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The crucifixion was a type of execution that was particularly widespread in the ancient Orient and ancient times . It developed out of hanging , but, unlike this, should prolong the agony of death as much as possible. To do this, a person was tied or nailed to an upright post, with or without a crossbar.

In the Roman Empire , mainly non-Romans and runaway or rebellious slaves were crucified on the cross (arbor crucis) , for example thousands of followers of Spartacus and Jesus of Nazareth .

After the Constantinian Revolution (313), crucifixion was replaced by other methods of execution in Europe . In some countries shaped by Islam it is still anchored in the law as a punishment.

Phenicia, Assyria, Persia

Crucifixion is first known from the Phoenicians , a sea and trading people in the Mediterranean . There, convicts were tied to a tree - later called arbor infelix ("unlucky tree ") by the Romans - and then left to freeze to death or die of thirst . Hence the agony often lasted days.

Around 1000 BC This method of execution experienced its first high phase. Through the trade contacts of the Phoenicians, she came to Mesopotamia to the Assyrians who were then ruling there and to Persia . A convict was only tied up there, but not nailed down yet. Herodotus reports in the 5th century BC From cross punishments especially with the Persians.

Ancient Greece

In Athens , crucifixions are hardly mentioned in literary texts of the 5th and 4th centuries BC; However, it is known from court speeches that crucifixion was the usual type of punishment for property crimes. From this it is concluded that it was practiced frequently and mainly affected members of the impoverished lower classes.

Since the Macedonian Empire , nailing was also widely practiced. Now special places of execution were created for the crucifixion - mostly on a mountain or hill - and stakes specially designed for this were used. 332 BC After the conquest of Tire , Alexander the Great crucified around 2,000 men of military age.


The around 500 BC The Torah , which was largely fixed in writing , provided for stoning , not crucifixion, as the death penalty for crimes deemed worthy of death. The "hanging up" was not required and was, where it happened, as a sign of exclusion from God's chosen people: He who hangs on the wood is cursed ( Deut 21,22f  EU ). This reflected a knowledge of the foreign origin of this type of death and its intention to dishonor the executed and to deter the audience.

The Jews took just hanging, but not the nailing of the surrounding peoples and turned it himself only against foreign rulers or extreme religious offenses such as blasphemy to. The deceased was only left hanging until the evening after his death as a deterrent and then buried so as not to pollute the country in a religious sense . This is shown by notes about foreign rulers (Gen 40.18f; Esr 6.11; Est 9.13ff) as well as about executions in Israel ( Jos 8.29  EU ).

The Hasmonean Jewish dynasty adopted the crucifixion penalty from the Romans. Around 82 BC The then King of Judea, Alexander Jannäus , had 800 of his inner-Jewish opponents crucified at once ( Flavius ​​Josephus , Antiquitates Iudaicae XIII 13.5-14.2). The throats of the women and children of these rebels were cut in front of the still living men hanging on the cross. This account is confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls . In the Nahum commentary, the Jewish civil war and the brutal retaliation of Jannäus are specifically mentioned afterwards. The finds from the caves of Qumran (200-100 BC) adapted Deut. 21,22f to the practice of the time and interpreted it as cursed is whoever is crucified . The cross (wood) itself, not being hung on it, had become the sign of God's curse.

Between 200 BC In BC and AD 135, Jewish attempts at revolt against the Seleucid foreign rulers from Syria and vassal kings who were dependent on them were frequent; therefore, Jewish insurgents were often victims of crucifixions. But so far only once (1968) the remains of a crucified Jew have been found in a Jerusalem mass grave with 30 skeletons. The fact that he was not buried apart from the rest of the dead is a sign that the crucifixion was no longer regarded as a curse of God at that time: at least not if it was imposed as a death martyr for the living, especially against rebellious Jews.

Even kings from the Herodian dynasty , including the ruler of Judea at the turn of the ages, Herodes Archelaus , and the ruler of Galilee at the time of Jesus, Herodes Antipas , sometimes had their opponents crucified. After Galilee and Judea had been placed directly under the Roman prefecture, the execution of those convicted as capital criminals was incumbent on the Roman governor.

After the end of the statehood of Israel and after the Pharisees persecuted under Alexander Jannai had risen to the leadership group of Judaism, the Talmud ( Tractate Sanhedrin ) forbade hanging and thus crucifixion as a method of execution and only allowed the symbolic hanging of the already killed as a temporary deterrent, to comply with the Torah regulation.

Roman Empire

Affected groups and purpose

Fyodor Andreevich Bronnikow: Crucified slaves

The Romans took over crucifixion from the Macedonians and Carthaginians . In the Roman Empire, slaves were preferably crucified in order to deter other slaves from fleeing or committing other crimes. Insurgents were also executed in this way, especially in conquered areas. The crucifixion was therefore a political punishment to secure and maintain the Pax Romana internally and externally.

Julius Caesar let about 30 pirates who him 76 BC. Had attacked on a sea voyage, later crucified. After the final defeat of the insurgent slave leader Spartacus in 71 BC. Around 6,000 of his followers were crucified along the Via Appia from Rome to Capua. Since then, the crucifixion has also spread as a punishment against non-Romans.

Roman citizens were legally not allowed to be crucified. Depending on their social position, the convicted person was threatened with a rock fall in the early days, later and less often with decapitation, suicide or exile. For the Roman class judiciary , the crucifixion was considered a disgraceful slave death that Roman citizens wanted nothing to do with. So wrote Cicero :

"Nomen ipsum crucis absit non modo a corpore civium Romanorum, sed etiam a cogitatione, oculis, auribus."

"What a cross means should not only stay away from the body of the citizens of Rome, but also from their perception, their eyes and ears."

Still, Roman sources occasionally mention the crucifixion of Roman citizens as a drastic measure by tyrannical emperors or governors.

Varus had around 4 BC Mass crucifixion of Jewish rebels who wanted to establish a Jewish kingdom after the death of Herod the Great (Flavius ​​Josephus, Bellum Judaicum 2.75; Antiquitates 17,296).

In AD 70, the Roman general and later emperor Titus had 500 or more Jews fleeing from hunger scourged, tortured and then crucified in front of the city walls of Jerusalem during the Jewish War in order to weaken the resistance of the besieged. According to Josephus, wood soon became scarce because of the many crosses that were erected:

"In their enormous bitterness, the soldiers nailed the prisoners in mockery in the most varied of body positions, and since there were so many of them, there was soon insufficient space for the crosses and crosses for the bodies."


The Roman method of execution of crucifixion was intended to intentionally kill a condemned person particularly slowly and cruelly. It could be days before his death occurred. The painful death of the crucified for as long as possible should humiliate the condemned and intimidate and deter the viewer. But there was no Roman rule on exactly how a crucifixion was to be carried out. The executioners' commands, often consisting of delegated soldiers, were granted a high degree of freedom. However, they had to closely guard the convicts until the sentence was completed and death occurred. Roman security guards themselves had to face the death penalty if they did not fulfill their mandate and made it possible for someone condemned to escape.

The complete Roman execution procedure in the imperial era consisted of four steps, which, however, were not always and everywhere carried out one after the other:

  • the complete undressing of the convict and his public scourging ;
  • the forced crossbar or furcat carrying to the place of execution;
  • shackling or nailing his body to a furca or the crossbar;
  • its attachment to a tree or on the prepared stake. The person and the crossbeam were lifted up and connected to the vertical pole.

The scourging of the undressed with a whip, the flagrum - often also studded with nails - tormented and humiliated the affected person additionally, weakened his organism through the strain and tension from the blows, pain and blood loss . This could already be fatal and shortened the duration of death on the cross, so that the number of blows was usually limited.

In the beginning, people in Rome often used a bar triangle (Latin furca ), actually an agricultural tool (fork). It was hung around the condemned man's neck and his arms tied to the furca's thighs . In this posture he was flogged and had to walk from the execution chair to the execution site. Then the furca was hung with him on a driven stake. Later it was replaced by a crossbeam, patibulum , which was attached to the upper end of the post, stipes in a notch or hung with a rope from the upper third of the post, or from a tree. This resulted in the two best-known cross shapes ( crux commissa in T-shape, crux immissa in † shape).

Arms and legs were tied or nailed to stakes and crossbars. That was when the real crucifixion began. The nailing was done in such a way that the blood loss was kept to a minimum. According to anatomical tests, the nails did not have to be driven through the palms of the hands, but through the carpal bones or the space between the ulna and the radius, and through the tarsal or heel bone in order to support the body weight. The arms may not have been attached with the palms facing forward ( supination ), but with the palms facing the crossbar ( pronation ) in order to achieve better fixation and less freedom of movement of the arms. For the feet, this is confirmed by a skeleton find in Jerusalem from the 1st century, in which the nail was still stuck in the heel bone. This is also the first physical evidence of a Roman crucifixion.

