Ancient Crucifixion Images

Roman Crucifixion Methods and Jesus’ Crucifixion

This second-century graffito of a Roman crucifixion from Puteoli, Italy, is one of a few ancient crucifixion images that offer a first-hand glimpse of Roman crucifixion methods and what Jesus’ crucifixion may have looked like to a bystander.

Crucifixion images abound today—from sculptures and icons in churches to the masterful paintings hanging in museums. But how many of these actually give us a realistic idea of what Jesus’ crucifixion looked like? Do these artistic crucifixion images accurately reflect ancient Roman crucifixion methods?

In the March/April 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Biblical scholar Ben Witherington addresses these questions by looking at some of the earliest archaeological evidence of crucifixion and imagery roughly contemporary with Jesus’ crucifixion. Witherington discusses three crucifixion images—two wall graffiti and a magical amulet—from the first centuries of the Christian era.

The two graffiti were both discovered in Italy—one, the so called Alexamenos graffito, on the Palatine Hill in Rome and the other (pictured right) in Puteoli during an excavation. Both show a crucified figure on a cross and date to sometime between the late first and mid-third centuries A.D. Likewise, a striking red gemstone bears a crucified figure surrounded by a magical inscription.

The Bible History Daily feature Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion includes a full “Scholars’ Corner: New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” by Hershel Shanks.

Scholars have long assumed that early Christians did not depict Jesus’ crucifixion; however, a christogram symbol depicting Jesus’ crucifixion sets the date back by 150-200 years. Read The Staurogram: The earliest images of Jesus on the cross in Bible History Daily.

All three of these ancient crucifixion images shed light on the reality of Roman crucifixion in practice and share a few features in common: The crosses are in the shape of a capital tau, or Greek letter T; the Puteoli graffito and the gemstone seem to depict figures who have been whipped or flayed; all three figures appear to be nude, perhaps explaining why at least two of them are shown from behind; and in each case, the feet seem to be apart and possibly nailed separately (unlike the overlapping feet of Jesus in popular portrayals). That last feature is supported by the well-known ankle bone of a crucified man discovered in Jerusalem, which still had an iron nail embedded in its side.

Assuming that Roman crucifixion methods were similar throughout the empire, these crucifixion images give us a more authentic depiction of how Jesus’ crucifixion was carried out.

To read more about ancient crucifixion images and what they can tell us about Roman crucifixion methods and Jesus’ crucifixion, see Ben Witherington III, Biblical Views: “Images of Crucifixion: Fresh Evidence” in the March/April 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


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Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion

The Staurogram: The earliest images of Jesus on the cross

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  • Matthew says

    Paula. You should read what you wrote and understand on what it is to be a Christian. A Christian does not worship the cross, but it is a reminder of His sacrifice. To put into context for you. I am married and wear a wedding ring. It is a symbol of our sacred bond. I do not worship my ring nor do I worship the cross. When you quote to Bible you should be aware of the context it was written in. You should be aware that they were worshiping a golden calf. We worship Jesus not the cross.
    Kurt. I know the JW love to take things out of context also. Your men are outdated and also love to mislead.

  • Paula says

    Whether or not the stauros was in the shape of the cross or not is really irrelevant and a mute point. Either way, God’s word is perfectly clear about the use of “images” or “idols” in worship of him. Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; (KJV) repeated command 1Jo 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (KJV) Amen. Acts 15: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (KJV)
    The fact that the churches of Chritendom violate these commands with flagrant regulatory is a well documented fact. So arguing over whether or not stauros has a cross beam or not is a “useless debate”.

  • Shawn says

    Stay on topic – the thread is about the cross, not festivals. Where is the historic evidence that it was a “torture stake”. Do not use the limitation of the greek. Where is your “PROOF” that it was a single stake? Secondly, John 20:25 states, “…. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” NOTE: it is nailS in his handS – PLURAL, not singular. There is absolutely zero evidence for a nail through the hands on a single stake – zero.

  • Phil says

    @Scott No-one ever said that crucifixion was never used or that the cross was not a form of torture. However, the fact that it existed and was used does not automatically mean that was the method by which Jesus was killed. The original Greek description of Jesus death clearly refers to him dying on a stauros or stake. The assumption that the stauros on which Jesus died was a cross was made at the time that church was converted into a political instrument of the Roman state and started adopting pagan beliefs and symbols in an attempt to convert the pagans and unite pagans and Christians. Then the cross was adopted, which had been used in pagan worship ever since the worship of Tammuz, the deified Nimrod – along with sun festivals like Christmas, fertility festivals like Easter, sun symbols like the halo.

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