Instead of introduction
First, a few words about the author. Transcarpathian Arkadiy Shynshynov is known to many of his fellow readers. First of all, to Facebook users. It is there where Arkadiy’s interesting stories first gather "likes" and "reposts", and then go on living on their own, reprinted by various media, blogs and entertainment aggregators.
"Occupation – headman." Secrets of rare professions (18+) (2Arkadiy (6))
In fact, the author is not only a master of really sharp and interesting pen. A graduate of the Faculty of Biology of UzhSU for more than 20 years has been living with his family in Prague, and knows the city not only far and wide, but also deep, because he is an archaeologist by occupation. He loves the city so much that, after returning from a long trip, he always says "here’s my dear Prague." However, with all his heart he also loves Transcarpathia, where his childhood and adolescence years passed. It is proved by numerous stories of his early years and a lot of friends here.
And also he is a talented photographer, musician and petanque player. He regularly visits Transcarpathia, either to Drahovo to visit his mother, or to Uzhgorod for the Petanque Tournament. Everywhere, his many friends are glad to see him and hear his inexhaustible and incredibly exciting "archaeologist’s stories."
"Occupation – headman." Secrets of rare professions
These days, Arkadiy is on excavations in the town of Nove Mesto in Moravia in the Vysocina region. There, his team is "digging the Middle Ages." In the breaks between excavations and recording of findings, Arkadiy Shynshynov, as if in passing, but in an extremely exciting and emotional manner, has written a great series of four parts about such a terrible and mysterious profession as a headman.
Killer, doctor and chiropractor rolled into one
An interesting topic – Headman. So I thought, let’s enumerate the pros and cons of the profession.
Pros. Executioners were quite wealthy, I would even say really rich. For each tortured person in the seventeenth century, an average Czech headman received 2 gold coins and 24 kreutzers. For each cut off head, even more. There is a recorded case when headman Jan Mydlarzh, one of the most famous Czech royal executioners, received about 650 coins for 21 heads, cut off in 4 hours. It is known that the country house with land and auxiliary buildings was bought by him for 1720 coins.
Executioners were selling amulets, such as a rope a person was hanged on. It was believed that if you wear such artifact around the neck, you will escape gallows. If you carry a cut off thief’s finger in your pocket, you will never be caught…
Executioners were privileged to enter the city through their own gate.
Executioner had a permanent place in the church, which no one was allowed to take.
Now the cons.
A headman is the lowest man in human society. "Personal gate" to the city was called "Pig’s gate." Only pigs and headman would walk through it. Thieves on a run would rather have their arms cut off than run through the pig’s gate.
Now about the work. Everybody thinks that headman only cuts off arms and heads. But headmen were also city body lifters. Every evening, executioner and his assistants would walk around the city and collect carrion. By the way, skin and bones were another source of income.
Moreover, they were also gongfermors – that is, they were responsible for timely removal of excrements from city latrines. Also, they made sure that shit is not left on the roads.
Jan and Dorota – unhappy love story
As I wrote, headmen in the Czech Republic had their labor dynasties, son would either inherit the job from his father, or the father would secure for his son a job in another city, which had the right to execute death sentences.
Dynasty was not the only way to become an executioner. In some cases, death penalty was replaced with cutting off of ears, deprivation of all rights and appointment of the comdemned (with his consent) as an assistant executioner.
Another interesting case of voluntary transfer to the lowest caste of people occurred in Chrudim. A young guy who graduated from Prague university, where he studied philosophy, physics, Latin and medicine, fell in love with a certain Dorota. Dorota was some wench and once conspired with herbalists to poison her husband – some baggy miller. She was immediately caught. On the rack of Chrudim executioner she confessed to everything.
Jan (that was the name of the guy), trying to save Dorota, asked to become an assistant of Chrudim executioner. By the way, he failed to save Dorota, she was buried alive. (Burying alive meant burying a sinner in a pit to the neck, where she was left to die slowly, but on that day it rained, and water filled the pit, where Dorota drowned.)
