), an instrument of capital punishment, used
at a very early period in the East. The sacred associations of the Cross are
discussed at length in the Dict. of the Bible
Dict. of Christian Antiquities;
and we shall here attempt
only to sketch the history of the punishment through the classical period.
In most accounts, even of recent writers, distinctions of time and place are
not sufficiently noticed.
The words σταυρόω
(more usually ἀνασταυρόω,
) are applied to modes of execution which were
certainly common among the Persians; and it is probable that impalement as
well as actual crucifixion was thus denoted. It has been doubted whether the
later or Roman method of crucifixion was practised by the Persians: σταυρὸς
is of course originally a pole or stake,
“to stand;” cf. σταύρωμα,
“a palisade” ); but the case of Artayctes (Hdt. 9.120
) seems to prove that nailing to a tree or plank was
not unknown to them. It was the usual punishment of rebels,--at least of
those who headed revolt. Darius in the Behistun inscription boasts that he
had “crucified” the leader of every rebellion that he had put
down, giving their names (Rawlinson's Herodotus,
vol. ii. Appendix); and it was inflicted on Inaros,
the champion of Egyptian liberty (Thuc. 1.110
For the sake of ignominy, the bodies of those who had been otherwise
executed were sometimes exposed on a cross after death, not always from
humanity: Oroetes, after putting Polycrates to death in some horrible way
which Herodotus refuses to describe, crucified the corpse (Hdt. 3.125
). The account of the death of Histiaeus
also suggests the probability that he was not crucified while alive
(τὸ μὲν αὐτοῦ ς ῶ μ α αὐτοῦ ταύτῃ
ἀνεσταύρωσαν, τὴν δὲ κεφαλὴν ταριχεύσαντες ἀπήνεικαν πρὸς
). We find Xerxes thus treating the body
of Leonidas, no doubt as a rebel (Hdt. 7.238
and at a later period Ptolemy Philopator does the same to Cleomenes after
his suicide (Plut. Cleom. 38
). According to
a strange story in Pliny, Tarquinius Priscus adopted this form of posthumous
disgrace to check the frequency of suicide among the citizens, driven to
despair by the forced labour with which his gigantic building operations
were carried on (H. N.
Among ancient nations, the Carthaginians were conspicuous for their cruelty,
and crucifixion was horribly frequent among them: it was probably through
their example that it was subsequently introduced into Sicily and Italy. It
was the usual punishment of rebels, and, as is well known, was commonly
inflicted on unsuccessful generals (Plb. 1.11
&c.). There was a story that a father once crucified his son on a
frivolous pretext, and himself afterwards underwent the same punishment as a
rebel (Justin, 18.7
). In the war with their
mercenaries and African subjects which followed immediately upon the
conclusion of the First Punic War, the atrocities on both sides, ghastly
enough in the narrative of the matter-of-fact Polybius (1.65
), have been sensationally
exaggerated in Flaubert's novel of Salammbô.
The Greeks were honourably distinguished in the ancient world for their
aversion to torture and mutilation in every shape; indeed, it is only in
quite recent times that Christian Europe has attained the same standard of
refinement. In some ways they could be cruel enough, and the frequency of
capital punishments [p. 1.566]
showed a singular disregard of
human life. The rage of faction led to massacres like that of Corcyra, on
which Thucydides moralises in a well-known passage (3.81 ff.). Prisoners of
war were put to death in cold blood; the Plataeans by the Spartans (Thuc. 3.68
), the Athenian prisoners after
Aegospotami to the number of 3000 (Plut. Alc.
13). The Athenians ordered a massacre of
all the adult males in Mitylene, probably as many as 6000 (Thuc. 3.36
). On this Grote remarks: “The
Athenians, on the whole the most humane people in Greece (though
humanity, according to our ideas, cannot be predicated of any Greeks),
became sensible that they had sanctioned a cruel and frightful
decree” (ch. 50, 4.359). Yet after they had repented, and the order
countermanding the atrocity had arrived barely in time, they deliberately
put to death more than 1000 Mitylenaeans who had already been brought
prisoners to Athens (Thuc. 3.50
). Not many years
afterwards they massacred the Melians, who were not even rebels, but had
merely refused to become their subjects (Thuc.
