Roman execution poles resembled
our utility poles more than they resembled crosses!
The Greek verb σταυρόω goes quite aways back, into the Classical Greek period if not earlier, for I did not find any from the earlier Archaic period. I found quite a few instances, mostly with the help of the search tools at the Perseus Digital Library.
The basic definition of σταυρόω according to the LSJ and Middle Liddell Greek-English lexica is, "impalisade, fence with pales" and only later on does it mean "crucify" without regard to the method thereof. In New Testament times the meaning of the word becomes "to crucify the flesh (metaphorically), to destroy its power"
The term first appears in the Thucydides (460-395 BCE), The Peloponnesian War, where he describes actions done by opposing military forces. The first appearance is in the battle between Demosthenes' forces and the Lacedaemonians:
Δημοσθένης δὲ ὁρῶν τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους μέλλοντας προσβάλλειν ναυσί τε ἅμα καὶ πεζῷ παρεσκευάζετο καὶ αὐτός, καὶ τὰς τριήρεις αἳ περιῆσαν αὐτῷ ἀπὸ τῶν καταλειφθεισῶν ἀνασπάσας ὑπὸ τὸ τείχισμα προσεσταύρωσε, καὶ τοὺς ναύτας ἐξ αὐτῶν ὥπλισεν ἀσπίσι [τε] φαύλαις καὶ οἰσυΐναις ταῖς πολλαῖς: οὐ γὰρ ἦν ὅπλα ἐν χωρίῳ ἐρήμῳ πορίσασθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ταῦτα ἐκ λῃστρικῆς Μεσσηνίων τριακοντόρου καὶ κέλητος ἔλαβον, οἳ ἔτυχον παραγενόμενοι. ὁπλῖταί τε τῶν Μεσσηνίων τούτων ὡς τεσσαράκοντα ἐγένοντο, οἷς ἐχρῆτο μετὰ τῶν ἄλλων.Meanwhile Demosthenes, seeing the Lacedaemonians about to attack him by sea and land at once, himself was not idle.He drew up under the fortification and enclosed in a stockade the triremes remaining to him of those which had been left him, arming the sailors taken out of them with poor shields made most of them of osier, it being impossible to procure arms in such a desert place, and even these having been obtained from a thirty-oared Messenian privateer and a boat belonging to some Messenians who happened to have come to them.Among these Messenians were forty heavy infantry, whom he made use of with the rest.
In the first instance προσεσταύρωσε means "he enclosed in a stockade", i.e., "impalisaded or fenced alongside with pales"1.
The second appearance describes a battle between Syracusian locals and the Athenians at Syracuse where the Syracusians build up a wall and extend and fortify it with palisades and stockades, but understaffed it.
Here the word ἐσταυρώθη means "the stockades [were] advanced", literally, "it [the defence line] was impalisaded"2 where they had elected to build a palisade fence in lieu of or in addition to the stone wall line of defence.ἐπειδὴ δὲ τοῖς Συρακοσίοις ἀρκούντως ἐδόκει ἔχειν ὅσα τε ἐσταυρώθη καὶ ᾠκοδομήθη τοῦ ὑποτειχίσματος, καὶ οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι αὐτοὺς οὐκ ἦλθον κωλύσοντες, φοβούμενοι μὴ σφίσι δίχα γιγνομένοις ῥᾷον μάχωνται, καὶ ἅμα τὴν καθ᾽ αὑτοὺς περιτείχισιν ἐπειγόμενοι, οἱ μὲν Συρακόσιοι φυλὴν μίαν καταλιπόντες φύλακα τοῦ οἰκοδομήματος ἀνεχώρησαν ἐς τὴν πόλινThe Syracusans now thought the stockades and stonework of their counter-wall sufficiently far advanced; and as the Athenians, afraid of being divided and so fighting at a disadvantage, and intent upon their own wall, did not come out to interrupt them, they left one tribe to guard the new work and went back into the city.
Later on in this chapter the Athenians and the Syracusans engaged in battle and the Athenians were victorious, and they pulled down the stone wall and the palisade and stockades, using the stakes for their tropaeum.
The third instance is where the Athenians and Syracusans were engaged in a pitched battle for Megara Harbor. The Syracusans had driven piles into the seabed in front of their docks to permit their own ships to dock inside and keep the Athenians out. The Athenians who observed this went and pulled the pilings out, broke them or sent divers to cut them in two. The destruction of the pilings was far advanced enough to require the Syracusans to drive new piles under fire:
χαλεπωτάτη δ᾽ ἦν τῆς σταυρώσεως ἡ κρύφιος: ἦσαν γὰρ τῶν σταυρῶν οὓς οὐχ ὑπερέχοντας τῆς θαλάσσης κατέπηξαν, ὥστε δεινὸν ἦν προσπλεῦσαι, μὴ οὐ προϊδών τις ὥσπερ περὶ ἕρμα περιβάλῃ τὴν ναῦν. ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτους κολυμβηταὶ δυόμενοι ἐξέπριον μισθοῦ. ὅμως δ᾽ αὖθις οἱ Συρακόσιοι ἐσταύρωσαν.
But the most awkward part of the stockade was the part out of sight: some of the piles which had been driven in did not appear above water, so that it was dangerous to sail up, for fear of running the ships upon them, just as upon a reef, through not seeing them. However divers went down and sawed off even these for reward; although the Syracusans drove in others.
And here in this this instance the verb ἐσταύρωσαν means “drove in others”, i.e., drove piles in [again].3
So Thucydides shows an understanding in this context that σταυρόω that means “to impalisade, fence with pales," to mean, by extension, "to drive piles”.
Polybius (200 – 118 BCE).
The next to use the verb σταυρόω is Polybius where he describes the “crucifixion” of Spendius by the Carthaginian general Hannibal and the revenge upon Hannibal by Mathos’ mercenary army (238 BCE).