If the heels were nailed to the side, a cross piece called a sedile (seat) was sometimes added halfway up, on which the crucified could temporarily support his buttocks. This also relieved the crucified Christ's arms, which were attached to the crossbeam, in order to facilitate his breathing. Often the legs of the convicted person were also placed on a small crossbar ( suppedaneum ) so that he was not immediately pulled down by his own weight and passed out or lost too much blood with nailed limbs. Where this was customary, it was considered a favor to break the crucified Christ's feet or lower legs after a while in order to prevent him from supporting and thus shorten his agony. In addition, relatives sometimes bribed the executioners.

During the Crurifragium , the legs of the executed were broken. As a result, they hung even more heavily on the arm nails or ropes and died faster, but more painfully.

Hanging upside down was particularly cruel. However, relatives were able to buy the convicts free. Where it happened, the executed person passed out more quickly and died earlier.

Often the crucified one was given some liquid with a sponge over several days so that he did not die of thirst prematurely in order to prolong his torments: mostly water, sometimes with wine vinegar ( posca ), and with analgesic or numbing medicinal herbs.

Death from suffocation, circulatory collapse or heart failure usually occurred within three days in people who were not previously weakened. It was preceded by torments such as thirst, gangrene and cramps in the respiratory muscles.

After the death occurred, Roman soldiers checked whether the executed person was really dead by stabbing the stomach with a lance ( pilum ). Usually they left the body hanging on the cross until its parts fell off when completely rotten. According to their religious beliefs, the lack of contact with the earth prevented the dead man's shadow from reaching the underworld. In some regions, however, consideration was also given to religious regulations that ordered a timely burial.


Detail of the crucifixion panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald , 16th century

The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is at the center of the New Testament (NT) and the Christian message. It is considered a certain fact because it is also documented in early extra-biblical documents. However, their historical causes are controversial.

According to all the Gospels, Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers on the orders of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate ( Mk 15.15  EU ). According to a plaque on the top of the cross, his offense read: “(This is) the King of the Jews” ( Mk 15.26  EU ) or “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” ( John 19.19  EU ). This is an indication of a Messiah claim by Jesus, which Pilate had to punish under Roman law as a rebellion with the death penalty by crucifixion. According to Mk 15: 16-19  EU , he had him scourged and tortured beforehand.

According to Mark 14  EU , the Jewish Sanhedrin is said to have arrested Jesus, condemned him as a false prophet or blasphemer and handed him over to Pilate on charges of rebellious political claims to the Messiah. According to Roman sources, Pilate often had Jews crucified without trial and was therefore deposed as governor of Judea in 36. Those parts of the Passion texts that burden the Sanhedrin with the main guilt for the death of Jesus and exonerate Pilate are therefore often judged as later editing. Jesus' crucifixion with Jews condemned as “criminals”, probably Zealots ( Jn 19.31  EU ), is considered an indication that Pilate wanted to make an example on the Passover of that time and deter Jews from rebellion.

The synoptic Passion accounts hardly describe the execution process. According to Joh 19.25  EU , Jesus was hanged on a σταυρός ( staurós ). In the context of punishment, the term describes an upright, mostly sharpened wooden pole as a torture tool. In this sense it appears about 40 times in the NT, often together with the verb anastauroo in the sense of "crucify". The execution tool ξύλον - xýlon : "wood, stick, tree" - is called less often ( Acts 5.30  EU , Gal 3.13  EU ). All NT job with this word play on Deut 21,22f  EU to: ... he that is hanged [on a tree hanged] is a God Damn. Jews thus interpreted Jesus' crucifixion as exclusion from God's people and salvation.

It is possible that Jesus' arms were only tied, because nailing and external injuries are not mentioned ( Mk 15.23ff  EU ). Only Jn 20.25  EU mentions wounds from nails driven through the palms of the hands and a stab in Jesus' side, during which blood and water flowed out (19.34-35 EU ). These details are theological, not historical, statements because they relate to Bible verses ( Ps 34:21  EU ) and Easter texts. According to the unanimous account, Jesus died in a few hours, probably by suffocating on his own body weight due to the diminishing strength to pull himself up, or by dying of thirst ( Mk 15.36f  EU ).

Because the New Testament proclaims the crucifixion of Jesus as a substitute atoning death, this method of execution could not be continued in Christianity. 320 Constantine the Great forbade crucifixion in the Roman Empire. However, in the High Middle Ages , suspects and convicts as heretics, witches or other religious enemies were often hung on stakes and then publicly burned. Even the wheels and other cruel forms of execution, which increased in the early modern period, combined torture and killing each other.