). With all this, the Greeks habitually abstained from
aggravating their executions, whether of criminals or prisoners of war, by
insult and torture; and they especially abhorred outrages on women and
children. This side of the Greek character is well brought out in Mahaffy's
Social Life in Greece;
see especially pp. 238, 262 if.,
ed. 3. It was so from the earliest historical times. In B.C. 713 the cruelty
of Hippomenes to his daughter and her lover brought about a revolution at
p. 165 b.
] The tyrants of the seventh and sixth centuries
are not charged with any atrocities like those of the Visconti and other
mediaeval despots in Italy; even the bull of Phalaris is now explained as an
instrument of Phoenician Moloch-worship. A few isolated acts of vengeance
are recorded of this period, only however in the outlying parts of the
Grecian world, and therefore probably due to the contagion of barbarian
example. Thus Aristodemus, the tyrant of Cumae, contemporary with Tarquinius
Superbus, is said to have given way to every excess of lust and cruelty
(Dionys. A. R. 7.9
), and on the
overthrow of his government to have been tortured to death with all his
family (ib. 11). This narrative has been doubted by Niebuhr (R.
1.554, 3.178 n), but is probably in the main historical (cf.
Grote, ch. 22, 2.520). The cruelties of Pheretime were perpetrated at
Cyrene, and remind us of the Carthaginians; and they were thought to have
been justly expiated when she died of a loathsome disease (Hdt. 4.202
During the struggles at Miletus between the wealthy citizens and the
commonalty, the latter (who were called Γέργιθες
) when victorious collected the children of the rich
into threshing-floors, and had them trampled to death by oxen; the rich,
having in turn got the upper hand, burnt in pitch (κατεπίττωσαν
: cf. the tunica
of Juvenal, 8.235; Mart.
) all whom they got into their power, along with their children
(Heracl. Pont. ap. Ath. 12.524
a). This story
belongs probably to the “two generations” of civil strife at
Miletus recorded by Herodotus (Stein, on Hdt.
, who understands by πλούσιοι
the Greek immigrants in general, and by δῆμος
Carian population). No such horrors are mentioned in Greece Proper, where
even helots and serfs ranked as Hellenes. Peisistratus and his sons governed
according to the laws of Solon; and even the proceedings which arose out of
the murder of Hipparchus fall short of the cruelties inflicted on regicides
in quite recent times. Thucydides tells us that Aristogeiton was “not
gently handled” (οὐ ῥᾳδίως
6.57); his good taste in suppressing the details of
torture recalls that of Herodotus already referred to; but the accounts in
general suggest only torture to extract evidence, not barbarous modes of
execution (cf. Justin, 2.9
; Paus. 1.23
, § § 1, 2). There is, in fact, no
evidence that crucifixion, impalement, or burning alive were regarded as
Greek punishments, at least where, as in Hellas itself, there was no contact
with less civilised races. It was the same with mutilations of all kinds,
such as the blinding prescribed by the laws of Locri in Italy (Dem.
p. 744.140), or the cutting off of hands and
feet as practised by the Persians (Xen. Anab.
, § 13). The cruelties alluded to in Aesch. Eum. 186
, including impalement (ὑπὸ ῥάχιν
), are those not of Greeks, but of barbarians, and
the distinction is pointedly drawn. The Greeks distinguished between
reverence for the human body, for which they had a passionate admiration as
shown in their athletic exercises and their works of art, and reverence for
human life, which they held cheap enough. This feeling continued unimpaired
as long as Greece retained her freedom. The case of Artayctes is quite
exceptional; it is the punishment by a barbarian method of a barbarian who
had outraged the religious feelings of the Greeks in a way that seemed to
demand special expiation (Hdt. 9.120
Mahaffy, p. 264). Even a Dionysius, we may well believe, would not have
crucified Greek prisoners of war but for the contagion of Carthaginian
example (Diod. 14.53
). It may be positively
asserted that Plato in the two well-known passages (ἀνασταυρωθῇ ἢ καταπνττωθῇ,
473 C; ἀνασχινδυλευθήσεται,
2.362 A) is not alluding to possible incidents of Greek,
much less Athenian, executions. And when Demosthenes declares that Meidias
deserved “almost to have been crucified” (μόνον οὐ προσηλῶσθαι,
p. 549.105), he means no more than an Englishman does
when he says, “Hanging is too good for him.” The painless
hemlock was all that Meidias had to fear, if capitally condemned.
