English Across the Curriculum

The Death Penalty

History of Capital Punishment

The death penalty goes back a long time in history. Almost all ancient civilizations have used some form of killing people for a serious crime. In Ancient Greece, many criminals were put to death, including Socrates, who was killed by a poisonous drink. During the Middle Ages thousands of Europeans were executed because they were against the church. In revolutionary France 40,000 people were executed by the guillotine, a beheading machine.

Towards the end of the 18th century nations started banning the death penalty as a form of punishment. In the last two centuries many countries have abolished capital punishment completely, others use it only during wartimes. Many of the world’s big religions have used the death penalty over the centuries.

Guillotine during the French Revolution

Image: Musée de la Révolution française, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons