I'm researching about the death toll during the Inquisition, I'm particularly interested in what happened from 12th to the 15th century but not exclusively to this period.

One part of this question is to find historical sources covering the the 12-15th century is because it is prior to the arrival of the Protestant church, which historians affirm to have emerged at the end of the Inquisition as direct result of its increasing persecution.

I would like to find reliable sources from both Catholic and Protestant sides regarding their claims about the number of people killed during this period.

I've heard accounts of the Inquisition killing more than 20, 30, 40 million people during the persecution, which to me sounded over exaggerated since the population in Europe at that time was around 90 million around the 15th century.

I'm not interested on a debate between Catholics vs Protestants, just looking for historic reliable sources.

I want to add some notes to this question:

  1. I'm deeply interested in Catholic and Protestants source since both sides hold major antagonistic views to the events and have corroborated with varied of sources, but I'm not interested in theirs exclusively;

    • I want Protestant Sources;
    • I want Catholic source;
    • I also want any other possible sources.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 13:49
  • Rolled back to beginning of edit war. Further changes may be hashed out in meta here
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 13:56
  • I presume you mean the Spanish inquisition.
    – John Dee
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 1:33
  • @JohnDee - I wasn't expecting that!
    – AndyT
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 16:55
  • Take account that catholic inquisition tribunals often had other attributions beside heresy. In some places/times, they had jurisdiction on all crimes committed by clergy (and some crooks faked being clergy to avoid civil tribunals); or on other crimes such as bigamy, prostitution, perjury, rape, pedophilia, even faking coins or books. Do you mean how many were condemned for heresy?
    – Luiz
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 20:20

3 Answers 3


Getting accurate numbers is going to be problematic. Firstly, as you might expect, not all the records have survived. Secondly, a large number of those who were killed were never recorded in the official records of the Inquisition in the first place.

It should be made clear from the outset that claims of tens of millions of deaths as a result of the Inquisition - even over a period of several centuries - is simply mathematically untenable. For example, Spain had a population of about 7.5 million at the height of the Spanish Inquisition in the sixteenth century [Elliott, 1989, p223].

To place those numbers into further context, the Black Death killed an estimated 20 million people in Europe, or just under half the population, in the period from 1348 to 1352.

The first Inquisition was temporarily established in Languedoc (south of France) in 1184 by the Papal Bull Ad abolendam. This would lead directly to the Albigensian Crusade, which lasted from 1209 to 1244 and resulted in at least 200,000 Cathar deaths, and probably many more.

The Inquisition was permanently established in 1229, and run largely by the Dominican order until its abolition in the early 19th century (although part of the institution survived as part of the Roman Curia, and is known today as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Many of the excesses of the Albigensian Crusade are well known. For example, the massacre at Béziers, where the Cistercian Abbot and Papal Legate Arnaud Amalric allegedly told his men:

"Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius."

("Kill them all. God will know his own").

Amalric may, or may not, have spoken those exact words. However, he did confirm the broad details of the massacre (while effectively denying that he had any part in it) in a letter to the Pope in August 1209:

...while discussions were still going on with the barons about the release of those in the city who were deemed to be Catholics, the servants and other persons of low rank and unarmed attacked the city without waiting for orders from their leaders. To our amazement, crying "to arms, to arms!", within the space of two or three hours they crossed the ditches and the walls and Béziers was taken. Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt...

Other contemporary writers put the death toll at up to sixty-thousand. Now, personally, I always find numbers like this in medieval documents a little suspect. They often seem unrealistically large and suspiciously round numbers. In this case, the true figure probably lies somewhere between the two extremes.

The massacre at Béziers serves to illustrate one major problem that will be faced if we try to estimate the death toll during the medieval Inquisition. Many of those killed simply do not appear in the official records of "the Inquisition". Of course, the massacre at Béziers was far from the only atrocity committed during the Albigensian Crusade. Malcolm Barber's brief overview The Albigensian Crusades: Wars Like Any Other? is well worth reading in this context.

Perhaps the best known manifestation of the Inquisition in the popular mind is the Spanish Inquisition, established in 1478. One of the earliest accounts came from a former Spanish secretary to the Inquisition named Juan Antonio Llorente (1756–1823). According to Llorente, nearly 32,000 “heretics” were burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition, and another 300,000 were put on trial and forced to do penance [Roth, 1964; p123].

Now, Llorente was an outspoken critic of the Spanish Inquisition and, although there are some who have argued that he actually underestimated the total number of deaths, there has been a tendency for modern historians to assume that his 32,000 figure is an exaggeration. The currently accepted view was set out by William Rubinstein in his 2004 book Genocide:

Juan Antonio Llorente (1756–1823), a fierce enemy of the Inquisition, whose Critical History of the Inquisition of 1817–19 remains the most famous early work attacking everything connected with it, estimated the number of executions carried out during the whole of the period that the Spanish Inquisition existed, from 1483 until its abolition by Napoleon, at 31,912, with 291,450 “condemned to serve penances.” ... Most recent historians regard even this figure as far too high.

