The Crucifixion, Part 3

As mentioned, giving the victim a proper burial following death on the cross during the Roman period was rare and in most cases simply not permitted in order to continue the humiliation – it was common for Romans to deny burial to criminals, as in the cases of Brutus and his supporters (Suetonius, Augustus 13.1-2) and Sejanus and company (Tacitus, Annals 6.29). The corpse was in many cases either simply thrown away on the garbage dump of the city, ‘buried’ in a common grave, or left on the cross as food for wild beasts and birds of prey.


Petronius, in the Satyricon (111), writes an amusing – to the Romans at least – story about a soldier who was tasked to guard the body of some crucified criminals from theft.

The soldier manages to lose one of the corpses, however, when he diverts his attention from the crosses in order to pursue an amorous interlude with a widow mourning for the loss of her husband (who was buried near the execution site):

…Thus it came about that the relatives of one of the malefactors, observing this relaxation of vigilance, removed his body from the cross during the night and gave it proper burial. But what of the unfortunate soldier, whose self-indulgence had thus been taken advantage of, when next morning he saw one of the crosses under his charge without its body! Dreading instant punishment, he acquaints his mistress with what had occurred, assuring her he would not await the judge’s sentence, but with his own sword exact the penalty of his negligence. He must die therefore; would she give him sepulture, and join the friend to the husband in that fatal spot?

But the lady was no less tender-hearted than virtuous. ‘The Gods forbid,’ she cried, ‘I should at one and the same time look on the corpses of two men, both most dear to me. I had rather hang a dead man on the cross than kill a living.’ So said, so done; she orders her husband’s body to be taken from its coffin and fixed upon the vacant cross. The soldier availed himself of the ready-witted lady’s expedient, and next day all men marveled how in the world a dead man had found his own way to the cross.

Beyond the baudiness and light-heartedness of the anecdote lies the seriousness with which Romans could take the matter of guarding victims: the soldier guards the crosses for three nights, and fears for his life when the theft is discovered.

The prevention of burial also serves to show a graphic display of the power of the Roman Empire: by not allowing the victims even a decent burial, it is declared that the loss of these victims is not a loss to society, but far from it, they actually served to strengthen and empower Rome, ridding the Empire of its enemies and maintaining the status quo and preserving law and order.

Because of these details, some, like John Dominic Crossan, suggest controversially that it was improbable that Jesus was given a proper burial, as the Gospels relate; instead, he might have been thrown in the waste dump in Jerusalem. Indeed, there were times in which Roman officials in Judea behaved like their counterparts in other areas of the Empire.

When Publius Quinctilius Varus, then Legate of Syria, moved into Judea in 4 BC to quell a messianic revolt after the death of Rome’s client king Herod the Great, he reportedly crucified 2000 Jewish rebels in and around Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities 17.295).

Later, the procurator of Judea, Gessius Florus is said to have ordered indiscriminate crucifixions, including those who were actually Roman citizens (Josephus, Jewish War 2.306-7). And, finally, in 70 AD, the general Titus ordered hundreds of Jewish captives to be crucified around the walls of Jerusalem in the hopes that this would drive the Jews to surrender (Jewish War 5.450). Josephus does not state explicitly that the bodies were left hanging, but that would be entirely consistent with the general purpose of these crucifixions.

Even so, one needs to consider the situation of the Province of Judea within the time of Jesus: at that time the situation was (in one sense) peaceful enough that events in and around Jerusalem were not always under control of the Prefect of Judea. While there is a small contingent of soldiers stationed in the Antonia Fortress, the day-to-day government of the city is largely left to Jewish hands, specifically the high priest and the council, who were accountable to the Prefect (in this period, Pontius Pilate).

The Prefect in turn was accountable to the Legate of Syria, and it was the interest of all to keep the status quo undisrupted. It would then be a mistake to assume that episodes like those of Varus, Florus, and Titus are typical of the situation surrounding Jesus’ burial.

However, taking victims of crucifixion down from their crosses and burying them was not unheard of. Philo (Flaccus, 10.83-84) tells us that:

“I actually know of instances of people who had been crucified and who, on the moment that such a holiday was at hand, were taken down from the cross and given back to their relatives in order to give them a burial and the customary rites of the last honors. For it was (thought to be) proper that even the dead should enjoy something good on the emperor’s birthday and at the same time that the sanctity of the festival should be preserved. Flaccus, however, did not order to take down people who had died on the cross but to crucify living ones, people for whom the occasion offered amnesty, to be sure only a short-lived not a permanent one, but at least a short postponement of punishment if not entire forgiveness.”

Josephus (Jewish War 4.5.2) relates that Jews took down the bodies of those who were crucified during the Great Revolt, as is the command in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (“When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse“).

In Jewish thought, giving a proper interment for someone — even the dead of their enemies — was considered to be ritual piety (2 Sam. 21:12-14):

“…But the rage of the Idumeans was not satiated by these slaughters; but they now betook themselves to the city, and plundered every house, and slew every one they met; and for the other multitude, they esteemed it needless to go on with killing them, but they sought for the high priests, and the generality went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus (ben Ananias) with his speech made to them from the wall:

Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun. I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city…”

In a few cases, concessions can be made if relatives or friends of the victim asked for the corpse to give it a decent burial. The discovery of the bones of a victim who died of crucifixion discovered in 1968, within an ossuary inside a tomb may suggest that giving proper burial to crucifixion victims (as in the case of Jesus), while being rather rare, was not unknown.

Despite being mentioned in many literary sources for the Roman period, few exact details as to how the condemned were affixed to the cross have come down to us. But we do have one unique archeological witness to this gruesome practice.

In 1968, building contractors working in Giv’at haMivtar (Ras el-Masaref), just north of Jerusalem near Mount Scopus and immediately west of the road to Nablus accidentally uncovered a Jewish tomb dated to the 1st century AD. The date of the tombs, revealed by the pottery in situ, ranged from the late 2nd century B.C. until 70 A.D.

These family tombs with branching chambers, which had been hewn out of soft limestone, belong to the Jewish cemetery of Jesus’ time that extends from Mount Scopus in the east to the tombs in the neighborhood of Sanhedriya (named after the Jewish Sanhedrin; it is not certain, however, whether the tombs, which are occupied by seventy people of high status, were the burial places of Sanhedrin officials), in the north west.

