Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck," although it formerly also referred to crucifixion.

The preferred past tense and past participle in English is hanged.

For lack of a better term, hanging has also been used to describe a method of suicide in which a person applies a ligature to the neck and brings about unconsciousness and then death, by means of partial suspension or partial weight-bearing on the ligature. This method has been most often used in prisons or other institutions, where full suspension support is difficult to devise. The earliest known use in this sense was in A.D. 1300.

Methods of judicial hanging

There are four ways of performing a judicial hanging — the short drop, suspension hanging, the standard drop, and the long drop. A mechanised form of hanging, the upright jerker, was also experimented with in the 19th century.

Short drop

The short drop is done by placing the condemned prisoner on the back of a cart, horse, or other vehicle, with the noose around the neck. The object is then moved away, leaving the person dangling from the rope. The condemned prisoner dies of strangulation. Prior to 1850, it was the main method used. A ladder was also commonly used with the condemned being forced to ascend, after which the noose was tied and the ladder pulled away or turned, leaving the condemned hanging. A stool, which the condemned is required to stand on and is then kicked away, has also been used.

Suspension hanging

Suspension hanging is similar to the long drop, except the gallows themselves are movable, so that the noose can be raised once the condemned is in place. This method is currently used in Iran, where tank gun barrels or mobile cranes are used to hoist the condemned into the air. Similar methods involve running the rope through a pulley to allow the raising of the person.

Standard drop

The standard drop, which arrived as calculated in English units, involves a drop of between four and six feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) and came into use in the mid-19th century, in English-speaking countries and those where judicial systems were under English influence. It was considered an advance on the short drop because it was intended to be sufficient to break the person's neck, causing immediate paralysis and immobilization (and probable immediate unconsciousness). This method was used to execute condemned Nazis after the Nuremberg Trials.

Long drop

This process, also known as the measured drop, was introduced to Britain in 1872 by William Marwood as a scientific advancement to the standard drop. Instead of everyone falling the same standard distance, the person's height, weight and strength was used to determine how much slack would be provided in the rope so that the distance dropped would be enough to ensure that the neck was broken but not so much that the person was decapitated.

Prior to 1892, the drop was between four and ten feet (about one to three meters), depending on the weight of the body, and was calculated to deliver a force of 1,260 lbf (5,600 newtons or 572 kgf), which fractured the neck at either the 2nd and 3rd or 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae. However, this force resulted in some decapitations, such as the famous case of "Black Jack" Tom Ketchum in New Mexico Territory in 1901. Between 1892 and 1913, the length of the drop was shortened to avoid decapitation. After 1913, other factors were also taken into account, and the force delivered was reduced to about 1,000 lbf (4,400 N or 450 kgf). The decapitation of a female inmate during a botched hanging in 1930 led the state of Arizona to switch to the gas chamber as its primary execution method, on the grounds that it was believed more humane. One of the more recent decapitations as a result of the long drop occurred when Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was hanged in Iraq in 2007.

As suicide

Hanging is a common method of suicide. The materials necessary for suicide by hanging are easily available to the average person, compared with firearms or lethal poison. Full suspension is not required, and for this reason hanging is especially commonplace among suicidal prisoners. A type of hanging comparable to full suspension hanging may be obtained by self-strangulation using a ligature of the neck and only partial weight of the body (partial suspension). This method is dependent on unconsciousness produced by arterial blood flow restriction while the breath is held.

In Canada, hanging is the most common method of suicide., and in the U.S., hanging is the second most common method, after firearms. In Great Britain, where firearms are less easily available, as of 2001 hanging was the most common method among men and the second-most commonplace among women (after poisoning).

Medical effects

A hanging may induce one or more of the following medical conditions:

The cause of death in hanging depends on the conditions related to the event. When the body is released from a relatively high position, death is usually caused by severing the spinal cord between C1 and C2, which may be functional decapitation. High cervical fracture frequently occurs in judicial hangings, and in fact the C1-C2 fracture has been called the "hangman's fracture" in medicine, even when it occurs in other circumstances. Usually, accidental C1-C2 fracture victims do not immediately become unconscious; instead death occurs after some minutes. Another process that has been suggested is carotid sinus reflex death. By this theory, the mechanical stimulation of the carotid sinus in the neck brings on terminal cardiac arrest.

