Were Women Nailed Nude To The Cross?

By Tarquinius Rex

Roman crucifixion represented a specific punishment for a specific class of people: slaves, criminals, foreigners, or traitors. Neither the gender nor the religion of those condemned bore any special distinction in the assignment of the class of punishment.

A Christian Roman citizen could not be legally crucified. For example, the Romans beheaded Paul (Saul of Tarsus) but crucified Simon Peter. The primary proponent of Christianity, Paul rightfully claimed to be a Roman citizen and thus neatly avoided the cross. However, as a foreigner plus a non-citizen, Simon Peter endured the extreme penalty.

The Romans standardized the procedure of crucifixion as we now know it over hundreds of years. Although there were too many different possibilities for the executioner, crucifixion included most, if not all, of the following:

(1) A fierce scourging plus any other torture deemed appropriate to the offense, (2) Bearing of the patibulum, or crossbeam, in procession to the site of execution (3) A public sign listing the criminal's name and crime(s) committed (4) A popular but humiliating ritual display of nudity (5) Nailing of the arms outstretched and/or feet causing excruciating non-fatal wounds (6) The patibulum raised up upon a stipes, or vertical stake, with the victim hanging (7) The victim seated on a small bare peg or saddle (8) Death by forces of nature, i.e. exhaustion, asphyxiation, wild animals, etc. (9) Refusal of burial, with the remains allowed to decompose for maximum public effect.

I have never seen a substantiated document that states women were clothed or otherwise treated different from men on the cross. For instance, I would like to see a citation for women being crucified facing the cross as a common deference to modesty. The only references to this that I have found were non- contemporaneous. (I fancy the authors of the position being monks in the Dark Ages who could not bear to imagine the possibility of women suffering fully exposed.)

Women were often scourged, and crucified. The Roman historian Suetonius describes how Boadicea, the leader of the Britons, was scourged for rebellion. Interestingly, in a fit of revenge, Boadicea raised an army of 20,000 to exact retribution and push the Romans out of Briton. Eventually she sacked the Roman township of Londinium. In a precise translation of Dio Cassius, E. Cary relates a grim turn of the tables:

"Those who were taken captive by the Britons were subjected to every form of outrage. The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by the captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body."

Keep in mind Dio Cassius was Roman, and writing some time after the events described, so there may be some exaggeration. Strangely however, the Romans were quite belligerent in pointing out other barbarian tribe's proclivity for crucifixion, while keeping silent on their own efficient process. Nevertheless, this leads to the other reason why I believe crucifixion for women followed the same path as men: Romans were mostly silent about female crucifixion. I believe this means the only logical answer is that there were no procedural differences in crucifying males and females.

In a similar fashion, binding the feet or arms with ropes was a rare exception to nailing. Martin Hengel notes nailing as the exclusive method of fastening a person to the cross. One important clue: nails used in crucifixion were a valuable commodity during Roman times as an amulet for magical healing. As another example mentioning nails, Josephus writes about the punishment for both men and women who tried to escape the siege of Jerusalem,

"So the soldiers, out of the hatred and rage they bore the prisoners, nailed those they caught, in different postures, to the crosses, by way of jest and their number was so great that there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for bodies."

Pseudo-Manetho provides a reference to the ferrous expectation of those condemned to crucifixion:

"Punished with arms outstretched, they see the stake as their fate; they are fastened, nailed to it in the most bitter torment, evil food for birds of prey and grim pickings for dogs."

In addition, in keeping with crucifixion as both a slave and criminal punishment, the visual effect of crucifixion promoted a horrific form of state sponsored terrorism for these classes. The ritual nudity, although definitely prurient, really represented the ultimate authority of the state over the individual. The victim, reduced effectively to a tortured screaming animal, writhed in agony as the executioners redistributed the last possessions reflecting their social humanity: their clothing. I wrote an extensive opinion on this during the summer of '98 and this should still be in the DejaNews archives.

Finally, I can also specifically cite another well-known story by Josephus: the crucifixion of the slave-girl Ide. Robert Graves in Claudius the God, and Anne Rice in Pandora, both reference the same tale. I wrote what I consider one of my best stories concerning this episode, titled The Crucifixion of Didi.

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