Two cruel Carthaginian torturers crush the Roman consul Marcus Atilius Regulus between spiked boards set up on trestles. The brutal scene takes place inside a low, gray-walled enclosure. To the right, three elderly, bearded men peer over the wall, gravely contemplating the spectacle before them. The Boucicaut Master furthered the drama of the episode by contrasting Regulus's pale clothing and pathetic facial expression with the hefty physicality of the torturers.
The Roman consul Regulus served in the Punic war, defeating the Carthaginians in 256 B.C. His demands for an unconditional surrender, however, so angered the Carthaginians that they continued their battle and in 255 soundly defeated the Romans. As a Carthaginian prisoner, Regulus was sent back to Rome to negotiate a peace treaty. Against the protests of his fellow citizens, he returned to Carthage to fulfill the terms of his captivity; according to legend, he was then tortured to death. The Romans saw Regulus as a hero, and his legend was kept alive through inclusion in medieval texts like Giovanni Boccaccio's Concerning the Fates of Illustrious Men and Women .