The Koran mentions crucifixion in six places. In sura 7 : 124, sura 20 : 71 and sura 26 : 49, the pharaoh threatens his court magicians with severe punishments, including crucifying, for turning away from the many gods of Egypt and turning to the one creator god. Here the crucifixion appears as an unjust punishment for an unbeliever.

In Sura 5:33 it is intended as earthly punishment for Muslims or non-Muslims who actively fight or endanger Islam: “The wages of those who wage war against God and his messenger and (everywhere) in the land are eager for harm (? ), should consist in their being killed or crucified ... "Sura 5:34 excludes those," ... who repent before you have power over them. You must know that God is merciful and ready to forgive. "

Sura 4: 157 denies Jesus' crucifixion: "They (sc. The Jews) say: 'We killed Christ Jesus, the son of Mary and messenger of God'. They did not kill him or crucify him. Rather, (someone else) appeared similar to them (so that they mistook him for Jesus and killed him). "

The classical collections of hadiths report that in one case Muhammad ordered the crucifixion of murderers and camel thieves. According to other traditions, however, the perpetrators were blinded and Mohammed had their hands and feet cut off.

Islamic legal scholars have mostly related Sura 5:33 to Hadd offenses such as murder, robbery and theft . It remained controversial whether apostasy is one of the Hadd offenses and whether Sura 5:33 demands a certain punishment for each offense or whether the respective ruler or judge should choose this from the types of punishment offered here. The latter were represented by, for example, ʿAbdallāh ibn ʿAbbās , al-Hasan al-Basrī and Saʿīd ibn al-Musaiyab . Most legal scholars, for example asch-Schāfiʿī , on the other hand, set up a catalog of punishments which assigned certain penalties to certain offenses and then provided for crucifixion as a punishment for “killing and robbing”, that is, robbery or robbery resulting in death (manslaughter).

In the history of Islam, those condemned as apostates were crucified, for example under the third caliph Umar II. The mystic al-Hallādsch was condemned as a heretic in Baghdad and crucified in 922 .

In Iran , Article 190 of the 1991 criminal law provides for crucifixion as the second of four possible Hadd punishments for persons "who wage war against God and his messenger and are eager for harm (everywhere) in the country" ( Muhāraba ). Article 195 stipulates that the “crucifixion [...] is not a nailing that should lead to death from the outset, rather the condemned person is only to be tied up and tied in such a way that the crucified person does not necessarily die. He must not be left hanging for more than three days; if it dies beforehand, it can be removed; if he survives the three days, he may no longer be executed. "

The Yemen , Saudi Arabia , Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have condemned that already beheaded, hanged or stoned to death, then hang on a cross, to put them to a day on display. The human rights organization Amnesty International uses such cases as an opportunity to protest against the death penalty in these states. According to AI's 2006 and 2008 country reports, particularly cruel death sentences associated with crucifixion are now often commuted to life imprisonment.


In Japan , a variant of the crucifixion called Haritsuke ( Japanese ) emerged as a reaction to European-Christian missionary efforts in the 16th century . Christian missionaries and newly baptized Japanese were crucified there - for example the martyrs of Nagasaki in 1597 - and later mostly men and women from lower social classes who should be exemplified.

During the Japanese punishment on the cross, those sentenced to death who were bound to a cross were stabbed through the chest with two spears from both sides at the same time. This type of punishment continued into the 20th century.


Mid-August 2013 have five laid-off bus driver in Paraguay in protest let nailed to crosses lying against their dismissal by the bus company. On August 28, a woman was nailed to a cross in solidarity with the protesters. The bus drivers were also hired again because of the press reports.


Every year on Good Friday in the north of the Philippines, young men are crucified in memory of Christ's death on the cross. This ritual is regularly televised.

See also



  • M. Derbrunner Hall: Even Dogs have Erinyes. Sanctions in Athenian Practice and Thinking . In: L. Foxhall, ADE Lewis (eds.): Greek Law in Its Political Setting. Justifications not Justice . Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 1996, ISBN 0-19-814085-1 , pp. 73-89.


Jews and Christians

  • Otto Betz , Rainer Riesner : Cross / Crucifixion . In: Helmut Burkhardt (Hrsg.): Das große Bibellexikon . Volume 2: Hair - Otniel . R. Brockhaus Verlag, Wuppertal 1988, ISBN 3-417-24612-1 , pp. 840-845.
  • Martin Hengel : Mors turpissima crucis. The crucifixion in the ancient world and the “folly” of the “word of the cross” . In: Johannes Friedrich u. a. (Ed.): Justification. Festschrift Ernst Käsemann . Mohr u. a., Tübingen u. a. 1976, ISBN 3-16-138452-0 , pp. 125-184 (English extended version: Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Philadelphia 5/1989).
  • Gunnar Samuelsson: Crucifixion in Antiquity. An Inquiry into the Background and Significance of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-16-150694-9 .
  • Frederick T. Zugibe: Crucifixion of Jesus. A Forensic Inquiry . M. Evans & Co, New York 2005, ISBN 1-59077-070-6 .