4 μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα προσαγαγόντες πρὸς τὰ τείχη τοὺς περὶ τὸν Σπένδιον αἰχμαλώτους ἐσταύρωσαν ἐπιφανῶς. 5 οἱ δὲ περὶ τὸν Μάθω κατανοήσαντες τὸν Ἀννίβαν ῥᾳθύμως καὶ κατατεθαρρηκότως ἀναστρεφόμενον, ἐπιθέμενοι τῷ χάρακι πολλοὺς μὲν τῶν Καρχηδονίων ἀπέκτειναν, πάντας δ᾽ ἐξέβαλον ἐκ τῆς στρατοπεδείας, ἐκυρίευσαν δὲ καὶ τῆς ἀποσκευῆς ἁπάσης, ἔλαβον δὲ καὶ τὸν στρατηγὸν Ἀννίβαν ζωγρίᾳ. 6 τοῦτον μὲν οὖν παραχρῆμα πρὸς τὸν τοῦ Σπενδίου σταυρὸν ἀγαγόντες καὶ τιμωρησάμενοι πικρῶς ἐκεῖνον μὲν καθεῖλον, τοῦτον δ᾽ ἀνέθεσαν ζῶντα καὶ περικατέσφαξαν τριάκοντα τῶν Καρχηδονίων τοὺς ἐπιφανεστάτους περὶ τὸ τοῦ Σπενδίου σῶμα,
4 When this was done they brought the captives taken from the army of Spendius and crucified them in the sight of the Enemy. 5 But observing that Hannibal was conducting his command with negligence and overconfidence, Mathos assaulted the ramparts, killed many of the Carthaginians, and drove the entire army from the camp. All the baggage fell into the hands of the enemy, and Hannibal himself was made a prisoner of war. 6 They at once took him to the pole on which Spendius was “crucified” and after their getting their revenge with tortures, took down the latter’s body and set up and left Hannibal, still living, to his pole, then slaughtered thirty Carthaginians of the highest rank round-about Spendius’ body.
Now here Polybius used in line 4 the conjugate ἐσταύρωσαν for “[they] crucified.”3 But the previous extant meanings from Thucydides are “impalisade,” “fence with pales,” and “pile drive.” Well “impalisade” is right out. So the other meanings are valid to conjure a picture of Spendius’ “crucifixion”. One is “fence with pales,” i.e., hang from a beam suspended by two poles and impale on a central pale, for example, which is necessary to affix the condemned on top of preplanted stakes of enormous heights (see Esther 7:9-10), or impaled across three pales as described by Plutarch in Artaxerxes 17.5. The other is “pile drive” which is obvious enough: the Vlad Tepes method of “crucifixion,” cited by Seneca ad being done “by others”. (Dialogue 6 (De Consolatione) 20.3). Now what about nailing to a cross? In that case, we would be assuming that the Romans were already nailing people to and/or impaling them on two-beamed crosses, simple or single-horned, about 145 to 120 BCE or so and that he was actualizing the punishment for himself by projecting it onto the Carthaginians. But as Gunnar Samuelsson has shown in his Crucifixion in Antiquity, we cannot assume the Romans were crucifying in that manner that early as commonly believed.
Line 6 clears matters up a bit. It describes a singular pole (σταυρός: “upright pale”) – or cross if you want to quibble, doesn’t necessarily mean it was a cross – on which Spendius was “crucified.” And getting their revenge for the murder of Spendius and his troops, Mathos and his troops set up and left (ἀνέθεσαν, which also means “lay upon”, “lay on as a burden”) Hannibal on the selfsame pole.
Plus, we have some modern scholarship to determine how the Carthaginians “crucified”. David W. Chapman in his book, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion (p. 16) cites the earlier Phoenician language scholars Zelig Harris (A Grammar of the Phoenician Language, AOS 8. New Haven, American Oriental Society, 1936), and J. Hoftijzer and K. Jungeling (Dictionary of the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, 2 vols. HdO I.21. Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1995) that Ṣ-L-B (TzLB) in the Punic language is very much uncertain but might mean "impale" or "impale on a razor," respectively. Even so, I consider it more probable than the scholars’ assumption that the Romans got crucifixion from the Carthaginians, who got it from the Phoenicians, who got it from the Greeks, who got it from the Persians, compounded by their failure to caution that it did not necessarily conform to our English conception of nailing to a simple two-beam cross, for the Greeks and Romans cite examples of the Carthaginian punishment that went back to 550 BCE!
Furthermore, there is an epigraph ca. 250 BCE in an Esquiline Tomb in Rome showing a man being lifted on a horizontal overhead beam, interpreted to be a preliminary stage of a Carthaginian “crucifixion:” likely in my opinion to be an impaling on a stake between two poles while suspended by the beam at the same time, or in short, “fenced with pales.” Why? The central pale is not depicted: it is possible the Carthaginians lifted the person in place first and then set the pale.
So, then, the sort of crucifixion likely suffered by Spendius was “pile-driving,” i.e., simple direct impalement or “fencing with pales” (Polybius simply failed to mention the lifting beam and the outside support poles on either side for the latter and focused on the central impaling pole of this kind of crucifixion). And Hannibal, likewise, was probably impaled. Otherwise, chances are he was tied to Spendius’ pole. Polybius does NOT mention nails!
Septuagint / Hellenic Jewish Apocrypha (2nd or 1st Cent. CE).
Next at the bat are the Jewish Greek-language scholars of the Second or First Century BCE and the Septuagint translation of the Tanakh, specifically, Esther and the additions thereto. I’ve already gone over this with a fine-toothed comb in Impalements in Antiquity (4E) so I’ll just go over it briefly.
