Happy Halloween

Witches, Vampires, and Torture in Early Modern Europe

Directions: With your partner, visit the following sites, watch the videos, and answer the questions below each in a Google Doc. This Google document should be shared with your teacher by the end of the period.


1. Read the following article and answer the questions below: Where Witch Hunts Began

    • According to Nachman Ben-Yehuda, how did Europeans understand witchcraft before the fourteenth century?
    • How did the birth of the Dominican order change the views of witchcraft and start the rise of witch hunts?
    • What events/trends outside of the Church led to an increase of "witches...[as] a public concern"?
    • Why did the witch-hunters focus on women?

2. For the two documents [the graph comparing Protestant and Catholic witch trials & Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment Europe] , summarize/explain the document and HIPPO the document.

“The so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century has often been portrayed as a period in which much of Europe cast off the belief in witchcraft and magic under the influence of new philosophies, and advances in science and medicine. This received wisdom has often led to the academic dismissal of the continued relevance of the belief in witchcraft and magic, not only for the poor and illiterate in society but also for the educated.”

- "Beyond the Witch Trials: Witchcraft and magic in Enlightenment Europe", Owen Davies & Willem de Blecourt, 2004


1. Read the excerpt from Christopher Einolf's article "The Fall and Rise of Torture: A Comparative and Historical Analysis" and answer the following questions.

    • According to Einolf, what characteristics of torture persisted from the ancient/medieval period to modern-day use of torture?
    • What is Einolf's definition of torture? Do you agree with this definition? Why/why not?
    • Why did the use of torture rise in the 12th century? Why was torture used so frequently in trials for witches and heretics?
    • Why did European governments claim they began outlawing torture in the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century?

2. Read the following article and briefly summarize the terms below: Trial by Ordeal

    • Trial by Cold Water
    • Trial by Hot Iron
    • Trial by Hot Water
    • Trial by Host

3. Look up and briefly define three of the following methods of torture.

    • the rack
    • spiked boots
    • bridle
    • brazen bull
    • garrote
    • gridiron
    • thumb screws

"Torture was formally abolished by European governments in the 19th century, and the actual practice of tortures decreased as well during that period. In the 20th century, however, torture became much more common. None of the theories that explain the reduction of torture in the 19th century can explain its resurgence in the 20th. This article argues that the use of torture follows the same patterns in contemporary times as it has in earlier historical periods. Torture is most commonly used against people who are not full members of a society, such as slaves, foreigners, prisoners of war, and members of racial, ethnic, and religious outsider groups. Torture is used less often against citizens, and is only used in cases of extremely serious crimes, such as treason. Two general 20th century historical trends have caused torture to become more common. First, an increase in the number and severity of wars has causes an increase of torture against enemy guerrillas and partisans, prisoners of war, and conquered civilian populations. Second, changes in the nature of sovereignty have caused an expansion in the definition of acts constituting treason.

...To make cross-cultural and historical comparisons possible, this article defines torture in terms of behaviors alone, leaving out questions of morality or motive. Torture is an act in which severe physical pain is intentionally inflicted on a person by a public official while that person is under custody or control of that official, where there has not been, or has not yet been, a formal finding of guilt.

...Torture was rarely practiced in early medieval Europe, and was generally only practiced against noncitizen groups, such as slaves and foreigners. In certain limited cases citizens could be tortured as well, primarily when there was strong evidence indicating that they had been guilty of treason...Beginning in the 12th century, torture came to be used more frequently on citizens, both for ordinary criminal offenses and for the special crimes of heresy and witchcraft. As John Langbein (1977) has explained, the unusually high prevalence of torture in Medieval Europe resulted in a large part from the unusual characteristics of the medieval legal code, particularly its use of an exceptionally high standard of proof. For medieval judges to find an accused party guilty, they needed to have either a confession or the testimony of two eyewitnesses to the crime...judges would sometimes authorize torture to compel of a confession.

...The torture of citizens was also commonly practiced in cases of witchcraft and heresy. Witchcraft was seen as a type of devil worship, or treason to God in favor of demonic powers. Heretics were also seen as traitors to the church when they persisted in their heresy despite instruction from church officials. The efforts that heretics made to keep their beliefs secret made it particularly threatening, and the supposedly seductive, contagious nature of heresy made it seem that there was a real danger of heresy spiraling out of control, like an epidemic disease. Heretical religious movements were often identified or aligned with peasant rebellions and other political movements, making them a threat to both ecclesiastical and secular authorities.

...The practuce of torture remained legal during the early modern period, but its use in Europe slowly declines. European governments started to ban torture during the 18th century, and by 1851, torture was illegal throughout the continent. A the time, reformers urged abolition of torture on practical and moral grounds, and in adopting their recommendations, governments emphasized their progressivism and humanity. "

  • The Fall and Rise of Torture: A Comparative and Historical Analysis, Christopher J. Einolf, University of Virginia, June 2007


1. Watch the video Vampires: The World's Nightmare and answer the following questions.

    • Give the name of at least two ancient terms for "vampires" and the civilization they belong to.
    • What is the one characteristic all ancient "vampires" have in common?
    • When and where did our modern ideal of "vampires" emerge?
    • Why did the ideal of "vampires" grow in this place and time?
    • What works of literature were based on these local superstitions? Which was the most significant in our modern ideas of vampires?

2. Go to either the page of Elizabeth of Bathory or Vlad the Impaler [linked below] and briefly summarize how they served as inspiration to later authors writing tales of European Vampires.

All Done? Google Doc submitted to your teacher?? Then here are some related, but funny, video clips for you!