What is crucifixion?

Crucifixion was an ancient method of execution the Romans adopted almost exclusively to deter criminal acts by non-roman citizens in the empire. Crucifixions were carried out on busy streets, particularly on roads that led into and out of city centers. The Romans hoped that as many onlookers as possible would see those crucified and reconsider acting against Roman provincial law.

One first-century example of a crucified victim demonstrates that the feet of the crucified were at least sometimes nailed sideways through the heel bones and that the feet were possibly nailed together, although recent commentators feel that side by side was the more common practice. Nailing the feet from the top through the bottom caused the feet to tear, providing little support for the victim and therefore hastening death-something the Romans sought to avoid. The hands were most commonly nailed, and although Christian art commonly depicts the wrists of crucified prisoners as being tied, the only documented practice was nailing. The Romans drove nails into the hands and wrists to fasten the person for long periods of time and also to avoid excessive bleeding. If the victim were to bleed excessively, the main purpose of crucifixion-to execute the individual in as painful and public a way as possible-would be circumvented.

The actual crucifixion of Jesus Christ also differs in another important way from our modern artistic impressions of the event. Crucified individuals were stripped naked to humiliate them as much as possible. We have no evidence that the Romans made concessions to Jews to accommodate the Jews’ prohibitions against nakedness.