9 εἶπεν δὲ βουγαθαν εἷς τῶν εὐνούχων πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ἰδοὺ καὶ ξύλον ἡτοίμασεν αμαν μαρδοχαίῳ τῷ λαλήσαντι περὶ τοῦ βασιλέως καὶ ὤρθωται ἐν τοῖς αμαν ξύλον πηχῶν πεντήκοντα εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεύς σταυρωθήτω ἐπ' αὐτοῦ 10 καὶ ἐκρεμάσθη αμαν ἐπὶ τοῦ ξύλου ὃ ἡτοίμασεν μαρδοχαίῳ καὶ τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐκόπασεν τοῦ θυμοῦ
9Then Harbonah, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “What is more, a stake is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai—the man whose words saved the king.” “Impale him on it!” the king ordered. 10 So they impaled Haman on the stake which he had put up for Mordecai, and the king’s fury abated.
The Septuagint / The Tanakh (1985 JPS), Esther 7:9-10
The New Living Translation also uses "impale" for the king's order to execute of Haman.
Here σταυρωθήτω is used for “impale him.”4 and due to the stake's insane height of 50 cubits (25 meters = 75 feet) carries forward the previous meanings “fence with pales, pile drive, impale.” Clear enough.
And we have the additions:
δια τό αυτόν τόν ταυτα εξεργασάμενον πρός ταις Σούσων πύλαις εσταυρωσθαι σύν τη πανοικα, τήν καταξίαν του τά πάντα επικρατουντος θεου διά τάχους άποδόντος αυτω κρίσιν.
For he was the worker of these things, is hanged at the gates of Susa with all his family: God, who ruleth all things, speedily rendering vengeance to him according to his desserts.
Apocrypha, Additions to Esther 16:18
And here, εσταυρωσθαι “is hanged,”5 and could just as easily mean “is fenced with pales, is pile driven,” i.e., impaled, although it’s getting late in history now, into the era that I believe the Priapus stake type of cross was invented by the Romans, likely by Sicilian Propraetor Caius Verres around 73 BCE, and coming onto the time when Rome first conquered Judaea in 63 BCE. So whoever was writing this possibly was thinking of the Roman style of crucifixion. Still, they probably knew the biblical Hebrew and spoke Aramaic so they may have been aware that the Persian method of penal bodily suspension was different from the Roman one.
Diodorus Siculus (90-21 BCE).
Next we have the Sicilian Historian Diodorus Siculus and no doubt he was aware of the Romans nailing people to tortuous wooden suspension devices. Yet our two examples of σταυρόω do not imply any kind of crucifixion in his Library of History.
ὁ μὲνγὰρ ἀρχιτέκτων τῆς καταλήψεως τοῦ ἱεροῦ Φιλόμηλος κατά τινα περίστασιν πολεμικὴν ἑαυτὸν κατεκρήμνισεν, ὁ δὲ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ Ὀνόμαρχος διαδεξάμενος τὴν τῶν ἀπονοηθέντων στρατηγίαν μετὰ τῶν συμπαραταξαμένων ἐν Θετταλίᾳ Φωκέων καὶ μισθοφόρων κατακοπεὶς ἐσταυρώθη.
In fact the man who first schemed of the seizure of the shrine, Philomelus, in a crisis of war hurled himself off a cliff, while his brother Onomarchus, after taking over the command of his people, now became desperate and so was cut to pieces in a battle at Thessaly, along with the Phocians and mercenaries of his command, and “crucified.”
Again, ἐσταυρώθη 2 comes from σταυρόω, “fence with pales, pile drive, impale” to which we might be able to add “crucify.” Then again, maybe not.
Now if there is one thing that has to be obvious, is that it’s not possible to crucify a dismembered corpse by nailing it to a cross! Now κατακοπείς is the verb-participle singular aorist passive masculine nominative of κατακόπτω “cut in pieces, cut down, destroy, kill, massacre, butcher” with an apparent strong emphasis on chopping up into pieces. Even in modern Greek it means “hack, chop.” So if he was cut down without being chopped into pieces, we could have a nailing up version of crucifixion here. Except the event happened in 352 BCE in Thessaly. So probably, then, Onomarchus was impaled.
Next we have the Romans attempting to block Lilybaeum (now Marsala) harbor at the end of Sicily ca. 241 BCE and how Diodorus uses the verb here may inform us how he pictured to himself the post-mortem suspension of Onomarchus’ body.
Οί δε Ρωμαιοι θεασάμενοι τήν εισβολήν της δυνάμεως, λίθοις καί χώμασιν εκ δευτέρου τό στόμιον του λιμένος έχωσαν καί ξύλοις μεγίστοις καί άγκύραις τά βάθη εσταυρωσαν.
The Romans, who had observed the force effecting an entrance, again blocked the mouth of the harbor with stones and jetties, and blocked the channels with huge timbers and anchors, but then a strong wind arose, the sea grew turbulent and broke everything up.
The conjugate εσταυρωσαν 3 here clearly means “blocked’ in the sense of “fenced in with pales,” or “impalisading”. The Romans may have driven the piles down into the sea floor but given that they also used anchors and a wind-tossed sea broke everything up, indicates to me the timbers were weighted down by the anchors instead.
Strabo (65 BCE – 24 CE).
The next to utilize the word σταυρόω is Strabo. Strabo is probably familiar with Roman crucifixion because in Geography 3.4.18 he mentions Romans crucifying or impaling enemy fighters over in Cantabria (modern-day northern Spain by the coast) he mentions “that when some of the captive Cantabrians had been nailed/impaled on their crosses/stakes they precedes to sing their paen of Victory. (ὅτι ἁλόντες τινὲς ἀναπεπηγότες ἐπὶ τῶν σταυρῶν ἐπαιάνιζον)”. Here ἀναπεπηγότες is a conjugate of ἀναπήγνυμι, “transfix, fix on a spit, impale, crucify” which includes the preverb ἀνα: “up.” Plutarch employs this verb in Artaxerxes 17.5 describing the eunuch who was flayed alive impaled across three pales. So what the Romans did here was either regular impalement or nailing men to crosses each equipped with a sedile, and impaling each man on it.
