seems to have originally denoted any beam placed horizontally; as the
cross-bar of a door (Titin. ap. Non. p. 366, 16), or of a trellis for vines
(Plin. Nat. 17.212
), or the
transverse beam of the cross (CRUX
p. 568 a
). The word, however, is almost always
used of an instrument of punishment, and loosely as an equivalent to
According to Marquardt (Privatl.
183), it was a wooden collar
in two pieces, opened to receive the neck of the culprit and then closed
upon it, while his hands might be bound or nailed to its extremities. This,
he admits, is nowhere expressly stated; it is rather an inference from the
etymology of the word; and he has produced no passage which does not point
more clearly to the furca
than the patibulum.
(Compare the accounts of the slave driven through the Circus, whereby the
games were profaned, in Dionys. A. R.
, and Plut. Cor. 24
explain the “opening” as a fork-shaped piece of wood, such as
was undoubtedly used for the same purposes, as a prop for vines and a
pillory for the necks of criminals [FURCA
]. It is scarcely necessary to prove that patere
is often applied to simple lateral extension, to
stretch or spread as well as to be open ( “Helvetiorum fines...
Caes. Gal. 1.2
; “qua terra patet,”
Ov. Wet. 1.241
); and on the
whole it seems likely that the patibulum was a straight piece of wood, an
explanation which covers all its varieties of meaning.