The iron maiden was a torture and execution device, consisting of an iron cabinet with a hinged front and spike-covered interior, sufficiently tall to enclose a human being. The first stories citing the iron maiden were composed in the 19th century.
The iron maiden is uniquely a Germanic invention, originated in the town of Nuremberg at some point in the high-Middle Ages (the period with which it is associated); probably in the 14th century. The device, which is also known in German as the "Eiserne Jungfrau", looked very similar to an Egyptian mummy sarcophagus. Wolfgang Schild, a professor of criminal law, criminal law history, and philosophy of law at the University of Bielefeld, has argued that putative iron maidens were pieced together from artifacts found in museums to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition. Several 19th-century iron maidens are on display in museums around the world, including the San Diego Museum of Man, the Meiji University Museum, and multiple torture museums in Europe. It is unlikely that any of these iron maidens were ever employed as instruments of torture.
The 17th-century iron maidens may have been constructed as probable misinterpretation of a medieval Schandmantel ("coat of shame" or "barrel of shame"), which was made of wood and metal but without spikes. Inspiration for the iron maiden may also have 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 from Polybius' account of Nabis of Sparta's deadly statue of his wife, the Iron Apega (earliest form of the device).
The most famous iron maiden that popularized the design 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.
"Iron Maiden" was the nickname given to a research centrifuge gondola designed for submerging a human body in water to counteract the effects of high-g acceleration, at the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory (AMAL) of the Johnsville Naval Air Development Center. In 1958, researcher R. Flanagan Gray survived, experiencing 31.25 Gs for five seconds using AMAL's Iron Maiden.
In 2003, Time magazine reported that an iron maiden was found outside the Iraqi Football Association office of Uday Hussein in Iraq.
Das Hinrichtungswerkzeug "Eiserne Jungfrau" ist eine Fiktion des 19. Jahrhunderts, denn erst in der ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts hat man frühneuzeitliche Schandmäntel, die als Straf- und Folterwerkzeuge dienten und gelegentlich als "Jungfrau" bezeichnet wurden, innen mit eisernen Spitzen versehen und somit die Objekte den schaurigen Phantasien in Literatur und Sage angepaßt." ("The execution tool "Iron Maiden" is a fiction of the 19th century, because only since the first half of the 19th Century the early-modern-times' "rishard cloaks", which sometimes were called "maidens", were provided with iron spikes; and thus the objects were adapted to the dreadful fantasies in literature and legend.".