Friday, January 2, 2009

Flagellation: Falanga and Bastinado

Flagellation is the oldest form of punishment and there are two forms of foot whipping i.e. falanga and bastinado. Foot whipping was not always used as torture but also corporal punishment. At one time or another many types of whips rods and cudgels were used to beat the soles of the feet.

Falanga (and bastinado) describe a form of foot torture where victims were bound with their feet raised and their soles beaten with sticks. In more recent times cables or metal implements might be used. It is thought falanga had its origins in Turkey but was also recorded in the Far East.

Persians (now Iran) favoured bastinado, where the victim was gently and rhythmically beaten with a lightweight stick or bamboo on the soles of the feet. Continued bastinado resulted in uncontrollable hysteria and eventual mental collapse.

In the Middle Ages, falanga was a punishment often used on traders who were dishonest. For some reason, bakers were particularly singled and this sent shock waves across Europe. In England, bakers attempted to avoid such official scrutiny by making a good will gesture to their customers and supplying a thirteenth role with every dozen purchased. This is the origins of the bakers dozen. A common misunderstanding was the thirteen, represented the twelve disciples plus Jesus.

Falanga is still used today as torture, partly because the effects are difficult to identify medically. Blows are sometimes direct to bare feet or through shoes. In severe cases, casualties may be forced to walk on glass; or jump, on the spot carrying a heavy weight. The immediate effects are pains, with bleeding and tissue swelling but permanent damaged is dependent on post traumatic oedema (or swelling). Torturers might limit this, as part of the ordeal, by cooling the feet or forcing the victim to put their shoes on after a beating. Smashing the heel and ball of the foot destroys the natural fatty-fibro padding, which assists shock absorption in normal walking. Depending on the severity of damage this would leave the victim unable to walk without pain. Skin wounds heal by second intention, leaving painful scars. Detachment of the skin at its deeper levels results in damage to proprioception adding considerably to pathological gait.

Many victims report with aponeuritis where the whole sole of the foot has become painful. Changes in pressure within muscle compartments necessitate a radical change in walking style. The feet are reported as hot and cold and there is an increase in the rate of perspiration. Stability and balance may also be adversely affected due to falanga. In many regions of the world falanga is still practiced as a form of corporal punishment in bringing up children.

Abbott G 1997 Rack, rope and hot pincer: a history of torture and its instruments London: Brockhampton Press

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