In the absence of fracture and dislocation, occlusion of blood vessels becomes the major cause of death, rather than asphyxiation. Obstruction of venous drainage of the brain via occlusion of the internal jugular veins leads to cerebral edema and then cerebral ischemia. The face will typically become engorged and cyanotic (turned blue through lack of oxygen). There will be the classic sign of strangulation—petechiae—little blood marks on the face and in the eyes from burst blood capillaries. The tongue may protrude.

Compromise of the cerebral blood flow may occur by obstruction of the carotid arteries, even though their obstruction requires far more force than the obstruction of jugular veins, since they are seated deeper and they contain blood in much higher pressure compared to the jugular veins. Only 31 newtons (7 lbf or 3.2 kgf) of force may be enough to constrict the carotid arteries to the point of rapid unconsciousness. Where death has occurred through carotid artery obstruction or cervical fracture, the face will typically be pale in color and not show petechiae. Many reports and pictures exist of actual short-drop hangings that seem to show that the person died quickly, while others indicate a slow and agonizing death by strangulation.

When cerebral circulation is severely compromised by any mechanism, arterial or venous, death occurs over four or more minutes from cerebral hypoxia, although the heart may continue to beat for some period after the brain can no longer be resuscitated. The time of death in such cases is a matter of convention. In judicial hangings, death is pronounced at cardiac arrest, which may occur at times from several minutes up to 15 minutes or longer after hanging. During suspension, once the prisoner has lapsed into unconsciousness, rippling movements of the body and limbs may occur for some time which are usually attributed to nervous and muscular reflexes. In Britain, it was normal to leave the body suspended for an hour to ensure death.

After death, the body typically shows marks of suspension: bruising and rope marks on the neck. Moreover, sphincters will relax spontaneously and urine and feces will be evacuated. Forensic experts may often be able to tell if hanging is suicide or homicide, as each leaves a distinctive ligature mark. One of the hints they use is the hyoid bone. If broken, it often means the person has been murdered by manual choking. Also, there have been cases of autoerotic asphyxiation leading to death. Children have accidentally died playing the choking game.

Notable references by country (political)

Hanging has been a method of capital punishment in many countries.


Capital punishment was a part of the legal system of Australia from its early days as a penal colony for the British Empire, until 1985. During the 19th century, crimes that could carry a death sentence included burglary, sheep stealing, forgery, sexual assaults, murder and manslaughter. During the 19th century, there were about 80 people hanged each year throughout Australia for these crimes.

Australia abolished the death penalty in all states by 1985. The last man executed by hanging in Australia was Ronald Ryan on 3 February, 1967, in Victoria.


Death by hanging was the customary method of capital punishment in Brazil throughout its history. Some important national heroes like Tiradentes (1792) were killed by hanging. The last man executed in Brazil was the slave Francisco, in 1876. The death penalty was abolished for all crimes, except for those committed under extraordinary circumstances such as war or military law, in 1890.


Bulgaria's national hero, Vasil Levski, was executed by hanging by the Ottoman court in Sofia in 1873. Every year since Bulgaria's liberation, thousands come with flowers on the date of his death, February 19, to his monument where the gallows stood.

The last execution was in 1989, and the death penalty was abolished for all crimes in 1998.


Historically, hanging was the only method of execution used in Canada and was in use as punishment for all murders until 1961, when murders were reclassified into capital and non-capital offenses. The death penalty was restricted to only apply for certain offenses to the National Defence Act in 1976 and was completely abolished in 1998.

The last hangings in Canada took place on December 11, 1962.


In the territories occupied by Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945, strangulation hanging was a preferred means of public execution, although more criminal executions were performed by guillotine than hanging. The most common sentenced were partisans and black marketeers, whose bodies were usually left hanging for long periods of time. There are also numerous reports of concentration camp inmates being hanged. Hanging was continued in post-war Germany in the British and US Occupation Zones under their jurisdiction, and for Nazi war criminals, until well after (western) Germany itself had abolished the death penalty by the German constitution as adopted in 1949. The German Democratic Republic did not abolish the death penalty until 1987. The last execution in West Germany was carried out by guillotine in Moabit prison 1949. The last known execution in East Germany was in 1982, but by a pistol shot to the neck. Date for the last known hanging is sought.


