While this task can be an occasional one, it can be carried out in the line of more general duty by an officer of the court, the police, prison staff, or even the military. A special case is the tradition of the Roman fustuarium, continued in forms of running the gauntlet, where the culprit receives his punishment from the hands of the comrades his crime has gravely harmed, e.g. for failing in vital sentinel duty or stealing from a ship's limited food supply.
Many executioners were professional specialists, who usually traveled a whole area since executions would rarely be very numerous. Still, especially if a resident, he would often also administer non-lethal physical punishments, or apply torture.
The term is also extended to administrators of a severe physical punishment that is not prescribed to kill, but which may result in death.
Since executions in France (using the guillotine since the French Revolution) persisted until 1977, the French Republic had an official executioner, Marcel Chevalier, until the formal abolition in 1981.
During the Frisian Peasant Rebellion between 1515 and 1523, the Burgundian and Habsburgian enemies were usually beheaded when captured to prevent them from returning to fight again. The rebel leader, Pier Gerlofs Donia performed much of the decapitations. He was known for his amazing skill and for the ability to behead multiple people in a single blow using a Zweihander with the amazing lenght of 213 cm. For his extreme brutality he was nicknamed "Cross of the Dutchmen".
Native societies in Asia, Africa, The Americas, and the Pacific seem rarely to display such prejudice towards executioners, even when, as in North America, there is significant and vocal opposition to the death penalty itself.
In "Memories of Silk and Straw", by Junichi Saga, one of the families surveyed in the Japanese village of Tsuchiura is that of an executioner family ("The Last Executioner", P. 54). This family does suffer social isolation, even though the family is somewhat well-off financially. The lack of social shunning for executioners in places like North America may be attributed to the infrequency of executions in modern times and the ease in which prison or judicial official are able to conceal their daily job duties. This provides anonymity that was not possible when executions were carried out in view of the general public.
'The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century' by Joel F. Harrington (Posted 2013-05- 24 22:03:03) ; in "The Faithful Executioner," Joel F. Harrington Reveals the Inner Life of a 16th Century Executioner
May 24, 2013; "It is the job of thinking people," Albert Camus once observed, "not to be on the side of the executioners." But what are...
'The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century' by Joel F. Harrington (Posted 2013-05- 25 20:40:26) ; in "The Faithful Executioner," Joel F. Harrington Reveals the Inner Life of a 16th Century Executioner
May 25, 2013; "It is the job of thinking people," Albert Camus once observed, "not to be on the side of the executioners." But what are...