, or beheading
, is the removal of a person's head from their body. Decapitation has been used as a form of capital punishment
for millennia. The modern legal terminology capital offence
or capital crime
, as well as the term capital punishment
itself, derives from the punishment for qualifying serious offences having been the removal of one's head. Political prisoners (labelled traitors) and serious criminals often had their heads removed and placed on public display for a period of time. If the headsman's axe
was sharp and his aim was true, decapitation was a quick and relatively painless form of death. If the instrument was blunt or the execution clumsy, however, it was considerably less painless. The culprit was therefore advised to give gold coin to the headsman so that he did his job with care.
Decapitation by sword has in modern times occurred in jurisdictions subject to Islamic Sharia.
Decapitation by guillotine was a common form of execution invented shortly before the French Revolution (although an earlier version of the guillotine, the gibbet, was used in England until the 17th century). The aim was that only one form of execution, involving no torture, should exist. It was used in France until 1977.
Some famous people who have been beheaded