But it is in Geography 14.1.39 where he uses σταυρόω for the execution of the grammarian Daphitas, which occurred in Homer’s time (8th Century BCE):
κεῖται δ᾽ ἐν πεδίῳ πρὸς ὄρει καλουμένῳ Θώρακι ἡ πόλις, ἐφ᾽ ᾧ σταυρωθῆναί φασι Δαφίταν τὸν γραμματικὸν λοιδορήσαντα τοὺς βασιλέας διὰ διστίχου “ πορφύρεοι μώλωπες, ἀπορρινήματα γάζης Λυσιμάχου, Λυδῶν ἄρχετε καὶ Φρυγίης.”
And the city [Lithaeus] lies in the plain [of the western Libyans] near the mountain called Thorax, on which Daphitas the grammarian is said to have been crucified, because he reviled the kings in a distich: “Purpled with stripes, mere filings of the treasure of Lysimachus, ye rule the Lydians and Phrygia.”
It seems to me the sort of crucifixion here indicated by σταυρωθῆναί 6 would be simple direct impalement, “pile driving”, due to the antiquity of the event and the fact that Strabo uses a different verb for what the Romans did. But other ancient writers say he was thrown off of a rock called Iππος (horse) for criticizing Homer or insulting Attalus the King. (Cicero De fato 5; Valerius Maximus Memorabilium 1.8, ext. 8). Martin Hengel postulates that this is because there could have been a confusion between κρημνέναι (“to hang, crucify”) and κρημνίζειν (“to cast down”). (Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, p. 75) So who knows?
Asklepiades Pharmakologistas (Late 1st - Early 2nd Cent. CE).
Then we have from sometime in the first century Asklepiades Pharmakologistas (First Century CE) quoted in by Alexander Medicus (Sixth Century CE):
ὡς Ἀσκληπιάδης ὁ φαρμακευτής. ἧλον ἐσταυρωμένον τῷ βραχίονι τοῦ πάσχοντος περίαπτε καὶ ἀπαλλάξεις
“Just like Asklepiades the pharmacologist ordains, fasten a nail from a crucifixion on the arm of the sick person and you will deliver him [of his ailment]”
Asklepiades Pharmakologistas, Jun. ap. Alexander Medicus 1.15
Now this may seem obvious, but what is the text actually saying? The Greek, ἧλον ἐσταυρωμένον transliterates as “a nail, having been ‘pile-driven’ (i.e., driven into a pole)”.7 But what kind of pole? The text has no mention or not whether it had a transverse piece or not or what it was used for, for the ancient author assumes everybody knows what he was talking about. If we cross reference Pliny Elder (21-79 CE), Natural History 28.11,46 (fragmentum clavi a cruce aut spartum e cruce “a fragment of a nail from a pole / gallows or a rope from a pole / gallows”) and the Mishnah, Shabbat 6.10 (ובמסמר מן הצלוב משום רפואה “a nail from [the gallows of] an impaled person as a cure [for various conditions]”). So what Asklepiades is referring to here quite clearly is that the staked nail, i.e., the nail that was driven into the pole or gallows of an impaled person. So the pole Asklepiades mentioned was an execution pole of an unknown structure. It could have been a simple pole, a sharpened pole with the criminal sitting on top, a utility pole, a pole with decussate crossed planks on it, etc. Extant graffiti illustrations from the time show a utility pole with a sharpened upright peg at mid-height, and a fresco that is apparently original to the Roman Coliseum constructed 80 CE shows three people hanging on blackened crosses, two of them without their arms stretched tight.
Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE).
Josephus leaves us three examples in his Antiquities, written in 93 CE. The first is the legendary post-mortem suspension of the Chief Baker by the Egyptian Pharoah as predicted by the Israelite (Jewish) Patriarch Joseph, the second is a mass execution by the Romans to put down a revolt, the third is a fake suspension during a play.
καὶ προσελθὼν ἐμήνυσεν αὐτῷ τὸν Ἰώσηπον τήν τε ὄψιν, ἣν αὐτὸς εἶδεν ἐν τῇ εἱρκτῇ, καὶ τὸ ἀποβὰν ἐκείνου φράσαντος, ὅτι τε σταυρωθείη κατὰ τὴν αὐτὴν ἡμέραν ὁ ἐπὶ τῶν σιτοποιῶνκἀκείνῳ τοῦτο συμβαίη κατὰ ἐξήγησιν ὀνείρατος Ἰωσήπου προειπόντος.
“[S]o he came and mentioned Joseph to him, as also the vision he had seen in prison, and how the event proved as he had said, also that the chief baker was crucified on the very same day, and that this also happened to him according to the interpretation of Joseph.”
Now here Josephus, using σταυρωθείη, 8 could have been actualizing for himself the normative Roman punishment of the cross / Priapus stake onto the suspension of the Chief Baker, or he could be describing a “pile-driving” suspension instead: impalement, which is shown in the Egyptian epigraphy.
Josephus’ second example describes the aftermath of the revolt under Simon, a slave of the recently deceased Herod the Great, who rose up, recruited men from Sepphoris in Galilee, crowned himself and burnt Herod’s palace. An ally Athronges ambushed a Roman century of soldiers and Judaea was filled with highwaymen. The Romans send Varus to quell the troubles. Varrus meets with leaders in Jerusalem and decamps to sea-side. Whereupon:
Οὔαρος δὲ κατὰ τὴν χώραν πέμψας τοῦ στρατοῦ μέρος ἐπεζήτει τοὺς αἰτίους τῆς ἀποστάσεως. καὶ σημαινομένων τοὺς μὲν ἐκόλασεν ὡς αἰτιωτάτους, εἰσὶ δ᾽ οὓς καὶ ἀφῆκεν: ἐγίνοντο δὲ οἱ διὰ ταύτην τὴν αἰτίαν σταυρωθέντες δισχίλιοι.
“Upon this, Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were the most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were about two thousand.
