]: Frank Leslie Pub. House. p 343
  9. ^ John Pinkerton: "A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages, Volume 3", London 1809, p. 158. The same tradition is transmitted in The Scottish journal of topography, antiquities, traditions. Edinburgh: Stevenson and Menzies: 248. 1842. ((cite journal)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Soc. Diff. Use. Knowl. (1842), p. 310 in Society for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1842). The Biographical Dictionary. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. p. 310.
  11. ^ "The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott, New York, 1833, p. 216.
  12. ^ "The new statistical account of Scotland, Volume 18", Edinburgh 1838, pp. 34-35.
  13. ^ Monter, E. William (2007). A bewitched duchy: Lorraine and its dukes, 1477-1736. Librairie Droz. p. 163. ISBN 978-2-600-01165-5.
  14. ^ Mayer, M.M: "Kleine Chronik der Reichsstadt Nürnberg: Mit einem Grundrisse, Nuremberg 1847 p. 102,
  15. ^ Krüger, J.G: "Die beglückte und geschmückte Stadt Lübeck", 1697, p. 20.
  16. ^ von Klemptzen, N.:"Nicolaus Klemzen vom Pommer-lande und dessen fürsten geschlecht-beschreibung", Stralsund 1771, p. 39.
  17. ^ "Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung, Volum 1, p. 116, review of "Taschenbuch für vaterländische Geschichte", Berlin 1843.
  18. ^ "10 Top Tourist Attractions in Arnhem & Easy Day Trips - PlanetWare". Archived from the original on 2011-10-29. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
  19. ^ Botsman, Daniel V. (2013-10-24). Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-4929-1.
  20. ^ Singha, H. S. (2000). The encyclopedia of Sikhism. Hemkunt Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-81-7010-301-1.
  21. ^ Ewbank, Thomas. (1856) Life in Brazil. New York: Harper & Brothers. p 439.
  22. ^ "Shining Path". InSight Crime. 2017-03-27. Archived from the original on 2023-11-15. Retrieved 2020-12-04.
  23. ^ "Uzbekistan: Two Brutal Deaths in Custody". Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  24. ^ "Uzbekistan". Archived from the original on 2020-03-22. Retrieved 2019-05-25.
  25. ^ "World-exclusive: Commander on the run tells of the terror inside ISIS". Archived from the original on 2017-10-14. Retrieved 2017-10-14.
  26. ^ "Villagers apologize for cannibal ancestors eating missionary: Weird News, Strange But True Stories, Odd Facts, Bizarre". Archived from the original on 2010-07-19. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  27. ^ Mavis, Paul (2011-03-14). "Shogun – 30th Anniversary Edition". DVDTalk. Archived from the original on 2015-01-02. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  28. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cannibal Movies: K". Archived from the original on 2021-08-03. Retrieved 2019-11-23.
  29. ^ Satellite Ground Systems. "Encyclopedia of Cannibal Movies: B". Archived from the original on 2023-06-12. Retrieved 2010-07-23.