Ancient penal law did not aspire to rehabilitating the delinquent but rather to re-establishing justice by submitting those who violated the generally accepted order of law to physical suffering. The topic can be treated from a range of different perspectives, such as the historical context, the legal regulations of the time, the relations in society, social status, moral values and many others. While this indicates the complexity of the topic, the fact is that this kind of was practice was almost an everyday occurrence in judicial procedures of the early modern period. Ljubljana of that time was no exception to the rule, with the preserved documents bearing witness to the interrogations that took place behind the walls of the Tranča building in Ljubljana, and to the execution of humiliating punishments in front of the Town Hall, where there once stood a pillary, a fool's cage and a bench, and at Friškovec, where capital punishment was carried out by executioners dealing the fatal blows. All of this contributed to our decision to place an exhibition of this kind in the Casemate, as well as the fact that 2015 marks exactly 200 years since the Penitentiary was opened at the Ljubljana Castle, an institution based on the modern penal code from 1803, which moved away from the old punishment practices of intimidation and torture, focusing more on detention and re-education of the prisoner through work.
The period from the 16th century well into the last quarter of the 18th century was marked by terrible and cruel violence against the human body. In early modern criminal matters, the process of interrogation and sentencing took place behind closed doors and was strictly separate from the public announcement of the sentence and the punishment. While it became customary for acknowledgement of the crime to be the ultimate evidence, judicial authorities used extremely violent methods of torture to achieve an admittance of guilt. Physical violence against the body was supposed to encourage the acknowledgement of the crime. With the aid of barbarous tortures, using “harsh interrogation” with various torture devices, the judiciary forced confession, as conviction followed only after the acknowledgement of the crime. Minor crimes and misdemeanours were punished with humiliation punishments. Offenders were publicly exposed, bound to a block or in the stocks, placed in shaming masks, chained to a pillory, locked in a fool’s cage, submerged in a river, or forever marked and shamed by having their body parts cut off or being mutilated or branded.
The time of blood criminal justice was marked by numerous brutal public executions. The death penalty was reserved for serious crimes. The theatre of horror was held on the scaffold, a spectacle during which the eyes of the spectators were on the executioner, who had to perform the execution flawlessly. Whether it was a case of dismemberment, the horrendous bludgeoning on the wheel, hanging, decapitation, drowning or death at the stake, the crowd would always closely follow the performance of the executioner and evaluate his skill, the art of torture that he would inflict upon the poor offender. With a view to prevention and intimidation, the torment of the executed victims was supposed to be prolonged until after their death. Their disfigured bodies embedded in the breaking wheel or hanging on the gallows were in fact left on display between heaven and Earth, as a warning for all to see.
The exhibition of early modern torture devices, tools and requisites, which were used both to achieve a confession of guilt by means of torture and to administer punishment for minor and serious offences, is intended to shed light on the time of the proliferation of torture practices and cruel punishments, while also serving as a reminder that even today these practices are nowhere near being merely a residue of the distant past. Is today’s supposedly civilised society any different at all?
The exhibits have been reconstructed on the basis of original source material, preserved illustrations and various records from Germany, Italy, Spain and other countries. This travelling exhibition has already been on display in a number of countries, including the UK, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Denmark, as well as at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb in 2011.
You are warmly invited to attend the round table, entitled The Wheel of Torture Continues to Turn, which will take place on Tuesday, September 15, at 6.00 PM at the Castle Theatre.
Admission: 4.00 € (for visitors with a Large or Small Castle Ticket, admission is free)
Ticket sales: The Info Centre at the Ljubljana Castle, the lower funicular station, www.ljubljanskigrad.si and all www.mojekarte.si sales points (including Petrol service stations and Kompas branch offices around Slovenia).
To attend the exhibition we recommend that visitors use the funicular railway.