Here, Josephus uses σταυρωθέντες “having been crucified or impaled,” 9 which William Whiston translated “that were crucified”. Fair enough. But the valid meanings of the root verb σταυρόω, for penal human bodily suspension, would be “fence with pales” (suspend between two poles and impale on top of a sharpened third), “drive piles” (impale) and “crucify” (nail or tie to a cross and (at least sometimes) impale someone on it). Considering that this was a mass suspension, I would suggest it was done either by direct impalement or by the normative Roman crucifixion. A fencing with pales crucifixion would be too much of a hassle in my opinion, even if Josephus’ numbers are exaggerated.
Josephus’ last example is the fake crucifixion / impalement of an actor in a play called Cinyras. (Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial and Tertullian all called the work Laureolus. Or maybe they were two different plays.) This occurred the day Gaius “Caligula” Caesar was assassinated and as Caligula was watching the play, he saw two omens of his soon impending death in it:
ἔνθα δὲ καὶ σημεῖα μανθάνει δύο γενέσθαι: καὶ γὰρ μῖμος εἰσάγεται, καθ᾽ ὃν σταυροῦται ληφθεὶς ἡγεμών, ὅ τε ὀρχηστὴς δρᾶμα εἰσάγει Κινύραν, ἐν ᾧ αὐτός τε ἐκτείνετο καὶ ἡ θυγάτηρ Μύρρα, αἷμά τε ἦν τεχνητὸν πολὺ καὶ περὶ τὸν σταυρωθέντα ἐκκεχυμένον καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κινύραν.
[A]nd here he perceived two prodigies that happened there; for an actor was introduced, by whom a leader of robbers was crucified, and the pantomime brought in a play called Cinyras, wherein he himself was to be slain, as well as his daughter, Myrrha, and wherein a great deal of fictitious blood was shed, both about him that was crucified, and also about Cinyras.
We have two conjugates of σταυρόω here: σταυροῦνται “was crucified / impaled” 10 and σταυρωθέντα “having been crucified / impaled.” 11 It is not possible to determine by the lack of language which one it was exactly. With a great deal of fake blood around the one crucifed, the word for “shed” is ἐκκεχυμένον: “having been poured out.” So it is implied that the blood is on the floor around the pole. On the one hand, it could be a fake impalement. But on the other hand and much more likely given it’s in the theatre, it could be a fake crucifixion with a sedile either installed or implied, to explain the vast amount of “blood” on the stage floor around the post.
Given that Josephus uses ἀνασταυρόω synonymously with σταυρόω (and in the case of the post-mortem hanging of Saul and his son Johnathan (Antiquities 6.374-375 = 6.14.8), where Josephus clearly shows that he used ἀνασταυρόω there to mean “impale”) and in Life 420-421 = 75 which he wrote six years later he talks about three friends who were ἀνασταυρόω’ed and has them retrieved from their crucifixion poles and given medical attention after obtaining authorization from Titus and one survives -- if they were simply, directly impaled not one of the three would have survived --, Josephus has the first one or two mentions of σταυρόω where the verb is clearly referring to Roman crucifixion.
Plutarch (45-120 CE).
This anecdote in Plutarch’s Parallela Minora is about a person, a certain Lucius Tiberis, who places his son and his assets in the custodial responsibility of his son-in-law at a time Hannibal was ravaging Campagnia (217-211 BCE or so). Hoping to gain the father’s assets, the son-in-law kills the son and then the father bids his son-in-law to view some treasures he’d like to show him. And guess what happens to the son-in-law:
ἐλθόντα δ᾽ ἐτύφλωσε καὶ ἐσταύρωσεν.
[B]ut when he came, Tiberis put out his eyes and nailed him to a cross.
What is translated as “nail to a cross” is in the Greek, ἐσταύρωσεν: “he σταυρόω’ed him,” i.e., “fenced him with pales, pile-drove him, impaled him, crucified him.”12 Nothing about nailing to a cross or even a pole, which Plutarch renders elsewhere as “ἀλλ᾽ εἶς σταυρὸν καθηλώσεις ἢ σκόλοπι πήξεις; (But thou wilt, perhaps, fasten one to the cross [or pole], or impale him on a stake.) καὶ τί Θεοδώρῳ μέλει, πότερον ὑπὲρ γῆς ἢὑπὸ γῆς σήπεται; (Now what cares Theodorus, whether it is above or under ground that he putrefies ?)” Moralia (An visitositas ad infelicitatem sufficia) 499D, where “thou wilt fasten” is καθηλώσεις.13 So ἐσταύρωσεν probably means something else here. Given that the suspension was done privately and about the beginning of the time most scholars believe the Romans adopted the practice of crucifixion from the Carthaginians (although back then it probably was not on a cross), it is very possible Plutarch was referring to a simple impalement.
Epictetus (55-135 CE).
Epictetus’ Discourses were written down in one set of volumes by Arrian in 108 CE. Here, the verb σταυρόωis used in two passages, and one passage makes it obvious he was referring to Roman crucifixion in both places.
καὶ σὺ εἰ τοιοῦτον ἐπίλογον παρασκευάζῃ, τί ἀναβαίνεις, τί ὑπακούεις; εἰ γὰρ σταυρωθῆναι 6 θέλεις, ἔκδεξαι καὶ ἥξει ὁ σταυρός
And you, if you are preparing for such a peroration, why do you wait, why do you wait the order to submit to trial? For if you wish to be crucified, 6 wait, and the cross will come.
ἵν᾽ ἐν τῷ βαλανείῳ ἐκδυσάμενος καὶ ἐκτείνας σεαυτὸν ὡς οἱ ἐσταυρωμένοι τρίβῃ ἔνθεν καὶ ἔνθεν, εἶθ᾽ ὁ ἀλείπτης ἐπιστὰς λέγῃ ‘μετάβηθι, δὸς πλευρόν, κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ λάβε, παράθες τὸν ὦμον,’
…that when you have undressed yourself in the bathing-room, and stretched yourself out like a man crucified, you may be rubbed here and there; and the attendant may stand by, and say, “Come this way; give your side; take hold of head; turn your shoulder.”