A team of archeologists, led by Vassilios Tzaferis, found within the caves the bones of thirty-five individuals, with nine of them apparently having a violent death. Three children, ranging in ages from eight months to eight years, died from starvation. A child of almost four expired after much suffering from an arrow wound that penetrated the left of his skull (the occipital bone). A young man of about seventeen years burned to death cruelly bound upon a rack, as inferred by the grey and white alternate lines on his left fibula.

A slightly older female also died from conflagration. An old women of nearly sixty probably collapsed from the crushing blow of a weapon like a mace; her atlas, axis vertebrae and occipital bone were shattered. A woman in her early thirties died in childbirth, she still retained a fetus in her pelvis.

The late Professor Nicu Haas, an anthropologist at the Anatomy School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Medical School, examined one of the bones, which were placed inside a stone ossuary (right) placed inside one of the tombs which bears the Hebrew inscription ‘’Yehohanan the son of Hagaqol’.

The bones were those of a man in his twenties, crucified probably between 7 A.D., the time of the census revolt, and 66 A.D., the beginning of the war against Rome. The evidence for this was based on the right heel bone, pierced by an iron nail 11.5 centimetres in length.

The nail penetrated the lateral surface of the bone emerging on the middle of the surface in which the tip of the nail had become bent. The bending of the tip upon itself suggests that after the nail penetrated the tree or the upright it may have struck a knot in the wood thereby making it difficult to remove from the heel when Yehohanan was taken down from the cross.

The point of the nail had olive wood fragments on it indicating that Yehohanan was crucified on a cross made of olive wood or on an olive tree, which would suggest that the condemned was crucified at eye level since olive trees were not very tall. Additionally, a piece of acacia wood was located between the bones and the head of the nail, presumably to keep the condemned from freeing his foot by sliding it over the nail. Yehohanan’s legs were found broken, perhaps as a means of hastening his death (Crucifragium; cf. John 19:31-32).

Haas asserted that Yehohanan experienced three traumatic episodes: the cleft palate on the right side and the associated asymmetries of his face likely resulted from the deterioration of his mother’s diet during the first few weeks of pregnancy; the disproportion of his cerebral cranium (pladiocephaly) were caused by difficulties during birth. All the marks of violence on the skeleton resulted directly or indirectly from crucifixion.

He also postulated that the legs had been pressed together, bent, and twisted to that the calves were parallel to the patibulum, with the feet being secured to the cross by one iron nail driven simultaneously through both heels (tuber calcanei), and also deduced from a scratch on the inner surface of the right radius bone of the forearm, close to the wrist, that a nail had been driven into the forearm at that position.

However, a subsequent reexamination by Joseph “Joe” Zias, former Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Eliezer Sekeles in 1985 found that many of the conclusions upon which his attempted reconstruction were made were flawed. The nail which Haas reported to be 17-18 centimeters in length was but 11.5 centimeters, making it anatomically impossible to affix two feet with one nail.

Furthermore, despite the original belief that evidence for nailing was found on the radius, a subsequent reexamination of the evidence showed that there was no evidence for traumatic injury to the forearms; various opinions have since then been proposed as to whether the feet were both nailed together to the front of the cross or one on the left side, one on the right side, and whether Yehohanan’s hands was actually nailed to the cross or merely tied (Zias’ reconstruction of Yehohanan’s posture, at right).

While the archeological and physiological record are mostly silent on crucifixion, there are possibilities which may account for this: one is that most victims may have been tied to the cross, which would explain the lack of any direct traumatic evidence on the human skeleton when tied to the cross. The other is that the nails were usually either reused or taken as medical amulets, as stated in Part 1.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Compassion,” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1897.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Fourteenth Epistle

While Ezra and Ezekiel are hard at work secretly planning The Event, some interesting situations are making for some stories about Nahum’s and Ezekiel’s lives.

Nahum and Ruth often give thanks for having both of their sons home and healthy. Ruth still has nightmares when she thinks of the condition Ezekiel was in when he arrived home in that large industrial caravan. Seeing him in a coma with an extremely high fever caused both her and Nahum to think he may die.

Because of the professional loving care of Elizabeth and Hannah he is alive and well today.

Nahum continues to search for answers to situations that occur and result in such good fortune for his family. He reflects on Ruth coming to his father’s shop to see him when he was thirteen, how Elizabeth found Ezra in a pile of mud after falling off his horse, how Yohanin and Miriamme sold them their beautiful property, at how Jonathon came along and bought his old property, and now this! His son comes home almost dead and he falls in love with his nurse. I truly believe God has his hand in our lives and I am so glad we get to worship his son Jesus now.

Over three months have passed since that troubling day Ezekiel was brought home by the large caravan. He is almost his old self again and working closely along side Isaac. However, his memory still plays tricks on him.

Every day, it seems, he remembers something new from his past. It often troubles him because the memory is incomplete. He would like to know more about his recovery, but knows if he asks anyone it will only bring back bad memories for them too. He is very close to asking Hannah, because he knows she is strong and will be able to handle the situation. He has to find the right time.

One night, Ezekiel and Hannah were chatting and discussing their future. Ezekiel was in a reflective mood and seemed to be day dreaming a bit. Finally, Hannah said is there anything wrong? He replied nothing is wrong, but I sometimes get this feeling that my life was spared and you and Elizabeth and my family were part of that saving event.

I have only brief glimpses of my condition and remember little things about my healing, but I cannot help but wonder why I was so fortunate to have made a complete recovery. Hannah pointed out to him that there is a place in the bible that says there is a time to live and a time to die. It is your time to live.

He again reiterated that he is so thankful to God and his family for saving him, but wonders what really happened to him.

Hannah, using all her nursing and “patient” patient training said, ok, let me tell you what happened. He was all ears!

She said that when I first saw you I knew you were very ill, but I knew in my heart you would recover.

He asked if she would tell him about his time at the clinic and what had taken place there. She told him that she and Elizabeth were waiting for him. You had a very high fever and  basically in a deep sleep or coma and was unaware of your surroundings.

