Flagellation (more commonly called "flogging") is a method of punishment in which a person is beaten or whipped with a rod, a switch, or (most especially) a whip or a cat-o-nine-tails. Flogging was commonly used in various navies around the world during the time of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, especially as the sailors of the time were known to have a disregard for pain. A knotted piece of rope (called a "starter") was used to give "encouragement" to a lazy sailor, while the cat-o-nine-tails was used for harsher, more formal punishments. It was also commonly used by slave owners as a method of disciplining their slaves. Typically during a flogging, the prisoner is stripped naked (or at least stripped to the waist) and then hung upright or chained upright to a pillar or a post (or a pair of posts) in order to stretch them out. Standard practice was to whip the prisoner's back, as there is a greater chance of inflicting a fatal wound while whipping the chest. Depending on the region, more than one person might carry out the punishment.
In addition to its use as a punishment, flogging (especially self-flagellation) has been used by religious fanatics as a means of "mortification of the flesh". The person would basically torture themselves in order to feel what Christ felt, and to suffer an immediate and rather determined form of self-sacrifice. This is based in the belief that by enduring the pain felt by Jesus during his persecution by the Romans, they become closer to the Son of God.
Lastly, some people use flogging as a means of sexual gratification. Naturally, in such uses, the flogging never approaches the violence levels reached during a punitive whipping. Such activity commonly causes bruising, but almost never breaks the skin or cuts the recipient, who is after all trying to enjoy himself or herself.
Flogging is still a legal punishment used in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe to this day.
Note that people can and have been flogged to death. A hundred lashes can easily kill, especially with a knot. Even if you don't die in the process, a good traditional flogging will often result in you dying from your wounds and/or infection shortly after. This is the sort of flogging that was a popular form of punishment in Imperial Russia, in particular, where they used particularly coarse leather for these purposes. Due to this it was also traditional to pay the executioner to go easy on someone, which still hurt like hell but generally wasn't fatal. It should also be noted that even if a victim survived a severe flogging, they could end up crippled for life, and in an era of single-income-earner families and little in the way of accessible charity on a large scale, this could leave the victim's family destitute.
Compare Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off. Contrast with Whip It Good. A form of Corporal Punishment.
The first Berserk manga story has this happening to Guts at the hands of the village mayor's Torture Technician. Fortunately, Puck is there to heal him (though Guts isn't too appreciative of the little elf).
Farnese, during her messed up phase as a Holy See official, engaged in the occasional bouts of self-flagellation.
Bootstrap Bill Turner is forced to flog his son Will in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. He mentions that if he hadn't done it, the Bosun would have, and he takes pride in "cleaving flesh from bone" with each strike.
In Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World, a sailor is flogged for disrespecting an unlucky officer who is being scapegoated as a Jonah. Captain Jack Aubrey goes through with the flogging despite not wanting to (he likes the sailor in question, and more than that is one of the people who thinks the scapegoated officer actually is a Jonah) because discipline must be maintained.
Capt. Jack Aubrey: I am not a flogging captain!
This happens to Danielle in Ever After after she attacks her stepsister.
Little Bill kills Ned this way in Unforgiven, setting the stage for the protagonist's final vengeance.
The Proposition features a realistically stomach-churning sequence where a prisoner is sentenced to a hundred lashes.
One of the first scenes in Against All Flags is British naval officer Errol Flynn being flogged so he can pose as a common seaman who's deserted and infiltrate a Pirate stronghold. When he's examined by some pirate leaders (supposedly) a few weeks later, one says he recognizes the style of the sadistic bosun who did the flogging — he likes to "sign his name" on the victim's back with the last several strokes.
In the 2002 film version of The Count of Monte Cristo, the inmates of Château d'If were given a lashing on the anniversaries of their arrivals, with one lash per year. Done just to remind them how long they had been there.
In Starship Troopers, Rico is forced to be lashed after a live ammo accident leads to one of the trainees to get his head ventilated.
Happens in The Ten Commandments, the sound version. Baka intends to kill Joshua this way after Joshua attacks him to free his girlfriend, but Moses intervenes and kills Baka before he can finish.
In Django Unchained, both Django and Hilde bear the scars of the whipping they received for attempting to run away from the plantation.
In the filmCaptain Horatio Hornblower R.N., Hornblower orders a crewman flogged specifically because one of his lieutenants threatened the man publicly with it, and Hornblower feels his duty to support his officers is more important than his dislike of the lash. But he lectures the lieutenant about it afterwards.
Happens to Little Bee, a maid in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series.
Horatio Hornblower: As a commander, Horatio Hornblower hated to administer floggings, because he believed that it broke the spirit of good men, and made bad men worse. He's squeamish about them, as well.
The first novel in the series, Beat to Quarters, features a flogging in the very first chapter.
