History

Crucifixions Through History: Photos

Crucifixion is often associated with Jesus, yet this atrocious execution method was used long before Jesus's birth.

Crucifixion is often associated with Jesus, yet this atrocious execution method was used long before Jesus's birth. Crucifixion probably originated with the Assyrians and Babylonians and then became common among the Persians in the 6th century B.C. Alexander the Great brought the practice to the eastern Mediterranean countries in the 4th century B.C. According to Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus, the Macedonian king crucified 2,000 survivors from his siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre, now Lebanon, in 332 B.C. However, the only archaeological evidence of crucifixion dates to the 1st century A.D. It was uncovered in a cave in Giv'at ha-Mivtar, in northeast Jerusalem, and consisted of the remains of one male individual named Yehohanan. A heel bone had an iron stake driven through it, indicating the man was nailed to a cross.

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The most famous mass crucifixion dates well before Jesus to the slave and gladiator Spartacus, whose story has served as inspiration for book and movies. Between 73 B.C. and 71 B.C., during the Third Servile War, Spartacus led a slave revolt against the Roman republic. The rebellion was crushed and, while Spartacus most likely died in the final battle, over 6,000 of his followers were captured and crucified by the order of Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus. Their bodies were hung on crosses along the 120-mile long Appian Way between Capua and Rome as a warning to any other who would attempt to rebel.

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Although Yehohanan remains the only archaeologically proven case of crucifixion, historical sources describe other famous victims of this brutal mode of death besides Jesus Christ and the two criminals at his sides. According to tradition, the apostle St. Peter, considered the first pope by the Roman Catholic Church, suffered an even more atrocious death as he was crucified upside-down on Vatican Hill during the reign of Emperor Nero. The apocryphal Acts of Peter report of that Peter was executed that way because he told his executioners he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.

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According to legend, the apostle St. Andrew deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus. It is said that Andrew was martyred at Patras, Greece, on an X-shaped cross, his arms and legs widely extended.

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Women were crucified as well, though rarely. St.Julia, the patroness of the island of Corsica, is perhaps the best known case. Her martyrdom was made famous in a triptych by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Born in Carthage, Julia was sold to a Syrian merchant named Eusebius who brought her to Corsica. The story goes that the local governor Felix promised to buy her freedom on the condition she made sacrifices to pagan gods. Upon her refusal, Felix tortured and crucified her on a cross around 439 A.D.

In Japan, crucifixion resurfaced as a way to kill Christians in the 16th century. It included raising a cross at low tide so that the victim would be submerged up to the head at high tide, making death more excruciating. In 1597 26 Japanese Christians, later declared martyrs by the Catholic Church, were nailed to crosses at Nagasaki. The executions marked the beginning of a long persecution of Christianity in Japan. By the 17th century, crucifixion began to be used against non-Christians too. In 1651, about 150 people were executed on the cross following a failed uprising against the Shogun.

While rumors abounded that during World War I German soldiers crucified a Canadian soldier on a tree, it is certain the brutal execution was used in World War II by Japanese soldiers. The best documented case is that of three Australian prisoners of war who were bound to trees by the Japanese for killing cattle. One of them, Herbert James "Ringer" Edwards, survived being crucified for 63 hours. Edwards became the inspiration for the character Joe Harman in Nevil Shute's novel, "A Town Like Alice."

Today crucifixion can still be imposed by courts in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to Amnesty International, crucifixion takes place after the beheading, when the body is hung in public display as a deterrent. Militants tied to ISIS have reportedly crucified Syrian Christians, including children.

This year on Good Friday, 55-year-old carpenter and sign maker Ruben Enaje will be nailed to a cross for the 30th time in the city of San Fernando, in the the Philippines. Enaje has been nailed to a cross every Good Friday since 1985 as an act of thanks for surviving a fall from a three-story building. Some 20,000 spectators are expected to attend the crucifixion reenactment, which is not encouraged by the Catholic Church for the use of nails, albeit sterilized.