She told him she started treating him with a new herb she heard about from Dioscorides  called Yarrow. We bathed you, put you in a clean robe, gave you lots of water to drink and let you rest, along with big dosages of the new herb.

She also confided to him that she considered him a different and special patient. I did not know what the difference was, but I found some kind of connection with you. She put it down to the fact it was Ezra’s brother, but she was not sure? With that, he squeezed her hand and said simply I am so glad you did!!!

She continued. Elizabeth had arranged for the family to take turns sitting and monitoring you. We needed to continue with our duties at the clinic. The clinic was busy and we were concerned over your slow recovery, we were getting tired and worried. Elizabeth decided to ask her younger sister, to come and help at the clinic. This was a brilliant move as the young girl possessed the same qualities as her older sister and was a big help.

One morning you really scared us! You sat up in bed, calling out names and places that made no sense. You were very delirious.

Six days after you arrived with the fever, you were still in a coma. We were now getting very worried.  It is common knowledge that if it exceeds ten days the patient will likely die. I was convinced that it is a serious fever but not malaria. I had treated malaria patients before and your symptoms were different.

The following night on your mom’s watch this time, you had another delirium attack, worse than the others. Everyone is extremely concerned now. Nahum sent Simon to fetch Isaac.

All the family is awake late into the night. Isaac has arrived and he is preparing to have a prayer service for you. Your family, Miriamme and I gather around your bed and Isaac leads us in prayer.

He speaks to God as though he was speaking to a friend, asking for a favour. He is very careful to continually tell God that “we” all want Ezekiel to get well and to live. If it is God’s will to take his life, please God give us the strength and wisdom to understand and accept it.

Your poor mom was in tears and hugs Isaac for his prayer and for thanking God for the life Ezekiel has lived to this point.

Next morning.  Miramme brought you some  porridge, which you ate with haste, a good sign. She then asked if she could make a suggestion. She was very careful to ensure she was not interfering with our treatment, we asked her to continue.

She said that many years ago her grandmother had been given her some tea, she thought it was from India. We have kept it all these years sealed in a waxed jar. We only opened it when someone was really sick or had a fever. I used it on Yohanan some years ago and he got better. I resealed it and put it away. I just thought of it today. I asked her to mix a potion for you and she gave it to you.

We are all very tired now. It is about 3:00 am. We decided to try and sleep and leave Isaac to watch over you for a few hours.  We went to sleep with heavy hearts and prayers on our lips.

It was just before dawn when Isaac crept quietly out of your room and came to my bedroom and woke me.   He asked me to wake up the others as he thought you were coming to. 

They stayed in the back ground as Isaac gently helped you to sit up. In thinking about it now, it was kind of funny as you sat up as though nothing had happened, you rubbed your eyes, stretched your arms and said, where am I? what is going on?

 Now I am embarrassed to tell what happened next! Ezekiel said what do you mean? was I rude or something? No. she said you looked around and asked where the angel went?

We assumed you were still delirious, but you said you remember seeing a beautiful girl here patting you with cool cloths, and giving you cool water, she looked like an angel.  Where is she? The family all looked at me and I was so overcome with a feeling I have never experienced before that I ran out of the room.

Ezra went over to you and very quickly told you what happened, your trip home via a caravan, your stay at the clinic and your very serious high fever. He then said you have a nurse by the name of Hannah, I think that is who you mean.

With that he called me back into the room. As i approached you, your face lit up and you almost shouted, that’s her, she saved my life. I went over and said Hi, I am Hannah and I gave you a kiss on the forehead. You tried to hug me but you were too weak, you just said thank you.

 Ezra went to the back of the clinic and came back with the roller chair. A few months ago, Elizabeth went into the shop and told Simon and Bart she had a request!

She asked them if they could put wheels on the back legs of this heavy wooden chair, and handles on the back, this way she could transport patients without having to tote them or make them walk slowly. The boys smiled and obliged her with the roller chair.

Ezra gently placed his brother in the chair and wheeled him out to the latrine and then to the little pond behind the shop. Ezekiel was able to wash his hair, beard and body which made him feel like a new man. He toweled off and Ezra wheeled him back to his bed, which had been made up with clean sheets and pillows. You went back to sleep and we all met in a big circle and Isaac again led us in a prayer of thanksgiving for returning you to us. It was so emotional; we were all crying with joy.

The next day Miriamme said she would make you some hearty soup and that I should enjoy it with you, so we had our first meal together!!!

When we finished eating and were chatting you surprised and embarrassed me a little when you said: I suppose since you are my nurse you know all about me. I said, yes, I think so. You replied, OK, but I know nothing of you, tell me about yourself. So I proceeded to tell you all the things you now know. You were very pleased and we seemed to grow closer the more we got to know each other.

You stayed in the clinic two more days and on the last day Miriamme asked you to dinner, she would make one of your favourites, dumplings. She said she would make them at Elizabeth’s as she had the larger rooms. Again, she asked me to join them.

We enjoyed our feast and later enjoyed a quiet evening chatting and talking about what we might like to do in the future, I really enjoyed it. I had never spent quiet alone time with a man before.

About nine o’clock there was a knock on the door and Ezra came in. He sat and chatted and helped us finish the wine. He then said he would see to his horses and return and take you to the latrine. I said, thank you, I will leave in a few minutes.

Do you remember what happened next? She asked playfully! Now it was Ezekiel’s turn to blush! Yes, I sure do, it was my first time kissing a girl on the lips and it felt so good.

When they had composed themselves and Ezekiel was happy to find out the truth he told her some more good news.

Ezekiel said he had been asked by Isaac during one of his visits home, if he would consider taking over Isaac’s work as he was getting old and the travelling was making him very tired. I am considering his offer, but I do not feel capable of filling Isaac’s shoes.

Isaac has been very patient and kind with me, he has pointed out that it is not a case of me filling his shoes, but rather an opportunity for me to continue teaching about Jesus, but doing it my way.

When he put it like that, I felt I would try it and see how I make out. Over a year has passed and I feel the people are believing in my teachings and willing to follow me in their worship of this man Jesus. It is very satisfying, and people have been very kind and generous to me by giving me food, gifts and gold. I think I am ready for a wife!

