Recently Egypt made headlines by sentencing 529 people to death in a single court verdict.

I've seen a lot of talk both in the media and online about this being the largest single death penalty sentence in "recent history". However, I haven't seen any reference to one larger. In fact, the only one of even comparable size I've seen mentioned was 152 sentenced in a single case in Bangladesh in 2009. However, even that was a bit different, in that it was a military trial of an entire military unit for mutiny.

This verdict seems kind of horrible to a lot of people, but I think it would be useful to put an actual bound on it.

So the question is, have there ever in fact been documented court cases that sentenced more than 529 civilians to death at once? If yes, what was the most recent?


Massacre of Verden in 782 may be seen as the execution 4,500 Saxons by Charlemagne for being in breach of Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae, a law forbidding paganism. This was in the context of a revolt and the 4,500 were surrendered by the Saxons forces upon capitulation. It may not be what the questioner is after as they weren't given anything approximating to due process, but I thought it was an interesting example as so many were executed nominally for violation of a specific legal code not directly related to the act of rebelling.


The largest case of a nation using a proper legal system I can think of is following the Third Servile War, the famous slave revolt led by Spartacus, the Romans condemned and executed the remaining 6,000 rebel slaves that had not been slain in battle. The slaves involved were gladiators, so it was difficult to crush the revolt. Slaves are civilians, even if gladiators.

Due to the fact that slaves are not citizens and the timing of the revolt is in the late Republic, the slaves involved should be subject to the imperium. The justice system became more corrupt and the military more powerful as Rome became a dictatorship. This would mean that they would have been "tried" in a sense by a magistrate with the power to hand down military justice.

In the autumn, when the revolt was at its height and Spartacus had about 120,000 followers, the Senate voted to pass over the consuls and grant imperium to Marcus Licinius Crassus, who had been a praetor in 73 B.C. but currently held no office

There are many examples larger than this of nations using extrajudiciary justice or summary execution. The show trials during the Cultural Revolution probably would be the upper bound for largest ever death sentences. Hundreds of thousands of people were found guilty of being reactionary revolutionaries.

To place the number of 529 in a proper modern historical context, the largest simultaneous death penalty case in the Sudanese justice system during the brutal war in Darfur involved a little over 100 people found guilty of terrorist acts against the government in 2008. Following the genocide in Rwanda, the government considered executing thousands of people. Two thousand died in prison awaiting trial. The International Court of Justice stepped in and worked with Rwanda to bring to justice the worst offenders who were often hiding in other countries. The largest execution involved seven people. Considering these facts, the number seems very large.

Source: DOMAC case study 19 Sudan

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    Was there any actual mass legal trial with a verdict though? The link there kind of implies they were all just summarily strung up. – T.E.D. Mar 25 '14 at 0:37
  • @T.E.D. most likely a procedural verdict was passed in absentia and then the sentences carried out on apprehension of the guilty. This is of course common throughout history in case the suspect doesn't appear for the trial (and often isn't even aware he is on trial). – jwenting Mar 25 '14 at 8:01
  • I am pretty sure that even more bloody consequences of various revolts happined much after the revolt of Spartacus. – Anixx Mar 25 '14 at 12:55

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