AskDefine | Define impalement

Dictionary Definition

impalement n : the act of piercing with a sharpened stake as a form of punishment or torture

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the act of torturing or executing someone by impaling them on a sharp stake
  2. the joining of two coats of arms on one shield

Extensive Definition

otheruses impale
Impalement is a method of torture and execution whereby a person is pierced with a long stake. The penetration can be through the sides, through the rectum, through the vagina, or through the mouth. This method leads to a painful death; sometimes taking days. The stake would often be planted in the ground, leaving the impaled person suspended to die.
In some forms of impalement, the stake would be inserted so as to avoid immediate death, and would function as a plug to prevent blood loss, thus extending the person's agony for as many as three days . After suitable preparation of the victim, including public torture and rape, the victim was stripped and an incision was made in the groin between the genitals and rectum. A stout pole with a blunt end was inserted. The blunt end would push vital organs to the side where a sharp end would pierce them, hastening death. A conveniently suitable branch was often used.
The pole would often come out of the body at the top of the sternum and be placed against the lower jaw so that the victim would not slide farther down the pole. Often, the victim was hoisted into the air after partial impalement. Gravity and the victim's own struggles would cause them to slide down the pole, especially if the pole were on a wagon carrying war prizes and prisoner. Death could take many days. The term impalement is also used to describe deep stabbing wounds that occur in accidents where objects are driven through the body, for example by falling onto a spike, or being driven onto one in an automobile accident. Removing these objects presents a severe surgical challenge.


The use of impalement as a form of execution in civilizations of the Ancient Near East, is evidenced by carvings and statues from the ancient Near East. This form of execution is also mentionend in the Bible, the fourth book of the Torah, the Book of Numbers 25,4 ("Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the LORD..."). According to Ancient Greek historian Herodotus (3.159), Darius I impaled 3,000 Babylonians when he took Babylon: their execution is also recorded in the Behistun inscription. In ancient Rome, the term "crucifixion" could also refer to impalement. Ancient authors also report the use of "crucifixion" (which may have meant impalement as well) in Carthage, where it was used for extreme cases of treachery and failure on the battlefield, usually combined with other forms of torture.
Impalement was frequently practiced in Asia and Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Vlad the Impaler, who learned the method of killing by impalement while staying in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, as a prisoner, and Ivan the Terrible have passed into legend as major users of the method. From the 14th to 18th century, impalement was a traditional method of execution for high treason in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Impalement was used in Sweden during the 17th century, particularly as a death penalty for members of the resistance in the former Danish provinces, the Scanian lands (the so called "Snapphane)", where the stake was inserted between the spine and the skin of the victim. In that way, it could take four to five days before the victim died.
The Zulu of South Africa used impalement as a form of punishment for soldiers who had failed in the execution of their duty, or who had exhibited cowardice.
The Araucanian chief Caupolican suffered this death as a prisoner during the Spanish colonization of Chile. The method used was to make him sit on a stake while his wife was forced to watch.


impalement in Catalan: Empalament
impalement in Danish: Spidning på pæl
impalement in German: Pfählung
impalement in Modern Greek (1453-): Ανασκολοπισμός
impalement in Spanish: Empalamiento
impalement in French: Empalement
impalement in Italian: Impalamento
impalement in Dutch: Spietsing
impalement in Japanese: 串刺し
impalement in Norwegian: Spidding
impalement in Polish: Nabicie na pal
impalement in Portuguese: Empalamento
impalement in Romanian: Trasul în ţeapă
impalement in Russian: Посажение на кол
impalement in Finnish: Seivästäminen
impalement in Swedish: Pålning
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