Crucifixion (from Latin crucifixio, noun of process crucifixio, from perfect passive participle crucifixus, fixed to a cross, from prefix cruci-, cross, + verb ficere, fix or do, variant form of facere, do or make )is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.
It was in use particularly among the Persians, Seleucids, Carthaginians, and Romans from about the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD, when in the year 337 Emperor Constantine I abolished it in his empire, out of veneration for Jesus Christ, the most famous victim of crucifixion. It has sometimes been used even in modern times.
A crucifix, (from Latin crucifixus or cruci fixus, past participle passive of crucifigere or cruci figere, "crucify", "fix to a cross"), an image of Christ crucified on a cross, is for Catholic Christians the main symbol of their religion, but most Protestant Christians prefer to use a cross without the figure (the "corpus" - Latin for "body") of Christ.
Crucifixion was almost never performed for ritual or symbolic reasons outside of Christianity, but usually to provide a death that was particularly painful (hence the term excruciating, literally "out of crucifying"), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it) and public (hence the metaphorical expression "to nail to the cross"), using whatever means were most expedient for that goal. Crucifixion methods varied considerably with location and time period.
The Greek and Latin words corresponding to "crucifixion" applied to many different forms of painful execution, from impaling on a stake to affixing to a tree, to an upright pole (what some call a crux simplex) or to a combination of an upright (in Latin, stipes) and a crossbeam (in Latin, patibulum).
If a crossbeam was used, the condemned man was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which could have been torn open by flagellation, to the place of execution. A whole cross would weigh well over 300 pounds (135 kilograms), but the crossbeam would weigh only 75-125 pounds (35-60 kilograms). The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and had a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion. Upright posts would presumably be fixed permanently in that place, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post.
The person executed may sometimes have been attached to the cross by ropes, but nails are mentioned in a passage of Josephus, where he states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem (70), "the soldiers out of rage and hatred, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest", and in . Objects, such as nails, used in the execution of criminals were sought as amulets.
Frequently, the legs of the person executed were broken or shattered with an iron club, an act called crurifragium which was also frequently applied without crucifixion to slaves. This act hastened the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing offenses.
The gibbet on which crucifixion was carried out could be of many shapes. Josephus describes multiple tortures and positions of crucifixion during the siege of Jerusalem (70) as Titus crucified the rebels; and Seneca the Younger recounts: "I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet.
At times the gibbet was only one vertical stake, called in Latin crux simplex or palus. This was the simplest available construction for torturing and killing the criminals. Frequently, however, there was a cross-piece attached either at the top to give the shape of a T (crux commissa) or just below the top, as in the form most familiar in Christian symbolism (crux immissa). Other forms were in the shape of the letters X and Y.
The earliest writings that speak specifically of the shape of the cross on which Jesus died describe it as shaped like the letter T (the Greek letter tau), or composed of an upright and a transverse beam, together with a small ledge in the upright.
A possibility that does not require tying is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm (the radius and the ulna). The nails could also be driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones. The Gospel word χείρ (cheir), translated as "hand", can include everything below the mid-forearm: uses this word to report chains falling off from Peter's 'hands', although the chains would be around what we would call wrists. This shows that the semantic range of χείρ is wider than the English hand, and can be used of nails through the wrist
An experiment that was the subject of a documentary on the National Geographic Channel's Quest For Truth: The Crucifixion, and of a brief news article, showed 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.
Another possibility, suggested by Frederick Zugibe, is that the nails may have been driven in at an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.
A foot-rest attached to the cross, perhaps for the purpose of taking the man's weight off the wrists, is sometimes included in representations of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is not mentioned in ancient sources. These, however, do mention the sedile, a small seat attached to the front of the cross, about halfway down, which could have served that purpose.
The remains of Jehohanan, possibly indicate that each heel was nailed seperately to the side of the stake. Jehohonan, as he was called, had died around AD 7, and so was a close contemporary of Jesus, and his crucifixion was likely to have been carried out in a similar way. Jehohanan's remains were discovered in 1968 by a team of archaeologists led by Vassilios Tzaferis. The remains were that of a crucified man in cave-tombs at Giv'at ha-Mivtar, north of Jerusalem.