One night after dinner at Hannah’s home, Ezekiel asked her parents if he could speak with them alone. Hannah knew what was coming! Unlike his older brother and father who both had difficulty with words, Ezekiel was quite confident and spoke very eloquently with her parents.

At the conclusion, they called Hannah back into the room and they agreed on a wedding date and of course, the young couple already have a home to move into.

The wedding took a few months later, Ezra and Elizabeth arranged for the wedding celebrations and due to the on going threats to Christians it was a low-key event.

It took place at Hannah’s parents farm and again many of Ezra’s “horse friends” served as custodians of the guests’ horses and wagon, as guards around the perimeter of the farm and some helped with the grilling of the meat.

It was a truly exciting and dramatic day for all concerned. Considering it was just over a year since Ezekiel almost died, reliving the tragic death of Isaac, remembering so many Christian friends who had been murdered recently and most importantly recognizing the contributions these two young people were making to their country and to their fellow man.

Both Hannah, for her work at The Clinic, and Ezekiel for his preaching and his work spreading Jesus’ word to so many people they were truly loved by so many, and it was with great satisfaction they were able to say a small thank you at their wedding.

Similar to Elizabeth and Ezra a few years earlier, the young couple borrowed two of Ezra’s horses and rode to a beach resort a few hours away for a few days of wedding celebration.

The photo shows, “The Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain,” by Wilhelm Kotarbiński, painted in 1879.

Crucifixion, Part 2

Blood loss from the scourging helped determine the time the victim survived. In any case, victims suffered a long time (at most, days) before falling into prolonged unconsciousness and death. Soldiers typically did not hasten things along because a long and painful death was the point of the execution method. Usually the victim was left on the cross until birds and wild beasts consumed the body.

Death could result from a variety of causes, including blood loss and hypovolemic shock, or infection and sepsis, caused by the scourging that preceded the crucifixion or by the nailing itself, and eventual dehydration. A theory attributed to French surgeon Dr. Pierre Barbet (author of A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon) holds that, when the whole body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation. He conjectured that the condemned would have severe difficulty inhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the chest muscles and lungs.

The condemned would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms, leading to exhaustion, or have his feet supported by tying or by a wood block. Indeed, the executioners were sometimes asked that the legs of the victim were broken or shattered, an act called crucifragium which was also frequently applied without crucifixion to slaves.

This act speeded up the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing offenses. Once deprived of support and unable to lift himself, the victim would die within a few minutes.

Experiments by Dr. Frederick Zugibe, former chief medical examiner of Rockland County, New York have revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death.

Zugibe claims that the breaking of the crucified condemned’s legs to hasten death was administered as a coup de grâce, causing severe traumatic shock or hastening death by fat embolism. Crucifixion on a single pole with no transom, with hands affixed over one’s head, would precipitate rapid asphyxiation if no block was provided to stand on, or once the legs were broken.

It is possible to survive crucifixion, if not prolonged, and there are records of people who did. The historian Josephus, a Judean who defected to the Roman side during the Jewish uprising of 66-72 AD, describes finding two of his friends crucified. He begged for and was granted their reprieve; one died, while the other recovered. Josephus gives no details of the method or duration of their crucifixion before their reprieve.

It is still a matter of debate whether victims were crucified in the nude or with their loincloths left on. There is no doubt that many (if not most) crucifixion victims were stripped naked, either with or without a loincloth, as it would have humiliated the victim further. This is one of the elements which made crucifixion notorious: due to the physical, mental and emotional pain it caused.

While traditionally Jesus and the two criminals are depicted as having a sort of loincloth for modesty (in a few depictions, Jesus even wears a full-length robe, called a colobium), a few very early depictions depict the victim as either being stark naked on the cross or with some loincloth on (also see illustration at left and below right, one of which is a graffito found in Puzzuoli, with the other being a gem found in Syria, dating from the late 2nd-3rd century). As a general rule of thumb, most of these early representations are not depictions made by Christians, who still didn’t depict the Crucifixion overtly during this time period, but were usually created by non-Christians and/or Gnostics.

While some take the position that Jesus was not spared even a loincloth when He was crucified, some believe that due to Jewish sensibilities, loincloths were left on or provided (it would be fitting to remind here that many people in ancient times did not even wear loincloths; for them, their tunics served as their undergarment). So, before we could have any conclusive evidence, it would seem that the best answer here for the moment is that it depended on the situation and the location.

The gibbet on which crucifixion was carried out could be of many shapes. Josephus records multiple tortures and positions of crucifixion during the Siege of Jerusalem as Titus crucified the rebels; and the Roman historian Seneca the Younger recounts (To Marcia, On Consolation, 6.20.3): “Video istic cruces non unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas: capite quidam conversos in terram suspendere, alii per obscena stipitem egerunt, alii brachia patibulo explicuerunt. Video fidiculas, video verbera, et membris singulis articulis singula docuerunt machinamenta: sed video et mortem…” [I see there crosses, not merely of one kind but fashioned differently by others: a certain one suspends with head down towards the ground, others drive stakes through their private parts; others stretch the arms out on the gibbet; I see cords, I see whips, and contraptions designed to torture every joint and limb, but I see death as well…]

At times the gibbet was only one vertical stake, called in Latin crux simplex or palus. This was the simplest available construction for torturing and killing the criminals. Frequently, however, there was a cross-piece attached either at the top to give the shape of a T (crux commissa) or just below the top, as in the form most familiar in Christian symbolism (crux immissa). Other forms were in the shape of the letters X and Y.

While the view that Jesus died on a stake has thus been propounded by writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century (and is still popular among Jehovah’s Witnesses), second-century writers, such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who were much closer to the event, speak of him only as dying on a two-beam cross.

