Crucifixion, the punishment of death upon the cross. It was in common use among the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and other nations of antiquity. In Judea it was only exceptionally practised before the occupation of the country by the Romans. In early times the idea of degradation appears not to have been connected with punishment by crucifixion. Among the Carthaginians it was a common military punishment. When Alexander the Great captured Tyre, he crucified 2,000 of its defenders. Darius crucified 3,000 persons after the siege of Babylon. According to Josephus, Alexander Jannaeus put to death on the cross 800 Jews, and Quintilius Varus 2,000. At the sack of Jerusalem under Titus, the Romans seized the fugitives and crucified them until there were no more crosses for the bodies. Among the Romans crucifixion was considered an infamous punishment. It was applied especially to slaves, and if ever to freemen, only to those convicted of the most heinous crimes. The cross was generally erected in some frequented place outside of the city.
The criminal was sometimes fastened to it on the ground and raised with it; sometimes he was lifted to it by means of a ladder after it had been planted; and sometimes he was bound or nailed to the cross bar alone, which, separate from the upright, was then elevated by ropes to its place. Ingenuity contrived many different forms of crucifixion and additional torment. In ordinary crucifixions the death was lingering, sometimes not happening in less than three days. In general the body was left to rot on the cross, sepulture being forbidden. - The details of the Saviour's crucifixion bave been the occasion of much learned dispute. It is agreed that he was nailed to the cross, but whether with three or with four nails is undecided. Nonnus and Gregory Nazianzen contend that only three were used, but the generally received belief is in favor of four. In the 17th century Cornelius Curtius, an Augustinian friar, wrote a large treatise in support of the latter theory. The painters are probably wrong in representing Christ as bearing the whole of his cross.
Generally only the transverse bar was carried, and fastened to the upright after the arrival at the place of execution. (See Cross).