A knout is a heavy scourge-like multiple whip, usually made of a bunch of rawhide thongs attached to a long handle, sometimes with metal wire or hooks incorporated. The English word stems from English phonetic pronunciation of a French transliteration of the Russian word кнут (knut).
The Russian knout had different forms. One was a lash of raw hide, long, attached to a wooden handle, long. The lash ended in a metal ring, to which was attached a second lash as long, ending also in a ring, to which in turn was attached a few inches of hard leather ending in a beak-like hook. Another kind consisted of many thongs of skin plaited and interwoven with wire, ending in loose wired ends, like the cat-o-nine tails.
A variation, known as the great knout, consisted of a handle about long, to which was fastened a flat leather thong about twice the length of the handle, terminating with a large copper or brass ring to which was affixed a strip of hide about five centimeters broad at the ring, and terminating at the end of in a point. This was soaked in milk and dried in the sun to make it harder. Knouts were used in Russia for flogging as formal corporal punishment of criminals and political offenders. The victim was tied to a post or on a triangle of wood and stripped, receiving the specified number of strokes on the back. A sentence of 100 or 120 lashes was equivalent to a death sentence; even twenty lashes could maim, and with the specially extended Great Knout twenty blows could kill.
The executioner was usually a criminal who had to pass through a probation and regular training, being let off his own penalties in return for his services. Peter the Great is traditionally accused of knouting his son Alexis to death; whoever the executioner may have been, there is little doubt that he was beaten until he died.
The emperor Nicholas I abolished the earlier forms of knout in 1845, and substituted the pleti, a lash with three-thongs which could end in lead balls. The knout was later abolished throughout Russia and reserved for the penal settlements, mainly in Siberia, adding another cruelty to the often fatal hardships of convict life there.