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CRUX (σταυρός, σκόλοψ), 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 and 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 and σκολοπίζω (more usually ἀνασταυρόω, ἀνασκολοπίζω) 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, Lat. palus (root στα, “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 μ α αὐτοῦ ταύτῃ ἀνεσταύρωσαν, τὴν δὲ κεφαλὴν ταριχεύσαντες ἀπήνεικαν πρὸς βασιλέα, Hdt. 6.30). 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. 36.107).

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, 24, 79, &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 (1.65-88), 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. 37; Lysand. 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. 6.116). 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 Athens. [ARCHON 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. H. 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, 205). 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 molesta of Juvenal, 8.235; Mart. 10.25) 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. 5.28, who understands by πλούσιοι the Greek immigrants in general, and by δῆμος or Γέργιθες the subject 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 διετέθη, 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. c. Timocr. p. 744.140), or the cutting off of hands and feet as practised by the Persians (Xen. Anab. 1.9, § 13). The cruelties alluded to in Aesch. Eum. 186-190, including impalement (ὑπὸ ῥάχιν παγέντες), 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; cf. 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 καταπνττωθῇ, Gorg. 473 C; ἀνασχινδυλευθήσεται, Rep. 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, c. Mid. 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 greatest.

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 (4.4) has crucibus suffixi; 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. Diod. 17.102). 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, Diod. 18.16); Lysimachus threatened to crucify the Cyrenaic philosopher Theodorus, though an ambassador, but did not carry out his threat (Cic. Tusc. 1.43, § 102; Sen. de Tranq. An. 14.3). Nicocreon of Cyprus, contemporary with Alexander, actually pounded the philosopher Anaxarchus to death in a mortar (Cic. Tusc. 2.22, § 52; Nat. Deor. 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. Pauly, s. v. Supplicium). 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, published 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 reste suspendito,Liv. 1.26), though the cross was no doubt called arbor infelix 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. 22.33; 30.43.13; 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. 5.3, 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 1.120). 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 PETRONIA (q. v.): 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. Ant. 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. Galb. 9). Afterwards the odious distinction between the honestiores and humiliores 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 (Paul. Sent. 5.23, 1; Dig. 48, 19, tit. de poenis). It 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, 33.36; 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 decussata, in the shape of an X (St. Andrew's cross). The word crux 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 stipes, 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. 2.61; Plautus, Mostell. 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᾽ ἐποχοῦνται οἱ σταυρούμενοι, Just. Mart. Dial.c. Tryph. 91; sedilis excessus, Tertull. adv. Nat. 1.12; cf. Iren. adv. Haer. 1.12). The expression acuta si sedeam cruce, in the famous lines of Maecenas ap. Sen. Ep. 101, probably refers to this support, and not, as Lipsius thought, to impalement (see Archd. Farrar in Dict. of the Bible, s. v. Cross). 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 vulnera,” de Trin. 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 or tollere, occur oftener than cruci affigere. 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. 1.16, 48; Juv. 14.77; Artemid. Oneirocr. 2.53). Sepulture 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. Epod. 5, 100, and Sat. 2.8, 8; Orell. ad loc.; Burn, Rome and the Campagna, 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. Ann. 15.60, with Orellius' note; Plut. Galb. 28, where Sintenis quite needlessly reads Σεσσώριον for Σητέρτιον, from a conjecture of W. A. Becker; Burn, l.c. p. 219).

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 Cod. Theod. 1.1 in a lex majestatis); but later he abolished it (Sozom. H. E. 1.8; Cod. Theod. 9.5 and 18; Gibbon, ch. 20, iii. p. 11, ed. Smith).


hide References (42 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (42):
    • Aeschylus, Eumenides, 186
    • Aeschylus, Eumenides, 190
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.53
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 17.102
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 17.46
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.125
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.202
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.205
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.28
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.30
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.238
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.120
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.23
    • Plutarch, Alcibiades, 37
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.110
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.36
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.50
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.68
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.9
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.14.120
    • Polybius, Histories, 13.7
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.11
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.24
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.65
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.79
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.88
    • Cicero, Philippics, 13.12.27
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.60
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 4
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 33, 36
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 43.13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 26
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 33
    • Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 1.43
    • Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 2.22
    • Plutarch, Cleomenes, 38
    • Plutarch, Galba, 28
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.25
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 4.4
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.16
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 18.16
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