The iron maiden is often associated with the Middle Ages. However, no account has been found earlier than 1793, although medieval torture devices were catalogued and reproduced during the 19th century.
Wolfgang Schild, a professor of criminal law, criminal law history and philosophy of law at the University of Bielefeld, has argued that supposed iron maidens were pieced together from artifacts found in museums, to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.
The most famous iron maiden was that of Nuremberg, first displayed possibly as far back as 1802. The original was lost in the Allied bombing of Nuremberg in 1944. A copy "from the Royal Castle of Nuremberg", crafted for public display, was sold through J. Ichenhauser of London to the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1890 along with other torture devices, and, after being displayed at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, was taken on an American tour. This copy was auctioned in the early 1960s and is now on display at the Medieval Crime Museum, Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Historians have ascertained that Johann Philipp Siebenkees created the history of it as a hoax in 1793. According to Siebenkees' colportage, it was first used on August 14, 1515, to execute a coin forger.
It was anthropomorphic, probably styled after primitive "Gothic" representations of Mary, the mother of Jesus, with a cast likeness of her on the face. It was about 7 feet (2.1 m) tall and 3 feet (0.91 m) wide, had double doors, and was big enough to contain an adult man. Inside the tomb-sized container it had dozens of sharp spikes.
Several 19th-century iron maidens are on display in museums around the world, but it is unlikely that they were ever employed.
Inspiration for the iron maiden may come from the Carthaginian execution of Marcus Atilius Regulus as recorded in Tertullian's "To the Martyrs" (Chapter 4) and Augustine of Hippo's The City of God (I.15), in which the Carthaginians "packed him into a tight wooden box, spiked with sharp nails on all sides, so that he could not lean in any direction without being pierced", or by the account of Nabis of Sparta's deadly statue of his wife, the Apega.
British heavy metal band Iron Maiden got their name from the torture device.
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