The Weird Roman Punishment That Involved A Sack Full Of Animals

By Aaron Short on Friday, November 15, 2013
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“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” —Saint Augustus

In A Nutshell

An ancient Roman method of execution for parental homicide involved a river, a sack, a viper, dog, rooster, and a snake. It was only carried out in rare circumstances for the punishment of parental homicide and (bizarrely) was even carried out in 18th-century Germany.

The Whole Bushel

The US Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishments. In fact, most countries in the Western world do, too. We should feel lucky to live in a world where such laws exist. In ancient Rome, they had one of the most cruel and unusual punishments of all. It was called poena cullei, which is Latin for “punishment of the bag.” It was only ever used in cases of “parricide”—the killing of a parent. The Romans took particular exception to parricide as it was seen as a subversion of nature and also a sign of extreme ungratefulness.

When poena cullei was enacted, the criminal was sewn into a sack and then subsequently tossed into the nearest body of water. If that wasn’t awful enough, the Romans introduced a horrible twist. The sack was to be filled with animals: a viper, a dog, a rooster, and even a monkey! So the victim would not only have to suffer the horror of drowning but be scratched and bitten by the terrified animals as they drowned together.

It gets worse, according to “The Constitution of the Divine Hadrian.” If water—either a river or the sea—wasn’t nearby, the condemned man was then supposed to be put in the sack with the rooster, viper, dog, and monkey and then tossed to wild animals to be torn apart. So, it’s safe to say that we can add overkill to the list of things the Romans invented. And even though the Roman empire collapsed and mostly disappeared over 1,000 years ago, poena cullei has been practiced as recently as 18th-century Germany.

Show Me The Proof

The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 5, Edward Gibbon
The Civil Law of Ancient Rome
Reception and Transmission Of A Roman Punishmentw