Mutilation or maiming is an act of physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of any living body, usually without causing death.



Some ethnic groups practice ritual mutilation, e.g. scarification, burning, flagellation, tattooing or wheeling, as part of a rite of passage. In some cases, the term may apply to treatment of dead bodies, such as soldiers mutilated after they have been killed by an enemy.

The traditional Chinese practices of língchí and foot binding are forms of mutilation that have captured the imagination of Westerners, as well as the now tourist centered "long-neck" people, a sub-group of the Karen known as the Padaung where women wear brass rings around their neck.[1] The act of tattooing is also considered a form of self-mutilation according to some cultural traditions, such as within Christianity and Islam.[2][3] A joint statement released by the United Nations and numerous other international bodies opposes female genital cutting (female circumcision) as a form of mutilation.[4] Denniston et al. have argued that male circumcision is a form of mutilation;[5] their arguments have been criticised by Benatar and Benatar.[6]


Maiming, or mutilation which involves the loss of, or incapacity to use, a bodily member, is and has been practised by many societies with various cultural and religious significances, and is also a customary form of physical punishment, especially applied on the principle of an eye for an eye.

The Araucanian warrior Galvarino suffered this punishment as a prisoner during the Spanish conquest of Chile.

In law, maiming is a criminal offence; the old law term for a special case of maiming of persons was mayhem, an Anglo-French variant form of the word.

Maiming of animals by others than their owners is a particular form of the offence generally grouped as malicious damage. For the purpose of the law as to this offence animals are divided into cattle, which includes horses, pigs and asses, and other animals which are either subjects of larceny at common law or are usually kept in confinement or for domestic purposes.

In Britain under the Malicious Damage Act 1861 the punishment for maiming of cattle was three to fourteen years penal servitude; malicious injury to other animals is a misdemeanour punishable on summary conviction. For a second offence the penalty is imprisonment with hard labor for over twelve months. Maiming of animals by their owner falls under the Cruelty to Animals Acts.

Mutilation as human punishment

In times when even judicial physical punishment was still commonly allowed to cause not only intense pain and public humiliation during the administration but also to inflict permanent physical damage, or even deliberately intended to mark the criminal for life by docking or branding, one of the common anatomical target areas not normally under permanent cover of clothing (so particularly merciless in the long term) were the ears.

In England, for example, various pamphleteers attacking the religious views of the Anglican episcopacy under William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had their ears cut off for those writings: in 1630 Dr. Alexander Leighton and in 1637 still other Puritans, John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne.

In Scotland one of the Covenanters, James Gavin of Douglas, Lanarkshire, had his ears cut off for refusing to renounce his religious faith.

Notably in various jurisdictions of colonial British North America even relatively minor crimes, such as hog stealing, were punishable by having one's ears nailed to the pillory and slit loose, or even cropped, a counterfeiter would be branded on top (for that crime, considered lèse majesté, the older mirror punishment was boiling in oil).

Independence did not render American justice any less bloody. For example in the future state of Tennessee, an example of harsh 'frontier law' under the 1780 Cumberland Compact took place in 1793 when Judge John McNairy sentenced Nashville's first horse thief, John McKain, Jr., to be fastened to a wooden stock one hour for 39 lashes, and have his ears cut off and cheeks branded with the letters "H" and "T".

In Sharia law, mutilation is, in certain cases, used as a punishment for crimes. For example, thieves may be punished by having a hand amputated.

Another example from a non-western culture is that of Nebahne Yohannes, an unsuccessful claimant to the Ethiopian imperial throne who had his ears and nose cut off, yet was then freed. This form of mutilation against unsuccessful claimants to thrones has been in use in middle-eastern regions for thousands of years. To qualify as a king, formerly, one had to exemplify perfection. Obvious physical deformities such as missing noses, ears, or lips, are thereby sufficient disqualifications. The victim in these cases is typically freed alive to act (a) as an example to others, and (b) as no longer a threat.


  1. ^ Karen Long Neck hilltribe - Padaung, Northern Thailand
  2. ^ What Islam Says on Tattoos - - Ask The Scholar
  3. ^ Can I lead others? I have tattoos on my body
  4. ^ (pdf) Eliminating Female genital mutilation - An interagency statement. World Health Organization. ISBN 978 9241596442. 
  5. ^ Denniston, G. C., F. M. Hodges, M. F. Milos (1999). "Preface". Male and female circumcision: Medical legal and ethical considerations in pediatric practice. Kluwer. pp. i–vii. ISBN 0306461315. 
  6. ^ Benatar M, Benatar D (2003). "Between prophylaxis and child abuse: the ethics of neonatal male circumcision". Am J Bioeth 3 (2): 35–48. doi:10.1162/152651603766436216. PMID 12859815. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • mutilation — [ mytilasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1245; lat. mutilatio 1 ♦ Perte accidentelle ou ablation d un membre, d une partie externe du corps, qui cause une atteinte irréversible à l intégrité physique. Mutilation sexuelle (⇒ castration, excision, infibulation) ,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • mutilation — index defacement, defect, detriment, harm Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • Mutilation — Mu ti*la tion, n. [L. mutilatio: cf. F. mutilation.] The act of mutilating, or the state of being mutilated; deprivation of a limb or of an essential part. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • mutilation — (n.) 1520s, in Scots law, act of disabling or wounding a limb, from M.Fr. mutilation and directly from L.L. mutilationem (nom. mutilatio), noun of action from pp. stem of L. mutilare to cut or lop off, from mutilus maimed, which perhaps is… …   Etymology dictionary

  • mutilation — Mutilation. s. f. Retranchement d un membre. On ne decerne point de prise de corps s il n y a mutilation de membre …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Mutilation — (lat.), Verstümmelung …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Mutilation — (lat.), Verstümmelung …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • mutilation — Mutilation, Detruncatio …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • Mutilation — Les guerres mondiales et suivantes ont laissé de nombreux mutilés. (ici : Mutilé de guerre allemand, après la Première Guerre mondiale (Cette photo a pu être faite et/ou utilisée dans un contexte de propagande La mutilation est une perte… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • mutilation — (mu ti la sion ; en vers, de cinq syllabes) s. f. 1°   Action de mutiler. •   Toute mutilation énerve le corps et le défigure, VOLT. Lett. d Argental, 3 nov. 1766.    Terme de chirurgie. Retranchement d un membre. 2°   Par extension, destruction… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

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