I learned this morning that my Critical Companion to Ancient Aliens Seasons 3 and 4: Unauthorized his number 7 on the Amazon.com list of bestselling new archaeology books today. I’m thrilled to now be a “bestselling” Amazon author, if only briefly.
I also thought I’d share an interesting tidbit I came across. My father deals in antiques, and he found a miniature, 4-inch-tall iron maiden, complete with spikes, just like this one pictured below.
The item is really cool, and about 120 years old. It was produced in Nuremberg, Germany in the late nineteenth century as a souvenir for tourists visiting Nuremberg Castle, where the most famous iron maiden, the Nuremberg Virgin, was kept. Unfortunately, the Nuremberg iron maiden was destroyed during World War II when Allied forces bombed the city. (A copy created in the late nineteenth century is still extant.)
What makes this relevant to this blog is the weird history of the iron maiden. Routinely described as a medieval torture device, the spiked cabinet does not exist in any medieval manuscript or as any genuine medieval artifact. The first iron maiden reports were created as a hoax in 1793, derived from two possible sources. The first is the Carthaginians’ torture of Regulus as described in Augustine’s City of God (1.15):
They shut him up in a narrow box, in which he was compelled to stand, and in which finely sharpened nails were fixed all round about him, so that he could not lean upon any part of it without intense pain; and so they killed him by depriving him of sleep.
The second possible source is a misinterpretation of the (spike free) metal “cloak of shame” German prostitutes and poachers were forced to wear for public humiliation.
Following the 1793 literary hoax, German hucksters cobbled together iron maidens from various medieval artifacts and spare parts to display to the public for cash. The Nuremberg maiden, for example, probably used a medieval cast-iron head of the Virgin Mary as its face.
Such fabricated historical artifacts remind us how important it is to carefully examine sources and critically think about not just what we know about history but how we know it. This also reminds us that there have always been those who were willing to fabricate and falsify history for profit.
12/28/2012 07:53:14 am
I think this is just a metal image of Mary, fantasy and malice of the atheists of the 20th century. As strange sense of humor, in England, in Europe there is no such interpretation of the image, create a "torture device".
3/29/2016 09:13:44 pm
For some reason there is never any mention of Elisabeth of Bathory. The Hungarian Countess used an Iron Maiden device designed to her specifications by a German clockmaker which was installed in her castle cellar. This was a robot of sorts and opened and closed automatically when the Countess' prey got close to the contraption. Needles came out of the breasts and genitalia which pierced her victims in those exact locations. The blood was drained then collected and warmed so that Elisabeth could bathe in it. She believed this was her youth elixir. The Hungarian Countess was not only fond of blood from young virgin girls for beautification rituals but she was also a sexual sadist who enjoyed torturing her victims. This specific Iron Maiden was adorned with blonde hair and real human teeth that were previously ripped from one of her servants mouths. It had red eyes and was absolutely terrifying to its victims (and anyone else who saw it I'm sure). The account of this device was found in the court records from the trial of Elisabeth Bathory. The crimes were so heinous at the time that she nor her proclivities were allowed to be mentioned in public as officially ordered by King Matthias II. Michael Wagener was an Austrian scholar who chronicled every fact he could find on The Bloody Countess including the beginning of her obsession in his book Beitrage zur philosophischen Anthropologie in1796. This was nearly 200 years after the trial. Not sure whether any of the artifacts remain today in or around Hungary but doubtfully so. The public outcry was one of complete disgust. Even the earth was so ashamed of such evil that in the early 1800's lightening came down from the heavens and burnt the castle to the ground. Anyways, I think its strange that everyone brings up the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg as a hoax, but according to official and public record there was a far more menacing (and real) one associated with "The Bloody Countess" Elisabeth Bathory.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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