by Victor Hoagland, C.P.


Crucifixion, called by ancient writers the harshest of deaths, was commonly employed by the Romans at the time of Jesus to punish and execute slaves and rebels.

After being sentenced, the victim usually was made to carry to the place of execution either the crossbeam or the cross itself. Flogging and other forms of torture added by the executioners were part of the cruel process. The unusually swift death of Jesus, which the gospels report, may have been caused by the severity of these preliminary punishments.

The Romans used various methods of crucifixion. Following a common method, which Jesus probably experienced, the victim was first stripped of his clothes and then fixed to the crossbeam with nails that passed through the bones of his arm below the wrist Then his body was seated to a small wooden peg jutting from the upright beam to which his heals were nailed. As his body weight closed his breathing passages, the victim died of suffocation, sometimes after days of bitter pain. Hanging close to the ground the victim sometimes was the prey of dogs and birds.

Calvary (hypothetically reconstructed below), the skull-shaped mound, was located in the northwest section of the city near the gate, adjacent to a limestone quarry where Jesus was buried in a tomb after his crucifixion. Some years later an extension of the city walls brought the site within the city itself and burials ceased.

Hypothetical Map

Herod's palace and the towers dominating the city from their high position are seen right foreground. Near the entrance to the palace area, Jesus was judged by Pilate, who made his residence at the palace during important Jewish feasts. From there he was led to Calvary, a short distance away.

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