THE CRUCIFIXION reminds me of my dad butchering a hog.
When I was a boy, we sometimes drove down to see my grandparents on their West Virginia farm at butchering time, in the fall. I noticed that the way Dad butchered a hog didn’t look like the way Grandpa did it.
When I asked Dad why they didn’t butcher the same way, he said everyone has their own way of doing things.
That’s how Roman soldiers carried out crucifixions, too. With variety.
There were some common elements, such as carrying the cross to the execution site. But there was a lot of diversity, too, if eyewitness reports of first-century Romans are any indication.
I created a short video about this: What Romans said about crucifixion. But I thought it might be handy to have the quotes in front of you, where you can read and study them, as Good Friday approaches. Here you go.
“He was whipped until his bones showed.”
—Josephus, Roman citizen and a Jew who wrote Jewish history (AD 37-100), Wars of the Jews, 6.5.3
“Each criminal who goes to execution must carry his own cross on his back.”
—Plutarch, Roman historian (AD 46-about 120), Sera, 554
“Sixteen men . . . . were paraded out, chained together by the foot and neck, each carrying his own cross. The executioners added this grim public spectacle to the punishment as an extra deterrent to anyone thinking about committing the same crime.”
—Chariton Roman novelist (about 25 BC-AD 50), Chaereas and Callirhoe, 4.2.7
“Some hang their victims upside down. Some impale them through the private parts. Others stretch out their arms onto forked poles.”
—Seneca, philosopher, writer, and advisor to Emperor Nero (about 4 BC-65 AD), To Marcia on Consolation, 20.3
“Is there such a thing as a person who would actually prefer wasting away in pain on a cross—dying limb by limb one drop of blood at a time—rather than dying quickly? Would any human being willingly choose to be fastened to that cursed tree, especially after the beating that left him deathly weak, deformed, swelling with vicious welts on shoulders and chest, and struggling to draw every last, agonizing breath? Anyone facing such a death would plead to die rather than mount the cross.”
—Seneca, (about 4 BC-65 AD), Epistulae morales (Moral Letters), 101.14
“Reliable witnesses . . . . saw the man being dragged to the cross while crying out that he was a Roman citizen. And you, Verres, confirm that he did cry out that he was a Roman citizen, yet you sent him to a most cruel and shameful death anyhow!”
—Cicero, lawyer, politician, and philosopher, Against Verres, 70 BC, 2.5.64
“Every day Roman soldiers caught 500 Jews or more. . . . The soldiers driven by their hatred of the Jews nailed them to crosses. They nailed them in many different positions, to entertain themselves and to horrify the Jews watching this spectacle from inside the walled city of Jerusalem. In time, the soldiers ran out of wood for crosses, and room for crosses even if they had found more wood.”
—Josephus (AD 37-100), Wars of the Jews, 5.11.1
Romans didn’t just write about crucifixion. They reported the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus actually shows up in Roman history books and letters written during his own century.
“There was a wise man called Jesus, a good person who could work wonders….He attracted many followers – Jews and non-Jews. Pilate, at the request of our [Jewish] leaders, sentenced him to death by crucifixion.”
—Josephus (AD 37-100), Antiquities of the Jews
“Nero blamed the fire that destroyed much of Rome on a group of people he found so disgusting that he ordered them tortured in horrifying ways. They were Christians. They got their name from Christus [Christ], a man who suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of a procurator, Pontius Pilate, when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
—Tacitus (about AD 55-120), Annals of Imperial Rome
Here’s the link to a short video: What Romans said about crucifixion
For more about crucifixion
- Complete Guide to the Bible, pages 343-345
- Understanding Jesus, pages 265-272
- A Quick Guided Tour Through the Bible, pages 174-181
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