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The garrote, also known as garrote vil, garotte and garrotte – the execution device used by the Spaniards until the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship as recently as 1974. In Spain, it was abolished, as well as the death penalty, in 1978 with the new constitution. Originally, it was an execution where the convict was killed by hitting him with a club (“garrote” in Spanish). Later, it was refined and consisted of a seat to restrain the condemned person while the executioner tightened a metal band around his neck with a crank or a wheel until suffocation of the executee. With the handle the executioner slowly crushed the victim’s neck causing death from asphyxia.

The safe prototype of the garrote without movable parts is used now in BDSM play. This device is intended only to fix the submissive without causing an injury of the vital structures of the neck.

This device has a Spanish name because it was improved in Spain. It is not clear how complete earlier records are and even modern ones are somewhat patchy. But at least 736 people, including 16 women, were executed in Spain in the 19th century. 65 men and 2 women were executed by garroting between 1950 and 1974 in various parts of Spain. The first woman to be garroted was Juana Rivero in Madrid on the 3rd of November 1824 for robbery. Twenty seven year old Mariana Pineda became the first woman to suffer for treason when she was executed on the 26th of May 1831 in Andalusia. It was reported that the spike of the garrote pierced her neck and protruded through her mouth. Garroting was last used on the 2nd of March 1974, when two men were executed on the same day for the shooting of a police officer during a robbery.

Click here to see more garrote devices.

A few other countries used the garrote now and again. It was used in Spanish colonies, e.g. Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. It also was the official method for ordinary criminals in Portugal up to abolition in 1867.

Garroting appears to have developed from the early Chinese form of execution known as the bow-string. The criminal was tied to an upright post with two holes bored in it through which the ends of a cord from a long bow were passed and pulled tight round the neck by the executioner until the condemned strangled. In later versions the prisoner was seated on a shorter post with his back to the main post and a rope loop was placed round his neck and around the post. The executioner twisted a stick inserted in the loop to tighten the rope and slowly strangle the prisoner.

Using the garrote in execution – click here to see full gallery.

There were many different types of garrotes used as execution devices. It was originally made of a pole driven in the ground and a rope to tie up round the victim’s neck. But if the pole was not very thick and the rope was tightened behind the pole, the neck of the victim could be tightened more gradually and easily released. The string tying the victim’s neck to the pole could be made of a material that would shrink once wetted, so that the victim would slowly suffocate as it dried. This sort of torture was used all over the world as testified by etchings.

Using the garrote in BDSM play – click here to see full gallery.

The next form of garrote comprised a wooden stool on which the prisoner sat with his back to the post. A strong wooden chair was used and the condemned was strapped at the wrists, arms, waist and legs. In both types behind the seat, was a substantial post to which was affixed a heavy screw operated by a handle or a weighted lever, in both cases, connected to a spike or a small star shaped blade which ran through the post. When the screw/lever mechanism was operated, the blade entered the criminal’s neck and severed the spinal column, in an attempt to ensure that the prisoner did not strangle to death.



As in most countries, a more humane method of execution was sought and various improvements to the garrote were made. The Spanish version was perfected for this instrument to be used for execution. It had an iron collar that had an iron on its rear which penetrated the cervical vertebrae in a way that the convict died both for asphyxiation and because the spinal cord was crushed. The steel collar must be larger in size than the victim’s neck to prevent strangulation, but, at the same time, tight enough to immobilize the head and the neck. Preventing neck and head movement was necessary because it allowed the victim’s cervical vertebrae to be penetrated by a steel tip, moved by a screw mechanism positioned in the rear of the pole. In theory, such penetration was to be quick and precise, thus, able to administer a rapid and certain death.



Some versions of this device incorporated a fixed metal blade or spike directed at the spinal cord, to hasten the breaking of the neck. The spiked version, called the Catalan garrote, was used as late as 1897 in Spain but would continue up to 1940 in Cuba (as well as being used by some other colonies until shortly after the 1898 Spanish-American War). A further alternate device involved two metallic squares covered with leather, of which the upper one moved over the bottom one when the executioner turned the lever, breaking the inmate’s neck trapped inside. In some versions, two brass collars were used. One collar was attached to the lever whilst the other was fixed to the post. Both collars were hinged to admit the prisoner’s neck. When all preparations were complete, the executioner operated the mechanism forcing one collar outwards whilst the other remained stationary thus, if correctly adjusted, dislocating the prisoner’s neck and causing immediate unconsciousness followed by death.

In most cases, the prisoner lost consciousness quite quickly and was dead after a few minutes. Garrotting, even in its later forms, could never guarantee an instant loss of consciousness and was never considered to be as quick or humane as hanging.


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