Crucifixion – Worst Punishments in the History of Mankind


Today’s installment of incredibly nasty
punishments that humans inflicted on other humans is one we are sure most of you, if
not all, have heard of and is probably the most famous form of brutal punishment in history
– crucifixion. It’s the method by which Christians believe
their messiah, Jesus Christ, was killed and today miniature crosses are worn around necks,
carried around in pockets, and fall off walls in movies about demonically possessed people. Since Christianity spread into countries across
the world to the other, this instrument of cruel torture has become a household item. But crucifixion has a long and complex history
besides being the cause of Christ’s agony, and today we’ll cover all the bases. The origins of the word “excruciating”,
a word we often use to talk about the feeling of extreme pain, is derived from the Latin
words for cross and crucify. This method of execution was supposed to cause
what we might call excruciating pain. It was also supposed to be slow, and since
people were often crucified where the public to see, it was believed that it would act
as a deterrent and cause people to think twice about committing a crime themselves after
seeing the anguish of the victim. It was also meant to be humiliating. We’ve all seen images of people on crosses
with their lower regions tastefully covered by a scrap of cloth, but this was likely never
the case in real life. You were hung up with everything hanging out. Crucifixion was a warning to all, a karmic
retribution written by the state: “This is what you get when you mess with us.” There were many different kinds of punishment
that could be described as a type of crucifixion. Sometimes impalement is said to be a form
of crucifixion, though if a person found themselves impaled on a spike they didn’t live very
long due to punctured organs and blood loss, so it isn’t quite the same as what we normally
think of as a crucifixion. In other cases a person might be fastened
to something with rope, and then left for days until they died. Again, a similar fate but missing that key
component of a cross shaped implement. Crucifixion’s origins date back long before
Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. The Persians had been crucifying wrongdoers
as early as 400 BC, and there’s evidence that the Assyrians and Babylonians may have
been putting people up on crosses hundreds of years before that. The ancient Greeks though, were less interested
in crucifixion, preferring methods like letting the condemned drink poison, but the historian
Herodotus does mention at least one instance. He wrote that after capturing a Persian general,
the army “nailed him to a plank and hung him up.” Alexander the Great is the one man responsible
for exporting crucifixion from Persia and spreading it to the western world, and in
fact he crucified thousands of his enemies. It wouldn’t be too long until the Romans
got their hands on it and they’re the ones who really perfected it, but they didn’t
often crucify their own. This terrible method of killing was usually
reserved for foreigners and Christian outsiders, although some slaves and soldiers that had
disgraced themselves may have also been crucified. A person that had been crucified would often
die within just a few hours. There were many ways a person might die, such
as asphyxiation from being strung up in a way that prevented proper breathing. They might also have been grievously injured
from beatings prior to being hung up on the cross and simply die from their injuries once
they were up there. But some people managed to hold on for a few
days. Roman soldiers were told to guard the sites
where people were crucified, and if that person lasted too long, they might break the person’s
legs to prevent from being able to stand up straight leading to asphyxiation, or they
might just simply drive a spear through the person’s heart. If you want to know what it might be like
just imagine this. You are laid out and have your hands tied
and then nailed to two sides of a cross. This not only causes immense pain, but you
lose feeling in those hands as well from severed nerves. Your feet would then be nailed to the bottom
part of the beam, but in such a way so that the knees were slightly bent. This means you could push yourself up a little
bit to relieve some pressure off of your upper body. But remember, sometimes soldiers would then
break your leg bones to make it even more painful and harder to support yourself. Once this initial support was lost your arms
would be pulled gradually from their sockets. The weight of your own body would cause expansion
of the chest and lungs, and with no way to push yourself up to relieve this, it leads
quickly to asphyxiation. You essentially choke yourself to death. The heart would also suffer from this weight
and you might even die from heart failure before your lungs gave out.No matter what
killed you first, it was an agonizing way to die. On some crosses, support might have been given
in the form of a foot-rest, extending the time it would take for you to die, sometimes
taking as long as a few days. So how do we know any of this existed? The simple answer is the Romans recorded it
and many historians were quite detailed about it. Some of the writers expressed that crucifixion
was cruel and a crime against humanity, The Roman statesman and philosopher, Cicero, who
was around for a lot of crucifixions, wrote that it was, “a most cruel and disgusting
punishment.” It was all the rage with the masses though,
and it’s thought that after Spartacus led a slave revolt thousands of his followers
met their end on the cross. Spartacus himself though, died in battle before
he had his chance to go up on the cross, which was probably a preferable way to go. The thing a person was crucified on wasn’t
always a cross though, sometimes it was just a pole and that was called, “crux simplex.” Then there was a version with the cross beam
