DecapitationDecapitation, or beheading, is the removal of a person's head from their body. Decapitation has been used as a form of capital punishment for millennia. The modern legal terminology capital offence or capital crime, as well as the term capital punishment itself, derives from the punishment for qualifying serious offences having been the removal of one's head. Political prisoners (labelled traitors) and serious criminals often had their heads removed and placed on public display for a period of time. If the headsman's axe or sword was sharp and his aim was true, decapitation was a quick and relatively painless form of death. If the instrument was blunt or the execution clumsy, however, it was considerably less painless. The culprit was therefore advised to give gold coin to the headsman so that he did his job with care.
Decapitation by guillotine was a common form of execution invented shortly before the French Revolution. The aim was that only one form of execution, involving no torture, should exist. It was used in France until 1977.