The prime minister of Hungary during the 1956 revolution, Imre Nagy, was secretly tried, executed by hanging, and buried unceremoniously by the new Soviet-backed Hungarian government, in 1958. Nagy was later publicly rehabilitated by Hungary..

Capital punishment was abolished for all crimes in 1990.


Nathuram Godse, Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin, was executed by hanging in 1949.

The modern Supreme Court of India has suggested that capital punishment should be given only in the "rarest of rare cases".

A recent case of capital punishment by hanging is that of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was convicted of the 1990 murder and rape of a 14 year old girl in Kolkata in India. The manner in which the crime was committed (the accused bludgeoned the victim with a blunt object and raped her as she was slowly dying) was considered brutal enough by the supreme court to warrant the death penalty. An appeal for clemency was made to the president of India but was turned down. Chatterjee was executed on August 14, 2004, in the first execution in India since 1995.


As one of several means of capital punishment in Iran, hangings are carried out by using an automotive telescoping crane to hoist the condemned aloft. The death penalty is used for many offenses and is the only punishment for rape, murder and child molestation, with all hangings taking place in public.

On July 19, 2005, two boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, ages 15 and 17 respectively, who had been convicted of the rape of a 13-year-old boy, were publicly hanged at Edalat (Justice) Square in Mashhad, on charges of homosexuality and rape. On August 15, 2004, a 16-year-old girl, Atefeh Sahaaleh (a.k.a. Ateqeh Rajabi), was executed for having committed "acts incompatible with chastity".

At dawn on 27 July 2008, the Iranian Government executed a total of 29 people at Evin Prison in Tehran.


Hanging was used under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but was suspended along with capital punishment in 2003 when the United States-led coalition invaded and overthrew the previous regime. The death penalty was reinstated in May 2005.

In September 2005, three murderers were the first people to be executed since the restoration. Then on March 9 2006, an official of Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council confirmed that Iraqi authorities had executed the first insurgents by hanging.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity on November 5, 2006, and was executed on December 30, 2006 at approximately 6:00 a.m. local time. During the drop, there was an audible crack indicating that his neck was broken, a successful example of a long drop hanging.

By contrast, Barzan Ibrahim, the head of the Mukhabarat, Saddam's security agency, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former chief judge, were executed on January 15, 2007, also by the long drop method, but Barzan was decapitated by the rope at the end of his fall indicating that the drop was too long.

Also, former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan had been sentenced to life in prison on November 5, 2006, but the sentence was changed to death by hanging on February 12, 2007. He was the fourth and final man to be executed for the 1982 crimes against humanity on March 20, 2007. This time, the execution went smoothly and without obvious mistake or problem.

At the Anfal genocide trial, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka Chemical Ali), former defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Tay, and former deputy Hussein Rashid Mohammed were sentenced to hang for their role in the Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurds on June 24, 2007.


Although Israel has provisions in its criminal law to use the death penalty for extraordinary crimes, it has only been used twice, and only once by hanging. On June 1, 1962, Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was executed by hanging. (Before that, in 1948 Major Meir Tobianski was wrongfully charged with treason, court-martialed and shot. Later he was exonerated).


On February 27, 2004, the mastermind of the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Shoko Asahara, was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On December 25, 2006, serial killer Hiroaki Hidaka and three others were hanged in Japan. Hanging is the common method of execution in capital punishment cases in Japan, as in the cases of Norio Nagayama, Mamoru Takuma and Tsutomu Miyazaki.


Death by hanging is the traditional method of capital punishment in Jordan.


Hanging is the traditional way of capital punishment in Malaysia.


More than 3,000 people are on the Pakistan's death row, where hanging is the most common form of execution.


Similar to many other countries, the Russian Empire used the death penalty for a wide range of crimes.

The death penalty was officially outlawed shortly after the revolution of 1917, but the government later permitted the use of the penalty for soldiers on the front. In the next several decades, the death penalty was alternatively permitted and prohibited, but during Stalin's reign, the death penalty was used in many cases. The last persons to be sentenced to death by hanging were Andrey Vlasov and 11 other officers of his army on August 1, 1946. Numerous executions from that date forward were carried out by gunshot, which became the standard method of capital punishment in the Soviet Union.

