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Dismemberment is the act of cutting, tearing, pulling, wrenching or otherwise removing, the limbs of a living thing. It may be practiced upon human beings as a form of capital punishment, as a result of a traumatic accident, or in connection with murder, suicide, or cannibalism. As opposed to surgical amputation of the limbs, dismemberment is often fatal to all but the simplest of creatures. In criminology, a distinction is made between offensive and defensive dismemberment.



The Martyrdom of St. Hippolytus by Dieric Bouts depicts dismemberment used in the 3rd century.

Dismemberment was carried out in the Medieval and Early Modern era by tying a person's limbs to chains or other restraints, then attaching the restraints to separate movable entities (e.g. vehicles) and moving them in opposite directions. Also referred to as "disruption" or being "drawn and quartered," it could be brought about by chaining four horses to the condemned's arms and legs, thus making them pull him apart, as was the case with the executions of François Ravaillac in 1610 and Robert-François Damiens in 1757. Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia, executed in 613, is generally regarded to have suffered the same death, though she was tied to the tail of a single horse and thus suffered more of a dragging death.

Usage in capital punishment

The execution of Túpac Amaru II, who was to be dismembered by four horses.

Dismemberment was a form of capital punishment for convicts of high treason in the Korean kingdom of the Joseon Dynasty. The Five Pains is a Chinese variation invented during the Qin Dynasty.

Dismemberment is no longer used by most modern governments as a form of execution or torture, though amputation is still carried out in countries that practice Sharia Law.[1]

Homicide cases

There are many instances of dismemberment in modern murder cases. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is infamous for the dismemberment and consumption of his victims.[2] Convicted drug trafficker William Trickett Smith II dismembered his wife in Peru to dispose of her body in a suitcase.[3]

Examples in fiction

Aztec stone disk depicting a dismembered Coyolxauhqui (Mexico City).



  • In The Divine Comedy, falsifiers are dismembered, only to be healed and have the process start over again.


Dismemberment has been portrayed in many films; although a few are depictions of historical or actual events, a significant number are within the horror genre. Filmmakers can be quite innovative in the methods depicted, and and thus reflect the public's fear and fascination with this method of torture, homicide, and/or body disposal. The following movies portray or imply dismemberment in some form; exceptional methods or motives are described.


Video Games

See also


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Dismemberment — Dis*mem ber*ment, n. [Cf. OF. desmembrement, F. d[ e]membrement.] The act of dismembering, or the state of being dismembered; cutting in piece; m?tilation; division; separation. [1913 Webster] The Castilians would doubtless have resented the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • dismemberment — index disassociation, division (act of dividing), split Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • dismemberment — 1751, from DISMEMBER (Cf. dismember) + MENT (Cf. ment). Earlier formation was dismembration (1590s) …   Etymology dictionary

  • dismemberment — [[t]dɪ̱sme̱mbə(r)mənt[/t]] 1) N UNCOUNT Dismemberment is the cutting or pulling into pieces of a body. They found a scene of unbelievable horror involving bodies in various states of decay and dismemberment. 2) N UNCOUNT: oft N of n Dismemberment …   English dictionary

  • dismemberment — noun a) The act of dismembering. The skill is shown by the neat way in which the dismemberment has been carried out. The parts have not been rudely hacked asunder, but have been separated at the joints. b) The state or condition of being… …   Wiktionary

  • Dismemberment —    A common feature of many stories of initiations, especially of shamans. Powerful other than human persons, ancestors, or spirits take the prospective initiate (often against their will) and tear or cut them apart, often killing them and/or… …   Historical dictionary of shamanism

  • dismemberment — dismember ► VERB 1) tear or cut the limbs from. 2) divide up (a territory or organization). DERIVATIVES dismembered adjective dismemberment noun. ORIGIN Old French desmembrer, from Latin membrum limb …   English terms dictionary

  • dismemberment — noun see dismember …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • dismemberment — See dismember. * * * …   Universalium

  • dismemberment — n. the separating of body parts or the amputation of a leg, arm, or part of a limb. * * * dis·mem·ber·ment (dis memґbər mənt) amputation of a limb or a portion of it …   Medical dictionary

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