Decapitation is the separation of the head
Human head
In human anatomy, the head is the upper portion of the human body. It supports the face and is maintained by the skull, which itself encloses the brain.-Cultural importance:...

 from the body. Beheading typically refers to the act of intentional decapitation, e.g., as a means of murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 or execution
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

; it may be accomplished, for example, with an axe
The axe, or ax, is an implement that has been used for millennia to shape, split and cut wood; to harvest timber; as a weapon; and as a ceremonial or heraldic symbol...

, sword
A sword is a bladed weapon used primarily for cutting or thrusting. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under consideration...

, knife
A knife is a cutting tool with an exposed cutting edge or blade, hand-held or otherwise, with or without a handle. Knives were used at least two-and-a-half million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools...

, wire
A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and to carry electricity and telecommunications signals. Wire is commonly formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate. Standard sizes are determined by various...

, or by other more sophisticated means such as a guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

. Ritualistic decapitation after execution by some other means, sometimes followed by public display of the severed head, has also been common throughout history.