If you've ever heard of crucifixion and really thought about it, you've probably said to yourself: "Jesus Christ, that seems like an incredibly painful way to go." Some of the more morbid go a step further and wonder how the whole process actually works. On the surface, it seems like going a pretty long and unnecessarily complex way just to kill a guy. As it turns out, Roman crucifixion specifics were carefully crafted... to make the whole thing hurt like you would not believe.
Crucifixion was so brutal that even the Romans seemed to realize it was messed up. The technique was not used on Roman citizens, except in rare cases of treason. It was reserved for slaves and foreigners. That way, the Romans could imagine they were only doling out this brutality to subhuman beasts, not their fellow people.
Still, they needed some way to keep the slaves and foreigners in line, so they took the practice of crucifixion from the Persians who invented it and refined the mechanics. The physics of crucifixion are surprisingly complex, given the technology and medical understanding of the time. It is only now that we can develop a complete understanding of how the Romans elevated brutality to a high art, combining everything painful but not fatal into an execution so horrific that it became fatal.
Flesh Would Be Ripped Off The Victim Before The Crucifixion Even Started
Before getting into the main course of crucifixion, the Romans would start with an appetizer of scourging. The instrument they used to this end was called the Flagrum, and this thing was flipping terrifying. First, the whip had several leather whipping cords instead of just one, creating more whips per arm motion. The Romans were big on efficiency. But a simple whipping clearly wasn't enough, so they knotted bits of metal - usually zinc and iron - bone, and sometimes hooks into the cords.
When that thing raked your back, it took hold of big old chunks of flesh and tore them out. Suffice it to say that by the time the scourging was over, you were bleeding profusely... just in time to carry a massive wooden cross on your exposed tissue.
The Nails Were Almost The Size Of T-Rex Teeth
The nails used in crucifixion were so long that, for a long time, archeologists (wrongly) believed that only a single nail would have been driven through both feet, and the victim of crucifixion would've had to cross one foot over the other before the single nail was driven through. However, they now believe that the nails, which were 5-to-7-inch-long iron spikes, were used for each foot.
They had to be that long in order to make sure that they would pass through the body and into the wood with enough depth to hold up the weight of a person. They were hammered in in such a way as to produce relatively little bleeding but maximum pain.
Nails Were Driven Into The Wrists For Extra Pain
While there is still some debate among archeologists as to whether the nails were driven through the palm or the wrist, in either case, the intent was to inflict maximum pain. This is because, in either scenario, the nail would be driven directly through a nerve.
Specifically, it would cause damage to the ulnar and/or median nerves. This would cause a condition known as Causalgia. To get an idea of how much that hurts, try pressing on the pressure point between your thumb and index finger near the base of the palm. That's the nerve. Now imagine driving a spike through that.
Nails Were Driven Into The Ankles To Extend The Suffering
Recent evidence challenges the notion that the feet were nailed together onto the front of the cross with one big spike. A skeletal discovery in the 1980s of a man crucified during the first century CE indicates that at least in some cases, the feet were nailed to the two sides of the cross through the heels with two spikes.
In either case, however, nailing the feet actually worked to lengthen the time it took to die on a cross. If hanging just by the arms, the condemned would have difficulty breathing and quickly suffocate. Nailing in the feet allows the person to lift themselves up with their legs in order to open their diaphragm enough to take a breath. This is further illustrated by the fact that, if the centurions monitoring the execution wanted to hurry things along, they would simply break the legs of the condemned so they could no longer life themselves up for air.