Many people who hear the word “crucifix” immediately associate it with Jesus. Unfortunately, that’s the totality of their understanding on the subject. It is very common for people to associate Jesus and the cross, and that’s fine as He made it famous. A number of people were hung on that cross, but only one of them was the Son of God. Crucifixion was a style of execution that would terrify onlookers. Its victims were left to be an example to all the people of the land. The cross would serve as a catalyst to show a gruesome, humiliating, and public death. After understanding that it was Jesus that made the cross famous, one must ask themselves who invented it, and who perfected it?
Crucifixion is likely to have made its first appearance with the Persians between 400-300 B.C. It was then adopted and refined by the Romans and is known as one of the most painful deaths ever conceived by man. We know through the works of Flavius Josephus that crucifixion was used on a regular basis as common form of execution. He showed the frequency in which the Persians used this measure.1 The crucifixion form of punishment was adopted by Alexander the Great, and was then used in Rome. “Through his extensive conquests, it was transferred to Egypt, Carthage, and Rome. The Romans then made some modifications to the shape of the cross and used it to execute slaves, traitors, and war prisoners. Josephus also reported that during the siege of Jerusalem in A.D 71, a large number of Jews were crucified every day outside the walls of the town.”²
During this time there were reports of different styles used to crucify someone. For instance, Josephus describes multiple tortures and positions of crucifixion during the Siege of Jerusalem as Titus crucified the rebels;1 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.”3 The cross should not be viewed only as a perpendicular beam and cross member. Though it was a very popularly and effective way of execution, Rome’s use of the cross would come to an end under the Emperor Constantine. Constantine outlawed crucifixion towards the end of his reign, thus putting to an end the torment of the cross.
To be continued next week…
Flavius Josephus, History Complete Works. Michigan: Kregel Publications, (1960)
Barbet P, A doctor at Calvary, The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as described by a Surgeon: Roman Catholic Books. 5-137, (1953)
John W. Basore, The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge,Mass: Harvard University Press, (1946)