Crucifixion by Romans

Crucifixion was designed as the ultimate in slow, painful and humiliating deaths.

Crucified naked

Naked like this, but with a lot of blood

Aspects of the punishment included that prisoners were often required to carry their  crossbeam to the place of execution for it to be attached to its stake or tree; that they were crucified completely naked (more humiliating for a Jew than a Celt, and for a woman than a man – though female crucifixions were rare); that, naked, they would undoubtedly empty their bladder and bowels over themselves in front of the crowd who came to watch.

The prisoner was tied or nailed by the wrists to the crossbeam. The feet were often nailed to the upright, one one each side, at the ankle. Frequently the prisoner had a block of wood attached to the stake or tree for them to sit on, with a spike sticking up from it to magnify their pain.

The execution could last for hours or days, depending on the weather, the prisoner’s condition (such as loss of blood from having the skin scourged off his back) and whether the legionaries guarding the crucifixion were in a hurry to go back to camp. Some ways for the soldiers to hasten death were to break the prisoner’s legs with an iron bar, to run a spear up through the stomach and chest, or even to light a smoky fire below him to asphyxiate him.

Once dead, the body was normally left in place as a warning to others, while it was eaten by crows and buzzards.

The punishment was in use by Greeks, Persians and others before the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans originally used it only for slaves, but then extended it to pirates and enemies of the state. The punishment was forbidden under Jewish religious law, which only allowed execution by stoning, burning, strangling, or decapitating the victim.

So Jesus was not crucified at the wish of Jewish authorities, or of the Jewish people. He was crucified by the Romans as an enemy of the state, which he had declared himself to be by claiming the kingship of Israel while entering Jerusalem. The Romans tacked a sign above his head reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, to show what they thought of his ambitions.

Jesus was crucified between “two thieves”, but you didn’t get crucified for mere theft. However “thief” and “robber” were synonymous with “Zealot”, “sicariot” (or knifeman) and “insurgent” to the forces of the Roman Occupation. It is reasonable to assume that the “thieves” were leaders in the armed wing of the Zealot resistance – but not as prominent as Jesus, and not part of his cadre of preachers.

Jesus was stripped naked, and the legionaries diced for his clothing. He was scourged: flogged 40 times with a short cat-o’-nine-tails , each tail ending in a lead ball to lacerate and strip the skin off. He was made to carry his crossbeam to the Place of Skulls outside the city, but he collapsed on the way. After perhaps nine hours of crucifixion he called out “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” Then he called out again, and died. Joseph of Arimathea negotiated with – or bribed – the Romans to be allowed to take Jesus down for burial, but first the Romans ran a spear up through the corpse to make sure it was dead – this was common practice, and only a dribble of blood and a watery fluid (presumably from the pericardium around the heart) came out.

And that was it. The end of just one of a 200-year series of attempts to oust the Romans from Israel. But preachers and knifemen didn’t have much chance against the Roman Empire.

3 comments on “Crucifixion by Romans

  1. Kdd says:

    I disagree with this conclusion,”So Jesus was not crucified at the wish of Jewish authorities, or of the Jewish people. He was crucified by the Romans as an enemy of the state, which he had declared himself to be by claiming the kingship of Israel while entering Jerusalem.” Not so according to biblical events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. The Jewish Sanehedrin Council saw Jesus as a heretic because he did not abide by their rituals, and because he said “when you see me you see the Father.” He spoke of setting up a kingdom though he was speaking of a heavenly kingdom. Yet because Jesus had a large following of Jews and even gentiles interested in his teachings; the Sanehedrin Council feared the Roman governor would perceive the Jewish people were planning an uprising to overthrow the Roman government. So they willingly brought accusations against Christ to Roman officials. They knew if found guilty of staging a revolt to establish a new kingdom, Jesus would be crucified. They also mentioned Jesus was causing Jews to deflect from Judaism to which Pontius stated he was not interested in trying a man for Jewish religious beliefs. “Try him yourself!” But then the Jewish leaders mentioned Jesus discussion about establishing a new kingdom knowing this would mean a death sentence for Christ by crucifixion. The Romans were known for crucifying Jews and the Jews were forbidden from this gory torture of Jews, but were willing to subject Jesus to this type of torture by Roman soldiers. The Jewish religious leaders were accomplices in Jesus crucifixion. Jews even yelled, “Crucify him!”when Pontius asked if they wanted him to release Barrabas or Jesus. The Jews therefore offered up Jesus to the Romans to be crucified. The chief leader of the Sanehedrin stated it was fitting for one man to die than for all of the Jews to be killed by the Roman soldiers, who possibly would hear of Jesus “kingdom sermons” and believe a revolt was being planned. The Jews were not guiltless in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ though they did not physically nail him to the cross, they offered him like a lamb to the slaughter. In fact during his ministry, Jesus reminded the Sanhedrin that their forefathers were guilty of killing the prophets!


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