The key bit of evidence was a heel bone with a curved nail stuck through it.The nail was driven through the heel bones from the side, indicating to some that Jehohanan had been crucified in 'a sort of sidesaddle position'.Other experts, however, suggest that the length of the nail is too short for this and establishes that each heel must have been nailed separately to the sides of the cross. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/thepassion/articles/crucifixion.shtml)
Death could result from a variety of causes, including blood loss and hypovolemic shock, or infection and sepsis, caused by the scourging that preceded the crucifixion or by the nailing itself, and eventual dehydration. A theory attributed to Pierre Barbet holds that, when the whole body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation. He conjectured that the condemned would have severe difficulty inhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the chest muscles and lungs. The condemned would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms, leading to exhaustion, or have his feet supported by tying or by a wood block. Indeed, Roman executioners could be asked to break the condemned's legs, after he had hung for some time, in order to hasten his death. Once deprived of support and unable to lift himself, the condemned would die within a few minutes.
Experiments by Frederick Zugibe have revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death. Zugibe claims that the breaking of the crucified condemned's legs to hasten death, as mentioned in , was administered as a coup de grâce, causing severe traumatic shock or hastening death by fat embolism. Crucifixion on a single pole with no transom, with hands affixed over one's head, would precipitate rapid asphyxiation if no block was provided to stand on, or once the legs were broken.
It is possible to survive crucifixion, if not prolonged, and there are records of people who did. The historian Josephus, a Judaean who defected to the Roman side during the Jewish uprising of AD 66 - 72, describes finding two of his friends crucified. He begged for and was granted their reprieve; one died, the other recovered. Josephus gives no details of the method or duration of their crucifixion before their reprieve.
The remains were found accidentally in an ossuary with the crucified man’s name on it, 'Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol'. Prof. Nicu Haas, an anthropologist at the Hebrew University Medical School in Jerusalem, examined the ossuary and discovered that it contained a heel bone with a nail driven through its side, indicating that the man had been crucified. The position of the nail relative to the bone indicates that the feet have been nailed to the cross from their side, not from their front; various opinions have been proposed as to whether they were both nailed together to the front of the cross or one on the left side, one on the right side. The point of the nail had olive wood fragments on it indicating that he was crucified on a cross made of olive wood or on an olive tree. Since olive trees are not very tall, this would suggest that the condemned was crucified at eye level. Additionally, a piece of acacia wood was located between the bones and the head of the nail, presumably to keep the condemned from freeing his foot by sliding it over the nail. His legs were found broken, perhaps as a means of hastening his death as described in . It is thought that, since in Roman times iron was expensive, the nails were removed from the dead body to cut the costs, which would help to explain why only one has been found, as the tip of the nail in question was bent in such a way that it couldn't be removed.
Prof. Haas had also identified a scratch on the inner surface of the right radius bone of the forearm, close to the wrist. He deduced from the form of the scratch, as well as from the intact wrist bones, that a nail had been driven into the forearm at that position.
Important references for the ancient practice of crucifixion and an examination of archaeological evidence:
Some Christian theologians, beginning with Paul of Tarsus writing in Galatians , have interpreted an allusion to crucifixion in Deuteronomy . This reference is to being hanged from a tree, and may be associated with lynching or traditional hanging. However, ancient Jewish law allowed only 4 methods of execution: stoning, burning, strangulation, and decapitation. Crucifixion was thus forbidden by ancient Jewish law.
However, recent archaeological studies of the Dead Sea scrolls may throw this contention into doubt. The Aramaic Testament of Levi (DSS 4Q541) interprets in column 6: "God [will set] right errors. [He will judge] revealed sins. Investigate and seek and know how Jonah wept. Thus, you shall not destroy the weak by wasting away or by [crucif]ixion. Let not the nail touch him."
Alexander the Great is reputed to have executed 2000 survivors from his siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre, as well as the doctor who unsuccessfully treated Alexander's friend Hephaestion. Some historians have also conjectured that Alexander crucified Callisthenes, his official historian and biographer, for objecting to Alexander's adoption of the Persian ceremony of royal adoration.
In Carthage, crucifixion was an established mode of execution, which could even be imposed on a general for suffering a major defeat.