In the same century, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas and Clement of Alexandria saw a two-beam shape of the cross of Jesus as foreshadowed in a numerological interpretation of Genesis 4:14, and the first of these, as well as Justin Martyr, saw the same shape prefigured in Moses keeping his arms stretched out in prayer in the battle against Amalek. At the end of the same century, Tertullian speaks of Christians as accustomed to mark themselves repeatedly with the sign of the cross, and the phrase “the Lord’s sign” (τὸ κυριακὸν σημεῖον, to Kyriakon simeion) was used with reference to a cross composed of an upright and a crossbeam. Crosses of † or Τ shape were in use, even in Palestine, at the time of Jesus.

See here for more in-depth discussion on the shape of Jesus’ cross.

In popular depictions of crucifixion, the condemned is shown with nails in the palm of their hands. Although historical documents refer to the nails being in the hands, the word usually translated as hand, “χείρ” (cheir) in Greek, referred to arm and hand together, so that, words are added to denote the hand as distinct from the arm, as “ἄκρην οὔτασε χεῖρα” (Akrin outase cheira, “he wounded the end of the ‘cheir'”, i.e. he wounded her hand).

A possibility that does not require tying is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm (the radius and the ulna). The nails could also be driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones. The word χείρ, translated as “hand”, can include everything below the mid-forearm: Acts 12:7 uses this word to report chains falling off from Peter’s ‘hands’, although the chains would be around what we would call wrists. This shows that the semantic range of χείρ is wider than the English hand, and can be used of nails through the wrist.

An experiment that was the subject of National Geographic Channel’s documentary entitled, Quest For Truth: The Crucifixion, showed that a person can be suspended by the palm of their hand. Nailing the feet (or the ankles) to the side of the cross relieves strain on the wrists by placing most of the weight on the lower body.

Another possibility, suggested by Frederick Zugibe, is that the nails may have been driven in at an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.

A footrest attached to the cross, perhaps for the purpose of taking the man’s weight off the wrists, is sometimes included in representations of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is not mentioned in ancient sources. These, however, do mention the sedile (a small piece or block of wood attached to the front of the cross, about halfway down, where the victim could rest) which could have served that purpose.

The question has long been debated whether Jesus was crucified with three or with four nails.

The treatment of the Crucifixion in art during the earlier Middle Ages strongly supports the tradition of four nails, and the language of certain historical writers (none, however, earlier than Gregory of Tours, “De Gloria Martyrum”, vi), favors the same view. The earliest depictions of the subject might also favor this view, as they generally depict the feet of the victim as being separate from each other.

On the other hand, in the thirteenth century, most of Western art (with a few exceptions; see the image to the right, painted by Diego Velázquez in 1632) began to represent the feet of Jesus as placed one over the other and pierced with a single nail. This accords with the language of Nonnus and Socrates and with the poem “Christus Patiens” attributed to St. Gregory Nazianzus, which speaks of three nails.

This depiction of three nails had actually caused some controversy when it was first introduced. For example, in the latter part of the 13th century the bishop of Tuy in Iberia wrote in horror about the ‘heretics’ who carve ‘ill-shapen’ images of the crucified Jesus ‘with one foot laid over the other, so that both are pierced by a single nail, thus striving to annul or render doubtful men’s faith in the Holy Cross and the traditions of the sainted Fathers.’

Archaeological criticism has pointed out however not only that two of the earliest representations of the Crucifixion (the Palatine graffito does not here come into account), viz., the carved door of the Santa Sabina in Rome, and the ivory panel of the British Museum, show no signs of nails in the feet, but that St. Ambrose (“De obitu Theodosii” in P.L., XVI, 1402) and other early writers distinctly imply that there were only two nails. However, this does not answer why in Luke 24:39-40 Jesus is said to have shown ‘his hands and his feet’ to his disciples, unless there was some distinguishing mark located there.

St. Ambrose informs us that Empress Helena had one nail converted into a bridle for Constantine’s horse (early commentators quote Zechariah 14:20, in this connection), and that an imperial diadem was made out of the other nail. Gregory of Tours speaks of a nail being thrown (deponi), or possibly dipped into the Adriatic Sea to calm a storm. It is impossible to discuss these problems adequately in brief space, but the information derivable from the general archaeology of the punishment of crucifixion as known to the Romans does not in any way contradict the early Christian tradition of four nails.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows the “Crucifixion Fresco” from the fifth century Ancient Church of Saint Mary (the Santa Maria Antiqua). The fresco dates from ca. 741 to 752 AD.

Crucifixion Part 1

This is the first in a 3-part examination of the history of Roman crucifixion.

I. INTRODUCTION

Crucifixion (from Latin crucifixio, perfect passive participle crucifixus, fixed to a cross, from prefix cruci-, cross, + verb ficere, fix or do, variant form of facere, do or make ) is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.

German scholar of religion Martin Hengel, the author of the work entitled Crucifixion (full title Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross), originally published in 1977, writes that while authors commonly regard the origins of crucifixion as coming from Persia due to the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, the practice of impaling or nailing someone to a post or something similar to it, was also found among the Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, Taurians, Celts, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Britanni, Numidians and Carthaginians. The Carthaginians is commonly thought to have passed the knowledge to Romans, who then perfected the method.


II. HISTORY

While the origins of this method of execution are quite obscure, it is clear that the form of capital punishment lasted for over nearly 900 years, starting with the Persian king Darius’ (reigned 550-485 BC) crucifixion of 3000 Babylonian slaves in 519 BC and ending with Constantine in 337 AD; thus tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals have been subjected to this cruel and humiliating form of punishment. There are records of mass executions in which hundreds of thousands of persons have died due to this practice.

It is common belief that crucifixion was only reserved for criminals, as a result of Plutarch’s passage that “each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back”, however literature clearly shows that this class were not the only individuals who were subjected to crucifixion. For example, Alexander the Great crucified 2000 survivors from the siege of Tyre on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.

The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour.

Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called “supplicium servile” by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station (‘humiles’). The citizen class of Roman society were almost never subject to capital punishments; instead, they were fined or exiled. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus mentions Jews of high rank who were crucified, but this was to point out that their status had been taken away from them.

Control of one’s own body was vital in the ancient world. Capital punishment took away control over one’s own body, thereby implying a loss of status and honor. The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to hasten death and usually (with a few known exceptions) forbade burial.

