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Bill Thayer

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Wooden panel from the 5c Roman door of the basilica of S. Sabina, in Rome.

 p370  Article by Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
on pp370‑371 of

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

CRUX (σταυρός, σκόλοψ), an instrument of capital punishment, used by several ancient nations, especially the Romans and Carthaginians. The words σταυρόω and σκολοπίζω are also applied to Persian and Egyptian punishments, but Casaubon (Exer. Antibaron. XVI.77) doubts whether they describe the Roman method of crucifixion. From Seneca (Cons. ad Marc. XX, Epist. XIV.1) we learn the latter to have been of two kinds, the less usual sort being rather impalement than what we should describe by the word crucifixion, as the criminal was transfixed by a pole, which passed through the back and spine and came out at the mouth.

The cross was of several kinds; one in the shape of an X, called crux Andreana, because tradition reports St. Andrew to have suffered upon it; another was formed like a T, as we learn from Lucian (Judic. Vocal. XII), who makes it the subject of a charge against the letter.

The third, and most common sort, was made of two pieces of wood crossed, so as to make four right angles. It was on this, according to the unanimous testimony of the fathers who sought to confirm it by Scripture itself (Lips. De Cruce, I.9), that our Saviour suffered. The punishment, as is well known, was chiefly inflicted on slaves, and the worst kind of malefactors (Juv. VI.219; Hor. Sat. I.3.82). The manner of it was as follows:— The criminal, after sentence pronounced, carried his cross to the place of execution; a custom mentioned by Plutarch (De Tard. Dei Vind. ἕκαστος τῶν κακούργων ἐκφέρει τὸν αὐτοῦ σταυρόν), and Artemidorus (Oneir. II.61), as well as in the Gospels. From Livy (XXXIII.36) and Valerius Maximus (I.7), scourging appears to have formed a part of this, as of other capital punishments among the Romans. The scourging of our Saviour, however, is not to be regarded in this light, for, as Grotius and Hammond have observed, it was inflicted before sentence was pronounced (St. Luke, xxiii.16; St. John, XIX.1, 6). The criminal was next stripped of his clothes and nailed or bound to the cross. The latter was the more painful method, as the sufferer was left to die of hunger. Instances are recorded of persons who survived nine days. It was usual to leave the body on the cross after death. The breaking of the legs of the thieves, mentioned in the Gospels,  p371 was accidental;​a because by the Jewish law, it is expressly remarked, the bodies could not remain on the cross during the Sabbath-day. (Lipsius, De Cruce; Casaubon, Exer. Antibaron. XVI.77.)

Thayer's Note:

a accidental: A rather technical use of the word here. Our author doesn't mean that the condemned men's legs were not broken on purpose; rather, that it was not normal procedure: it was done because of unusual circumstances, which he then goes on to explain.

See also Smith's article Furca; and for the constellation Crux, see Allen's Star Names.

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Page updated: 2 Dec 09