Hornblower himself was flogged in Mister Midshipman Hornblower.
In the Aubrey Maturin series, Captain Jack Aubrey is considered a stern but fair commander, and one of the reasons for this is that he dislikes imposing more than a dozen lashes, and only imposes even that punishment when its absolutely required to maintain discipline on his ship. He much prefers to dock troublemakers' grog rations, especially if whatever they did was done drunk.
Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers has Johnny Rico get flogged for acting recklessly during a Mobile Infantry training exercise. It is also mentioned that in his society that being "flogged in the public square" is considered a valid punishment for minor crimes. (Major ones are punished by death). It should be noted that punitive floggings in this novel are closely monitored by a doctor to ensure that no permanent damage is done, and the punishment is followed immediately by treatment. It does not even leave scars.
In the Sharpe series, Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill had Sharpe flogged while the latter was still a private in India. This was only one of the reasons that Sharpe hated Hakeswill and considered the man his Arch-Nemesis, and why he never has one of his own men flogged once he becomes an officer.
This happens three times to Jamie in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. The scars from the whipping are meant to mark a person as a criminal.
In Black Powder War, Laurence has to order his own aviators flogged a couple times. Both times he hates to do it but is forced to; once because his man hits a superior naval officer and needs to be appropriately punished to keep the sailors from turning against the aviators, and again when two of his men break a pretty important law while in Istanbul and this is the alternative to letting them be executed. Both times he is hugely uncomfortable with the proceedings. In the second incident he insists on keeping the count himself silently, so he can stop it early and pretend that they recieved more lashes than they actually did.
In Empire of Ivory Laurence himself is flogged while being held prisoner. We don't know how severe it is since it's from his perspective and he loses count at around ten, but he does end up being delirious for a week.
In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith, Lijah "That Fething Bastard" Cuu gets flogged for looting. This ends...badly.
Moby Dick: One is included in "The Town-Ho's Story".
In the Knight And Rogue series by Hilari Bell, after the title characters get press-ganged onto a ship the threat of horrible floggings is always at hand. Michael, the knight, is eventually seriously flogged. The flogging scars, combined with his Mark of Shame, cause most people to assume he's a hardened criminal.
Janny Wurts' novel To Ride Hell's Chasm does a fantastic job of showing the class prejudices of a medieval type society, the hero is whipped for not showing proper respect to "his betters".
In The Scar by China Meiville, Bellis and Tanner are both flogged for treason after they unwittingly call New Crobuzon's ships down on Armada.
In the novel Night, by Elie Wiesel, which is the autobiographical story of the author's time in a concentration camp when he was young, he is whipped for inadvertently seeing one of the officers raping a young woman.
In The Da Vinci Code, Silas the Albino flogged himself to a bloody pulp out of a sense of religious fanaticism.
Cluny the Scourge, the villainous rat of the Talking Animal book Redwall, whips his subordinates with his own tail. Since presumably he couldn't hit someone hard enough to kill them without breaking his tail, if he wants to actually kill them he attaches a poisoned metal barb to it. Another Big Bad, the Lawful Evil Vilu Daskar, uses a particularly nasty variation on this as a punishment for theft aboard his ship; the perpetrators are strung upside-down from the mast, given twenty lashes, have their wounds washed with seawater, and cut down after several hours.
Not quite flogging, but a Discworld novel cites an incident where a witch caught a traveling peddlar beating his exhausted, overloaded donkey. She grabbed the riding crop out of his hands and used it to strike him in the face twice, saying: "Hurts, doesn't it?"
A little old lady that William de Worde hires at the end of The Truth had previously submitted a letter to the editor, in which she recommended that anyone under the age of 18 should be flogged daily to stop them from being so noisy. "That'll teach them to go around being young."
In Catching Fire, the second book of The Hunger Games series, Gale receives a flogging after being caught poaching.
The narrative implies that Peeta has been whipped as well at some point in his life (presumably by his mother) or at least seen it happen. He's able to tell what's happening to Gale from the sound of one lash.
A few months before the start of the story in The Curse of Chalion, Lupe dy Cazaril (then a galley slave) antagonized the slavemaster in order to protect another slave; it was mostly luck that he survived the resulting flogging. Since lifting the titular curse requires that someone lay down their life three times for the house of Chalion, the fact that a flogging stands a decent chance of killing you and Cazaril provoked one anyway is actually a very important plot point.
An important part of Kvothe's legend building in The Name of the Wind is when he is flogged - he takes a drug beforehand to dull the pain, which has the side effect of constricting the blood vessels and causing him not to bleed - earning him the nickname "Bloodless"
Barahkukor in Mary Gentle's Grunts! finds some of his female orcs flogging a female elf (a reporter for Warrior of Fortune magazine). At first he's pleased to see them keeping up with tradition, but then the elf turns her head and complains, "You stopped." One of the other orcs present complains "She's had ages, Sarge! It's my turn next!"
