In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Crucifixion

  • Introduction
  • General Studies on the Penalty of Crucifixion
  • Bibliographies
  • Crucifixion and Suspension Penalties in Egypt and the Ancient Near East
  • Crucifixion and Other Roman Extreme Punishments
  • The Terminology for Crucifixion and Suspension
  • Roman Law and Crucifixion
  • Roman Archaeology and Human Remains
  • Crucifixion after Constantine
  • Crucifixion in the Post–New Testament Early Church
  • Crucifixion and Christian Martyrdom
  • Medical Causes for Death by (Roman) Crucifixion

Biblical Studies Crucifixion
John Granger Cook, David W. Chapman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0257


Crucifixion and related bodily suspension penalties were widely employed in Antiquity for the punishment of criminals and in times of war. Jesus of Nazareth is the most famous victim of the cross, and many scholars of crucifixion approach the topic with interest in Jesus’ death; however, scholarship on crucifixion also provides insights into (among other fields) ancient warfare, criminal law, political history, and cultural imagery. Invariably, such a subject requires multidisciplinary study. Current areas of discussion include the definition of crucifixion itself, especially in light of the range of use of ancient terminology. Further debates concern the origins of the punishment, the cessation of its practice (at least in the West), the precise means of death, and whether certain cultures (e.g., Second Temple Judaism) endorsed the penalty. A large portion of this article examines the many issues related to crucifixion as a form of execution in Antiquity. The topic of crucifixion in the ancient world includes a variety of issues: Near Eastern suspensions, Greek and Roman extreme penalties and crucifixion, the practice of penal suspension and crucifixion in Second Temple Judaism, the terminology for crucifixion and suspension, crucifixion in the New Testament, the practice of crucifixion in Late Antiquity, crucifixion and law in the ancient world, the question of crucifixion and martyrdom, Greco-Roman imagery of crucifixion and related punishments, Christian iconography of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the later history of the punishment. The last sections of this article then turn to understandings of Jesus’ crucifixion in the New Testament and other early Christian literature.

General Studies on the Penalty of Crucifixion

All the studies listed here examine a wide range of ancient texts and images that provide the main primary-source evidence for crucifixion in Antiquity. Chapman and Schnabel 2015 catalogues ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish sources about the penalty. Fulda 1878 and Zestermann 1868 summarize the research as it stood in the nineteenth century. Hengel 1977 is a brief, but excellent, introduction to the topic, and the short Lafaye 1887 includes some pertinent images. Kuhn 1982 focuses its influential study on the crucifixion of Jesus and of others in Palestine in the first century. Samuelsson 2013, a published dissertation, extensively queries the Greek and Latin terminology for definitive markers of crucifixion, finding few sources that pass the author’s strictures. Cook 2019, a thorough monograph, argues that research on crucifixion should begin with the Roman (Latin) material. Harley McGowan 2019 critically reviews recent work on crucifixion in Antiquity.

  • Chapman, David W., and Eckhard J. Schnabel. The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus: Texts and Commentary. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 344. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1628/978-3-16-152956-6

    Text, translation, and commentary on over four hundred Near Eastern, Jewish, Greek, and Roman sources that illustrate Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate or that illuminate the New Testament’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Sources on human bodily suspension penalties in the ancient world enable us to study the perceptions of the cross in Antiquity. American edition reprint (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2019) contains new preface with bibliographic updates and corrects some typographical errors.

  • Cook, John Granger. Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World. 2d ed. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 327. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1628/978-3-16-156256-3

    This study, which includes pertinent ancient images, reviews the full range of material from Greek, Roman, and Jewish sources on crucifixion. Among his many findings, Cook argues that the Latin word patibulum usually (it can refer to the horizontal and vertical sometimes) means the horizontal crosspiece that could be attached to the vertical beam (the crux). The Greek word stauros can refer to the horizontal piece, the vertical, or both. The second extended edition includes discussion of additional archaeological material.

  • Fulda, Hermann. Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung: Eine antiquarische Untersuchung nebst Nachweis der vielen seit Lipsius verbreiteten Irrthümer; Zugleich vier Excurse über verwandte Gegenstände. Wrocław, Poland: Koebner, 1878.

    An important 19th-century survey of the problem of crucifixion. Available online.

  • Harley McGowan, Felicity. “Crucifixion in Roman Antiquity: The State of the Field.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 27.2 (2019): 303–323.

    DOI: 10.1353/earl.2019.0022

    Harley McGowan reviews Chapman’s Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion (Chapman 2008, cited under Judaism and Crucifixion: General Studies); Chapman and Schnabel’s The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus (Chapman and Schnabel 2015); Cook’s Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World (Cook 2019); and Samuelsson, Crucifixion in Antiquity (Samuelsson 2013). Her elegant article is the finest introduction to the field available in a compact form.

  • Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Translated by John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.

    Hengel, in his short study, gathered much data on ancient crucifixion and wrote a very readable survey. Reprinted in The Cross of the Son of God (London: SCM, 1986), pp. 91–185. Slightly revised and expanded in the French translation: La crucifixion dans l’antiquité et la folie du message de la croix (translated by Albert Chazelle; Paris: Cerf, 1981).

  • Kroll, Woodrow Michael. Roman Crucifixion and the Death of Jesus: Crucifixion; A Multidisciplinary Investigation of the Death of Jesus of Nazareth. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2023.

    Popular account with apologetic purposes, though helpfully emphasizing ancient data. The interaction with secondary sources can be spotty—at times not fully indicating indebtedness to previous scholarship or engaging with opposing views, yet elsewhere well-informed.

  • Kuhn, Heinz-Wolfgang. “Die Kreuzesstrafe während der frühen Kaiserzeit: Ihre Wirklichkeit und Wertung in der Umwelt des Urchristentums.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. Vol. II.25.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 648–793. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982.

    Kuhn, with characteristic philological precision, analyzed Roman crucifixions during the first 150 years of the Common Era (including that of Jesus). He includes these markers for crucifixion: “suspension,” “completed or intended execution,” “with or without a crossbeam,” and “an extended death struggle.”

  • Lafaye, Georges. “Crux.” Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines 1.2 (1887): 1573–1575.

    Lafaye uses images from Greek and Roman culture in his brief article and includes a wealth of useful information. Scans of this important 19th-century classical dictionnaire can be found at the Université Toulouse.

  • Samuelsson, Gunnar. Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the Background and Significance of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion. 2d ed. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.310. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

    Samuelsson argues for many skeptical conclusions—including the thesis that the New Testament actually provides little information about Jesus’ crucifixion. He denies there was a Roman “concept” of crucifixion in Jesus’ time. Most texts labeled “crucifixions” (Greek or Latin) do not exhibit all four markers listed in Kuhn 1982, and therefore they should not actually be classed as crucifixions.

  • Zestermann, August. “Die Kreuzigung bei den alten.” Annales de l’Académie d’Archéologie de Belgique, 2d ser. 24.4 (1868): 337–404.

    This is an important 19th-century review of crucifixion that draws parallels with the crucifixion of Jesus. Available online on various sites.

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