Crucifixion and castration – a historical context

castration, torture

The historical reality of crucifixion and castration – To accompany Nathan’s story The Crucifixion

by site friend nathan9001@yahoo.com


Important note for the reader: This story is a little different from the rest of the Ayzintion City series, and while it fits in that context, it stands alone in its own right. It deals with the execution of two criminals, and the method used in this story as described is based on historical facts, as best I could research them. Still, it is fictional, and I have taken some liberty and made speculations as best I could on matters where no historical data could be found on where the research could not be independently verified.

This story deals with the torturous death of men by hanging them from a cross, and while the story is fiction the methods discussed were very real at one time in the history of the world. Crucifixion’s happened, and there is written and archaeological data to verify that they were not that unusual. I write this story with some trepidation, because while crucifixion was an extremely common means of execution in the ancient world, any modern story involving it risks being associated within a religious context. This is of course because The Crucifixion and The Resurrection are central themes in the Christian faith, and because of that, they are well known and well described. That particular crucifixion, that ultimately led to Christianity, is without doubt the best known and most wildly discussed crucifixion in all of history.

This story has nothing to do with the crucifixion of Jesus. It doesn’t take place in Rome, and it doesn’t have any of the characters. It’s certainly not a religious tale, and it makes no statement concerning any faith what-so-ever. It has nothing at all to do with the crucifixion of Jesus. Nothing at all. Please don’t draw comparisons or try and refer something that isn’t there.

It’s important to realize that tens of thousands of men throughout history have been crucified on a cross, and the practice originates from the Persians as best can be determined. Alexander the Great and his military officers probably brought it back from the Mediterranean, most likely from Egypt and Carthage. The Romans took it from there, learning the method from the Carthaginians, and then improving upon it. Without question, at the height of the Roman Empire it was practiced with a high degree of efficiency, and was used often to execute enemies of Rome, as well as slaves and other non-citizens.

During the third Servile War (Servile Wars 135-71 B.C.) the Romans executed six thousand slaves, all simultaneously, along the whole length of the Appian Way from Capua to Rome. It’s hard to imagine a mass execution of that magnitude in today’s context, but it occurred and crucifixion was the method used for their executions. It’s hard to imagine that many slaves hanging from individual crosses, lining the highway like signposts, each suffering terribly as they slowly died. Still, it happened. Without doubt, crucifixion was a part of the Roman culture and was the preferred method of execution for their enemies. No wonder several Roman authors even wrote about it, including Cicero, Livy, and Tacitys.

Before I get into the story, it’s important for the reader to understand the method and why it was used. Crucifixion is a torturous, drawn out and very slow death, and depending on the health of the man being executed, and the techniques used to affix him to his cross, that death could be up to several days in coming. As practiced, it was also almost invariably a very painful and a very humiliating death. For a man to scream and beg and cry out for mercy was so demeaning that it could almost not be contemplated. Men were supposed to die with honor, bravely, and preferably in battle or at least fighting hard, with their heads held high even as they were speared or beheaded or even hanged. But men being crucified almost never died with honor. In fact, some didn’t even die as men.

There is historical evidence that indicates that most men that were executed on the cross were stripped naked, and were exposed to large crowds and were invariably crucified at a spot where they were sure to be widely seen. In fact, naked crucifixions were the norm, and it was a rare thing to allow the criminal to keep his clothes, if it ever happened at all. Instead, exposing them and putting them on display as they died in a society where modesty was all-important had to be so humiliating that it’s hard to even imagine today. Of course, humiliation and a degrading death were part of the method, and were part of the reasons it was used as it was. It was a death to be feared, and it was considered so demeaning and so humiliating that in ancient Rome it was forbidden to crucify a citizen. No Roman citizen could be crucified, under any circumstance, or for any reason, regardless of what his crime was. That alone tells us how heinous a death it was considered to be.

To understand the story that follows, it’s important to understand the mechanism of a crucifixion. Once the man was sentenced, he was doomed and there was no reprieve and no hope. Usually they were whipped before they were executed, and these whippings were done in an extreme manner, often until the flesh was shredded and they were in total agony. The prisoner was going to die anyway, so it didn’t matter if the whip cut into him and marked him savagely. And it didn’t matter where it fell. The back, stomach, buttocks, and even the genitals were all fair game. The Romans showed no mercy on the doomed man, and the whipping was so severe it was given a name, a “scourging.” There was even a special whip that was used, with small lead weights or pieces of bone tied to the ends of the whip, to gouge and tear the flesh as the lash was whipped into it. Not all men went through a scourging, but for those that did it had to have hastened their deaths.

