The Weird Roman Punishment That Involved A Sack Full Of Animals

“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

  • Rijul Ballal

    “rooster, viper, dog, and monkey” how does one manage to connect all these animals.

    • inconspicuous detective

      two of which they already had (rooster, dog) and a viper and monkey can usually be found in the same or similar places in africa, so i’d imagine it wasn’t that hard.

    • Hadeskabir

      In the Roman Empire, specially in Rome it was comon to have this kind of animals. The viper and monkey were brought from africa because of being exotic.

  • Kennon Gilson

    What are you, an anti-Roman bigot? Nothing weird about it. Here’s a different take.
    The Romans had no public death penalty for Roman civilians: justice was entirely the province of your father/eldest clan male who had full rights and accounted for your behavior. You killed your father, you became an outlaw and so were delivered to the state of nature or will of the gods symbolized by the Mother Tiber and the zodiacal beasts. If you survived you were exiled. Many did.
    Same for the later procedure of the beasts. You were symbolically returned to the state of nature with a sword or other weapon. You always had a fighting chance.
    Far more humane than the chair or 1500 years of burning people at the stake or shooting innocent foreigners with drones. A Roman would say we’re the Barbarians, and pretty weird.

    • edzyl blane

      Yeah, i agree. Every culture and country has its own ways. We must not say they’re cruel or weird just because they’re different from ours.

      • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

        You’re wrong. Your argument is no different than when people say ‘You know what? People in the Middle East should treat their women better’, then some jackass runs up and says ‘Have you seen the way we treat women here?. Lethal injection or any other way the death sentence is carried out is, no doubt, less cruel than sticking someone in a sack with a snake, a rooster, a dog, and a monkey then throwing it in a river or to wild animals.

        • Smaller lebowski

          Your totally that annoying person who argues with everyone’s posts. Thought you should know… Your THAT guy..

          • Efamore

            You’re totally that annoying person who can’t spell “you’re” right while trying to insult someone for making a pretty valid point.

          • Smaller lebowski

            “You’re” totally that guy who bases entire debates off of grammar usage. And I’M totally that guy that’s awesome. Check and mate.

          • faithless

            It’s shabbos goddamn! Stop all this fighting. Feels just like fighting Charlie in ‘Nam

        • Wah Ibanez

          I just think it’s wrong because the animals involved didn’t also kill their parents.

    • Exiled Phoenix

      Imagine how much farther advanced civilization would be if the Roman Republic had never fallen.

    • Hadeskabir

      Finally someone with good sense!

  • edzyl blane

    Well, i guess it’s better than to die of torture such as many countries have done to spies, martyrs and heroes who have nothing wrong in serving their country.

  • inconspicuous detective

    crazy. maybe if you got the viper to bite everything (except yourself, somehow) you could fight your way out of the bag…but man that would be terrible.

    • Nomsheep

      Shame the venom is unlikely to be fast enough to save you.

      • inconspicuous detective

        you can hope. i was told (when i owned a tarantula) that if it bit my dog, it would likely paralyze the dog for 3 days and possibly kill it. the venom of snakes/spiders doesn’t affect all animals equally.

  • Arjan Hut

    Killing people with drones, now that is weird and cruel.

    • Hadeskabir

      And coward, I might had.

      • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

        A) the word you want to use is “cowardly”. B) Do you only value non-american lives? War sucks and the wars we are in need to be ended. But, since they won’t be ended, isn’t it better to replace the lives of our men and women with a few remote controlled toys?

        • Hadeskabir

          Cowardly doesn’t sound right in the sentence, but maybe you’re right. The wars you are in it was you guys who started them. So you start a war and use remote controlled toys so you can win it. Seems cowardly for a country who goes out every decade in search of a new war to cause. Here’s an idea so you don’t lose the lives of men and women in wars, DON’T CREATE WARS.

        • Kalev

          Isn’t it kind of fucked that we’re all so sure that there are scary terrorists out there, somewhere, that we fall back on vague and unfounded notions of “saving American lives” in order to tell ourselves it’s ok to kill civilians who have not even been formally charged with crimes?

  • Kaydot Mcdiamonds

    That punishment should be brought back actually. The number of kids that kill their parents over inheritance of forbidden love would be reduced drastically.

    • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

      The number of kids who do that is such a small number, lowering it would be inconsequential.

      • Kaydot Mcdiamonds

        The number of reported cases is low.

  • The Ou7law

    We should bring this punishment to America then maybe we wouldnt have so much crime

    • Colonel Duke LaCrosse

      We already have a death penalty and that doesn’t stop anyone.

      • The Ou7law

        Please America’s death penalty is the slowest process, they will die of old age before we execute them. We need to bring back public hangings and stop slapping people on the wrist when they commit a murderous crime or a rape or anything along those lines. Our judicial system is bullshit

      • Dumas911

        Yeah but it’s only carried out after about 25 yrs of appeals so lots can happen in that time, so it’s not that big of a deterant. Now if they left the courtroom and straight to the injection table things would be way different!!

        • Hadeskabir

          Damn yeah! Why bring them to court anyway? Just killed them in the moment you arrest them!

  • Scott

    Part of me doesn’t believe a lot of the crazy stories we’re told about ancient Rome. I feel like a lot of them, particularly the stories about child fucking and horrid punishments, are just fictitious stories made up by Christians over the years to demonize the Romans.

  • Sweet-Sativa

    Wow. I do believe that’s one of the most terrifying punishments ive heard. I was reading about an old British punishment called “A Pair Of Pincers” and that freaked me out too.

  • Mike Seis

    You’re slightly off on your opening quote. It was actually Caesar Augustus who claimed to have found Rome a city of bricks but left it a city of marble.

  • P5ychoRaz

    Man, I began to aspirate when I read that article – they weren’t monkeying around when it came to torture! Don’t mean to sound cocky, but I hold a dogged stance on torture. Sorry.

  • Jmax816 .

    Thats terrable