But Jan could not return to the citizen class. For a time, he, hiding the face behind a mask, was helping Chrudim executioner. Then the latter helped him to move to Prague, where Jan began to work for the Stare Mesto master of sword, Jarosz. And after a while he became the executioner of Prague Stare Mesto. Thus, the legendary headman Jan Mydlarzh appeared.
The sword with a rounded tip that moved by itself
You may ask, was such profession really needed, was it really necessary to cut off heads, arms, and so forth?
I think on the medieval stage of the human history, it was definitely necessary. Reading the registers of crimes and criminals, one can only wonder at the cruelty and perfidy of crimes at that time. They murdered, robbed, poisoned livestock, set property on fire.
Gangs of robbers would rob on roads, usually killing everyone in order not to leave witnesses. And the only argument of criminology was a rack in the basement of a magistrate…
In the records of practice of the Stare Mesto executioner Mydlarzh, there is a whole chapter, in which he teaches his successors how to conduct the inquiry so that an offender would not suffer more than was prescribed by law. How to perform a penalty so that a condemned to hanging would not suffer in the loop, so that a condemned to burning would be dead before he or she begins to burn. Scary stuff, right?
But justice had to be done, whether we like it or not…
A headman had to cut off the head with one blow. There were cases when they fail to do that and had to cut for the second time. But for such mistake, the crowd could easily have stoned the executioner himself. Some of similar cases are described in the chronicles.
An interesting case happened in Kostelec nad Černými lesy. At the time, a gentleman lived there, who even as a child showed his savage, sadistic nature. For this, they later deprived him of the noble title and put a stigma on his forehead. Then the Kostelec headman said, "My sword will be waiting for your head…"
The rogue continued to rampage on Prague road and soon was caught again. Now he was judged by the Prague court and the sentence was beheading. Headman Jarosz at this execution for the first time in his career had to strike twice. After a while, Kostelec executioner send him a strange message that on such and such day, his sword for no apparent reason moved on the wall and almost fell. It was on the same day when Jarosz was executing the sentence. "Kostelec sword claimed its right for the blood of that villain," – Master Jarosz wrote later.
The execution of Jaroszyk and his gang
Imagine a medieval city square. It’s a small area of about four hundred square meters…
One day, carpenters come and begin to erect the scaffold. The whole town knows that tomorrow Jaroszyk and his companions – scary robbers from Hradecky road – will be executed.
In the morning, the square is crowded, almost the entire town has come here. Artisans, merchants, noblemen, servants, all are here. The drum beat starts, and the crowd with the roar greets the headman who is carrying several swords over his shoulder; he is followed by a horse pulling a cart with bloody condemned criminals. The crowd throw rocks, mud, and curses at them. The cart is followed by assistant executioners, they wear masks on their faces and carry axes, burning stove, pliers and other implements.
The town head in the mantle steps up on the platform and reads the guilt and sentence for each condemned man. Scribes write everything down to "Black Books"…
First, the hedman neatly cuts Jaroszyk’s throat so that he could not cry…
Then, using a cart wheel, he breaks all the bones in his arms and legs, if Jaroszyk loses consciousness, they douse him with water. According to the sentence, he must be tied down to the wheel still alive, and the wheel is to be raised on a pole so that all could see that the evil has been punished…
Other rogues have their arms cut off and nailed to the edge of the scaffold, then legs are cut off too and hung on wheel, and then heads that are to be impaled on stakes at the entrance to the city. A few fools, who joined Jaroszyk’s gang recently and did not have time to torture anyone to death, will be simply hung. The executioner can throw the criminal off the platform in such a way that cervical vertebrae will break and the condemned will die instantly without suffering. Later, executioner’s assistants will bury their corpses near the cemetery fence or burn them with dead cattle…
What do you think the crowd is doing all this time? Perhaps, they are frozen with horror and standing in deathly silence?
No… The crowd cheers every blow of the executioner with enthusiastic shouting… Those standing near the scaffold, are splashed with blood and are raging together with everyone else…
Published upon author’s agreement with minimal editing. Prepared by Olexander Popovych.