In the standard Roman crucifixion the man being executed was normally prepared by tying him with his arms raised high, and t hen giving him exactly thirty-nine lashes, one after the other, usually across his back and buttocks. After that he was marched to his execution, dripping blood and already in misery. It had to be a spectacle that few watching could forget.

The crosses used to kill them were usually in two pieces, although sometimes individuals were crucified on trees, and there were enough variations that it is hard to be specific about a particular norm. Still, usually, the crosses were in two parts. The vertical posts, called “stipes” were usually permanently mounted into the ground, in a very public place and often located at a road intersection or hill overlooking a populated area. Contrary to many artists portrayals, usually these posts were not that tall, because as long as the man being crucified couldn’t touch the ground with his feet then the lower he was the easier people could taunt him and watch his misery.

Further, once he was dead, normally he was left on his cross, hanging as an example and warning to others. Being mounted near the ground allowed the wild beasts to feed upon his carcass after he was dead, adding to the humiliation of his execution and increasing the warning factor for others. Very few of those crucified were ever allowed the dignity of being buried. Instead, their corpse was left to rot in place, to be eaten by birds and wild game, which at the time was considered the most demeaning fate of all.

The man being executed was made to carry the heavy cross piece, usually on his back which had already been striped by the whip, and often with his two wrists tied out along the beam, so that he couldn’t put it down or drop it. He was then made to walk, almost certainly naked, through the town or city, to his place of execution. If he stopped or faltered then he was beaten or whipped to keep him going. Along the way the crowds would jeer him, mocking his nakedness and laughing at his ‘well deserved’ penalty. Of course, as he carried his cross piece his arms would grow tired, and it is estimated that it probably weighed in the area of eighty pounds or more. Some estimates are as high as one hundred pounds. It was probably made of olive wood, and there is archeological evidence in at least one case to support that.

This cross piece was called the “patibulum” and it could be mounted to the vertical post either at the very top, forming a “T” shaped cross, or into a grove, in what we today would think of as a more classic cross. Other cross designs were used however, and some men were even crucified to trees when it was more convenient to do so. The Romans used various methods to affix the condemned man to the cross. Certainly, many were probably just tied in place, their wrists bound to the patibulum and their ankles similarly tied to the stipe.

However, for the worst offenders, crude nails were used. These metal spikes were an especially cruel method and perhaps that’s why the Romans favored them. The only recovered skeleton of a man that was actually crucified still has a crucifixion spike driven through its right ankle, with its leg bones broken. The recovered artifact also shows a smaller flat piece of wood under the head of the nail, invariable to insure that the man couldn’t pull his tissue through to free himself, regardless of how hard he struggled. The spikes certainly made certain that the man stayed where he was nailed, even after he was dead and rotting. This of course had additional deterrent value, and the fact that it hurt more and caused a more excruciating death certainly made it favorable as a method of attachment.

Without any question nailing the prisoner to his cross was common, although it is more difficult to say if it was the normal method used. Without question though, many were nailed to cross, with the spike going between the two major long bones of the arm right where they attach to the wrist. There was another reason to nail a man rather than to tie him. It hurt more. A lot more, and that intensified the torture and increased the deterrence value. The reason that this is so is that there happens to be a very sensitive nerve that runs up the arm and through the wrist area, right at the juncture of the long bones of the arm. This main nerve is called the median nerve, and without question as the nail was driven through it a fiery, almost electrical, pain would have shot up the arms and hands and fingers, exploding within the brain with an intensity that cannot truly be imagined. Further, any subsequent movement, any at all, would put a strain on the flesh at the nailed area and would stimulate the nerve, and would be painful beyond imagine, to a depth and to a degree that could never be achieved if the man was simply tied to his cross.

Some men were only secured by their wrists, and they were just allowed to hang from their arms until they expired. However, the death process would occur much faster when that method was used, and since this usually wasn’t desired almost always the feet were also attached to the upright post. This would stretch out the execution, and prolong the man’s suffering immensely.