Grote--who, as has been seen, does not spare the Athenians for their
swiftness to shed blood--has a good note (ch. 58, 5.175) on their freedom
from other sorts of cruelty, and their unwillingness to put citizens to the
torture even in times of public panic, when the temptation to do so was
In the Macedonian period Greece no longer retained this happy immunity: as a
mere province in a larger Hellenism, it was influenced by lower and less
humane races. Alexander himself is not free from the stain of cruelty, as is
shown by his treatment of real or supposed conspiracies against his person
in the cases of Philotas and Hermolaus: he is said to have either hanged or
crucified 2000 Tyrians [ἐκρέμασε
in Diod. 17.46
may bear either meaning: [p. 1.567]
Grote, a severe judge where Alexander is
concerned, does not press the harsher sense (8.364), though Q. Curtius
) has crucibus
Thirlwall (6.202) doubts the whole story, which is
not related by Arrian]; he certainly crucified Musicanus, the Indian rajah
who had rebelled after being reinstated in his dominions (Arrian, 6.17; cf.
). His successors improved
upon his example: a year after his death Perdiccas and Eumenes crucified the
aged Ariarathes of Cappadocia after other tortures (αἰκισάμενος ἀνεσταύρωσε,
); Lysimachus threatened to crucify
the Cyrenaic philosopher Theodorus, though an ambassador, but did not carry
out his threat (Cic. Tusc.
, § 102; Sen. de Tranq. An.
Nicocreon of Cyprus, contemporary with Alexander, actually pounded the
philosopher Anaxarchus to death in a mortar (Cic.
, § 52; Nat.
3.33.82). A similar story is told of an older philosopher,
Zeno the Eleatic, and a tyrant of his native city (Cic. l.c.;
D. L. 9.26
); but the accounts are contradictory
(cf. Dict. Biogr.
s. v. Zeno of Elea). Nabis, the tyrant of
Sparta, used as an engine of torture a figure studded with nails resembling
the Eiserne Jungfrau
of some German cities (Plb. 13.7
). It is not necessary to pursue the
records of this period any further. For the earlier and better time, the
assertion of Westermann is abundantly justified, that crucifixion and other
cruel punishments were “abhorrent to Greek manners”
(geben keinen Maasstab griechischer Sitte, ap.
). Saglio (s. v. Crux
) goes too far in admitting crucifixion even as
the punishment of slaves: not a single instance can be produced. This
aversion of the Greeks to degrading punishments was not understood by
grammarians who lived under the law of the later Roman empire, nor by
scholars like Lipsius (de Cruce,
1592), in whose time even worse horrors were perpetrated.
The Romans were naturally a hard-hearted people, and Livy shows considerable
audacity in saying that the dismembering of Mettius Fuffetius was the only
example in their history of a disregard of the laws of humanity; adding that
they might boast that no nation had employed milder punishments (1.28). From
the language of Cicero (pro Rab. Perd.
4.13) it has been
inferred that crucifixion was in use in the regal period. But the words of
the old law point rather to simple hanging ( “infelici arbori
), though the cross was no doubt called
in later times. Cicero, who
is arguing against the revival of the obsolete law of perduellio,
and the capital punishment of citizens in any
shape, is speaking rhetorically throughout: he quotes the formula without
the word reste,
a misleading and doubtless
intentional omission, and talks vaguely of the cross ( § §
10, 11, 16) and of the detested Tarquin ( § 13). No historical
conclusions can be drawn from a speech so obviously designed to confuse the
questions at issue. It is highly probable that the Romans derived this
punishment from the Carthaginians: at least no mention of it appears to
occur before the Second Punic War. First we find Hannibal crucifying a guide
who had misled him (Liv. 22.13
); then the Romans
practise it on slaves, and deserters (Liv.