In Patrica Briggs' Dragon Bones Oreg has a flashback to being whipped after laying a curse on one of his old masters. His powerful magic makes the damage real, at least until he can get enough of a grip to heal himself again.
Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story, "The Black Stranger," has a harrowing scene in which Valenso, a vicious pirate, has his niece Belesa's protegee, a young girl by the name of Tina, subjected to this because he thinks she was lying about the coming of the title Black Man.
"The Whacko" in World War Z talks about how during the war, old world punishments like lashings and stockades were instituted, since incarceration drained scarce resources with minimal return on the state's investment. He notes that while he thought such punishments were barbaric, he couldn't argue with the results.
Roran is flogged in Brisingr for disobeying orders during a battle (never mind that his superior actually lauded his actions, which saved many of his subordinates’ lives. The problem was that he couldn’t be seen to be getting away with insubordination).
Les Misérables: More A Taste of the Stick, but when Valjean thinks or talks about prison, stick blows will come up sooner or later as inevitable as the tides.
Live Action TV
In Roots (as in real history) the slaves are whipped for just about any reason. You would think some masters would prefer to limit this though, as it reduces a slave's ability to work and their value at auction(who wants a slave that needs to be whipped constantly?). In Real Life, that was usually the case for that exact reason. Flogging isn't for the benefit of the one person being flogged. It's for the benefit of the twenty people forced to watch.
Alluded to in Merlin by King Uther. "If this were a time of war, I would have you flogged".
Not an official punishment, but it was used by Lady Heather in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Pirates of the Third Reich" on the guy who killed her daughter. Grissom catches up to her in the desert to find her flogging the guy, who's tied to the hood of her car.
Disney's The Swamp Fox has a scene of this in the episode "Tory Vengeance". Marion's nephew, "Young" Gabe Marion, is flogged by Col. Townes in an attempt to force him to disclose the location of Marion's base. Marion storms the place with his brigade and rescues Gabe, only for the boy to be shot moments after he's freed from the ropes.
In the miniseries Horatio Hornblower (an adaptation of the book), several characters receive corporal punishments.
"The Examination for Lieutenant": Sailor Bunting deals badly with the death of his friend, hunger and fear of starvation. He's later caught stealing food. Captain Pellew is disgusted and orders a gauntlet for him. Hornblower feels responsible because he should have dealt with him earlier, so Pellew concludes that Hornblower will make amends by leading Bunting through the gauntlet himself.
"Munity": Crazy Captain Sawyer has Mr Midshipman Wellard beaten because... well, becuase he was only doing his duty and belayed Captain's order, otherwise their sail would tear. Later he has him beaten again because he thinks Wellard conspires against him and wants him to confess to mutiny. Most characters feels it is an injustice, and Mr Hornblower speaks up for him, which earns him a continuous watch that keeps being extended to whole days. And if an officer is caught sleeping on his watch, he will be sentenced to death.
"Duty": Captain Hornblower orders flogging to Styles who was in charge of the kitchen and its stove's fire might have burnt their ship down. Other people aboard suggested he should have been hanged for it but Mr Bush spoke for him as it was not intention, but negligence. However, it was actually the antagonist Wolfe who set Styles up.
The original lines of the sea shanty "What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor" include the punishment "Give him a taste o' the Captain's Daughter". The Captain's Daughter was a nickname for the cat o' ninetails; thus the song recommended a drunken sailor should be lashed.
The video clip of Rammstein's "Rosenrot" depicts the band members as priests who flog themselves. No fake whips or special effects were used when filming the scene — they were actually whipping themselves in reality, just like the wounds were real.
Subverted in The King and I. The King prepares to whip Tuptim for running away, but decides he just can't do it with Anna watching.
In a scene that is not often included in shows of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Judge Turpin, who is developing a serious lust for Johanna, his teenaged ward, takes the whip to himself during the course of the song "Johanna (Mea Culpa)" in an effort to drive off the "devil." The whipping instead drives him to climax, and he decides he's going to marry her, much to Johanna's horror.
In Billy Budd, a flogging scene happens offstage. Then the victim is brought onstage. And sings a duet with his friend.
In Ace Attorney, Franziska has a habit of whipping Gumshoe to punish him for his (frequent) incompetence.
Of course, she also has a habit of whipping foolish fools for spouting foolishly foolish nonsense - meaning, of course, everyone in this game. She whips Phoenix into unconsciousness when she loses her first trial.