According to some, the custom of crucifixion in Ancient Rome may have developed out of a primitive custom of arbori suspendere, hanging on an arbor infelix (unfortunate tree) dedicated to the gods of the nether world. William Oldfather, however, wrote a detailed study refuting the idea that this punishment involved any form of hanging or was anything other than flogging to death, and the claim that the "arbor infelix" was dedicated to particular gods. Tertullian mentions a first-century A.D. case in which trees were used for crucifixion, but Seneca the Younger earlier used the phrase infelix lignum (unfortunate wood) for the transom ("patibulum") or the whole cross. According to others, the Romans appear to have learned of crucifixion from the Carthaginians.
Crucifixion was used for slaves, rebels, pirates and especially-despised enemies and criminals. Therefore crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.
Notorious mass crucifixions followed the Third Servile War in 73-71 BC (the slave rebellion under Spartacus), other Roman civil wars in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, and the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Josephus tells a story of the Romans crucifying people along the walls of Jerusalem. He also says that the Roman soldiers would amuse themselves by crucifying criminals in different positions. In Roman-style crucifixion, the condemned took days to die slowly from suffocation — caused by the condemned's blood-supply slowly draining away to a quantity insufficient to supply the required oxygen to vital organs. The dead body was left up for vultures and other birds to consume.
The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour.
Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called "supplicium servile" by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station ('humiles'). The citizen class of Roman society were almost never subject to capital punishments; instead, they were fined or exiled. Josephus mentions Jews of high rank who were crucified, but this was to point out that their status had been taken away from them. Control of one’s own body was vital in the ancient world. Capital punishment took away control over one’s own body, thereby implying a loss of status and honour. The Romans often broke the prisoner's legs to hasten death and usually forbade burial.
A cruel prelude was scourging, which would cause the condemned to lose a large amount of blood, and approach a state of shock. The convict then usually had to carry the horizontal beam (patibulum in Latin) to the place of execution, but not necessarily the whole cross. Crucifixion was typically carried out by specialized teams, consisting of a commanding centurion and four soldiers. When it was done in an established place of execution, the vertical beam (stipes) could even be permanently embedded in the ground. The condemned was usually stripped naked - all the New Testament gospels, dated to around the same time as Josephus, describe soldiers gambling for the robes of Jesus. (, , )
The 'nails' were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 inch (13 to 18 cm) long, with a square shaft 3/8 inch (1 cm) across. In some cases, the nails were gathered afterwards and used as healing amulets.
In Surah 5:33, The Qur'an mentions crucifixion as a form of punishment for those who fight Allah and his messenger.
In 1597, twenty-six Christians were nailed to crosses at Nagasaki, Japan. Among those executed were Paul Miki and Pedro Bautista, a Spanish Franciscan who had worked about ten years in the Philippines. The executions marked the beginning of a long history of persecution of Christianity in Japan, which continued until the United States of America and other Allies defeated Japan at war in 1945, ending World War II.
The acclaimed historical novel "Silence" by Japanese author Shusaku Endo gives an account of the 17th century Christian persecutions based upon the oral histories of contemporary Kakure Kirishitan communities.
In the Fiftieth Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (1994), local bishops reported several cases of crucifixion of Christian priests. Sudan's Penal Code, based upon the government's interpretation of Shari'a, provides for execution by crucifixion. The sentence has been passed as recently as 2002, when 88 people were condemned.
As of 2000, Yemen provides for non-lethal crucifixion of criminals, though this punishment is apparently reserved for those also condemned to death.
Devotional crucifixions are also common in the Philippines, even driving nails through the hands. One man named Rolando del Campo vowed to be crucified every Good Friday for 15 years if God would carry his wife through a difficult childbirth. (There is a video of the crucifixion here) In San Pedro Cutud, devotee Ruben Enaje has been crucified 21 times, as of 2007, during Passion Week celebrations.
The Crucifixion of Christ is one of the most important parts of any Passion Play, or Mystery Play, production. The story critically leads the audience through death to resurrection, the dividing of the resurrected into 'sheep' (the good, destined for heaven) and 'goats' (sinners, destined for hell), and to God and Christ in Glory. A typical account is in the York Waggon Plays performed by the Guilds of York, currently every four years. (next production summer 2010). This mediaeval set of plays includes two that depict Christ's Death (1) The Crucifixion (Christ is put on the cross) and (2) the Death of Christ. The second of these was traditionally played by the Butchers' Gild as the butchers took on a supplementary role in civic life as the city's executioners.
The cover art of Tupac Shakur's album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory features an image of Tupac being crucified on a cross. However, he stated that the image was not a mockery of Christ, but how he was being "crucified" by the media.
