crucifixion

crucifixion, hanging on a cross, in ancient times a method of capital punishment. It was practiced widely in the Middle East but not by the Greeks. The Romans, who may have borrowed it from Carthage, reserved it for slaves and despised malefactors. They used it frequently, as in the civil wars and in putting down the Jewish opposition. Crucifixion was probably at first a modification of hanging on a tree or impaling on a pole, and from such a connection come the synonyms tree and rood (i.e., rod or pole) for Jesus' cross. The Romans used mostly the T cross, the Latin cross, or St. Andrew's cross. Most ancient sources describe the cross Jesus died on as a Latin cross, the type most common in the liturgy of the West. It was common practice among the Romans to scourge the prisoner and to require him to carry his cross to the place of crucifixion. The prisoner was either nailed or tied to the cross, and, to induce more rapid death, his legs were often broken. Crucifixion was abolished when the empire became Christian. See also Calvary and Good Thief.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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