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History of Europe

How many people died from the Inquisition?


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December 05, 2017 1:19PM

The number of people who died in the various inquisitions across Europe is difficult to determine, but the number of victims can be numbered in the thousands, not the millions as a previous respondent stated. The entire populations of Europe would have been wiped out if inquisitors had killed in those numbers! Even though the Spanish Inquisition lasted for hundreds of years the Inquisition was held primarily in small areas in France, Spain and Italy.

For example, the Spanish Inquisition, assuredly the most vigorous and corrupt of the various inquisitorial bodies that existed in Europe, held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people.

I suggest to read Edward Peter's Inquisition for the most up to date analysis of the topic, including the myths that have arisen surrounding the inquisitions.

Correction The Spanish Inquisition was state ministry, not papal organization. Blaming Popes for deeds of Spanish Inquisition is incorrect. However kings of Spain used Dominicans (Catholic religious order priests) as judges etc. because clergy (especially mentioned monks) were generally far more educated than ordinary people.

Brief Answer: Talking of 'the inquisition' probably refers to the whole thing i.e. 'retake' of land for Christians and murderous rampage against heretics. It was started by Pope Lucius III when he issued a bull against heretics- and the violent measures against them. It is strongly thought by those who thoroughly study the inquisition that the death toll is indeed in the millions. Which is of course denied by Christian leaders and followers.

After some thought, I'm leaving the last two contributors' responses here to give those interested some idea of the flavor of the controversy. Firstly, it is correct to state that the Spanish Inquisition was a state ministry, but that doesn't remove it from the category of "inquisition." It was authorized by the papacy and thereafter used by monarchs on the Iberian peninsula beginning with Ferdinand and Isabella as the only institution at their disposal that operated across the boundaries of the twin crowns of Aragon and Castille. Many inquisitions functioned in conjunction with secular authorities, such as in 15th century Florence. And needless to say the Roman inquisition functioned under the direct management and control of the Pope, who WAS the secular (as well as spiritual) authority in the city of Rome and the Papal States. All of this simply goes toward explaining why it makes no sense to think of a single inquisition, rather than multiple inquisitions. Again, if you are truly interested in the subject, read Edward Peters or Richard Kieckhefer.

As for how many deaths may be attributed to the various inquisitorial bodies, I'm not certain who the previous contributor refers to when he states that "those who thoroughly study the inquisition" agree that the death toll was in the millions, but he or she is quite wrong on multiple levels. I am unaware of any modern historian who would accept such ridiculous numbers and it has nothing to do with whether or not they are Christian. Again, for a general treatment of the various inquisitions, read Edward Peters' Inquisitions, and for a more specialized treatment turn to Richard Kieckhefer's Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany.

Finally, the previous contributor was correct in pointing to the papal bull of 1184, ab abolendam, which Pope Lucius III did indeed issue the year before his death, as the beginning of the papal inquisition, but episcopal inquisitions had existed prior to this, and indeed the first time heretics were burned was at Orleans in 1022. And again, even with the establishment of the papal inquisition, various judge legates, which is what individual inquisitors were, pursued their duties in differing ways and with differing agendas. In sum, there never was anything one code referred to as THE inquisition, simply various individual inquisitions.

MORE: According to Henry Kamen's "The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision" it is very difficult to determine, because if people fled - which they usually did - the Inquisition would burn them in effigy, and make no distinction in their records between whether someone was burned in effigy or in reality. According to Kamen, at the height of the Inquistiion, they executed a handful of people per year, and the State of Texas executes more people in a year than the Inquisition did in ten.