History of Punishments

medieval punishments

History of Punishments

Many nations and cultures have made official laws to protect their citizens from crime. Over the years, these laws have been in force, in order to keep their society from becoming anarchy. Different forms of punishments have been used to deter would-be criminals. However, some citizens still tend to break the laws. These days, all countries have a and a prison for locking up their threats to society. Many countries can sentence someone to death for an extreme form of punishment.

Early Punishments

The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (Encarta, 2007) is the first legal record found in the Middle East. However, the Western nations seem to follow the laws started by Ancient Rome (Encarta, 2007). Before long, each city had a court and had established their own laws, to protect the citizens. Soon the Roman Empire established the Law of Twelve Tables (Encarta, 2007) to confirm their society. But most people believe that the earliest form of law can be found in the twelve centuries, which is known as the Justinian Code (Encarta, 2007).

Living with the Law

People for centuries have died or been punished for committing theft, rape, or unspeakable crimes. In 1532, the Holy Roman Empire created the Constitio Criminalis Carolina (Encarta, 2007), to punish the criminals. Not every country followed these laws, so they created their own legal system. Each country dealt with the criminals in their country, when they needed to. For the most part, punishment was used to punish or deter the would-be criminals. Life began becoming more civilized with each passing century, as new punishments were created.

Adjusting to New Laws

Many people felt safer with laws that could protect them. Each country began hiring sheriffs and creating legal systems, to deal out the punishments. Most people welcomed the new laws and the sense of safety, yet some refused to follow them. Some criminals were lightly punished and some were killed, due to crimes they committed. The justice system grew into a major part of society; however, it was not quite perfect.

Life in Civilized Society

Ruled by Law

Before long, many citizens felt that the criminals deserved what punishments they received. More jails were built, as more criminals began challenging the new laws that had been established by the courts. Unfortunately, many societies were being victimized by criminals or gangs of criminals. So, many new sheriffs and detective agencies were created to help police the growing neighborhoods. Many people supported the role of the sheriff and they even volunteered to help as deputies.

Societies of the Dark Ages

In the medieval times, criminals were tortured as a form of punishment, by the Roman Empire Encarta, 2007). Some criminals were hung on crosses, killed by torture, or placed in dungeons to die. Many citizens began to revolt against the Roman rule and they were punished as criminals too. Soon, the Roman Empire fell and many separate societies began growing throughout the world. Before long, the Modern ages began and many prisons were built in the 19th century (Encarta, 2007).

Modern Criminals

Many countries were ruled by the King and Queen of Britain at the turn of the 19th century. Several changes have happened to the justice system during this time, which made life easier for the good citizens. The criminals were locked away and punished for the crimes that they committed. Each criminal had to been found guilty by the court first, before they could be punished. Many new laws were created, in order to help the citizens feel safe and keep the peace. However, some citizens still felt that capitol punishment was too harsh (Encarta, 2007).

Crime in the 20th Century

Probation was Born

In the 20th century, British rule began fading, as the revolution grew and many fled to the New World (National Archives, 2007). Due to prison overcrowding, many court systems were looking for ways to deal with criminals. Many courts began giving out probation to petty thieves and criminals; besides locking them up. Soon, young offenders were removed from the adult court system and dealt with in juvenile court. The courts began looking for ways, to rehabilitate the juvenile offenders.

Youth Offender Programs

Many schools and programs were created, in order to stop the troubled youth from becoming adult offenders. Also, many adult programs began popping up; with the intentions to help rehabilitate the petty offenders. Some criminals were able to change and become a productive part of society (National Archives, 2007). However, some adults were unable to be rehabilitated by these programs. So, eventually more prisons were built to accommodate youth and adult offenders that were unable to be helped.

Studying Bad Behavior

After the justice system realized that the punishments were not deterring criminals from committing crimes. Many scientist and doctors began studying the behavior of criminals National Archives, 2007), especially their childhood. Some scientists have found that many criminals have had troubled childhoods, which may lead to their bad behavior. However, some criminals are raised in a good family; yet they still commit horrendous crimes. No one has found a magic pill or program, in order to stop the criminals from committing crimes.


Many societies have tried to find a way to stop criminals, from creating a justice system to building prisons. However, no matter how history has tried to stop the criminals, they still seem to victimize helpless people. Maybe, with further study and a better understanding of why they commit crimes, future generations can stop them. But, at this point only prisons seem to help those, who have become habitual offenders. Hopefully, one day we can create a magic pill or a way to stop criminals from hurting others. Until then, we must let the justice system work for us and our society.


Duff, Antony (2004) Legal Punishment, “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”
Retrieved online on February 26, 2007

Encarta Online Encyclopedia (2007) Crime and Punishment, History
Retrieved online on February 26, 2007 http://au.encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_1461500354/Crime_and_Punishment_History_of.html

National Archives (2007) What was the purpose of 20th century punishments?
Retrieved online on February 28, 2007