The clue in the second passage is that those being massaged stretched themselves out (ἐκτείνας σεαυτὸν) like those crucified (ὡς οἱ ἐσταυρωμένοι).14 We are not talking about the cross of Christian piety or Hollywood art here, nor are we talking about the Jehovah’s Winesses’ retarded “torture stake” but rather the Roman execution utility pole as shown in the epigraphy (not counting the Alexamenos which according to scholarly consensus, was not yet scratched into existence at this time – 108 CE).
Artemidorus (138-160 CE).
Artemidorus of Ephesus, a dream interpreter who flourished in the Seccond Century CE, has a few passages bearing the verb σταυρόω and all are references to Roman crucifixion.
κακοῦργος δέ ὤν σταυρωθήσεται 15 διά τό ὑψος καί τῶν χειρῶν ἔκτασιν
But then the criminal is crucified 15 amidst the height and a stretching out of the hands.
Σταυροῦσθαι 16 πᾶσι μέν τοῖς ναυτιλλομένοις ἀγατόν καί γάρ ἐκ ξύλων καί ἥλων γέγονεν ὁ σταυρός ὡς καί τό πλοῖον, καί ή κατάρτιος αὐτοῦ ὁμοία ἐστί σταυρῷ
Indeed for all those going to sea to be crucified 16 is auspicious, for even the cross [or pole] is made of timbers and nails like a boat, whose mast is similar to a cross [or pole].
γυμνοί γάρ σταυροῦνται 10 καί τάς σάρκας ἀπολλύουσιν οἱ σταυρωθέντες 9
For those crucified 9 are crucified 10 naked and they lose their flesh to carrion birds.
There’s just one caveat here; Artemidorus is using the Greek word for “mast,” κατάρτιος, as inclusive of the hanging yardarm; because properly speaking, a mast is the spar that supports the yardarm, and of course the plain upright σταυρός by itself is a pole or stake, and it too supports the crossarm. But as I have shown before, sailors also venerated Hermes / Priapus as the patron God of Merchant Sailing and considered the fascinus, a representation of a phallus, to be apotropaic; and they would bring them aboard their ships, and presumably install them on the very masts themselves, for which some fascina were undoubtedly shaped. And in which case one can thus easily guess what a cross, or σταυρός was at this time: a Priapus stake.
Appian 95-165 CE.
Our next ancient writer, Appian, described events in the Punic Wars, the Mithridatic wars, and the Civil Wars. Most of the time he uses conjugates of the verb κρεμάννυμι, “hang” to describe hangings, crucifixions and/or impalements, including Spartacus’ suspension of a captive Roman soldier (Civil Wars 1.119 = 1.14.119) and Crassus’ suspension of 6,000 prisoners of war along the Appian Way (Civil Wars 1.120 = 1.14.120). But sometimes he does use the verb σταυρόω and he doesn’t always use it to mean, “crucify.”
The first anecdote describes the peace conference in 242 BCE, where the people and soldiers on the winning side get to air their grievances against the Carthaginians, who had just lost the First Punic War:
Λίβυες,… ἐχαλέπαινόν τε αὐτοῖς τῆς ἀναιρέσεως τῶν τρισχιλίων, οὓς ἐσταυρώκεσαν τῆς ἐς Ῥωμαίους μεταβολῆς οὕνεκα.
The African Soldiers… were angry also on account of killing of 3,000 of their own number whom the Carthaginians had crucified 17 for deserting to the Romans.
This is describing the execution of African (lit.: Libyan) Soldiers by crucifixion. Since by this time the verb σταυρόω had obviously expanded its meaning to include “crucify” according to how the Romans did it, Appian could be actualizing the event for himself by projecting the Roman methods back to an earlier time and onto an enemy people Rome fought three wars with.
This second narration describes events at the final fall of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BCE. Scipio Amellianus is fighting the Carthaginians and has routed them from their camp next to their city and proceeds to fortify the isthmus next to it:
δύο τε ἐπικαρσίας αὐταῖς ἑτέρας περιθεὶς ὡς γενέσθαι τὸ ὅλον ὄρυγμα τετράγωνον, ἐσταύρωσε πάντα ξύλοις ὀξέσιν. καὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς σταυροῖς τὰς μὲν ἄλλας τάφρους ἐχαράκωσε, τῇ δ᾽ ἐς τὴν Καρχηδόνα ὁρώσῃ καὶ τεῖχος παρῳκοδόμησεν ἐπὶ τοὺς πέντε καὶ εἴκοσι σταδίους, ὕψος μὲν δυώδεκα ποδῶν χωρὶς ἐπάλξεών τε καὶ πύργων, οἳ ἐκ διαστήματος ἐπέκειντο τῷ τείχει, τὸ δὲ βάθος ἐφ᾽ ἥμισυ μάλιστα τοῦ ὕψους.
He then made two others running transversely, giving the interior space the form of a quadrangle, and threw around the whole a palisade of chevaux-de-frise. In addition to the palisade he fortified the ditches also, and along the one looking toward Carthage he built a wall twenty-five stades in length and twelve feet high, without counting the parapets and towers which surmounted the wall at intervals. The width of the wall was about one-half of its height.
In this example, Appian clearly uses σταυρόω in the Classic sense: “to impalisaded, to fence with pales.”18
The third example involves a storming of the besieged city of Xanthus in Lycia, 42 BCE.
καὶ πολλοὶ μὲν ἐξέπιπτον, εἰσὶ δ᾽ οἳ τὸ τεῖχος ὑπερβάντες καὶ πυλίδα ἀνέῳξαν, ἣ προεσταύρωτο πυκνοτάτοις σταυροῖς, καὶ τοὺς εὐτολμοτάτους αἰωρουμένους ὑπὲρ τὰ σταυρώματα ἐσεδέχοντο.
Many fell off, but some scaled the wall and opened a small gate, defended with a very dense palisade, and admitted the most daring of assailants, who swung themselves over the palings.
