“Breaking with the wheel” was second only in popularity to hanging as a means of capital punishment, but it was decidedly more painful and brutal.
The condemned was usually staked out on the ground with wooden timbers placed strategically below the limbs. The executioner then repeatedly smashed the limbs using the iron edges of the wheel, careful not to deliver killing blows.
Once the victim’s bones were thoroughly broken, his or her limbs were ‘braided’ into the spokes of the wheel, much like a pretzel. Then the wheel was erected horizontally on a pole, with the victim left to die a slow, agonizing death.
Trivia & Comment
The spectacle of the condemned being broken on the wheel was always a great social event that attracted much larger crowds than the comparatively mundane hangings.