Part of a series on
Capital punishment
Debate · Religion and capital punishment · Wrongful execution · Drugs
Current use
Belarus · China (PRC) · Cuba · Egypt · India · Iran · Iraq · Japan · Malaysia · Mongolia · North Korea · Pakistan · Saudi Arabia · Singapore · South Korea · Taiwan (ROC) · Tonga · United States · Vietnam
Past use
Australia · Austria · Belgium · Bhutan · Brazil · Bulgaria · Canada · Cyprus · Denmark · Ecuador · France · Germany · Hong Kong · Israel · Italy · Mexico · Netherlands · New Zealand · Norway · Philippines · Poland · Portugal · Romania · Russia · San Marino · South Africa · Spain · Sweden · Switzerland · Turkey · United Kingdom · Venezuela
Current methods
Decapitation · Electrocution · Gas chamber · Hanging · Lethal injection · Shooting (Firing squad· Stoning · Nitrogen asphyxiation (proposed)
Past methods
Boiling · Breaking wheel · Burning · Crucifixion · Crushing · Disembowelment · Dismemberment · Drawing and Quartering · Execution by elephant · Flaying · Impaling · Sawing · Slow slicing
Other related topics
Crime · Death row · Last meal · Penology
v · d · e

Dismemberment is the act of cutting, tearing, pulling, wrenching or otherwise removing, the limbs of a living thing. It may be practiced upon human beings as a form of capital punishment, as a result of a traumatic accident, or in connection with murder, suicide, or cannibalism. As opposed to surgical amputation of the limbs, dismemberment is often fatal to all but the simplest of creatures. In criminology, a distinction is made between offensive and defensive dismemberment.



The Martyrdom of St. Hippolytus by Dieric Bouts depicts dismemberment used in the 3rd century.

Dismemberment was carried out in the Medieval and Early Modern era by tying a person's limbs to chains or other restraints, then attaching the restraints to separate movable entities (e.g. vehicles) and moving them in opposite directions. Also referred to as "disruption" or being "drawn and quartered," it could be brought about by chaining four horses to the condemned's arms and legs, thus making them pull him apart, as was the case with the executions of François Ravaillac in 1610 and Robert-François Damiens in 1757. Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia, executed in 613, is generally regarded to have suffered the same death, though she was tied to the tail of a single horse and thus suffered more of a dragging death.

Usage in capital punishment

The execution of Túpac Amaru II, who was to be dismembered by four horses.

Dismemberment was a form of capital punishment for convicts of high treason in the Korean kingdom of the Joseon Dynasty. The Five Pains is a Chinese variation invented during the Qin Dynasty.

Dismemberment is no longer used by most modern governments as a form of execution or torture, though amputation is still carried out in countries that practice Sharia Law.[1]

Homicide cases

There are many instances of dismemberment in modern murder cases. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is infamous for the dismemberment and consumption of his victims.[2] Convicted drug trafficker William Trickett Smith II dismembered his wife in Peru to dispose of her body in a suitcase.[3]

Examples in fiction

Aztec stone disk depicting a dismembered Coyolxauhqui (Mexico City).



  • In The Divine Comedy, falsifiers are dismembered, only to be healed and have the process start over again.


Dismemberment has been portrayed in many films; although a few are depictions of historical or actual events, a significant number are within the horror genre. Filmmakers can be quite innovative in the methods depicted, and and thus reflect the public's fear and fascination with this method of torture, homicide, and/or body disposal. The following movies portray or imply dismemberment in some form; exceptional methods or motives are described.


Video Games

See also


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.