Ancient Executions, Most Unpleasant [Part 3 of 3]

The word crucifixion is a Latin derived word crucifigo a third conjugation transitive verb meaning to crucify, or attach to a cross. Although other cultures have used this method of execution such as the Persians and the Phoenicians, the Romans are particularly found of this form of torturous death reserved only for the lowest of the low. Pirates, deserters, and traitors are given this punishment whereas more proper Romans were given the option of suicide such as Petronius during the time of Nero, or beheading.
One of the most common misconceptions about crucifixion is due in part of the historical account of Jesus. Artistic depictions of his death depict the location of the nails in his palms, which is simply false. Victims of crucifixion would have the nail driven through the wrist which would support their bodily weight and cause extreme pain due to the median nerve that runs through the arm. Had someone been crucified with the iron nails passing through the palms, then they would have to have their arms somehow lashed to the cross itself since the palms would not hold the weight load. The majority of depictions of Jesus do not show these lashings, but if the Synoptic Gospels hold any truth to the account, then he most certainly would have been bound to the cross before the nails were driven into his flesh.

It is nearly impossible to find a picture of anyone being crucified that isn’t Christ, he has a monopoly on this execution. However, one of my favorite etchings of a Roman graffito is the Roman perspective of the self proclaimed Messiah.

Alexamenos worships his god

Alexamenos worships his god. 3rd century CE

According to a study done by Maslen and Mitchell,1 some possible causes of death for this method range from  cardiac rupture, heart failure, hypovolemic shock, asphyxia  and pulmonary embolism. Death could result from any combination of those factors or from other causes, including sepsis following infection due to the wounds caused by the nails or by the whipping that often preceded crucifixion, dehydration was also a factor depending on the environment and the length of time the victim was left upon the cross. 

In short, although this torture pales in comparison to others that I have discussed the past few days, this one is the most recognizable. Even today, in the Philippines there are people who preform live crucifixions in celebration for the Easter holiday. This practice is most unpleasant, and the worship of this painful execution is quite disturbing. If you really take a moment to pause and think about the grotesque imagery that is found in the Passion of Christ, it is enough to turn your stomach.

But this is why religion is so interesting, the rituals are what make it unique. This alone allows me to continue writing about it in complete fascination.



 1 Maslen, Matthew; Piers D Mitchell. “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion”. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 99 (4): 185.