; 33.36). This last
passage describes a revolt among the slaves in Etruria, B.C. 196: the
ringleaders are scourged and crucified, the rest given up to their masters
to be dealt with at discretion. The enormous increase in the numbers of
slaves under the later republic heightened the dread of a rising among them;
and the Roman system became more and more one of undisguised terrorism. Two
desperate rebellions broke out in Sicily, and were only put down by regular
armies; the first in B.C. 134-3, the second lasting four years, 102-99.
After the pacification by the praetor M‘. Aquillius in B.C. 99, a
regulation was made, and strictly enforced by successive governors of the
island, that no slave should be allowed to carry a weapon. A few years
later, the praetor L. Domitius received a boar of remarkable size as a
present; he inquired who had killed it, and, finding that it was a slave
employed as a shepherd, he summoned the man before him and asked him how he
had contrived to destroy it. The shepherd, who expected a reward, replied
that he had killed it with a boar-spear (venabulo
); upon which Domitius at once ordered him to be
crucified. Cicero tells this story with only faint disapproval, while he
dwells complacently on the fact that there were no more revolts of the
slaves in Sicily (Cic. in Verr.
, 4, § § 7, 8). In the famous passage of the
same speech (61.158 ff.) on the crucifixion of Gavius by Verres, it is the
wrong done to a Roman citizen, rather than cruelty to a human being, that
points Cicero's indignation: when he describes the atrocious treatment of
the slave Strato by the infamous Sassia, he shows more sense of the
detestableness of cruelty as such (pro Cluent.
63.177; 66.187). When the servile war of Spartacus was at last put down by
Pompey, the prisoners, to the number of 6000, were crucified all along the
Appian Way, between Capua and Rome (App. BC
). The power of masters over their slaves was at this period,
and for some time later, absolute: even the good-natured Horace treats as a
joke the possibility of their being crucified for slight offences (Sat.
1.3, 80 ff.). The first measure passed in their
favour was the LEX
): Hadrian forbade them to be
executed without the sentence of a magistrate ; Antoninus Pius ordered that
the murder of a slave by his master should be punished as homicide [SERVUS
]. Besides slaves, the
provincials were liable to crucifixion for the greater crimes, such as
murder, piracy (Suet. Jul. 4
), brigandage, and
especially for revolts and conspiracies. The obstinacy of the Jews was
particularly exasperating to the Romans, and their repeated rebellions were
followed by the wholesale infliction of this punishment: thus Varus (the
same who perished in Germany) crucified 2000 at once (Jos.
17.10.10); Gessius Florus several hundreds, including
Roman citizens of Jewish birth (Id. B. J.
2.14.9); Titus so
many that “room was wanting for the crosses and crosses for the
bodies” (Id. ib. 6.28); and Hadrian, after the final revolt, 500 a
day for some time. Under the empire the right of the civis Romanus
was no longer respected: the first instance,
probably, of the crucifixion of a citizen in Rome itself is that, under
Galba, of a [p. 1.568]
guardian who poisoned his ward.(Suet.
9). Afterwards the odious distinction between the
was introduced, and this and other tortures were
freely inflicted upon the latter, especially for majestas
or crimes against the state or the person of the emperor
5.23, 1; Dig. 48
, tit. de poenis
may, however, be pointed out that the English law of high treason until
lately recognised a similar distinction between peers and the commonalty.
The mode of punishment is too well known to need much description. Scourging,
as with Roman capital punishments in general, usually preceded it (Liv. 22.13
Cic. in Verr. 5.62
§ 161 ff.). Three kinds of crosses were in common use: the crux commissa,
or T shape; the crux immissa,
with a projection at the top to which was
affixed the titulus,
setting forth the crime of
the sufferer (this was the most common); and the crux
in the shape of an X (St. Andrew's cross). The word
is also applied to the single stake
used in impalement: the latter process is alluded to by Seneca in two
passages, but, as he is speaking of death by torture in general, it may be
doubted in the absence of direct evidence whether this was a Roman custom
(Cons. ad Marciam,
20.3, where crucifixion with the head
downward is mentioned; Ep.
