Crucifixion: A Brief Historical Introduction (Part 4)
THE ROMAN USE OF CRUCIFIXION
Today, most people commonly link crucifixion with the Roman Empire, not knowing that in fact various other groups also administered this form of execution. Yet, there is no doubt that crucifixion has forever been linked to the Roman Empire. The Roman’s used this symbol, the cross, was a deterrent for those who would rebel against its power. The Jewish historian and Roman officer Josephus Flavius mentions a number of times in his writings the cruelty with which Rome used this tool.
One well-known example of the Roman use of crucifixion was during the siege of A.D. 70. In order to pacify the ensuing crowd of Jewish rebels, and of course to instill fear to surrender, Romans officers crucified up to 500 Jews a day! Josephus states:
[B]efore they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.
Likewise, shortly after Herod‘s death in 4 B.C. several small outbreaks of revolt rose up throughout Judea. Roman legate of Syria, Varus, overtook the mobs with 2 Roman legions. The result: About 200 deaths. Josephus comments,
Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand. (Antiquities 17: Book 1)
Though much more could be said, I will allow what I have written to suffice for the time being. Next we’ll take a look at the Jewish perspective on crucifixion.