Last update:


Arch Hellen Med, 34(3), May-June 2017, 403-410


Causes of death in crucifixion

Ν. Stavrakakis
"Venizelio-Pananion" General Hospital, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Crucifixion was a historical method of capital punishment which first appeared to be used by the Persians. Alexander the Great is reputed to have introduced to the Mediterranean countries the practice as a form of punishment. Crucifixion was reserved for slaves, revolutionaries and vile criminals. There were five different shapes of cross which could be applied. The simplest was a beam attached to the ground, the most popular was T-shaped, the Latin had the vertical beam longer than the horizontal, the Greek had all arms of equal length, and finally there was the X-shaped cross. Crucifixion as a punishment consisted of four parts: Whipping with the flagellum, pillory, crucifixion and in some cases crurifragium, an action which left the legs of the person broken or shattered. Whipping led to excess bleeding and extended heavy wounds to the back of the victim's body, while pillory caused psychological torture by humiliating the victim and holding him up to ridicule. Crucifixion took place outside the city walls, in two ways. The person executed could be attached to the cross by ropes or by nails. With the use of ropes, death ensued two or three days later and was the result of loss of fluids and cardiovascular disorder, dryness, lack of movement and the painful process of asphyxiation. With the use of nails death came rather sooner, within approximately six hours, and was the result of excess bleeding, cardiovascular disorders and asphyxia. In order to hasten the process of death the victim's bones were shattered, causing considerable blood loss and finally death. The crucified individual would be left on the cross to be eaten by predatory animals. The family could, however, claim the body for burial. In such a case, to make sure the victim was dead, a soldier would pierce the right side of his chest with a sword. This method of killing was practised during the Roman period, and was ended by Emperor Constantine in 337 ΑD.

Key words: Crucifixion, Fatal penalties, Jesus, Roman Emperor.

© Archives of Hellenic Medicine