III. METHODS OF CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion was literally a death that was ‘excruciating’ (from the Latin word ‘ex cruces’, “out of crucifying”), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it), and public (hence the expression “to nail to the cross”), using whatever means expedient for that goal. The methods varied considerably with location and with time period.

The Greek and Latin words corresponding to “crucifixion” covered a wide range of meaning, from impaling on a stake to affixing on a tree, to a mere upright pole (a ‘crux simplex’) or to a combination of an upright stake (‘stipes’ in Latin) and a crossbeam (‘patibulum’).

If a crossbeam is used, the victim was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which would have been torn open by a brutal scourging, to the place of execution. The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion.

A. SCOURGING

Scourging the victim was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in eases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (known as a flagellum or flagrum, seen at right) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron or lead balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals.

For scourging, the man was first stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post.

The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar as to be stretched out.

The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two Roman officials known as lictors (from the Latin verb ligare, which means “to bind”, said to refer to the fasces that they carried) or by one who alternated positions (some reports even indicate scourgings with four or six lictores). The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictores and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.

There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted — this was left to the lictores to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Josephus also states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem at 70 AD (Jewish War 5.11), Jews who were captured by Titus’ forces “were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. “

Flagellation was so severe that it was referred to as “half death” by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter (some survivors were even reported to have gone mad due to the intensity of the scourging). Cicero reports in In Verrem (II.5), “pro mortuo sublatus, perbrevi postea est mortuus” (“taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead”). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

As Pontius Pilate was only the Prefect/Equestrian Procurator of Iudeaea Region (from 26-36 A.D.), he might have had no true lictor of his own, hence regular soldiers might have administered the scourging in place of lictores.

After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim. In Jesus’ situation, this took the form of plaiting thorns (several prickly or thorny shrubs found in Palestine, especially the Paliurus aculeatus, Zizyphus Spina-Christi, and Zizyphus vulgaris may have served for the purpose) into a sort of ‘crown’ (the Gospels use the Greek word stephanon, which usually implies a wreath or garland of some sort; however some think that it is likely that the crown was a sort of ‘cap’ that covered the whole head, as in the illustration at right), dressing him in a purple (so say Mark and John) or scarlet (Matthew) cloak (Matthew and Mark used the Greek word chlamys, which was originally a sort of cloak worn by Greek soldiers made from a rectangle of woollen material about the size of a blanket, typically bordered, and was usually pinned at the right shoulder while John used the word himation, which was a type of cloak worn over the tunic or chiton), in order to mock him as King of the Jews. In addition, he was also provided a reed (kalamos) for a sceptre, which was later used to beat him (Matt. 27:30). However, once the soldiers got tired of this sport, they took off the robe, “dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.”

B. TO THE PLACE OF EXECUTION

It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 pounds (136 kilograms), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75-125 pounds (35-60 kg). was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar.

The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by execution teams composed of four soldiers, headed by a centurion, with the condemned man placed in the middle of the hollow square of the four soldiers.

A herald carried a sign (titulus, epigraphe) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed; alternatively, it would have been hung around the victim’s neck. The board was said to be whitened with gypsum while the lettering was in black; alternatively, the lettering was done with gypsum. The description of guilt written thereon was usually made to be as brief and as concise as possible; the Gospel’s record that Jesus’ titulus merely contained his name and his crime (“the King of the Jews”). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.1) recorded a Christian martyr named Attalus who was led to the ampitheatre to be killed, with a placard being carried before him which said simply: “This is Attalus the Christian.”

At the site of execution, the victim stripped of his clothing (if any) and, at least in Palestine, was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic to help deaden the pain. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. Any article of clothing belonging to the victim became the property of the party of soldiers in charge of the execution, as per the law; thus, the soldiers drew lots for Jesus’ clothes.

There was no ‘set’ posture for someone being crucified; soldiers usually crucified victims in various postures and positions (Josephus mentions that during the Siege of Jerusalem, soldiers crucified those they caught “one after one way, and another after another” to amuse themselves).

Upright posts would have presumably been erected and fixed permanently in such places, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank serving as a crude seat (known as a sedile or sedulum), was often attached midway down the stipes.

C. TYING OR NAILING TO THE CROSS?

The condemned man may sometimes have been attached to the cross by tying him securely there (some scholars have, in fact, argued that crucifixion was actually a bloodless form of death and that tying the victim was the rule), but nails are mentioned by Josephus, who states that, again during the Siege of Jerusalem, “the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”

Therefore, other scholars such as Hengel, who here takes along with Hewitt (1932) have argued that nailing the victim by his hands and feet was the rule and tying him to the cross was the exception.

In Roman times iron was expensive; thus, nails from a crucifixion were usually removed from the dead body and reused over and over to cut the costs. Also, objects used in the execution of criminals, such as nails or ropes from a crucifixion were frequently sought as amulets by many people, and was thus removed from the victim following their death.

This is attested to by a passage in the Mishna (Tractate Sabbath 6.10) which states that both Jews and Amorites (a sort of ‘codeword’ for non-Jews) may carry a nail from a crucifixion, a tooth from a jackal and an egg from a locust as a means of healing:

MISHNA IX: It is permitted to go out with eggs of grasshoppers or with the tooth of a fox or a nail from the gallows where a man was hanged, as medical remedies. Such is the decision of R. Meir, but the sages prohibit the using of these things even on week days, for fear of imitating the Amorites.

GEMARA: The eggs of grasshoppers as a remedy for toothache; the tooth of a fox as a remedy for sleep, viz., the tooth of a live fox to prevent sleep and of a dead one to cause sleep; the nail from the gallows where a man was hanged as a remedy for swelling.

“As medical remedies,” such is the decision of R. Meir. Abayi and Rabha both said: “Anything (intended) for a medical remedy, there is no apprehension of imitating the Amorites; hence, if not intended as a remedy there is apprehension of imitating the Amorites? But were we not taught that a tree which throws off its fruit, it is permitted to paint it and lay stones around it? It is right only to lay stones around it in order to weaken its strength, but what remedy is painting it? Is it not imitating the Amorites? (Nay) it is only that people may see it and pray for mercy. We have learned in a Boraitha: It is written: “Unclean, unclean, shall he call out [Leviticus, 13:45].” (To what purpose?) That one must make his troubles known to his fellow-men, that they may pray for his relief.”

