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The act of whipping or flogging; scourging.


Flagellation is the act of whipping (Latin flagellum, "whip") the human body. Specialised implements for it include rods, switches, and the cat-o-nine-tails.

Disciplinary use, and torture
Flogging is an approximate synonym that was probably derived from flagellum in the English navy, where flogging was a common disciplinary measure that became associated with a seaman's manly disregard for pain— a barbarian virtue that was picked up in English schoolboy slang by the end of the 17th century.

Flagellation probably originating in the Near East, but quickly spread throughout the ancient world. In Sparta, young men were flogged as a test of their manliness. The Jews limited flagellation to forty strokes, and in practice delivered forty strokes minus one, so as to avoid any possibility of breaking this law due to a miscount.

In the Roman Empire, flagellation was often used as a prelude to crucifixion, and in this context is sometimes referred to as scourging. Whips with small pieces of metal or bone at the tips were commonly used. In addition to causing severe pain, the victim would be made to approach a state of hypovolemic shock, due to loss of blood.

The Romans reserved this torture to non-citizens, as stated in the lex Porcia and lex Sempronia, dating from 195 and 123 BC. The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it. Two lictors (some reports indicate scourgings with four or six lictors) alternated blows. There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted—this was left to the lictors to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation victims who died while still bound to the post. Flagellation was referred to as "half death" by some authors, and apparently, many died shortly thereafter. Cicero reports in In Verrem, "pro mortuo sublatus brevi postea mortuus" (taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

Association with religion
The Flagellation refers in a Christian context to the Flagellation of Christ, an episode in Jesus' physical degradation leading to the Crucifixion. (See Passion).

The fanatic practice of mortification of the flesh for religious purposes includes the Christian Flagellant movements of the 13th century, the present-day members of Opus Dei, and many Shias during the festival of Ashura.

Erotic use
In the sexual sub-culture of BDSM, "flagellation" involves beating the submissive partner. Such a flogging is not always delivered with forceful blows, sometimes it is done with very soft blows repeated a great many times so as to make the skin sensitive, so that the softest impact can eventually feel very intense. Flogging for erotic thrill, typically with implements such as whips, paddles, or canes, has been has been called the "English vice." It is discussed with other displaced eroticism at the entry for paraphilia (see also Spanking). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagellation [Sept 2004]

Le vice anglais

Although flagellation is often considered to be 'le vice anglais' par excellence, the first medico-scientific treatise on the subject probably came from Germany. De Flagrorum Usu in Re Veneria & Lumborum Renumque Officio (On the Use of Rods in Venereal Matters and in the Office of the Loins and Reins), by the German doctor Johann Heinrich Meibom, known as Meibomus, was first published in Leiden in 1629. It attempted to explain, in the light of contemporary understanding of anatomy and physiology, why chastisement might be arousing. --http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pain/microsite/culture1.html [Jan 2005]

Flagellant novels

Flagellant novels were a popular form of erotic fiction in eighteenth and nineteenth century England. Predictably, these dealt graphically with erotic whipping of women, schoolgirls and others. One book by 'Etonensis' called "The Mysteries of Verbena House: or, Miss Bellasis birched for thieving" is held up as typical of the genre. A contemporary critic wrote of this book "After wading through so many dull, insipid, if not absolutely repulsive books on the subject, it is a relief to alight at last upon one which tact and clever writing render almost readable." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagellant_novel [Jan 2005]


Scourging, practiced by the Romans was a cruel punishment that usually preceded crucifixion. The only ones exempted from scourging were women, Roman senators and soldiers except in cases of desertion. Normally there were between one and six trained Roman officer called lictors who were responsible for dispensing the blows to the victims. The lictors chosen to administer the scourging had previously received special medical training. They knew how to wield the whip so as to open bruises which had already formed. The instrument used for scourging is a short whip called a flagrum or flagellum to which was attached several braided leather thongs of variable lengths. Knots were tied in the ends of each thong, and sheep bone or iron balls were inserted into the knots at the end of each thong. This whip is called a flagrum or flagellum. --http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Lake/3894/easter/cruscourg.html [Jun 2004]

Flagellation in Christianity [...]

Flagellation in monasteries and convents were the order of the day. Saints such as St. William, St. Rudolph and St. Dominic would routinely order their disciples to lash them on bare backs. From flagellating themselves, priests began to flagellate their penitents as part of their penance. It came to be regarded as a necessary act of submission to God. Some holy men maintained that whipping had the power to rescue souls from hell. They believed that humiliation and physical pain provided a way in which one could become fully human. --Dorothy C. Hayden, CSW

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