The Templar Order from Diablo III does this to convicted criminals that they want to make into new Templars after first beating them for three days. The purpose of this, according to your follower Kormac, who went through the process himself, is to strip away everything that brought the initiate tainted joy, to cleanse and purify them of sin. Needless to say, your Player Character doesn't see things that way. As it turns out, the Order doesn't really give a damn about an initiate's actual guilt or innocence, and the Order's Inquisitors will gladly pile false sins upon an innocent if they deem him to be a useful asset to the Order, which is exactly what happened to both Kormac and his former comrade Jondar.
Archipelago: Captain Snow uses this as one of his many torture methods used to keep slaves in line on his sub.
In the Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "The Krabby Kronicle", SpongeBob gets revenge on Mr. Krabs working him to death on the newspaper by publishing a report of what's been going on, the headline picture being Krabs flogging him.
Truth In Television
The ancient Spartans would flog young men as a test of their masculinity.
The ancient Romans used a variant known as "scourging", using a whip that had bits of metal or bone at the tips. This punishment was reserved for non-citizens.
Both normal flogging and scourging were used in the martyrdom of Christians. In example, after Saint Sebastian was badass enough to survive being turned into a Human Pincushion, some versions of his myth say that he was flogged to death (others said he was beheaded); Saint Philomena's myths say that the first torture she was subjected to was scourging, and then angels healed her.
British law actually held a distinction between whipping (to be beaten with a whip) and flogging (to be beaten with a cat-o-nine-tails). Both were abolished in Britain in 1948.
Ancient Hebrew law limited flogging to forty strokes. It became common practice to only ever administer thirty-nine, so as to avoid any possibility of breaking this law due to a miscount.
Even the Romans would limit lashings to 39, as 40 was known to kill some men.
Though in the Navy with which this trope is usually identified such punishments were considered a sign of a bad commander. Even the harshest of captains would usually limit the punishment by having the ship's doctor step in as early as possible. Ludicrously harsh floggings were almost always carried out by the criminal justice system or the Army.
Religious self-flagellation is not just a Christian custom.
Shi'a Muslims whip themselves as part of the annual period of mourning for the first ten days of the Muslim year, commemorating the martyrdom of their Third Imam, Husayn ibn Ali, at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq (marked by the "festival" of Ashura). A few men, not believing that self-flagellation is Bad Ass enough to commemorate Husayn, cut their foreheads with swords.
Flogging also remains a viable legal punishment in some Muslim countries, mostly those that have expressly incorporated some more conservative versions of Islamic law into their legal systems.
Recently, a 14 year old Bangladeshi girl was lashed to death when a Sharia court sentenced her to 100 lashings for being raped by a married cousin, because it was considered an affair. The cousin in question was convicted of rape and also sentenced to 100 lashes.
In 1994, an American tourist named Michael Fay was arrested for theft and vandalism in Singapore, and wound up getting publicly caned.
Actually, he was sentenced publically, the actual caning was private and he actually shook the hand of the one who carried it out afterwards. Also, Singapore takes great pains to make sure that the recipient is medically fit, it is supervised by a doctor who can stop it at any time, and they pad the areas away from the area to be struck to minimize the risk of a crippling injury.
One intellectual visiting an eighteenth century army camp saw an elderly soldier beaten half to death for being careless in the presence of a teenage officer. His host told him, "I assure you sir, that it is necessary." Whereupon the guest said, "I cannot swear to that. But I do know that it is not necessary that I should watch it."
Imperial Russia had the knout. Technically this is just "whip" in Russian, but the brutality of serf flogging with this whip lends the term infamy. Particularly notable was the "great knout," which was an especially large, heavy, hard whip designed to inflict maximum damage. Where most floggings had to get into triple-digit strokes to threaten the victim's life, the great knout was known to kill with as few as twenty strokes - allegedly by breaking the spine.
Even after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the punishment continued until the early 20th century. By that time it was being used against workers and miners in cities too, particularly those who were involved in the civil unrest that evolved into the Revolutions of 1917. On the other hand there were relatively few punishments (a handful of cases per year) and it may have decreased in severity.
The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, c. 1780 BCE, mandates flogging for some crimes.
Historically, more savvy slave traders attempted to limit the frequency and severity of whippings. Scars from frequent whippings would convince buyers the slave must be rebellious or a poor worker; either way, not worth the money spent.
Although, as mentioned above, if flogging one person could keep the hundred people watching in line, that was just the cost of doing business.
There are a small number who are actually seriously contemplating bringing this back into the American Justice system as an alternative to imprisonment for lesser, non-felonious, offenses. Of course, the recipient would have to volunteer for it. Their reason? It's considered by some to be less of a Cruel And Unusual Punishment as it takes care of the punishment quickly and promptly and doesn't subject the recipient to the dehumanizing factor of over-crowded prison life and would allow them to get on with their lives, while still being a strong deterrent.