As this Mishnaic passage mentions both Jews and non-Jews carrying these objects one can infer the power of these amulets and their scarcity in the archaeological record. Not only Jewish sources attest to the power of these objects; Pliny in Naturalis Historia (28.11) wrote that:

…So, too, in cases of quartan fever, they take a fragment of a nail from a cross, or else a piece of a halter that has been used for crucifixion, and, after wrapping it in wool, attach it to the patient’s neck; taking care, the moment he has recovered, to conceal it in some hole to which the light of the sun cannot penetrate…

Perhaps, however, the number of the individuals crucified may determine the manner in which the execution took form. For example, during the Third Servile War (led by the slave Spartacus), which happened in 73-71 BC, 6600 prisoners of war were crucified along the Via Appia between the cities of Rome and Capua, it would seem plausible that the most quick and efficient manner of death was employed; namely, to simply tie the victim to the tree or cross with his hands suspended directly over his head, causing death within a few minutes, or perhaps an hour if the victims’ feet were not nailed or tied down.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “The Crucifixion,” by Jacopo Tintoretto, painted in 1565.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Tenth Epistle

It has been almost three years since the tragic death of Isaac. Ruth and Nahum are still struggling with his death. It has affected them deeply to the point of depression. Ezra and Ezekiel have tried to console and help their parents but nothing they have done has made them feel any less remorseful.

Another contributing factor to their stress and poor health are the daily reports of mass murders of Christians in nearby towns and cities. Both the Jews, who resent the new Christian believers and the Romans who are angry that the Christians continue to state their belief in Jesus and his preaching ahead of the Roman Leaders.

Now a new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.
The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

It is fifty years since Nahum took over his fathers carpentry and leather shop. The boys believe a celebration should be held in honour of this accomplishment.

The boys have been secretly planning an event that they hope will help bring some closure to the death of Isaac and the hundreds of his followers. They also hope it will bring some happiness back into the lives of their parents.

It is a large event they are planning, a huge amount of work and planning and even some fear of the Roman soldiers and the Jewish rebels. After all, Nahum was one of the mob who joined together and shouted CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! and some of those people have remained faithful to the Jewish faith but are still customers today.

After three months of talking, checking, enquiring (secretly) and praying about their plan, they have decided to tell their wives on Saturday night of the plan.

Following dinner, Ezra asked the two ladies to join them in the sitting room where the boys presented their plan. The ladies were awe struck and for some time did not reply. After a while, Hannah looked at Elizabeth and said do you think the ladies from the Guild would be willing to help with the food. There were about fifty women in the Guild, she replied, I am sure they would.

With that Hannah said, ok, lets do it! They all agreed they should keep it a secret from Ruth and Nahum, but should discuss it with the larger family before undertaking such a big event. They made a plan for each of them to reach out to various family members and get their approval. They are to meet again in two weeks.

Two weeks later the two couples met and exchanged the results of their respective visits. The visits all went well, and many of the visits resulted in offers to assist. Joshua said he had four large barrels of fine wine he would bring! That was an important aspect that they all smiled about.

The most important and dangerous part of the plan was the fact the event would be open for both the new Jesus people; Christians, and the Jewish community. They would also have to get the approval from Claudius and the Roman soldiers. Was this too dangerous a mix? Only time would tell.

The Christian community around this part of Jerusalem was not being persecuted by either the Jews or the Romans, however, only a few miles away there were horror stories of mass killings, tortures and persecution of the Christians. Would this Event be noticed by these factions who could easily slaughter hundreds of unarmed, innocent people.

Ezra and Ezekiel decided on a plan that would give them some assurance of a safe and danger free event. They would consult with various people to get their reaction to the idea.

When the boys reconvened the next week, they were pleased with the responses they got from their contacts. Ezra has spoken with some of his Jewish friends and leaders while Ezekiel visited Claudius.

They were assured from both fronts that there was no danger if they agreed to two rules. That there be no religious activities, and no political involvement or participation. Both boys agreed this could be attained, although they were very disappointed they could not talk about their new friend Jesus, but realized the danger that could come to them if they aggravated the Romans or the Jews. They decided to ask God for forgiveness and forged ahead with their plans.

Now it was time to get to work, and there was a lot of work for everyone. They decided they would have a meeting during one afternoon when they knew Nahum would be at home. Also, there would be no suspicions about a secret meeting held during the day.

On Thursday, fourteen people arrived at the shop. Ezekiel took the lead and presented the plans. He was supported by Ezra, Elizabeth and Hannah.

The Event would be a celebration of fifty years of Nahum The Carpenter. There would be an open invitation to anyone and everyone. There would be food, wine, children’s games, music, horse and wagon valet service, and Ruth and Nahum would be comfortably seated where all the guests could stop by and say hello.

This brief synopsis begged many questions! Who would do the cooking? Abraham had volunteered to cook a large steer on an open pit; Elizabeth and Hannah had spoken to two local Ladies Guilds and over forty ladies would look after the remaining food. Market Man had offered to bring large baskets of fresh fruit, and of course Joshua was bringing the wine.

Who was looking after the children: Hannah and Sara had reached out to three teacher friends and they agreed to assist along with several teenagers from the local schools. What about the horses and wagons. Here, Ezra was so proud of his “horse friends”, many had volunteered to meet the wagons and after unloading the passengers would drive the wagons to near by fields where there would be shade, water and hay for the animals. There were enough volunteers that they could take turns and still enjoy some of the festivities too.

What about the music? This proved to be another proud moment for the two boys. First of all Ezekiel had played in a band with some of his friends. They enjoyed sacred music as well as some of the present day modern music. They would play in an area where people could listen, dance and sing as they chose. Then, the big surprise came from Sara and Hannah. They had met a young girl, Demetra, while at medical school in Athens. As well as training in the medical field she was also an aspiring entertainer. She followed the music of Sappho and her brother accompanied her on the Lyre. Both Hannah and Sara had attended several of her concerts while training in Athens. Although her music was primarily Greek, her beautiful voice and amazing poetry of Sappho made for wonderful musical entertainment.

