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.
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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