Flaying, also known colloquially as skinning, is a method of slow and painful execution in which skin is removed from the body. Generally, an attempt is made to keep the removed portion of skin intact

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Flaying of humans is used as a method of torture or execution, depending on how much of the skin is removed. This is often referred to as "flaying alive". There are also records of people flayed after death, generally as a means of debasing the corpse of a prominent enemy or criminal, sometimes related to religious beliefs (e.g. to deny an afterlife); sometimes the skin is used, again for deterrence, esotheric/ritualistic purposes, etc. (e.g. scalping)

A dead animal may be flayed when preparing it to be used as human food, or for its hide or fur. This is more commonly called skinning.

Causes of Death

Dermatologist Ernst G. Jung notes that the typical causes of death due to flaying are shock, critical loss of blood or other body fluids, hypothermia, or infections, and that the actual death is estimated to occur from a few hours up to a few days after the flaying. Hypothermia is possible, as skin is essential for maintaining a person's body temperature, as it provides a person's natural insulation.


The Assyrian tradition

Ernst G. Jung, in his "Kleine Kulturgeschichte der Haut" ("A small cultural history of the skin"), provides an essay in which he outlines the Neo-Assyrian tradition of flaying human beings. Already from the times of Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883-859 BC), the practice is displayed and commemorated in both carvings and official royal edicts. The carvings show that the actual flaying process might begin at various places on the body, such as at the crus (lower leg), the thighs, or the buttocks.


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In their royal edicts, the Neo-Assyrian kings seem to gloat over the terrible fate they imposed upon their captives, and that flaying seems, in particular, to be the fate meted out to rebel leaders. Jung provides some examples of this triumphant rhetoric, here are some from Ashurnasirpal II:

I have made a pillar facing the city gate, and have flayed all the rebel leaders; I have clad the pillar in the flayed skins. I let the leaders of the conquered cities be flayed, and clad the city walls with their skins. The captives I have killed by the sword and flung on the dung heap, the little boys and girls were burnt.


The Rassam Cylinder, in the British Museum demonstrates this:

Their corpses they hung on stakes, they stripped off their skins and covered the city wall with them

Other Examples

Searing or cutting the flesh from the body was sometimes used as part of the public execution of traitors in medieval Europe. A similar mode of execution was used as late as the early 18th century in France; one such episode is graphically recounted in the opening chapter of Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1979).


In 1303, the Treasury of Westminster Abbey was robbed while holding a large sum of money belonging to King Edward I. After arrest and interrogation of 48 monks, three of them, including the subprior and sacrist, were found guilty of the robbery and flayed. Their skin was attached to three doors as a warning against robbers of Church and State. The Copford church in Essex, England has been found to have human skin attached to a door.

In Chinese history, Sun Hao, Fu Sheng and Gao Heng were known for removing skin from people's faces. The Hongwu Emperor flayed many servants, officials and rebels. In 1396 he ordered the flaying of 5000 women. Hai Rui suggested that his emperor flay corrupt officials. The Zhengde Emperor flayed six rebels, and Zhang Xianzhong also flayed many people. Lu Xun said the Ming Dynasty was begun and ended by flaying.

The Aztecs of Mexico flayed victims of ritual human sacrifice, generally after death.


There are numerous reports of Native Americans flaying captives, seeking to keep them alive and suffering as long as possible.

A Famous example of flaying

~Marco Antonio Bragadin~

This poor man suffered greatly! Below is his story...... it all starts of course in war, called The Siege of Famagusta.

Famagusta came under siege on September 17, 1570.
Marcantonio Bragadin led the defence of Famagusta with Lorenzo Tiepolo, Captain of Paphos, and general Astorre Baglioni.


The Ottoman forces kept pressure on for months, while their artillery relentlessly pounded the city's bulwarks. According to Venetian chroniclers (whose numbers are treated with some skepticism by modern scholarship), about 6,000 garrison troops stood against some 100,000 Turks with 1,500 cannons, backed by about 150 ships enforcing a naval blockade to stave off reinforcements and victuals.


