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Death by Crucifixion

The idea of death and pain have always frightened me. I am not the sort to die for a cause because I am just too scared! Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be tried, tortured and sent to the gallows?

Well, I am sure most people have (and are frightened at the thought of it), which is why many are pushing for the abolition of the capital punishment.

The first death sentence ever recorded was in 16th Century BC Egypt and the accused had to take his own life with an ax because he was doing magic. I guess they really wanted him to cut it out….. (geddit geddit?)

That was just the beginning of all the nasty and gruesome execution methods you’ll find on the Internet. Be warned, my friends!!! Do not google them at night.. I would love to share pictures that depict the horror of these executions but they made me really uncomfortable.

With Easter coming in just 2 weeks, I thought that the Crucifixion would be a good execution method to discuss.

Crucifixion is when a person who is suspended by the nails in his hands and legs on a wooden cross / stake and left to hang till dead. According to Jeremy Ward, head of the physiology department at King’s College London, is not just an act of putting someone to death but a way to torture someone. It was a form of punishment specially designed (and perfected) to ensure extreme pain and prolonged suffering. Crucifixion, as described by Cicero, a Roman Philosopher, is a “most cruel and disgusting punishment”.

Criminals, who were sentenced to death by Crucifixion were usually flogged and tortured before carrying their own cross to the site of crucifixion. This meant that they would have lost a great deal of blood and were in a state of shock and distress.

The humiliating part starts as they bear their cross, walking through the city, almost naked, to the site of crucifixion. The Roman soldiers were free to do whatever they want to you, because there were no rules on how to crucify someone properly. Records showed that the cross / stake were often at different angles, whichever angle the Roman soldiers deemed fit for the occasion.

Because the punishment was meant to humiliate, criminals were stripped naked (although art has always depicted criminals with a loin covering their genitals) and hung on the cross for days at a place with high human traffic.

Death by crucifixion would typically last from 6 hours - a few days and is mostly caused by the inability to breathe. As the crucified hung by their arms, they suffered painfully in a process of asphyxiation as they struggle to exhale, "due to hyper-expansion of the lungs". The victim would therefore have to pull himself up just to breathe. Roman executioners were said to break the legs of the victims to quicken his death. Because of their broken legs and their state of fatigue and pain, the condemned would give up trying to support themselves to breathe properly and die. Their bodies would be left there to feed the birds.

The first records of crucifixion were found in Persia, performed on political opponents. Alexander of Masedon introduced the practice throughout his empire. Criminals sentenced to death by crucifixion were mostly slaves and political rebels.

5000 TO 6000 REBEL SLAVES were crucified following the defeat of Spartacus' rebellion in 71 B.C. Painting by Fedor Bronnikov

In 4th Century AD, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and abolished the act of crucifixion, putting an end to this terrible and painful execution method in reverence of its most famous victim, Jesus.

Constantine's conversion, as imagined by Rubens.

Many of our sources came from Biblical passages because they were the most detailed in describing and analyzing the death of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for claiming to be the King of the Jews.

Crucifixion, though rarely, is still being practiced today. They are still practiced in some countries as terrorism and punishment. Also, as a form of religious devotion in Mexico and Philippines.