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Bill Thayer

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p562 Furca

Unsigned article on pp562‑563 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

FURCA, which properly means a fork, was also p563the name of an instrument of punishment. It was a piece of wood in the form of the letter A, which was placed upon the shoulders of the offender, whose hands were tied to it. Slaves were frequently punished in this way, and were obliged to carry about the furca wherever they went (Donat. ad Ter. Andr. III.5.12; Plut. Coriol. 24; Plaut. Cas. II.6.37); whence the appellation of furcifer was applied to a man as a term of reproach (Cic. in Vatin. 6).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 (Liv. I.26; Suet. Ner. 49).b The patibulum was also an instrument of punishment, resembling the furca; it appears to have been in the form of the letter Π (Plaut. Mil. II.4.7, Mostell. I.1.53). Both the furca and patibulum were also employed as crosses,c to which criminals were nailed (in furca suspendere, Dig. 48 tit. 13 s.6; tit. 19 s.28 §15; tit. 19 s.38). See Lipsius, de Cruce.


Thayer's Notes:

a furcifer as a term of reproach: See also Plutarch, Roman Questions, 70.

b the criminal was tied to it, and then scourged to death: See also Plutarch, Coriolanus 24.5; Cassius Dio, Book II, in Zonaras' epitome.

c crosses: See also Smith's article Crux.


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