So, because of that, normally his feet were also nailed to the upright post. There are several methods that appear to have been used. Based on the archeological find, two nails were at least sometimes used, one for each foot, and the man’s legs were nailed to the sides of the upright beam, with one spike driven sideways straight through each one of his heels. The only recovered skeleton of a crucified man was nailed in this manner, as there is a six inch spike still imbedded in one heel bone and part of the wood cross is still attached. Another method appears to have been to use a single, longer nail, and then driving it straight through one foot that was placed and held on top of the other. That long nail was then driven straight down through the top of the feet and into the upright post underneath.

The amount of flex that was allowed in the legs was all important, and was the single most important item that would determine the length of suffering the condemned would have. If his legs were bent in such a manner that he could fully straighten them, locking his knees, then he could stand and take the weight off of his wrists more easily, alleviating much of the suffering he would otherwise endure. However, if his legs were nailed with a twist, or his feet were bent downward with his toes pointing at the ground, then it would prevent the man from rising up to the point he could lock his knees. He could still lift himself, but only with his muscles, and he would have to strain to hold himself upward to take the pressure from his arms and the nerves punctured by the nails there.

Of course, that was desired, and the research indicates that the Romans usually did it that way. By pointing the toes downward and nailing the man’s feet through the top and then through the arches, attaching them securely to the post, it would be impossible for the crucified man to lock his knees. The same thing could be accomplished by folding his legs slightly backwards, with bent knees, before nailing them individually at the ankles. Either way would ensure a long torturous death. The man could only rise up to a point, but not lock his knees. Because of that, he would only be able to stand up as long as the muscles in his thighs and those in his arms could support him. Invariable, he would grow tired, and he would fall down, hanging again from his wrists until the shooting pain of doing so made him rise up again.

Of course, hanging from these nails, and onto his median nerve, would be an indescribable torment that would have no end. The more weight the man put on his wrists, the more pain he endured. Hoisted up, and hanging that way, the condemned was now “crucified.” After that, his dance of death would commence, to the delight of those watching, and it would go on and on for many hours, and for some, even days. As he sags down and puts more weight on the nails in his wrists, the pain becomes unbearable. So, he pushes himself upward to avoid this wrenching torment, by placing his weight on the nail or nails that have been driven through his feet. Again there is the searing agony from the nerves that surround the metatarsal bones of the feet.

So, up and down he goes. Up and down, dancing the death dance that all crucified men danced. They did not hang quietly, and they did not stay still. In fact, there is some indicators that when they were first placed on their cross most men struggled fiercely, jerking and thrashing as they fought to find some position to alleviate the terrible pain that consumed them. Of course, there was no position at all that offered relief, but they would thrash and jerk and try to find it anyway. The pain was too much to comprehend, and while they had the strength the screams would come as they jerked and fought with every muscle. And of course, being naked, they were quite the spectacle. Worse, humiliated as they were, they had to listen to the taunting of the crowds as they lifted and fell, lifted and fell.

The mechanism of death that occurs during crucifixion is slow in coming, but it is relentless and in the end it is always lethal. There is no historical evidence that any man has ever survived a crucifixion. Once nailed to their cross, they hung until they died. At first, they hung by their wrists, their body screaming in pain. They lift up, straining with their thigh muscles to hold their weight and take the pressure off of their wrists. But soon through, a new phenomenon occurs. As the arms stretch out and he strains his muscles start to cramp, and these cramps never lesson but instead just grow and grow and grow. Likewise, his big thigh muscles strain and begin to cramp too, and since he can’t lock his knees and he can’t stand the pain of hanging from his wrists there is really nothing he can do. Soon, the pain intensifies and consumes him, and at the same time his muscles turn into knots, leaving him in deep, driving pain, that has no bounds and with no relief in sight.

His arm muscles quiver, and the shaking intensifies as the minutes turn slowly to hours. Eventually, after some period of time, they finally fail him completely. Soon, their cramps become so great that he can’t use his arms to pull himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are soon virtually paralyzed with fatigue. His intercostals muscles stop working for him next, and as his muscles fail his shoulders tend to actually dislocate from their sockets. The time for this to happen depended on the physical strength of the man. It certainly did not happen right away, but eventually it happened non-the-less. When it did the pain increased to a level that is unbearable. Screaming, the man feels his muscles quiver, and as he tries to lift himself the pain continues to intensify to ever increasing levels. His misery literally grows by the minute.

