On April 4, 1753 Russian Empress Elizabeth abolished the death penalty

On April 4, 1753 Russian Empress Elizabeth abolished the death penalty, which had been in effect throughout Russian history.

Historians date back the first instance of the death penalty as a way of punishment in Russia to 1398. It was brought into effect for theft after two prior convictions. Russia, like almost all countries during those years, had practiced the death penalty and by 1649 it was already the common way of punishment. In the penal code of 1649 different ways of execution were described in detail.

They were separated into two categories 'easy' and 'qualified'. The first involved beheading, hanging and drowning - their aim to kill almost straight away. Most of the savage, agonizing punishments relate to the second type of executions. Among them: the breaking wheel; burning alive, which was used for religious crimes, traitors were boiled in water or oil; for coin forgery molten metal was poured down the throat; wives who murdered their husbands were buried up to their shoulders, which brought death slowly from exposure and starvation; while punishment for rioters was impalement.

The creator of many new ways for the death penalty was Tsar Ivan the Terrible himself. One of his "inventions" was stitching up a person into a bear’s skin and setting dogs on him. Once he commanded two monks to be tied up to a barrel filled with gun powder, “so that they fly to the heavens at once.” The executions were mostly carried out in public among a huge crowd. The dead bodies, or parts of them, were on display in order to frighten people and deter similar crimes. These sorts of scenes did not shock or disgust the public in those years.

The death penalty was also widely used during the rule of Tsar Peter the Great, for 123 different crimes. However the ways of execution were reduced to three: firing squad, beheading and hanging. His daughter Elizabeth was the first ruler in Russia who attempted to outlaw capital punishment. She did so first in 1744, putting a moratorium on capital punishment, but this lead to overcrowded prisons with convicts harshly condemned to the death penalty. Only in 1754 did Elizabeth completely abolish the death penalty and instead criminals were sentenced to hard labor. ...


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