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A garrote or garrote vil (a Spanish word; alternative spellings include garotte and garrotte) is a handheld weapon, most often referring to a ligature of chain, rope, scarf, wire or fishing line used to strangle someone. The term especially refers to an execution device but is sometimes used in assassination, because it can be completely silent. In addition, the garrote is used by some military units. The garrote was employed in Thuggee, whose practitioners used a yellow scarf called a Rumaal. A garrote can be made out of many different materials, including ropes, tie wraps, fishing lines, nylon, and even guitar strings, telephone cord and piano wire.

Some incidents have involved a stick used to tighten the garrote; the Spanish name actually refers to that very rod, so it is a pars pro toto where the eponymous component may actually be absent. In Spanish, the name can also be applied to a rope and stick used to compress a member as a torture device or to reanimate the victim. One of the reasons possession of a nunchaku is illegal in many jurisdictions is that it can easily be employed as a garrote in some configurations.

In British criminal law, garrote was also a defined type of violent robbery using at least physical threat against the victims.

Used as an execution device

A mannequin is placed in a garrote to demonstrate the position of a human in the device.
The garrote particularly refers to the execution device used by the Spaniardsmarker until as recently as 1974. In Spain, it was abolished, as well as the death penalty, in 1978 with the new constitution. Originally, it was an execution where the convict was killed by hitting him with a club (garrote in Spanish). Later, it was refined and consisted of a seat to restrain the condemned person, while the executioner tightened a metal band around his neck with a crank or a wheel until suffocation of the condemned person was accomplished.
Some versions of this device incorporated a fixed metal blade or spike directed at the spinal cord to hasten the breaking of the neck. Such a device can be seen in the James Bond films The World Is Not Enough, The Living Daylights, and From Russia with Love. The spiked version, called the Catalan garrote, was used as late as 1940 (as well as being used by other Spanish colonies until shortly after the 1898 Spanish-American War).American authorities chose to keep the garrote in the Philippinesmarker after that Spanish colony was captured in 1898. The most notable victims of the garrote in the Philippines were the trio of native priests, the Gomburza, for their alleged participation in the Cavite Mutiny.

In the Ottoman Empire, execution by strangulation was reserved for very high officials and members of the ruling family. Unlike the Spanish version, a bowstring was used instead of a tightening collar.

The garotte ( ) is known to have been used in the first century BC in Rome. It is referred to in accounts of the Catiline conspiracy, where conspirators including Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura were strangled with a laqueus in the Tullianummarker, and the implement is shown in some early reliefs, e.g., Répertoire de Reliefs grecs et romains, tome I, p. 341 (1919).
It was also used in the Middle Ages in Spainmarker and Portugalmarker. It was employed during the conquista of Latin America, as attested by the execution of the Inca emperor Atahualpa. In the 1810s, the earliest known metallic versions of garrotes appeared and started to be used in Spain. On 28 April 1828, they would be declared the sole civilian execution method in Spain.

In May 1897, the last public garroting was carried out in Spain, in Barcelonamarker. After that, all executions would be held in private inside prisons (even if the press took photos of some of them).

The last civilian executions in Spain were those of Pilar Prades in May 1959 and José María Járabo in July 1959. Recent legislation had made many crimes belong to military legislation (like robbery-murder); thus, for some years, prosecutors would rarely request civilian executions. Several executions would still be carried out in Spain, eight of them in the 1970s: the January 1972 firing-squad execution of robber-murderer Pedro Martínez Expósito, a soldier; the March 1974 garrotings of Heinz Ches (real name Georg Michael Welzel) and Salvador Puig Antich, both accused of killing police officers (theirs were the last garrottings in Spain and in the world); and the firing-squad executions of five militants from ETA and FRAP in September 1975.

With the 1973 Penal Code, prosecutors once again started requesting execution in civilian cases. If the death penalty had not been abolished in 1978 after dictator Francisco Franco's death, civilian executions would most likely have resumed. The last man to be sentenced to death by garroting was José Luis Cerveto el asesino de Pedralbes in October 1977, for a double robbery-murder in May 1974 (he was also a pedophile). He requested that the democratic government execute him, but his sentence was commuted. Another prisoner whose civilian death sentence was commuted by the new government was businessman Juan Ballot, for the murder by hire of his wife in Navarre in November 1973.

The writer Camilo José Cela requested from the Consejo General del Poder Judicial a garrote to display in his foundation. It was kept in storage in Barcelonamarker and probably had been used for Puig Antich.

It was displayed for a time in the room that the Cela Foundation devoted to his novel La familia de Pascual Duarte until Puig Antich's family asked for its removal.

Andorramarker, in 1990, was the last country to abolish the death penalty by garroting, though this method had been unused there since the late 19th century, and the only execution in Andorra in the 20th century, that of Antoni Arenis for fratricide in 1943, was carried out by firing squad because of the unavailability of a garrote executioner at that moment.

The garrote was sometimes used in England to execute religious heretics before they were burned at the stake.


  1. garrote, 7th sense, Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  2. Auto de fe, Susana Calvo Capilla, 19 de agosto de 2003, Rinconete, ISSN 1885-5008, Instituto Cervantes
  3. El director de cine Manuel Huerga presenta el libro «Cómo se hizo: Salvador». La Voz de Galicia, 21 November 2006.

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