[Rubinstein, 2004, p34]

So, if we limit the discussion to official executions during the Spanish Inquisition, experts today seem to place the total number in a range between about 3,000 and 10,000. A further 100,000 to 125,000 probably died in prison as a result of torture and maltreatment, but these went largely unrecorded in the records of the Inquisition. (The separate Inquisition in neighbouring Portugal resulted in fewer deaths) [Pérez, 2006, p173 and Rummel, 2009, p62]. Henry Kamen is one of the world's leading experts on the Spanish Inquisition. He concludes that:

We can in all probability accept the estimate, made on the basis of available documentation, that a maximum of three thousand persons may have suffered death during the entire history of the tribunal.

[Kamen, 2014, p253]

Although Kamen's figure is only concerned with executions. It does not include those who died in prison as a result of torture and maltreatment, and, as mentioned above, whose deaths would be largely absent from the official record.

One further point occurs to me. All these figures also omit the families of those accused by the Inquisition. In many cases they would have lost their sole means of support. Would their former friends and neighbours have provided assistance, or would they have been afraid of guilt-by-association? Based on what we have seen elsewhere over the years - not least in the twentieth century - it seems likely that it would have been the latter. If that was the case, then many would certainly have succumbed to the diseases associated with poverty who would not otherwise have done so. Should their deaths also be added to the total? If so, how would we arrive at an even approximately accurate figure?

If the term "Inquisition" is used in its broader sense, to include all Roman Catholic activities against non-Catholics, then, as we might expect, the death-toll increases dramatically. In his 2006 paper, Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and Later, David Plaisted attempts to arrive at an estimate including figures for deaths resulting from forms of torture and killing that did not involve a formal trial, religious wars, and other forms of Catholic violence enacted against Protestants and other non-Catholics. This text also includes some useful links to further source material.

If the discussion includes this wider context, then it certainly is possible to talk about death tolls potentially measured in the millions.

A different perspective on the history of the Inquisition can be seen in this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 13:47
  • 1
    Definite upvote. I'm not very interested in Latin America, but this answer is interesting. Also more people on this site should show their sources
    – JLK
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:27
  • I find such high figures for deaths from torture unlikely because torture in inquisition tribunals were much more limited by law than in civil tribunals. Kamen says it was rare (~2%), with no mutilation, no risk to life, in the presence of a medic, not being repeated more than twice to the same criminal.
    – Luiz
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 20:28

Henry Kamen was a historian attacking the Spanish inquisition. His views changed after in 1960s he started to work on his 'Spanish Inquisition' book. Based on historical evidence he concluded that the inquisition was not made up of fanatics who rejoiced in torture and executions and that, for example, Inquisition gaols were better run and more humane than ordinary Spanish prisons.

  • For the period prior to 1530, Henry Kamen in 'Spanish Inquisition' estimated there were about 2,000 executions in all of Spain's tribunals.

  • Available source shows that the number of people executed between 1500-1700 could be reconstructed as 1303. The real death toll is probably slightly higher.

Those are numbers for Spain, in other countries the inquisition was not as powerful, so accounts saying that Inquisition killed millions could be put on the same shelf as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion".

  • Henry Kamen, I'm not familiar with him and his work, but I will now check what he published, thanks for the answer, let's see if more reader can contribute for this topic, thanks a lot! Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 7:56
  • 2
    mind that this number is for Spain only after the Pope lost the power of inquisition there. Other inquisitions existed prior and concurrent with the Spanish inquisition, including in places where there were a lot more heretics (protestants and Jews) than in Spain, and thus likely a lot more victims. The number of millions total deaths does seem excessive though, millions total investigations and even arrests might be true.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 10:42
  • @jwenting which countries?
    – user25367
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 11:26
  • 10
    @jwenting Since protestants didn't exist at that time and the most sephardic jews were coming from the Iberian peninsula, per definition, i would encourage you to back up your statement with some details, references
    – Greg
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 12:31

The answer depends on what crimes you want to attribute to the Inquisition. If you considers only deaths of people that underwent due process in Spain, then the number of victims in the Spanish Inquisition was close to 30,000, according to Don Juan Antonio Llorente, a historian and bishop, who became commissary of the Holy Office (Inquisition) in 1789. This small number of victims is probably enough for keep the judges busy, terrorize the population, and quench freedom of thought in the small body of intellectuals. Consider only one of the goals of the Inquisition, which is terrorize the population. In this case, 1 execution each month is enough to reach the goal, and can be maintained at a reasonable budget, enough to pay a few judges.

If you want documented executions, then you can divide the estimates of Don Juan Antonio Llorente by ten. Recently, the Catholic Church insisted that it is responsible only for the cases that its judges documented in Spain, something around 2000 victims.

If you are willing to add victims of the Spanish colonial empire and in other countries, the many people who were inspired by the inquisition, people who profited from the ideology of the Inquisition, people who killed without even a summary conviction of the victims, then the number of victims is something between 500,000 to 1,000,000, mostly Indians and Blacks in Spanish America. African Slaves and Indians were frequently forced to become Christians. When they refused, or pretended to renounce their gods, the Indians were killed, and the blacks, who had economic value, were beaten and tortured. Since these blacks were indeed conversos, who kept their ancient faiths in secret, repeated beating often killed them. Even today, African and Indian religions in South America and Caribe name their gods with

  • 4
    Welcome to the History Stack Exchange. FYI it's best practice on this site to include relevant sources as links or footnotes in answers for easier reference. (See @sempaiscuba's answer for an example.) Also, your new world paragraph seems cut. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 22:28
  • 2
    please finish the last paragraph! Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.