Something even more sinister starts to happen. Hanging that way, he can breathe inward easily, his diaphragm automatically pulled downward. But as his intercostal muscles fatigue, it becomes increasingly difficult to exhale, to force his chest muscles to move his diaphragm and to push out the air he has sucked into his lungs. If he is fully stretched out, hanging with his full weight from his wrists, it oh-so-slowly becomes impossible. His breathing becomes labored, and shallow. Soon he feels like he is suffocating, and he starts to gasp.

Panic sets in then, and instinct takes over and so he hoists himself up with a renewed desperation, which relieves the pressure on his diaphragm and allows him to breathe once again. But the pain to take that breath is impossible to describe. It would have been a stabbing knife like pain that would emanate from the nails in his wrists and feet. Still, he would make the movement, just to breathe, no matter how much it hurts to do so. Each time when he moves himself upward, his thighs quivering as his muscles spasm, the pressure on his diaphragm lessons, and he can exhale. So, he holds himself there gasping, sucking his air in and out of his lungs while the pain shoots up and down his legs and radiates from his wrists. His muscles shake and quiver. But he is standing on his nails, his leg muscles cramping, and using his arms too, straining to lift himself upward. So, to breathe, he lives through intense pain shooting through him as he sucks in air and gasps and gasps.

Of course, his muscles can’t hold him in that position forever, and not being able to lock his knees he sags downward once again, exhausted, feeling his full weight all over again being born by the nails through his wrists. Again, the pain shoots through his arms, screaming into his brain, and his breathing becomes labored and he again feels the feeling of being suffocated. Once this breathing phenomenon begins, it never lets up. From that moment onward, he is forced to pull and strain and push himself upward, every few minutes, even though the pain shoots through his muscles each time and they cramp and quiver.

You would think he would just give in, to hasten his own death, to lay quiet and allow his breathing to stop. But he can’t, no matter how much he wishes he could. After several minutes of not being able to get a full breath, the instinct to breathe is overwhelming, and so he once again does whatever it takes, straining with every muscle to lift and breathe. As he does so, each time the intensity of the pain consumes him. Still, pain and all, he repeats the process, hour after hour, until day becomes night and night becomes day. He loses the strength to even scream, even though the pain intensifies to higher and higher levels. The man then is in terrible pain, and all the while he struggles just to lift and breathe. There is nothing else for him; no hope, no future, just another labored breath won with an excruciating and agonizing effort. With each motion upward, his legs fatigue, and again he falls back upon his wrists to again feel the shooting pain. Up and down he moves, up and down, doing the hangman’s dance only it’s on a cross and it has no end.

If a man’s legs are attached in such a way that he can’t use his leg muscles at all to pull himself upward, then death will occur fairly quickly. For example, if he was left to just hang by his wrists death would occur within a very short time. Because of this, if it was desired to hasten a man’s death, sometimes his legs would be broken, preventing him from that moment onward from using them to push himself upward, thus leaving him only his arms, hanging from the nails through his wrists, and that invariable would hasten his expiration. There is physical and documented evidence that some men were shown “mercy” in this manner, by smashing their leg bones so that they could die faster.

If there was a need to have the man dead by a certain deadline, or because of an upcoming religious holiday, then breaking the man’s legs was a sure way to make it happen. Of course, that wasn’t normally desired, and the longer the criminal suffered and more miserable his death was for those watching, the better was the deterrent value.

Because a long, lingering, humiliating death was the normal desired outcome, the Romans perfected the death process and found a way to prolong the suffering even more. There was one final variable they added, and it was called the “sedile.” Sediles were not used on all crucified criminals, but they were definitely used and their use is documented in some sources. The sedile was a seat of sorts, that allowed the condemned man to take some of the weight off of his shoulders and arms, which drew out the death process and prolonged his suffering. Using a sedile could more than double the time it would take for the man to die.

Probably the most common sedile was a simple rod, or plank, that jutted straight out of the upright post and went between his legs. It wasn’t supposed to be comfortable. The condemned man could sit down on it, to a degree, sharing the load on the nailed feet. Certainly, it would crush his genitals as he did so, but that only added to his humiliation. Still, it was always positioned so that the man couldn’t put his full weight on it…it wasn’t that high. Using a sedile that went between the legs was tricky, because if you allowed too much weight to be lifted off the arms then you would avert the cramping and stop the up and down agony that otherwise was required to breathe. This was not desired.

