What Exactly Is Public Humiliation? 

Last Updated on September 1, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

Many of us have witnessed scenes of public humiliation on our TV screens, in Medieval dramas where a villain is careened shamelessly through the town wearing no clothing, only to be pelted with vegetables.

This may seem like the product of fantasy in the modern society that we live in today, but public humiliation was actually practiced in ancient societies.

What Exactly Is Public Humiliation  (1)

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering if public humiliation really did happen, and what exactly it consists of, this article will answer your questions. Simply keep reading, as we take a look below. 

So What Is Public Humiliation? 

To answer this question, public humiliation is when political power is exercised in order to make the victim feel shame as a punishment.

It dates back to our earliest ancient history, where it was a fairly common form of punishment for those who had wronged their country by breaking various laws. 

Sometimes it was used as a punishment for those who had conducted the worst crimes imaginable, but it was also conducted for those who had simply transgressed in trivial matters. 

The point of public humiliation is both to cause shame to the perpetrator, and also to dissuade others observing the punishment from breaking the law themselves. 

Public humiliation has strong ties to religion, and most of the people who were shamed publicly throughout history were believed to have committed some kind of sin against God.

The rigid religious rules in ancient and medieval times allowed those who were in a position of power, such as religious leaders, to punish people in this manner. 

Historically, it can be witnessed not just as an incredibly cruel, but also dangerous punishment. Sometimes when those who were publicly shamed were faced with the public, mob mentality would take over and they would be beaten violently, resulting in death. 

Public Humiliation In Ancient Babylon 

Public humiliation can be traced all the way back to Ancient Babylon, where it was used as a common form of punishment for the public. The laws were incredibly strict at this point in history, and one could be punished in this manner without committing a major offense. 

For example, if you were a surgeon at this point in history, and you severed the limb of one of your patients, or one of your patients died under your care, you could be forced to have your own hands chopped off. 

Another thing that you could be punished for during this point in history was incurring debt, and not having enough money.

You and your family could subsequently have been careened into slavery, where you were branded as such with a hot iron, which foretold your place in society.

This was a form of public humiliation in a sense, because all who witnessed you and your branding would be aware of your low societal status. 

What Exactly Is Public Humiliation  (1)

Public Humiliation During The Spanish Inquisition 

Although public humiliation has its roots in ancient times, the period in which it was practiced most ubiquitously was likely to be during the Spanish inquisition. During this period in time, thousands of people suffered this punishment. 

From 1478 – 1834, public humiliation and tortue were common punishments distributed amongst those considered to be criminals.

The Catholic church held a strong grip over the public through the threat of these punishments, forcing them to be completely obedient to the church and government. 

Oftentimes, innocent prisoners would be publicly shamed and tortured, merely because they were forced to confess to commiting crimes that they simply did not partake in. Fear was the driving force behind this rule. 

Public Humiliation In Salem 

Another period in history where public humiliation was used regularly as a form of punishment was in Salem, Massachusetts, during 1962. There were laws named the Puritan laws, which involved public humiliation as an act of punishment. 

It was common in American colonial law to have incredibly severe punishments for things which were inconsequential. One could be put in the stocks for the most minor of offenses.

The most famous period in history which we all likely associate with public humiliation is during the Salem witch trials. During this point in time, over 150 innocent people were subjected to torture and public humiliation based on accusations of witchcraft. 

Many people turned against each other, and those who were accused of practicing witchcraft often turned to point the finger at their neighbors in an act of desperation.

Because there was no way of disproving the claims of witchcraft made by people, you could be accused without any chance of defending yourself.  

Public Humiliation During The Second World War

Another point in history where public humiliation took place, was actually during the Second World War. Although this may appear difficult to believe, because it took place in a fairly modern era, many women specifically were punished via public humiliation during this period in history. 

Mobs all across Europe publicly humiliated thousands upon thousands of women, who were said to have had sexual relationships with German soldiers during the war.

First of all, their hair would be shaved until they appeared completely bald, then they would be stripped of all their clothing and paraded through the street for onlookers to witness them. 

They were seen as traitors, so the crowds would clap their hands and cheer as they were marched past. 

Final Thoughts

Public humiliation has been a form of punishment used in society since ancient times. It is a way of practicing religious and political dominion over the public, and instilling fear into observers, ensuring that they behave in the manner which society deems acceptable.

Many of those who underwent public humiliation did not in fact commit any crimes, and were forced into confessing out of fear.