Now here, “defended with a very dense palisade” (προεσταύρωτο πυκνοτάτοις σταυροῖς) transliterates as “impalisaded or fenced in front with closely set pales.” Here προεσταύρωτο 19 is derived from προσταυρόω “draw a stockade in front of,” i.e., “impalisade in front of” or “fence with pales in front of.” Again, σταυρόω is being used here in the Classic sense, with προ, “in front of” as a preverb.
The next example of the use of σταυρόω describes an even in 41 BCE where Octavian (Caesar Augustus) proceeds to prevent two enemy legions from joining forces and makes betterments to his own fortifications and defenses:
καὶ ὁ Καῖσαρ αὐτῶν ἑκάστῳ στρατὸν ἐπιστήσας, ἵνα μὴ πρὸς ἀλλήλους συνέλθοιεν, ἐς τὴν Περυσίαν ἐπανῆλθε καὶ μετὰ σπουδῆς τὰς τάφρους προσεσταύρου καὶ ἐδιπλασίαζε τὸ βάθος καὶ πλάτος ὡς τριάκοντα πόδας ἀμφότερα εἶναι, τό τε περιτείχισμα ὕψου καὶ πύργους ἐπ᾽ αὐτοῦ ξυλίνους δι᾽ ἑξήκοντα ποδῶν ἵστη χιλίους καὶ πεντακοσίους
Octavian stationed a force in front of each, to prevent them from forming a junction, and returned to Perusia, where he speedily strengthened his investment of the place and doubled the depth and width of his ditch to the dimensions of thirty feet each way. He increased the height of the wall and built 1500 towers of wood on it, sixty feet apart.
What is translated as “he strengthened his investment of the place” is actually in the Greek τὰς τάφρους προσεσταύρου (the ditches, on the sides of, he fenced with pales).20 So again we have a use of the Greek σταυρόω in the Classic sense, with προσ “on the side of” as a preverb.
Appian’s last anecdote describes an even occurring in 39 BCE, where Sextus Pompeius bribed a tribune and a centurion of Murcus, and had them kill Murcus. He says slaves did it, and then:
ἔς τε πίστιν τῆς ὑποκρίσεως τοὺς θεράποντας ἐσταύρου.21
To give credibility to this falsehood he crucified 21 the slaves.
Here Appian uses σταυρόω to describe a multiple-crucifixion, Roman style. But it is not mentioned how the crucifixion gear was constructed. So on the outside chance it could have been a simple cross, but more likely a Priapus stake where the victim is “pile-driven” onto its sedile, a simple impaling stake, or a pale / pole fence with the pale in the middle for impaling the victim. Appian could be projecting what was going on in his time back to the Roman Civil War of 44-27 BCE to actualize the unwarranted execution of the slaves for himself, but then again he could be remembering what actually went on. It’s for him to know and for us to never find out, thanks in no small part to the Christians who totally changed how the crux / σταυρός of Jesus’ execution looked like.
Lucian (117-180 CE).
Lucian crafted a play that actualized the hanging or crucifiction of the Greek god Prometheus on a cliff in the Caucasus with fetters and chains for his Greek audience. He uses every verb the Greeks used for Roman crucifixion including some unexpected ones. In the opening scene, Hermes is looking around for some convenient crags to which to nail Prometheus. Hephaestus answers:
περισκοπῶμεν, ὦ Ἑρμῆ: οὔτε γὰρ ταπεινὸν καὶ πρόσγειον ἐσταυρῶσθαι χρή, ὡς μὴ ἐπαμύνοιεν αὐτῷ τὰ πλάσματα αὐτοῦ οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὔτε μὴν κατὰ τὸ ἄκρον, — ἀφανὴς γὰρ ἂν εἴη τοῖς κάτω — ἀλλ᾽ εἰ δοκεῖ κατὰ μέσον ἐνταῦθά που ὑπὲρ τῆς φάραγγος ἀνεσταυρώσθω ἐκπετασθεὶς τὼ χεῖρε ἀπὸ τουτουὶ τοῦ κρημνοῦ πρὸς τὸν ἐναντίον.
“Look around, O Hermes: for it will not do to fix him too low down, or these men of his might come to their maker’s assistance; nor at the top, where he would be invisible from the Earth. What do you say to a middle course? Let him hang over the precipice, with his arms stretched out from crag to crag.”
Here Lucian used ἐσταυρῶσθαι "to crucify him" 22 for “to fix him,” i.e., “make him fast, secure, stable” and ἀνεσταυρώσθω "he must be crucified" 23 for “let him hang,” evoking appropriate definitions of σταυρόω (pile drive, impale, immobilize on a Roman stake or gallows) and ἀνασταυρόω (impale, suspend on a pole).
Several lines Lucian later has Prometheus bring to the audience’s minds the example in Horace Satires 1.3.82 of what a master ought not to do:
ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἐκείνων οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις τῷ μαγείρῳ σταυροῦ ἂν τιμήσαιτο, εἰ τὰ κρέα ἕψων καθεὶς τὸν δάκτυλον τοῦ ζωμοῦ τι περιελιχμήσατο ἢ ὀπτωμένων ἀποσπάσας τι κατεβρόχθισεν, ἀλλὰ συγγνώμην ἀπονέμουσιν αὐτοῖς: εἰ δὲ καὶ πάνυ ὀργισθεῖεν, ἢ κονδύλους ἐνέτριψαν ἢ κατὰ κόρρης ἐπάταξαν, ἀνεσκολοπίσθη δὲ οὐδεὶς παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς τῶν τηλικούτων ἕνεκα.
“A mortal would never want his cook crucified for dipping a finger into a stew-pan, or filching a mouthful from the roast, they overlook these things. At the worst their resentment is satisfied with a box on the ears or a rap on the head. I find no precedent among them for crucifixion in such cases.”