14.5). The upright post is called
the transverse beam patibulum;
and it was this, rather than the entire
instrument, which the criminal carried to the place of execution (Plut. de Sera Num. Vind. p. 554
B; Artemid. Oneirocr.
1.1, 53, and ap. Non. s. v. patibulum
). It was impossible that the whole weight
of the body should rest upon the nails; hence there was a piece of wood
projecting from the stipes
on which the
sufferer sat, or rather rode (κέρας ἐφ᾽ ᾦ
ἐποχοῦνται οἱ σταυρούμενοι,
Just. Mart. Dial.c.
91; sedilis excessus,
Tertull. adv. Nat.
1.12; cf. Iren. adv. Haer.
1.12). The expression acuta si sedeam cruce,
the famous lines of Maecenas ap. Sen. Ep.
refers to this support, and not, as Lipsius thought, to impalement (see
Archd. Farrar in Dict. of the Bible,
). when it was wanting, the body was probably sustained
by ropes: the combination of ropes with nails is mentioned by Pliny
(fragmentum clavi a cruce
and spartum e cruce
as charms, H. N.
28.46) and Hilary ( “colligantium funium vincula et adactorum clavorum
10). The martyrologies contain
accounts of sufferers bound to the cross without the use of nails, and left
to die of hunger and exhaustion; when it is added that in some instances
they survived nine days, we must be allowed to disbelieve. Tying to the
cross is also mentioned as an Egyptian custom by Xenophon Ephesius (4.2),
but his romance, apart from its late date, is of no historical authority;
and there does not appear to be any sufficient evidence for the practice in
classical times. The criminal was stripped of his clothes,--the cloth round
the loins, as to which the Christian tradition is constant, seems to have
been exceptional,--and usually hoisted on to the cross after it had been set
up. Sometimes he was stretched upon it on the ground, and then lifted with
it; but the former method was the commoner, and hence the phrases cruci suffigere, in crucem agere
occur oftener than cruci
The well-known breaking of the legs to hasten death
is alluded to by Plautus (Poen.
4.2, 64) and Cicero (Cic. Phil. 13.12.27
). The dead body was
generally left hanging on the cross, to be devoured by birds and beasts: the
feet were but little raised above the ground (not as in most pictures), and
it was not out of the reach of the latter (Hor. Ep.
; Juv. 14.77
; Artemid. Oneirocr.
was therefore forbidden, and a soldier set to watch the corpse (Petron. 111,
112). The place for these executions was always outside the walls of cities:
at rome it was the Campus Esquilinus, to the cast of the city, part of which
was afterwards occupied by the gardens of Maecenas. The Sessorium and the
Sestertium, sometimes mentioned in this connexion, were probably two
distinct spots in the Campus Esquilinus: the former on the Lateran Hill near
the basilica of Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, where there are some remains of a
building traditionally called Sessorium (Schol. Cruq. on Hor.
5, 100, and Sat.
Orell. ad loc.;
Burn, Rome and the
pp. 218, 226); the latter at some place distant 2 1/2
miles (whence the name Sestertium) from the Esquiline gate in the Servian
wall, not from the later circuit of the city (Tac.
, with Orellius' note; Plut.
, where Sintenis quite needlessly reads Σεσσώριον
from a conjecture of W. A. Becker; Burn, l.c.
With the establishment of Christianity the associations connected with the
Cross led to its abolition, not from humanity, as other cruel punishments
were retained: Constantine at the beginning of his reign had sanctioned it
in the case of slaves and freedmen (decree of the year 314, cited
1.1 in a lex
); but later he abolished it (Sozom. H.
1.8; Cod. Theod.
9.5 and 18; Gibbon, ch. 20, iii.
p. 11, ed. Smith).