In the Russian Federation the death penalty is still technically allowed but is currently under a moratorium.


In Singapore, mandatory hanging using the long-drop method is currently used as punishment for various crimes, such as drug trafficking, kidnapping and unauthorized possession of firearms.

A 25-year old Vietnamese-Australian, Nguyen Tuong Van, was hanged on December 2, 2005, after being convicted of drug trafficking in 2002. Numerous efforts from both the Australian government, Queen's Counsels and petitions from organizations such as Amnesty International failed to persuade Singapore to rescind its decision.

A 24-year old Malaysian, Took Leng How, was hanged on November 2, 2006, after being convicted of the murder of Huang Na in 2004.

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, a Nigerian national was sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking. He was hanged on January 26, 2007.

United Kingdom

As a form of judicial execution in England, hanging is thought to date from the Saxon period, approximately around 400. Records of the names of British hangmen begin with Thomas de Warblynton in the 1360s; complete records extend from the 1500s to the last hangmen, Robert Leslie Stewart and Harry Allen, who conducted the last British executions in 1964.

In 1965, Parliament passed the "Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act" abolishing capital punishment for murder. And with the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 the death penalty was officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases. Following its complete abolition, the gallows were removed from Wandsworth prison, where they remained in full working order until that year.

The last woman to be hanged was Ruth Ellis on July 13 1955 by Albert Pierrepoint who was a prominent hangman in the 20th century in England. The last hanging in Great Britain happened in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester were executed for the murder of John Alan West.

Silken rope

In the UK, some felons have traditionally been executed by hanging with a silken rope:

United States

The two largest mass executions in the U.S., of 38 and 13 men at the same time, respectively, were carried out by hanging.

At present, capital punishment varies from state to state; it is outlawed in some states but commonly used in others. However, the death penalty under federal law is applicable in every state. Other forms of capital punishment have largely been replaced by lethal injection in the U.S., where the condemned may choose this as an option. Only lethal injection is used at the federal level and only the states of Washington and New Hampshire still retain hanging as an option.

Laws in Delaware were changed in 1996 to specify lethal injection, except for those convicted prior to 1996, who were allowed to choose hanging. If a choice was not made, or the convict refused to choose injection, then hanging was the default method. This was the case in the 1996 execution of Billy Bailey, the most recent hanging in American history. Since the hanging of Bailey, no Delaware prisoner has fit into this category, thus the practice has ended there de facto, and the gallows have been dismantled.

In New Hampshire, if it is found to be 'impractical' to carry out the execution by lethal injection, then the condemned will be hanged, and in Washington the condemned still have an outright choice between hanging and lethal injection.

Clinton Duffy, who served as Warden of San Quentin Prison in California, presided over ninety executions. He began to oppose the death penalty and after his retirement he wrote a memoir entitled Eighty-eight Men and Two Women in support of the crusade to abolish the death penalty. The book documents several hangings gone wrong and describes how they led his predecessor, Warden James B. Holoran, to persuade the California Legislature to replace hanging with the gas chamber.

Popular culture

  • The word game hangman uses a stick-figure drawing of a hanged person as a method of keeping score; when the figure is complete, the player has lost.
  • In some films, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Shanghai Noon and Back to the Future Part III, victims are often saved by their accomplices who shoot the rope with a gun just before the slack in the rope straightens. The television show MythBusters asserted that this was not possible, as it took several well-placed shots to break the rope, unless a very thin rope is used.
  • The mandrake plant often has bifurcated roots, which, as in the case of ginseng, has historically caused it to be identified with the human body and figure. It was a common belief in some countries that a mandrake plant would grow in the shadow of a gallows, where the semen of a hanged man dripped on to the earth; this would appear to be the reason for the methods employed by the alchemists who, in alchemy terms, "projected human seed into animal earth." In Germany, the plant is known as the Alraune. The novel Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers, later adapted into a film, is based around a soulless woman conceived from a hanged man's semen, the title being a reference to this myth of the Mandrake's origins.


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