A method of torture or execution used most often in ancient and medieval times, flaying occurs when a person's skin is removed, usually while they are still alive. Flaying was most popular in African and Asian countries centuries ago, though instances are found in most parts of the world. Flaying was usually used to punish or execute prisoners, but was also sometimes used to gather information.
Despite occurring on different continents, the basic process of flaying is the same. A prisoner was tied, stretched out, with their hands over their head and their feet together. Normally starting with the face, the torturer would use a small knife to peel the skin off the body in one solid piece. This process was very slow and painful, and victims usually died before the torturer had flayed them to the waist. Sometimes victims were left in the sun or boiled in hot water first in order to make the skin removal easier.
Flaying was usually used in ritual sacrifice, on criminals, enemy soldiers, deposed rulers, and even witches. When used in ritual sacrifice, such as with the ancient Aztecs, the victims were normally already dead when their skins were removed. Other cultures put the flayed skin to use. For example, the Assyrians would nail the intact skin of their enemies to the wall after flaying them alive.
In medieval Europe, flaying was seen more as cutting off sections of flesh rather than the whole body. It was not one of the most popular methods of torture in Europe, but it was sometimes used to gather information. For example, some Babington Conspirators — those who were part of a plot to assassinate England's Queen Elizabeth I in order to free Mary, Queen of Scots, from captivity in 1586 — were flayed for information regarding the plot.
In China, flesh was sometimes just removed from the face rather than the whole body. In 1396, however, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Hongwu, had 5,000 women flayed. Additionally, he flayed many servants and enemies during his reign.
Though uncommon in the United States, flaying does occur in its history. Possibly the most famous example is of Nat Turner. Nat Turner, a slave, lead a slave rebellion in 1831 and was subsequently hung and then flayed.
Flaying is now illegal in every part of the world. Unfortunately, it is still seen even in the early 21st century. For example, in 2000, government troops in Myanmar allegedly flayed every male in the village of Karenni.