The besieged garrison of Famagusta put up a heroic struggle lasting well beyond the most optimistic assumptions, against far superior enemy numbers and without any hope of help from the motherland. Furthermore, the Turks were employing new tactics. The entire belt of walls surrounding the town and the exterior plain was filled with earth up to the top of the fortifications. In the meantime a number of tunnels were dug out towards and under the city walls to undermine and breach them.


In July, 1571, 11 months after it started, the Turks eventually breached the fortifications and their forces broke into the citadel, being repulsed only at the cost of heavy losses. With provisions and ammunition running out, and no sign of relief from Venice on August 1, Bragadin asked for terms of surrender.


Famagusta's defenders made terms with the Ottomans before the city was taken by force, since the traditional laws of war allowed for negotiation before the city's defenses were successfully breached, whereas after a city fell by storm all lives and property in the city would be forfeit. The Ottoman commander agreed that, in return for the city's surrender, all Westerners in the city could exit under their own flag and be guaranteed safe passage to Venice-held Crete; Greeks could leave immediately, or wait two years to decide whether to remain in Famagusta under Ottoman rule, or depart the city for any destination of their choice. For the next four days, evacuation proceeded smoothly. Then, at the surrender ceremony on August 5, where Bragadin offered the vacated city to Mustafa, the Ottoman general, after initially receiving him with every courtesy, began behaving erratically, accusing him of murdering Turkish prisoners and hiding munitions. Suddenly, Mustafapulled a knife and cut off Bragadin's right ear, then ordered his guards to cut off the other ear and  nose.

There followed a massacre of all Christians still in the city, with Bragadin himself most brutally abused. After being left in prison for two weeks, his earlier wounds festering, he was dragged round the walls with "sacks of earth and stone" on his back; next, he was tied to a chair and hoisted to the yardarm of the Turkish flagship, where he was exposed to the taunts of the sailors. Finally, he was taken to his place of execution in the main square, tied naked to a column, and flayed alive. Bragadin's quartered body was then distributed as a war trophy among the army, and his skin was stuffed with straw and sewn, reinvested with his military insignia, and exhibited riding an ox in a mocking procession along the streets of Famagusta. The macabre trophy, together with the severed heads of general Alvise Martinengo, Gianantonio Querini and castellan Andrea Bragadin, was hoisted upon the masthead pennant of the personal galley of the Ottoman commander, Amir al-bahr Mustafa Pasha, to be brought to Constantinople as a gift for Sultan Selim II.

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Bragadin's skin was later stolen from Constantinople's arsenal in 1580 by the young Venetian seaman Girolamo Polidori, who was there on business. He brought it back to Venice, where it was received as a returning hero. The skin was preserved first in the church of San Gregorio, then interred with full honors in the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, where it still is.

Bragadin's fame rests upon the incredible resistance that he made against the vastly superior besieging forces. From a military point of view, the besieged garrison's perseverance required a massive effort by the Ottoman Turks, who were so heavily committed that they were unable to redeploy in time when the Holy League built up the fleet later victorious against the Muslim power at Lepanto. Historians to this day debate just why Venice did not send help to Bragadin from Souda, Crete. It is alleged that some Venetians thought about putting their limited military assets to better use in the forthcoming clash, already in sight, which would climax in the Battle of Lepanto.


When news of Bragadin's agonizing death reached Venice, he was regarded as a martyr and his story galvanized Venetian soldiers in the fleet of the Holy League. The Venetian seamen went on to fight with greater zeal than any of the other combatants at the decisive Battle of Lepanto where an Ottoman fleet was crushed by the combined force of much of Western Europe.

An impostor using the name Marco Bragadino claimed to be Bragadin's son. In Venice and later Germany the impostor claimed amongst other things to be able to convert base metals into gold until he was executed in 1591.


The Citadel still stands today, together with its own story.. read about it HERE

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