Allegedly, the iron maiden, or Eiserne Jungfrau, was used as a medieval torture device in Germany. It consists of a large, roughly human shaped cabinet with viciously sharp internal spikes. The victim would be placed inside, and the doors slowly closed, so that the spikes impaled him or her, leading to intense discomfort. If fully closed in the iron maiden long enough, the victim probably would have bled to death, assuming that the spikes did not pierce a lung or another vital organ. However, the iron maiden's history is under dispute, with numerous historians now believing that it is a hoax.
Physical examples of iron maidens only date back to the late 1800s, and some historians have suggested that the device was never actually used during the medieval period, although a myriad of other unsavory methods of torture were certainly employed. The best example of an iron maiden was the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, which was first displayed in 1892, shortly after is was built, and later destroyed during Allied bombing of Germany in the 1940s. Several historians suspect that the lurid history of the iron maiden was actually an invention of Johann Philipp Siebenkees, an eighteenth century German philsopher. Accounts of the iron maiden cannot be found from any period older than the 1700s, although most other medieval torture devices were extensively cataloged.
The iron maiden could also be viewed as a misinterpretation of several different medieval torture techniques, including the “cloak of shame,” a wooden construction worn by minor lawbreakers in public. The coat of shame was often weighted, to increase the physical discomfort caused by wearing the device, and members of the public were invited to hurl insults and objects at the criminal as punishment. After the criminal had been sufficiently humiliated, the cloak of shame was removed, but it undoubtedly left livid marks behind. Siebenkees may have decided to take the idea a few steps further to illustrate the brutality of the medieval era, and it is possible that sensationalists constructed exaggerated iron maidens for exhibition with the cloak of shame as an inspiration, although the devices were never actually used.
Several nineteenth century iron maidens are on display in museums around the world, but it is unlikely that they were ever employed. Ironically, the iron maiden probably was not used until the twentieth century. In 2003, an iron maiden was discovered in an abandoned soccer field in Iraq by invading American forces, and former athletes stated that it had been used to punish athletes who were not performing up to standard. The device was likely used under the direction of Uday Hussein when he was in charge of the Iraqi Olympic Committee.