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Old May 5th, 2011, 05:30 PM   #1

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Question NAILED to the Cross?


In all depictions or descriptions of crucifixion I have encountered in my life, the condemned was specifically depicted as being nailed to his cross. Christian artwork has stereotypically depicted three nails, two penetrating Christ's hands, the third impaling both of his feet. More recent, and allegedly more accurate depictions show the nails going through his wrists, and possibly each foot nailed seperately.

In another thread, Historum's own Recusant posed the question, as to whether the Romans invariably nailed the victim to the cross, or perhaps simply tied him/her to it and left them to die by suffocation. I have read that very few nails that would have been suitable for the purpose of crucifixion have been found by archaeologists, suggesting that Recusant's question may well have hit the proverbial nail on the head...

I've encountered a number of references to crucifixion in Roman history (all three of the Servile Wars, as well as the Jewish Revolts, and Boudica's insurrection, were concluded with mass bouts of crucifixion), but I have yet to find a reference to the condemned specifically being nailed to the cross. All four of the gospels say that Christ was nailed, but this is the only contemporary reference to the nailing that I can find.

Does anyone have any information about this?
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Old May 5th, 2011, 05:58 PM   #2

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Archaeological evidence:

Quote:
In 1968, archaeologists discovered at Giv'at ha-Mivtar in northeast Jerusalem the remains of one Jehohanan, who had been crucified in the 1st century. The remains included a heel bone with a nail driven through it from the side. The tip of the nail was bent, perhaps because of striking a knot in the upright beam, which prevented it being extracted from the foot.
(Source).

Josephus describes the use of crucifixion by Titus Flavius during the siege of Jerusalem:

Quote:
...so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before 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: yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him.

The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment.

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.
Bellum Judaicum, 11.1.
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Old May 5th, 2011, 05:59 PM   #3

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Not sure how I missed that passage in Josephus, thank you Sankari.
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Old May 5th, 2011, 05:59 PM   #4

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My pleasure.

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Old May 5th, 2011, 06:45 PM   #5

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After asking Salah ad-Din about this in his thread titled Quot servi tot hostes - Rome's Slave War, I did some research and found a web-page titled Crucifixion in Antiquity: The Evidence which told me maybe more than I wanted to know about this topic. It appears that scholars are not unanimous (when are they ever, though?) about which method of attaching the victim to the cross was most common. One of the main reasons I asked the question in Salah ad-Din's thread was because I was thinking of the six thousand slaves reported to have been crucified along the Via Appia in the aftermath of the Third Servile War. That's a lot of nails to waste on slaves!
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Old May 5th, 2011, 07:01 PM   #6

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The nails could be recovered. Their point was made. (pun by me)
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Old May 5th, 2011, 08:14 PM   #7

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The nails were likely removed often, and maybe it was a matter of severity. One crime might be treated with binding while a worse crime (the Pharisees would have considered Jesus guilty of the greatest crime; denying their power) might be treated with the painful nails
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Old May 5th, 2011, 08:39 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Recusant View Post
After asking Salah ad-Din about this in his thread titled Quot servi tot hostes - Rome's Slave War, I did some research and found a web-page titled Crucifixion in Antiquity: The Evidence which told me maybe more than I wanted to know about this topic. It appears that scholars are not unanimous (when are they ever, though?) about which method of attaching the victim to the cross was most common. One of the main reasons I asked the question in Salah ad-Din's thread was because I was thinking of the six thousand slaves reported to have been crucified along the Via Appia in the aftermath of the Third Servile War. That's a lot of nails to waste on slaves!
Must entirely agree with our Recusant's parsimonious conclusions.
Based on the evidence presented by him, IMHO nailing was the exception. not the rule.
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Old May 5th, 2011, 09:19 PM   #9

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^^ +1

Since iron was expensive, they would also have re-used the nails whenever possible.
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Old May 6th, 2011, 09:29 PM   #10
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Oh, they definitely used nails. The Mishna Shabbat 6.10, Pliny Elder Natural History 38.46 and Asclep.Jun. ap. Alex.Trall.1.15 all talked about therapeutic uses of crucifixion nails and their fragments (being cast iron, they tended to break) Nails may not have been expensive - at the very leat they were plentiful, judging by this find in Scotland.


In Xenophon's Ephesiaca 4.2 the author remarked that ropes were used exclusively for crucifixions in Egypt. Some scholars have usually interpreted that to mean that nails were used in all four limbs for every other crucifixion everywhere else. Doesn't mean they're right, though.

And as in the case of the 26 y.o. man who was crucfied about 21 CE (his right heelbone still had the nail in it!) they may have not always nailed the hands / wrists / forearms when they nailed the feet.
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