One of Sevendust's songs in their album Seasons is called Crucified. The only reference to crucifixion in the song is the lyrics "I've been crucified, and no one seems to care" and "The first time I knew you lied, I ended up crucified" It is possible that the latter lyric could refer to Judas "selling out" Christ.
Crucifixion was featured in the comedy film Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979). In one of the more memorable scenes at the end of the film, the viewer is reminded to "always look on the bright side of life" by singers hanging from crosses.
Characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger are crucified both in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and in End of Days (1999). Also, in the latter movie a priest is crucified to the ceiling of a hospital room.
The movie Cyborg has multiple scenes of crucifixion.
The movie Men Behind the Sun features mass crucifixion in a scene in which innocent victims are used for various cruel experiments.
In 1991, Army of Lovers released a single describing voluntary crucifixions as expressions of religious devotion in the Philippines. "Crucified" performed well on the DMR club charts, but controversial lyrics ("I'm crucified, crucified like my Savior; saint-like behavior, a lifetime I pray") precluded widespread radio play.
According to urban legends, a Japanese department store confused Western imagery and displayed a crucified Santa Claus as part of its Christmas decorations.
The song "The Ballad of John and Yoko" was banned by several US radio stations, due to Lennon's use of the word "Christ" and the phrase "They're gonna crucify me" in the lyric. In fact, the song's working title was "The Ballad of John and Yoko (They're Going to Crucify Me)". Tori Amos's early hit single "Crucify" was also dropped in numerous locations because of its imagery.
Multiple Marilyn Manson videos such as "I Don't Like The Drugs But The Drugs Like Me" and "Coma White" feature crucifixion imagery, often oddly staged in surreal modern or near modern day settings. Often questioning the truthfulness of the crucifixion of Jesus in such songs as Cruci-Fiction in Space.
Singer Madonna opened her concerts during her 2006 tour with a mock crucifixion, complete with a Crown of Thorns. This caused considerable controversy, especially when she did so at a concert near Vatican City in 2006.
Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth had several people on stage affixed to crosses to give the appearance of crucifixion at a now infamous concert in Krakow, and repeated this act in the music video for 'Carving a Giant'.
Dimmu Borgir, another Norwegian black metal band, referred to Jesus' crucifixion in their music video of "In Sorgens Kammer Del 2"
In the 2006 movie, The Nativity Story, there is a brief scene in which several men are crucified.
The FPS game Unreal features crucified Nalis multiple times. However, there is a twist, as Nalis have four arms, so the crosses have two crosspieces in an X-shape.
Superman is often associated with Christ-like imagery, including scenes resembling crucifixion. This includes scenes in the film Superman Returns, and the first episode of the television series Smallville. What is probably the most explicit use of this imagery is in the Elseworlds graphic novel Batman: Holy Terror, in which Batman finds the body of the 'Green Man' (Superman, dead of Kryptonite poisoning) suspended from a crossbeam in a medical laboratory where it was being studied.
In the video for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," they feature a scene depicting Thomas fingering the wounds of the crucified Christ.
In episode 74 of the Sailor Moon R series, the Inner Senshi are captured by Rubeus and crucified on rock crystal crosses inside of his space ship. And also in episode 123 of Sailor Moon S, during Chibiusa's nightmare, Hotaru Tomoe is bound on a cross with skeletal arms and hands.
At the end of the cultural festival arc of School Rumble S2, Kenji Harima was tied up on a cross and nailed on the ceiling while everyone was celebrating the end of the festival as punishment for sleeping in the bed used for his class play.
In one episode of Samurai Champloo, two of the main characters narrowly escape crucifixion for unknowingly using fake passports at a checkpoint.
In episode 3 of Macross Plus, as Myung Fang Lone attempts to deactivate the Virturoid Idol Sharon Apple, she is caught in coils of audio/video cables before being suspended in mid-air in a crucifix-like stance.
Crucifixion-type imagery is employed in several of the popular Final Fantasy games, including the 7th, 8th, and 10th installments of the series.
In one scene of the Square-Enix videogame, Xenogears, there is a scene involving the crucifixion of mech-robots. Also in the game, Elly (the main heroine) is captured then crucified before Deus.
In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Satoko is stabbed with a knife by Shion while chained to a cross.