To increase the suffering of the condemned, sometimes the sedile was made out of a flat piece of wood, that had been sharpened to a fine edge. There is at least some indications that some sediles were even made of a triangular shaped piece of iron. We can only imagine the pain and the damage that would have been caused if a man collapsed downward onto such a seat, slamming his naked genitals into the sharpened piece of wood or metallic bar that was jutting out between his legs. It is not too far-fetched to imagine that at least a few prisoners crucified in that matter probably slowly castrated themselves as they struggled.

There is no documentation to support that however, although there is documentation on a different type of sedile, that was definitely used when it was deemed important to increase the humiliation of the man being crucified. When that was desired, a different, more sinister and certainly more humiliating type of sedile was used. Instead of a plank or post that went between the legs, a fairly stout rod, with a large bulbous end, was used, usually made of wood, that was positioned into the condemned man’s rectum so that he was seated onto it, and it inside of him. This type of sedile carried a greater portion of his weight, which would significantly prolong his suffering. A man impaled on such a seat could live for days. It was also totally humiliating, and there is little doubt that sexually it was stimulating, creating an even greater and more demeaning death for the condemned.

When his arms became so fatigued that he allowed himself to relax and fall downward, the sedile rod would go deep in his ass, literally fucking it in a very real and embarrassing way. As it pushed deep inside of him, taking his weight, it would literally push all the way into his prostate. Of course, hanging down that far, the pain would then shoot through his wrists, and he would feel the need to use his thigh muscles and his arms and pull himself upward, lifting himself and in so doing pulling the rod upward within his rectum. Up and down he would struggle, all the time moving himself up and down over the rod in his ass. It would be impaling him, and in a way it would be almost like it was moving too, up and down inside of him, literally fucking him.

For the man being crucified in front of men and women and children, this had to be without doubt the most demeaning and most humiliating punishment possible. In fact, it had to have been so horrible that it is almost unimaginable. He would feel the shame with every movement, and yet, to breathe and to shift the pain from his wrists, he would nevertheless ride his pole, up and down, shifting the screaming misery of his pain from his wrists to his legs in a back and forth desperation that would just go on and on and on.

Of course, while it isn’t written anywhere, the criminal almost invariable had an erection. There are some historic paintings where there are erections on the men being crucified, and that no doubt stems from first hand observations. Erections had to be common when the man was riding a post that penetrated his ass. There is no way he could have rode that sedile in his ass, pushing it into his rectum as he struggled without his penis filling with blood. Of course, his executioners would have wanted that, encouraged it even, and we can imagine how they would have kept watch over him the days before his execution in order to make sure he was filled with desire and he had lots of seed to spill. One can only speculate how many times he would ejaculate in front of the crowd, as he jerked and twisted and struggled up and down on that rod. One can only wonder, but for at least some criminals, they almost certainly did so and more than once. Each time it happened the crowd must have roared with delight.

A small sign was almost always placed above the man, or around his neck, so that anyone seeing him would know what he had done and see the consequences of his actions. As they watched him fuck his own ass and scream and struggle from the pain, this was all important, as one of the purposes of executing the criminal so publicly and in such a humiliating manner was to deter others from doing similar crimes.

It was a miserable death. As he struggles and moves and wiggles, screaming in agony that has no bounds, there is nothing he can do to quicken his death or relieve his suffering. Nothing at all. Worse, he can’t sit still, can’t just hang and wait to die. Instead, the need to breath forces him to move, up and down, and with each movement the pain shoots through his soul and his mouth screams with it. Even the strongest men screamed and begged when put on the cross.

On and on and on it goes until finally, he just grows weaker and weaker and weaker. His death is slow in coming, creeping upon him, keeping him awake and making him feel every bit of misery and pain and humiliation right up to the very end. Finally, his muscles can take no more, and he rises up less and less. He can’t breath, but tries to anyway, struggling and gasping and in a panic as his heart races and he feels himself suffocating. His muscles ripple and quiver as he tries to find the strength to lift himself and to take another breath. Fluid may begin to fill his lungs. He knows its happening too, and he fights it, fights it but there is nothing left within him to fight it with. So, with open eyes and the agony of a man who cannot breathe and who has no muscles left to lift himself again, slowly death comes to him. It’s a very slow suffocating death, as agonizing as any death can be.

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