attached to the top in a T-shape and this was called the “crux commissa.” The one most of you know, and that became
a symbol for Christianity, was called the “crux immissa.” Despite it being used on reportedly thousands
of people, archeologists have only unearthed one skeleton of a man that was crucified by
the Romans around the time of Jesus. He met his end in the first century and after
some disagreements between archaeologists it was agreed his legs were affixed together
with one nail. His hands were tied and not nailed though
and he likely died from asphyxiation. Another matter that is often debated is whether
or not the victim had to carry the cross on their own back to the execution site. This is highly unlikely because the person
often had to walk a considerable distance to the site. We know this because Romans wrote about at
least one such site. The entire cross usually weighed around 300
pounds (135 kg), so lugging that much weight in bare feet over a long distance would likely
have qualified some of those condemned men for today’s world strongest man competition. It’s now thought that they might have carried
just the crossbeam, which could have weighed around 100 pounds (45 kg). But even that wouldn’t have been easy. But did crucifixion always result in death? No, and in fact there are written accounts
of people who actually survived. The first century Romano-Jewish historian
Titus Flavius Josephus wrote this: “I saw many captives crucified, and remembered
three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went
with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them
to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery;
yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.” The problem is, he didn’t write about what
form of crucifixion the men had endured. It must have been of a kind which didn’t
bring on a quick death, so maybe they were some of the lucky ones who got a foot rest. Maybe they were merely tied up and not nailed
directly to the cross. And we’re assuming they weren’t stabbed
in the heart by a spear. We will never know for sure though. But more often than not, no mercy was shown. Since no Roman wanted to be killed by an unhappy
slave, one way to ensure that didn’t happen was to threaten them with the possibility
of crucifixion. Thanks to the Roman historian Tacitus, we
know about one slave who killed his master, a revered Roman Senator. As punishment the slave was to be killed by
crucifixion, but the Romans wanted to make an example of this case and crucified an additional
400 of the murdered man’s slaves, many of whom were women and children. The reasoning was that the slaves should have
protected their master, and because they allowed the murder to happen that they too were complicit
and had to be punished severely. This, they said, would inspire other slaves
to help out if such a thing should happen again. Tacitus wrote about this case in a book called
the “Annals” and described a statement from a senator: “Which of us will be rescued by his domestics,
who, even with the dread of punishment before them, regard not our dangers” Not all people
were that hardcore back then, and Tacitus wrote that many people protested the killing
of women and children. They weren’t listened to and the executions
went ahead. A mob gathered and protested again, but the
guards were called in and the mob was subdued. Sounds like things haven’t changed much
since then. Then you have the grotesque case of a thirteen
year old girl who was crucified a couple of hundred years later. Her name was Eulalia of Barcelona. During the persecution of Christians she was
tortured thirteen times. First she was rolled in barrel full of spikes
and shards of glass, and then she was flogged for good measure. If that wasn’t enough, her now ripped flesh
was combed. No, not with a plastic comb, but with an instrument
made of iron with sharp teeth. We won’t go through the whole ordeal, but
it was followed by her being crucified and then decapitated. Centuries later, the Japanese introduced crucifixion
and famously in 1597, 26 Christians were crucified. In the 1860s a young Japanese man was crucified
with his legs spread-eagle, and there’s actually a photograph of this see (The caption
describes it as, “The servant Sokichi, crucified at the age of 25 for killing Nikisasuro, son
of his master Nuiske in the village of Kiso.” Again, killing masters was a crime to be made
an example of. In the early 19th century a missionary working
in Burma said it happened there. Here is what he wrote and we have to warn
you that it’s quite grim: “Four or five persons, after being nailed
through their hands and feet to a scaffold, had first their tongues cut out, then their
mouths slit open from ear to ear, then their ears cut off, and finally their bellies ripped
open.” Over a century later an Australian man named
Herbert James “Ringer” Edwards was crucified. He was a prisoner of war and had been building
the infamous railway from Thailand to Burma under the Japanese. He and some other guys had been caught killing
cattle for food. The Japanese soldiers strung him up with fencing
wire to a tree and beat him, and then him to die. But others snuck the man food and after 63
hours he was taken down. He lived to the ripe old age of 86, but two
others that had been strung up with him did not survive. Today in Saudi Arabia, a form of crucifixion
is still practiced, although there the person is first executed by decapitation and then
their dead body is hung up on a beam. Amnesty International wrote, “The body,
with the separated head sewn back on, is hung from or against a pole in public to act as
a deterrent.” Did you find this topic as fascinating as
we did? We know you like dark, interesting topics
so go watch “The Brazen Bull – the Worst Punishment in the History of Mankind” right
now. And don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe
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