Roman crucifixion: the surprising lack of archaeological evidence
Crucifixion was a painfully slow method of execution practiced by the ancient Romans. It involved nailing or tying the victim’s legs and arms to a wooden cross that was designed to induce maximum pain. Crucifixion was a widespread punishment throughout the Roman Empire from the 3rd century BC. Until the 3rd century AD. It guaranteed a slow and painful death for the lower class of criminals who defied the authority of the Roman Empire. However, few people would have known it if Christ had not been crucified and the Christian religion had not spread throughout the world. For approximately the last 1,700 years, the “Cross” has been the symbol of Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of man’s sins. However, other than Christianity, there is little archaeological evidence to support the practice.
Certain ancient writers witnessed and documented the horrors of many who suffered. Josephus, the ancient Jewish chronicler, historian, and Jewish general described, on separate occasions, thousands of men crucified and the gruesome way the bodies were lowered from their crosses (The jewish war). In AD 40, the Roman writer Seneca reported seeing thousands of victims nailed in contorted positions: arms and legs spread, prone, and even nailed genitalia (From Consolatione ad Marciam). Plutarch recounts 6,000 individuals crucified for miles along the Appian Way, the famous road that led directly to Rome. Hundreds of thousands of rebels, slaves, and other criminals are believed to have been crucified throughout the Empire.
Although there should be abundant archaeological evidence, it is surprisingly scarce for several reasons:
1. The crosses were made of wood. They were recyclable due to the scarcity of trees. A wooden cross could have been used in one crucifixion after another to kill many victims. Over a period of time, they broke down until they became too unstable.
2. After the corpses of the victims were toppled, they were dumped into rivers or wells in the ground, and eventually rotted into skeletons. Most of these places have yet to be discovered.
3. The only really durable items used in crucifixions were iron nails. The nails were reused for many crucifixions. In the case of nailing Christian martyrs to crosses, many iron nails that penetrated their hands and feet were stolen from graves by medieval Christians because they were believed to have miraculous divine powers.
While there is an almost total lack of physical evidence, in 1968 archaeologists discovered an ancient box of bones, also called an “ossuary,” buried in a deep cave around Jerusalem. Inside they discovered the remains of a young male victim with a rusty nail completely driven through from the right ankle bone. The victim’s name was “Yehohanan”, a young Jew who was crucified around AD 70. This clue indicates a way in which the Romans crucified their enemies, which consisted of nailing each foot through the ankle bone on both sides of the crosses.
According to legend, Helen, the mother of the first Christian emperor Constantine the Great, traveled to Jerusalem in the 4th century AD and found the crosses of Christ and the two thieves crucified with Him, in addition to the nails and the title hanging above Jesus. ‘Body. Some of these items are on display in the Basilica of “Santa Croce in Gerusalemme” (Holy Cross in Jerusalem) in Rome, Italy.
For many Christians, the Shroud of Turin is considered the canvas that surrounds the crucified body of Jesus Christ. Nail wounds are found in the wrist and foot areas. Unlike the evidence that nails were driven through the bones of both ankles, the Shroud shows that Jesus’ feet were nailed together to a small piece of wood glued to the front of the cross.
The crucifixion was perhaps the most widespread form of execution in world history, but archaeologists have found little physical evidence of this cruel practice. The only artifact discovered was a nail-pierced ankle bone in an ancient ossuary discovered in Jerusalem fifty years ago. We have the testimonies of ancient writers who witnessed the gruesome spectacles. For many Christians, artifacts such as the Shroud of Turin and relics recovered from the site of Christ’s crucifixion by Emperor Constantine’s mother are tangible proof of the crucifixion. What we do not know is the location of the wooden crucifixes and the bodies of the victims that rotted over time. Perhaps with more searches and excavations, archaeologists can uncover more evidence, helping us learn more about their widespread infamy.