Top 10 Shocking Trials Throughout History

Even though few actually say it out loud, the truth is that people have been fascinated with murder, atrocities, violence and crimes since immemorial times. Why do you think that the vast percentage of TV shows, movies, news and books often include – if they are not completely built – around murder and trials.

Irrespective of what draws people’s attention towards murder, be it the mystery of the crime itself or the fascination death exerts on us, one thing is for sure: when watching a show or reading a book regarding crimes, each and every one of us becomes captivated with the case and turns into a veritable detective. Let’s summarize the most shocking trials in history that still mesmerize people today.


1. The trial of Jesus

trial of Jesus

Irrespective of whether you are a religious person or an atheist, one fact remains: the Roman trial of Jesus Christ had a huge impact on the world. You just have to think about the numerous conflicts involving the believers and non-believers to realize the crucifixion was a paramount event. The mystery associated with Jesus and the way his trial was carried out is deepened by the fact that the only information people have about it comes from the Christian Bible.


2. The trials of the Spanish Inquisition

trials of the Spanish Inquisition

Until the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Spain was known as the most enlightened and modern empire in Europe. However, what was once the congregation of multiple cultures and faiths turned into a witch hunt aimed to enforce the Christian religion on the local Jewish and Muslim population. Even though most of the documentation involving the deeds of the Spanish Inquisition has been lost, it is said that this institution tortured and condemned to death thousands of people.


3. The trial of Martin Luther

trial of Martin Luther

Soon after Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church, he was called before an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire to defend himself. While the holy assembly was debating the arguments as to why Martin Luther does not repudiate his criticism, he ran away. Apparently, Martin Luther had a hunch about the jury’s decision, as the assembly ordered his capture and demanded a severe punishment to be enforced by the emperor.


4. The trial of Galileo Galilei

trial of Galileo Galilei

The trial of Galileo Galilei was one of the first great confrontations between the mystical realm of religion and the factual nature of science. In spite of the fact that many scholars agreed with his views and there was sufficient evidence to back up the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun, he was trialed by the Inquisition and sentenced to house arrest. Heresy seems like a serious crime in the church’s view, considering that they admitted they were wrong and cleared Galileo’s name 300 years later.


5. The trial of Socrates

trial of Socrates

Because he always tried to challenge people’s thinking with circular and endless dialogues, Socrates was not the most popular man in ancient Athens. Perhaps, this is the main reason why he faced an unjust trial after being accused of corrupting the teens of Greece. According to some of his students (Xenophon and Plato), Socrates could have easily escaped town after the jury condemned him to death and he didn’t even try to convince the court of his innocence. Socrates preferred to remain loyal to the principle and played the role of executioner by willingly drinking poison.


6. The Salem witch trials

Salem witch trials

The Salem witch trials that took place in the 15th century in colonial Massachusetts are nowadays synonymous with the injustice induced by Puritans and the Catholic Church. According to historical documents, over 200 women were accused of practicing witchcraft and only 20 were actually convicted. The fascinating elements regarding this trial comprise of the fact that with one woman’s confession of making a pact with the Devil, the seed of paranoia was spread throughout the community and promoted harassment for several decades.


7. The trials at Nuremberg

trials at Nuremberg

It is very likely that the hype created by the trials of Nuremberg come from the fact that people actually witnessed justice being served. After years of war, atrocities, plundering and the massacre of over 6 million Jews, some the greatest masterminds behind the Nazi war machine were finally getting their just desserts. Even though the Allies did not manage to capture Hitler or Goebbels because both committed suicide, they still detained Hermann Goering (he also committed suicide while imprisoned) who was considered second in command in the Nazi regime. However, the Nuremberg trials represent more than that, since they have created a precedent in international law by permitting state officials to be trialed just like individuals.


8. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The TRC in South Africa was established in order to tribune over the years of apartheid that took place in this part of the globe. The interesting thing about the Commission is that it didn’t take after the court presiding at the trials of Nuremberg and its main aim was the reconciliation of the parties involved. The hearings were not exactly what you would normally call a trial, since some blood-boiling confessions that detailed the crimes during the apartheid actually demanded a punishment, critics believe.


9. The trial of Adolf Eichmann

trial of Adolf Eichmann

When the world believed that all the Nazis who were coordinating the atrocities of the WWII were trialed and punished, the Mossad agents brought a very interesting character into the picture, namely Adolf Eichmann. Although for two years the ex SS officer tried to bring proof that he was just a peon in Hitler’s grand scheme, he was eventually accused of crimes against humanity and one of the main responsible figures for the Holocaust. However, his defense proved rather weak: since the Israeli court didn’t believe he played the role of a simple cog in the Nazi war machine, Eichmann received the death penalty and was executed by hanging.


10. The Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus Affair

The trial of Alfred Dreyfus, who was a captain in the French army, managed to divide the country in two: those who strongly believed in his innocence and those who considered him a traitor. What was shocking about his trial is the fact that with basically no evidence, Dreyfus was accused of high treason, as the martial court at the time believed he was selling military secrets to Germany. Accused and pardoned for almost an entire century, his innocence was eventually pronounced in France, 1995.

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