Roman Crucifixion

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History, Facts and Information about Roman Crucifixion
Roman Crucifixion was a gruesome form of capital punishment used by several ancient nations, especially the Romans. Crucifixion was incredibly painful, hence the term excruciating. The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about life in Ancient Rome including Roman Crucifixion.

Death by Roman Crucifixion
Death by Roman crucifixion was a result of the whole body weight being supported by the stretched arms. When nailed to the cross there was a massive strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders often resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The rib cage was constrained in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. The victim would continually try to draw himself up by his feet to allow for inflation of the lungs enduring terrible pain in his feet and legs. The pain in the feet and legs became unbearable and the victim was forced to trade breathing for pain. The length of time required to die from crucifixion could range from hours to a number of days.

Roman Crucifixion - The Cause of Death
The main cause of death by Roman crucifixion was due to asphyxiation. Asphyxiation results from lack of exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide due to respiratory failure or disturbance, resulting in insufficient brain oxygen, which leads to unconsciousness and death. The execution method of Roman Crucifixion could produce death from a number of other causes, including physical shock caused by the scourging that preceded the crucifixion shock from the process of being nailed to the cross, dehydration or exhaustion.

Roman Crucifixion - The Method and Process of Roman Crucifixion
The punishment of Roman crucifixion was chiefly inflicted on slaves and the worst kind of criminals. Crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die and condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion The manner and process of crucifixion was that the criminal, after sentence had been pronounced, carried his cross to the place of execution, which was outside the city. The practice of scourging appears to have formed a part of this, as with of other capital punishments among the Romans. The Romans used a whip for scourging called a flagrum, which consisted of small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. The skin of the back was ripped to the bone from scourging. The criminal was next stripped of his clothes and nailed or bound to the cross. The latter was the more painful method of crucifixion, as the sufferer was left to die of hunger. Instances are recorded of persons who survived nine days. Before the nailing to the cross took place, a medicated cup of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh (the sopor) was given, for the purpose of deadening the pangs of the sufferer. Roman Crucifixion was typically carried out by specialized teams, consisting of a commanding centurion and four soldiers. It was usual to leave the body on the cross after death. The breaking of the legs of the thieves, mentioned in the Gospels, was sometimes used because Jewish law expressly forbid that the bodies could not remain on the cross during the Sabbath-day.

Roman Crucifixion - the Cross
The cross (crux) was of several kinds. The forms in which the cross is represented are as follows:

  • The crux simplex (I). An upright pole (called the crux simplex) was used for the purpose of crucifixion. A combination of the upright pole and a crossbeam formed another simple type of cross. The person to be crucified would carry the crossbeam to the place of execution. The crossbeam would then be attached to the post.

  • The crux decussata (X), also called the crux Andreana, because according to tradition St. Andrew was said to have suffered upon it.
  • The crux commissa (T), or St. Anthony's cross. This type of cross was formed like a T.
  • The crux immissa (t), or Latin cross, which was the kind of cross on which Jesus Christ died. The Latin cross had a longer descending arm associated with the cross of Jesus crucifixion.

Jesus on the Cross

The furca, meaning a fork was the name of another Roman instrument of punishment. It was a piece of wood in the form of the letter A. The furca was used in the ancient mode of capital punishment among the Romans; the criminal was tied to it, and then scourged to death. The patibulum was also an instrument of punishment, resembling the furca; it appears to have been in the form of the letter Π . Both the furca and patibulum were employed as crosses to which criminals were nailed.

Roman Crucifixion - the Nails
In the process of crucifixion the victim was either tied or nailed to the cross. Roman nails were made of iron and are described as a square tapered nail with a large head. The nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm or driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones. Why are crucifixion images of Jesus shown with the nails driven through the palm of the hand? The Gospel word cheir is translated as "hand" but this can include everything below the mid-forearm. However, the palms could have been used as experiments have shown that a person can be suspended by the palm of their hand. Nailing the feet to the side of the cross relieves strain on the wrists by placing most of the weight on the lower body.

The Roman Custom of Crucifixion in Josephus - Survivors of Crucifixion
It was apparently possible to survive crucifixion and there are records of people who survived. The historian Josephus, a general in command of the Jewish forces of Galilee, is the best literary source for the practice of crucifixion in Palestine during the Roman period. Josephus describes pleading directly to the Roman general Titus for the lives of three friends who had been crucified. His request was granted and his friends were granted their reprieve. He wrote that Titus immediately commanded them to be taken down and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to aid their recovery. Two of them died under the physician's hands but the third recovered. Josephus gave no details of the method or duration of crucifixion before the reprieve of these men.

Upside Down Roman Crucifixion of Saint Peter
Saint Peter was crucified during the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero (r.54-68). In 64 AD Nero set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians for its destruction. Peter was one of the Roman Christians who was taken prisoner and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. Saint Peter was crucified with his head downwards because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner and posture as his Master. Saint Peter was buried on the Vatican Hill.

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