Web links

Commons : Crucifixion  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Crucifixion  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinz Wolfgang Kuhn: The penalty of the cross, especially in Palestine from 63 BC. Chr. - 66 AD. In: Kreuz II. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Volume 19, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1990, pp. 713f.
  2. ^ Heinz Wolfgang Kuhn: The penalty of the cross, especially in Palestine from 63 BC. Chr. - 66 AD. In: Kreuz II. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Volume 19, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1990, p. 714.
  3. Diodor: Siculus , 17. Chapter 46.4: The king sold all women and children into slavery and crucified all men of military age. This was no less than 2000 .; Curtius: 2000 men were pinned / nailed to crosses ("crucibus affixi")
  4. ^ E. Brandenburger: stauros. II.1, In: Theological glossary of terms for the New Testament. 4th edition of the study edition. Brockhaus Verlag, Wuppertal 1986, p. 819.
  5. Gerd Theißen , Annette Merz : The Historical Jesus: A Textbook . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008, ISBN 978-3-525-52198-4 , pp. 134 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  6. Ute Eberle: Crucifix, again . In: Knowing the time . February 2007.
  7. Martin Karrer: Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, p. 78.
  8. According to Plutarch : vitae parallelae . Suetonius : De vita Caesarum ; see Stephen B. Aranha: Caesar's Political Beginnings. From the office of the Flamen Dialis to his war tribunate (72 BC) (1999/2000)
  9. According to Appian of Alexandria : Civil Wars 1.120; translated into English by John Carter.
  10. In: Pro C. Rabirio perduellionis reo. 5.16; quoted from Jürgen Moltmann: God crucified. 1976, p. 36.
  11. Bellum Judaicum 5. 449ff
  12. Jacqueline M. Regan, Kiarash Shahlaie, Joseph Watson: Crucifixion and median neuropathy. In: Brain and behavior. Volume 3, number 3, May 2013, pp. 243-248, doi : 10.1002 / brb3.132 , PMID 23785656 , PMC 3683284 (free full text).
    Joseph Zias, Eliezer Sekeles: The Crucified Man from Giv'at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal. Israel Exploration Journal Vol. 35, No. 1 (1985), pp. 22-27.
  13. Ulrich W. Sahm: Sensations of Biblical Archeology (with illustration)
  14. ^ NA Dahl: The crucified Messiah. In: H. Ristow, K. Matthiae: The historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ. Berlin 1960, pp. 149-169; Klaus Haacker : Who was to blame for Jesus' death? In: Theological Contributions. 25, 1994, pp. 23-36.
  15. Cross / Cross of Christ. In: Religion Past and Present. Volume 4, 4th edition. Tübingen 2001, p. 1745 f.
  16. cross. In: Theological glossary of terms for the New Testament. 7th edition, R. Brockhaus, Wuppertal 1986, ISBN 3-417-24849-3 , pp. 816f.
  17. ^ Heinz Wolfgang Kuhn: The penalty of the cross, especially in Palestine from 63 BC. Chr. -66 AD. In: Kreuz II. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie Volume 19 , p. 714.
  18. FE Vogel: SALB. In: The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition. Brill, suffering.
  19. Adel Theodor Khoury, Commentary on Sura 5:33, in: The Koran. Arabic-German. Translation and scientific commentary Volume 2. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 1991
  20. Otto Spies: About the crucifixion in Islam. In: Religion and Religions. Festschrift for Gustav Mensching on his 65th birthday, offered by friends and colleagues. Ludwig Röhrscheid, Bonn 1967, p. 145.
  21. International Society for Human Rights: The Reintroduction of Islamic Criminal Law in Iran. From: Silvia Tellenbach (translator): Penal laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-11-014884-6
  22. Amnesty International Germany: sample cases, search result "crucifixion"
  23. Amnesty International Germany: Country Brief Report of the Coordination Group Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, November 2006 ( Memento of the original from December 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  24. TV Documentary: The Crucifixions on YouTube (video no longer available)
  25. ^ Rheinische Post, August 8, 2013: Paraguay: Fired bus drivers protest with crucifixion