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The gibbet on which crucifixion was carried out could be of many shapes. Josephus says that the Roman soldiers who crucified the many prisoners taken during the Siege of Jerusalem under Titus diverted themselves by nailing them to the crosses in different ways; and Seneca the Younger recounts: "I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet."
In 1968, archaeologists discovered at Giv'at ha-Mivtar in northeast Jerusalem the remains of one Jehohanan, who had been crucified in the 1st century. The remains included a heel bone with a nail driven through it from the side. The tip of the nail was bent, perhaps because of striking a knot in the upright beam, which prevented it being extracted from the foot. A first inaccurate account of the length of the nail led some to believe that it had been driven through both heels, suggesting that the man had been placed in a sort of sidesaddle position, but the true length of the nail, 11.5 cm (4.53 inches), suggests instead that in this case of crucifixion the heels were nailed to opposite sides of the upright. The skeleton from Giv'at ha-Mivtar is currently the only confirmed example of ancient crucifixion in the archaeological record. A second set of skeletal remains with holes transverse through the calcaneum heel bones was found in 2007. This could be a second archaeological record of crucifixion. The find in Cambridgeshire (United Kingdom) in November 2017 of the remains of the heel bone of a (probably enslaved) man with an iron nail through it, is believed by the archeologists to confirm the use of this method in ancient Rome.
Since death does not follow immediately on crucifixion, survival after a short period of crucifixion is possible, as in the case of those who choose each year as a devotional practice to be non-lethally crucified.
There is an ancient record of one person who survived a crucifixion that was intended to be lethal, but was interrupted. Josephus recounts: "I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintances. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician's hands, while the third recovered." Josephus gives no details of the method or duration of the crucifixion of his three friends before their reprieve.
Alexander the Great is reputed to have crucified 2,000 survivors from his siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre, as well as the doctor who unsuccessfully treated Alexander's lifelong friend Hephaestion. Some historians have also conjectured that Alexander crucified Callisthenes, his official historian and biographer, for objecting to Alexander's adoption of the Persian ceremony of royal adoration.
While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have traditionally depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, the person being crucified was usually stripped naked. Writings by Seneca the Younger state some victims suffered a stick forced upwards through their groin. Despite its frequent use by the Romans, the horrors of crucifixion did not escape criticism by some eminent Roman orators. Cicero, for example, described crucifixion as "a most cruel and disgusting punishment", and suggested that "the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen's body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears". Elsewhere he says, "It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is a wickedness; to put him to death is almost parricide. What shall I say of crucifying him? So guilty an action cannot by any possibility be adequately expressed by any name bad enough for it."
Crucifixion was intended to be a gruesome spectacle: the most painful and humiliating death imaginable. It was used to punish slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. It was originally reserved for slaves (hence still called "supplicium servile" by Seneca), and later extended to citizens of the lower classes (humiliores). The victims of crucifixion were stripped naked and put on public display while they were slowly tortured to death so that they would serve as a spectacle and an example.
According to Roman law, if a slave killed his or her master, all of the master's slaves would be crucified as punishment. Both men and women were crucified. Tacitus writes in his Annals that when Lucius Pedanius Secundus was murdered by a slave, some in the Senate tried to prevent the mass crucifixion of four hundred of his slaves because there were so many women and children, but in the end tradition prevailed and they were all executed. Although not conclusive evidence for female crucifixion by itself, the most ancient image of a Roman crucifixion may depict a crucified woman, whether real or imaginary.[a] Crucifixion was such a gruesome and humiliating way to die that the subject was somewhat of a taboo in Roman culture, and few crucifixions were specifically documented. One of the only specific female crucifixions that are documented is that of Ida, a freedwoman (former slave) who was crucified by order of Tiberius.
Crucifixion was typically carried out by specialized teams, consisting of a commanding centurion and his soldiers. First, the condemned would be stripped naked and scourged.[failed verification] This would cause the person to lose a large amount of blood, and approach a state of shock. The convict then usually had to carry the horizontal beam (patibulum in Latin) to the place of execution, but not necessarily the whole cross.
There may have been considerable variation in the position in which prisoners were nailed to their crosses and how their bodies were supported while they died. Seneca the Younger recounts: "I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet." One source claims that for Jews (apparently not for others), a man would be crucified with his back to the cross as is traditionally depicted, while a woman would be nailed facing her cross, probably with her back to onlookers, or at least with the stipes providing some semblance of modesty if viewed from the front. Such concessions were "unique" and not made outside a Jewish context. Several sources mention some sort of seat fastened to the stipes to help support the person's body, thereby prolonging the person's suffering and humiliation by preventing the asphyxiation caused by hanging without support. Justin Martyr calls the seat a cornu, or "horn," leading some scholars to believe it may have had a pointed shape designed to torment the crucified person. This would be consistent with Seneca's observation of victims with their private parts impaled.
In Roman-style crucifixion, the condemned could take up to a few days to die, but death was sometimes hastened by human action. "The attending Roman guards could leave the site only after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim." The Romans sometimes broke the prisoner's legs to hasten death and usually forbade burial. On the other hand, the person was often deliberately kept alive as long as possible to prolong their suffering and humiliation, so as to provide the maximum deterrent effect. Corpses of the crucified were typically left on the crosses to decompose and be eaten by animals.
Most classical jurists limit the period of crucifixion to three days. Crucifixion involves affixing or impaling the body to a beam or a tree trunk. Various minority opinions also prescribed crucifixion as punishment for a number of other crimes. Cases of crucifixion under most of the legally prescribed categories have been recorded in the history of Islam, and prolonged exposure of crucified bodies was especially common for political and religious opponents.
Crucifixion was used as a punishment for prisoners of war during World War II. Ringer Edwards, an Australian prisoner of war, was crucified for killing cattle, along with two others. He survived 63 hours before being let down.
Six people were crucified in the following manner: their hands and feet nailed to a scaffold; then their eyes were extracted with a blunt hook; and in this condition they were left to expire; two died in the course of four days; the rest were liberated, but died of mortification on the sixth or seventh day.
Four persons were crucified, viz. not nailed but tied with their hands and feet stretched out at full length, in an erect posture. In this posture they were to remain till death; every thing they wished to eat was ordered them with a view to prolong their lives and misery. In cases like this, the legs and feet of the criminals begin to swell and mortify at the expiration of three or four days; some are said to live in this state for a fortnight, and expire at last from fatigue and mortification. Those which I saw, were liberated at the end of three or four days.
During World War I, there were persistent rumors that German soldiers had crucified a Canadian soldier on a tree or barn door with bayonets or combat knives. The event was initially reported in 1915 by Private George Barrie of the 1st Canadian Division. Two investigations, one a post-war official investigation, and the other an independent investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, concluded that there was no evidence to support the story. However, British documentary maker Iain Overton in 2001 published an article claiming that the story was true, identifying the soldier as Harry Band. Overton's article was the basis for a 2002 episode of the Channel 4 documentary show Secret History. 2b1af7f3a8