History of Europe

How many people died from the Inquisition?

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2017-12-05 13:19:33

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


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


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


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.

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