Modes of execution
On the whole, the most common mode of execution in Serbia was shooting, but different modes prevailed in different periods of its history.
1804 – 1813 Most executions were carried out by shooting or by hanging, but other methods were employed as well, including the lethal gauntlet (mrtva šiba); breaking on or with the wheel; and decapitation. The traditional Turkish punishment of impalement was used only very rarely.
1815 – 1838 The most frequent modes of execution were shooting, hanging and the lethal gauntlet. Murderers were subject to mirror punishment – they were to be killed in the same way as and with the same weapon with which they killed their victims. Under this strict interpretation of the law of talion, formalized by a decree in 1825, executions could be and indeed were carried out in every conceivable manner – by blows with an axe or any other object, by strangulation or in any other way. Finally, in some cases executions were but ordinary lynchings, ordered by the authorities. For example, when a brother and sister were sentenced to death for incest in 1822, the mob which had gathered for the public reading of the judgment was told to kill the culprits „in any way they choose“. Throughout this period (as before), the corpses of executed criminals were, more often than not, publicly displayed.
1839 – 1858 The prevalent methods of execution were shooting, hanging and the lethal gauntlet. The colourful mirror punishments were discontinued after 1842. The bodies of those executed were displayed on wheels.
1859 – 1914 After 1858, shooting became the only legal mode of execution, performed by a unit of four or more policemen in a public place. Public display on wheels was discontinued. The corpse was immediately buried at the spot of execution.
1918 – 1929 When Yugoslavia was created in 1918, different legal systems remained in force in different parts of the new country. In the north-western provinces (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and Vojvodina), executions were by hanging, performed in an enclosed space in front of a restricted public. In the remainder of the country (Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia), shooting was the only legal mode of execution and it was performed publicly.
1930 – 1941 In 1929, hanging became the only legal mode of execution in the whole of Yugoslavia. It was carried out in an enclosed space (usually the inner yard of a court or a prison building), in front of a restricted audience.
1944 – 1959 Executions in this period were more frequent than ever before or since – there may have been as many as 10,000, not counting the extrajudicial ones, which were very common from 1944 to 1946. The two legal modes of execution were shooting and hanging – the latter was considered an aggravation of punishment and was less frequent.
1959 – 2002 Executions by hanging were abolished in 1959 and shooting remained the only legally permitted method of execution. Under the law, executions were carried out in the early hours of the morning "in the open air". This was usually some secluded spot in the woods or by the river, close to a settlement, and the police would secure the area to prevent access by the public.