And here Lucian uses σταυροῦ for “crucified”24 and ἀνεσκολοπίσθη "he should be impaled" 25 for “for crucifixion”. The verbs used here would of course evoke the earlier definition of σταυρόω (fence with pales, pile drive, impale) and ἀνασκολοπίζω (fix on a [pointed] pole [as in heads on pikes], impale). In fact this last verb has *kept* its Classic meaning throughout the Koine era and still means “impale” in the Modern Greek!
So what Lucian is describing here in Prometheus on Caucasus is the sort of crucifixion that involves: (1) pile drive, (2) impale, (3) immobilize on a stake or gallows, (4) suspend on a pole, (5) fix on a [pointed] pole, and (6) stretch the arms out. Of course, Prometheus is a mythological fiction and the god is supposed to be chained to a rock instead, so how Prometheus is actually affected by these actions is strictly in the ear of the listener and the eye of the beholder. But translate it into reality, and you have the cruel and unusual and utterly shameful sort of Roman crucifixion that appears to have become the norm across the Empire by the turn of the Second Century CE at the latest.
And how do we know it’s the norm? Because Lucian cites this type of crucifixion in The Court of the twelve Vowels, where Sigma is indicting Tau of mangling the Greek language, and allowing himself to be mimicked by tyrants so they can crucify and impale people on a wodden gallows of his shape!
οὕτω μὲν οὖν ὅσον ἐς φωνὴν ἀνθρώπους ἀδικεῖ: ἔργῳ,δὲ πῶς; κλάουσιν ἄνθρωποι καὶ τὴν αὑτῶν τύχην ὀδύρονται καὶ Κάδμῳ καταρῶνται πολλάκις, ὅτι τὸ Ταῦ ἐς τὸ τῶν στοιχείων γένος παρήγαγε: τῷ γάρ τούτου σώματί φασι τοὺς τυράννους ἀκολουθήσαντας καὶ μιμησαμένους αὐτοῦ τὸ πλάσμα ἔπειτα σχήματι τοιούτῳ ξύλα τεκτήναντας ἀνθρώπους ἀνασκολοπίζειν 26 ἐπ᾽ αὐτά: ἀπὸ δὲ τούτου καὶ τῷ τεχνήματι τῷ πονηρῷ τὴν πονηρὰν ἐπωνυμίαν συνελθεῖν. τούτων οὖν ἁπάντων ἕνεκα πόσων θανάτων τὸ Ταῦ ἄξιον εἶναι νομίζετε; ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ οἶμαι δικαίως τοῦτο μόνον ἐς τὴν τοῦ Ταῦ τιμωρίαν ὑπολείπεσθαι, τὸ τῷ σχήματι τῷ αὑτοῦ τὴν δίκην ὑποσχεῖν.
Such are his verbal offences against man; his offences in deed remain. Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up the erections on which men are
crucified impaled.26 Σταυρός the vile engine 27 is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now,
with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths?
For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape--that
shape which he gave to the gibbet named σταυρός after him by men.
So here we have it. The verb σταυρόω has gone through an evolution from “impalisade, fence with pales, pile drive” to “impale, hang from a gallows and impale” to “crucify: suspend on pole with a crossarm at the top and an outrigged sedile (mini-impalement stake or a short horizontal beam fitted with an upright peg). Well, normatively. Next I will present the “biblical evidence” for the gear of Jesus’ execution and will draw some conclusions Christians are NOT going to like. Well they changed the architecture of the crux / σταυρός, and have been going by a sanitized version for centuries, so they should expect this.
Note the resemblance to a utility pole?
And a man standing "erect" in an upright stance?
1. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, προσεσταύρωσε, third person singular aorist active conjugate of the preverb πρός- and the verb σταυρόω.
2. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταυρώθη, third person singular aorist indicative passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
3. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταύρωσαν, third person plural aorist indicative active conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
4. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυρωθήτω, third person singular aorist imperative passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
5. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, εσταυρωσθαι, third person singular aorist middle/passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
6. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυρωθῆναι, aorist infinitive passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
7. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἧλον, noun singular masculine accusative of ἧλος, "nail"; ἐσταυρωμένον, verb-participle singular perfect middle-passive masculine accusative conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
8. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυρωθείη, third person singular aorist optive passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
9. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυρωθέντες, verb-participle plural aorist passive masculine nominative conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
10. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυροῦνται, third person plural present indicative middle-passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
11. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυρωθέντα, verb-participle singular aorist passive masculine accusative conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
12. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταύρωσεν, third person singular aorist indicative active conjugate conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
13. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, καθηλώσεις, second person singular future indicative active conjugate of the verb καθηλόω.14. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταυρωμένοι, verb-participle plural perfect middle-passive masculine nominative conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.15. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυροῦσθαι, present infinitive middle-passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω. 16. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυροῦσθαι, present infinitive middle-passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
17. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταυρώκεσαν, third person plural pluperfect indicative active reduplicative conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
18. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταύρωσε, third person singular aorist indicative active conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
19. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, προεσταύρωτο, third person singular imperfect or pluperfect indicative middle-passive conjugate of the preverb προ- and the verb σταυρόω.
20. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, προσεσταύρου, third person singular imperfect indicative active conjugate of the preverb πρός- and the verb σταυρόω.
21. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταύρου, third person singular imperfect indicative active conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
22. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἐσταυρῶσθαι, perfect infinitive middle-passive conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
23. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀνεσταυρώσθω, third person singular perfect imperative middle-passive conjugate of the verb ἀνασταυρόω.
24. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, σταυροῦ, third person singular imperfect indicative active homeric conjugate of the verb σταυρόω.
25. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀνεσκολοπίσθη, third person singular aorist indicative passive conjugate of the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω.
26. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀνασκολοπίζειν "to impale", present infinitive active conjugate of the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω.
27. The Greek is: τῷ τεχνήματι τῷ πονηρῷ, which apparently transliterates as: "for that cunning device for that painful / malicious / base [act]" or similar.