Irene de Craen

A Deterrence of Sight and Smell

The gallows field of Amsterdam


gallows field - Winter view on the Volewijk, with a few spectators at the gallows. Drawing by Gerrit Lamberts, ca.  1816/1820 Source: city archive

The small headland on the north side of the IJ, opposite the Oosterdok, used to be the location of the gallows field of Amsterdam. Criminals sentenced to death were executed on Dam Square, and as an extra punishment their corpses could then be taken to the gallows field to be exhibited. The executed were hung on gallows, poles, or wheels, according to their method of execution befitting their crime. The bodies would then be "eaten by the birds, and consumed by the air." The purpose of the field and the decaying bodies was to scare. But besides the horrific sight, one can imagine the smell would have been a sufficient warning by itself. All incoming ships could see (and smell) the gallows field, and so those on board knew that crime would be punished in Amsterdam. Besides scaring people into obedience, the field was also a source of entertainment for the people of Amsterdam who loved to see the gallows with their children on Sundays. (Gemeente Amsterdam)