Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945) giving a speech. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images).

Ah, Mussolini. Between the torture of his people, the regular beatings of his soldiers, and the abuse of anyone who crossed him, the Fascist leader has maintained a crummy reputation throughout all of history. While he may not hold a torch to other dictators of his time, such as Hitler, he wasn’t a beloved and fair leader in any measure. Still, his methods of torturing his subversives were fairly fascinating. He came up with a creative way to shame, humiliate, and deteriorating those who pissed him off: forcing them to drink castor oil. But what made this punishment so unsettling?

Benito Mussolini’s rise to ultimate jerkwad

Despite being a generally horrible human being, Benito Mussolini certainly was a revolutionary in Italy. At first, he became a leader within the Socialist party, writing dozens of papers and articles on Socialism. However, he soon found a different label that he felt fit his vibe a little better: Fascism. As a young man, he began to develop into the father of the Fascist movement within Italy, gathering an army that supported his intense beliefs. He successfully gained control of the Italian parliament when he became Italy’s Prime Minister in his early 40s. He managed to hold the position from 1922 to 1943. These staggering two decades are unforgettable for Italy, as the self-proclaimed “man of the people” proved himself to be cruel and unforgiving, even pairing up with Hitler during WWII.

Most of the people around him seemed to ignore the warning signs that he was a violent and apathetic person. As a child, he often started fights, bullied other children, and even went as far as to stab a classmate who had gotten on his nerves. He quite literally stabbed the kid with a penknife he had fashioned, was expelled, and then tried to do it again at his second school. Did no one in his family find this extremely concerning? Who knows. His Socialist father probably patted him on the back. Either way, Mussolini’s spirit of violence—and his odd ways of enforcing it—were a major part of his rule over Italy.

His unique forms of punishment

As Mussolini grew up, he studied philosophy, practiced political journalism, and was frequently arrested for his social outbursts and participation in riots. The sociopathic Mussolini developed a flair for manipulation, and, as he rose to prominence and power, his control over Italy grew. His Fascist soldiers adorned black shirts and terrorized any political opponents who stood in Mussolini’s way. Most of his supporters didn’t seem to anticipate the violent behaviors that Mussolini would practice, even towards his soldiers, once he was the dictator of Italy. However, Mussolini began to employ creative methods to deal with non-supporters, subversives, and soldiers who strayed from his mission. This is where castor oil came in.

Back in the 1800s and 1900s, castor oil (also known as aceite de risino or risino oil) was a vegetable oil that was frequently used as a remedy for a number of digestive issues. Since the oil was found to be a powerful laxative, it was helpful when it came to issues with constipation and the digestive tract. If you swallowed a spoonful of this magic oil, you would be able to poop a little easier within a few hours. But if you chugged a whole bottle? You would end up with diarrhea for days. The strange medical remedy may not sound like a powerful tool for a Fascist dictator, but it became a legendary weapon in Mussolini’s arsenal. Everyone with half a brain feared the incredibly frightening way that Mussolini used such a simple ingredient to terrorize subversives. But what exactly did Mussolini’s horrific use of castor oil accomplish?

The castor oil craze

Easy: severe diarrhea. While Mussolini wasn’t the first to utilize this method of torture, his frequent use of it eventually earned him a ton of credit for trademarking the castor oil abuse. Whenever Mussolini decided that anyone was an enemy of his Fascist regime, he would have them strapped into a chair, force their mouth open, and pour that “golden nectar of nausea” right down their throats. He wouldn’t stop with a mere teaspoon. He’d make them shotgun a whole bottle at once, leading to violent fits of diarrhea in his purported enemy. This method of torture may not sound as terrible as those of other dictators throughout the time. However, this castor oil-based punishment was disastrous in more ways than one.

First of all, the embarrassment of crapping their pants in front of an entire crowd of people was enough to make anyone not want to be an enemy of Mussolini’s government. Excessive public pooping would be a pretty terrible legacy to leave behind, don’t you think? Being labeled as an enemy of the state via a violent fit of overt diarrhea wasn’t a fun way to be exposed as a traitor of the state.

Secondly, believe it or not, castor oil could lead to death. Elongated diarrhea can lead to dehydration (remember good old dysentery) which could quickly kill anyone who didn’t have adequate access to water. While it’s unlikely that castor oil on its own could murder a subversive, the other methods of torture paired with the nasty oil could easily lead to the death of any enemies of Mussolini. Getting beaten, starved, and deprived of water all day long didn’t exactly support healthy recovery from what could become deadly diarrhea. Fortunately, Mussolini’s odd method of torture seemed to mainly die with him when his dictatorship was overthrown and he was executed in 1945. Still, his (literally) crappy method of dealing with traitors and enemies certainly left a mark on Italy’s unique history.