Classical Humanism vs. Romanticism: two ways of imagining pre-modern torture at the castle of Pöggstall (Austria)


  • Andreas Zajic



História Social, História Medieval, História do Direito, Concepções românticas da Idade Média, Direito Penal Pré-Moderno, Câmaras de Tortura, Touro de Phalaris


Pöggstall castle in Lower Austria has long been renowned to a national public for its ostensibly “authentic” medieval torture chamber located in an upper floor room of the 13th century keep. As recent investigations disclosed, the whole arrangement was not installed before the early 19th century when the Austrian Emperor Francis I owned the estate. The re-assessment of the interior betrays a “romantic” idea of pre-modern torture and punishment that imagined the “dark” Middle Ages as a “counter-draft” to “enlightened” practices of justice and criminal law. Whereas the allegedly “original” torture chamber is in fact an imaginative construction of historicism and romanticism, an inventory of the castle from 1548 lists, among other devices of torture and punishment, a curious item that might theoretically have served the same function. The object is referred to as a prison or a lock called an “iron cow” or “brazen bull”, a term that evokes associations with the legendary antique motive of the bull of Phalaris. The article seeks to examine the object in the light of the literary and iconographic tradition of the “brazen bull” and argues that – whether the Pöggstall bull was really intended to be used as a torture instrument or not – it proves, in any case, that the owners were well-acquainted with “humanistic” traditions of torture in antiquity.


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Biografia do Autor

Andreas Zajic

Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Institut für Mittelalterforschung





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