7. Don’t let Christian symbolism render you immune to the horror of Crucifixion
The ubiquity of the cross and crucifix around the world has detracted somewhat from the reality of being crucified. The most famous victim of this form of execution was, of course, Jesus (if he existed – but let’s not get into that here), but scores of others also suffered the same fate. As in the New Testament account, the condemned would first be flogged before carrying the cross (or part of it) to the place of execution. There, their wrists would either be tied or nailed to the cross beam lying flat on the ground, which was then erected using ropes.
To ensure that the victim’s weight did not tear the wrists from the beam, a block of wood (suppledanem) would be provided on which to rest the feet, which were also tied or nailed in place. The condemned would be beaten from below (as in the New Testament), and sometimes honey was smeared on their face in order to attract insects. After days of being crucified, the victim would die from exhaustion, heart failure, pulmonary embolism, or asphyxiation. Crucifixion was saved for the worst criminals from the Ancient Greek period onwards, and provided a handy, visible dissuasion for would-be wrongdoers.
Crucifixion was outlawed in Rome by the Christian Emperor Constantine in 345 AD, but continued for centuries in other parts of the world. Even Christian France did not crucify its final criminal until 1127 when the assassin Bertholde was executed for killing Emperor Charles the Righteous. Although chiefly associated with Ancient Rome, there are also six references to crucifixion in the Koran, and it was employed in Japan and Burma in more recent centuries. Shockingly, several people have been crucified in Saudi Arabia in the current century, though robbers condemned to the punishment in 2013 had their sentence changed.