Today In History: The Final Execution By Guillotine
Today in 1977, Hamida Djandoubi was executed by guillotine. He was the last person legally executed by beheading in Western Europe.
The guillotine, a perennial symbol of the French Revolution, was an execution device that featured an angled, weighted blade, dropped from high rails to efficiently remove a human head. Similar devices were used in Europe as far back as the 1200’s, but it wasn’t until the French Revolution that the proper guillotine was invented.
It was considered a much more humane and equalizing form of execution than methods previously used. It was designed to kill a person as efficiently and quickly as possible – a departure from the reigning philosophy of the ancien regime that execution should entail protracted suffering. The guillotine was an answer to the “Breaking Wheel,” hanging and execution by sword. It was also a symbol of egalitarianism: where nobles were killed by sword, commoners were hanged. Death by hanging can take minutes.
The guillotine was responsible for killing an estimated 10,000 people during the French Revolution. It remained the primary method of judicial execution in France until capital punishment was abolished in 1981.
Djandoubi was convicted for kidnapping, torturing and killing his former girlfriend. He was executed by guillotine six months after receiving his death sentence. He was both the last person executed by guillotine, he was also the last person legally executed by a Western European state.
Use of the guillotine continued in France in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the last execution by guillotine occurred in 1977. In September 1981, France outlawed capital punishment altogether, thus abandoning the guillotine forever. There is a museum dedicated to the guillotine in Liden, Sweden.
Interestingly, some critics of capital punishment suggest that the guillotine is a more humane and consistent method of capital punishment than the bloodless methods used today. While the guillotine is more visually gruesome, more popular methods like lethal injection and electrocution have long track records of lingering, horrible deaths resulting from poor implementation.