When contacted by Sara she agreed to come if she and her brother could be given some travel expense money and a place to stay. Hannah explained that the Medical Centre had saved enough to assist with travel expenses and Elizabeth had offered the new home that had been Miriamne and Yohanan’s apartment as a place to stay.

The participants were all nodding their approval as the couple explained their plans. Two final questions were asked: how many people did they expect, and who was going to pay for all this? Again, the boys explained they had done some research and came up a number of 300 guests! since much of the labour was being donated, most of the costs would be assisting in paying for the food.

The boys had prepared a budget for the purchase of the foods and to reimburse the ladies for the purchase of vegetables etc. This would not be an issue.

On Monday Ezra and Ezekiel retraced their steps of a few weeks ago and revisited the leaders to advise them the Event was a go. Now it is time to get to work.

The photo shows, “The Marriage at Cana,” by Tintpretto, painted in 1561.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Ninth Epistle

Baby Paul was growing very fast and was a very happy, contented little boy. He was the recipient of much love from his parents, his grandparents and of course Miriamme. He loved the outdoors and was particularly happy when his father took him for a ride on one of his horses.

Life for the Nahum family was very satisfying. The shops were flourishing; the clinic was a very important place in the community. Hannah was continuing to improve her medical competence by taking courses in Italy and Greece, Sarah also went to Greece to get her medical training and the family was enjoying good health. Their new Christian Church was also growing. Isaac was not only leading many services but also training new disciples to assist him. Ezekiel was taking over many of Isaac’s missions and developing into a well respected Christian Leader.

Nahum was coming to the shop three days a week and going to see Market Man every other week. Ezra went to the shop every morning, and if not needed, he would go and tend to his horses. Samuel and Ethan handled all the work in the shop now and Bart and Simon managed the blacksmith and carriage shop.

Market Man was advised to come to the shops next Monday, after lunch.

The men had completed the carriage in much less time than expected. It looked great and had some unique features. They had made a retractable roof for the driver that could be tilted back on clear days, they had made a step board for the driver that prevented any stones or debris from the horses hitting him; the two boys had made leather seats and backs and of course it also had the glass windows.

On Saturday Nahum, Ezra and the four men took the carriage for a test run around Ezra’s farm. Ezra used a team of his highly trained horses to pull the carriage. Each man was given a chance to drive the carriage. It all went smooth.

When they returned to the shop they decided to take one more trip, this time on the road. They drove to Hannah’s parents, Jonah and Abigail. They were pleased they did not encounter any traffic so the carriage was still a secret. When back at the shop the men all pitched in, checked everything over and cleaned all the road dirt and dust off and it was like new again.

On Monday Market Man rode his horse to the shops and arrived to find his carriage hitched to a beautiful team of grey horses. Ezra explained that the men had done such a great job in completing the work ahead of schedule and cost and if Market Man agreed they would give him the team in exchange for his horse, he was delighted.

Once he looked over his new carriage he asked if the young artist was here. Simon called his sister and the young artist, Leah from the office. The shy girl was hugged by Market Man and he told her he had arranged with an artist friend of his who has a gallery near my market, to give you lessons every Saturday that you can make it to town. Her mother was crying and Leah was giggling with pure joy.

Nahum and Ezra accompanied Market Man back to his home with his horse hitched behind for Ezra to ride home. Market Man was absolutely delighted with his new carriage and said he could hardly wait to show Jonathon.

Abraham and Naomi were neighbours of Hannah’s parents, Jonah and Abigail. Their families had been friends for decades. One afternoon while each man was tilling his fields, Abraham, tethered his team and went over to speak with Jonah. He extended an invitation to Jonah, Abigail and Hannah, and the new boy friend. They agreed upon Friday night.

Abraham was a big strong affable man, who loved to enjoy a good time. He had always teased pretty little Hannah and called her his girl friend. When the family arrived, Abraham picked up Hannah and gave her a big bear hug, Hannah squealed, like she always did, and gave Abraham a big kiss on his forehead. Poor Ezekiel had never seen anything like this and was momentarily startled, but Hannah soon explained the situation to him and they all had a good laugh.

After tea was served, Abraham took over! He explained, again, to Ezekiel that Hannah was his girl friend and he was jealous that she had chosen you instead of me, more laughs. He went to explain that he had changed from cattle farming to crop farming and that he did not require a hired hand anymore. He said the house that his father had built for him forty years ago was sitting empty now. He continued by saying he had asked the Tax Man to find a way that Abraham could sever a piece of his farm with the house on it and sell it.

A few months ago it was all legalized and he had a crew build a fence around the home and five acres. He now wanted to sell it and he wanted Hannah and her new friend to have the first opportunity to buy it. He did not need the money, so was asking a below market price for the property.

The young couple and their families were overwhelmed by the kind offer from this friendly neighbour. They were almost unable to speak, finally Ezekiel stood up and made a wonderful speech covering all the necessary points, which included, thanking them for the kind offer, the wonderful love that had grown between the two farming families over the years, his appreciation for his own family and last but not least the new love and admiration he had for Hannah. He ended by going over to her parents and giving them each a kiss.

Abraham, in his rough and tumble style made a joke of it and said enough of this lets toast it with some wine!

The young couple made all the financial arrangements and the deal was completed within a month. They had a home when they got married.

To add to the excitement of Nahum and his extended family was the news of another baby in the next few months.

The one sad part to this story was the passing of Yohanin in the early spring. Following his delightful ride in Jonathon’s carriage his health deteriorated. Miriamme asked Isaac and Ezekiel to join them for tea one Sunday afternoon. Yohanin was very weak but he made up his mind to sit up when his friends arrived. After some pleasant conversation, Isaac asked everyone to join him in prayer. He then presented a wonderful tribute to the little man, highlighted by the fact the couple had sold their farm to Nahum and that they had dedicated a section to be used for a church.

Yohanin with a voice just above a whisper said he wanted to say three things: thank you to all his friends for their love over the years; he wanted to thank God for allowing him to live long enough to see the birth and death of Jesus and lastly for the lifelong love of his dear wife Miriamme. With tears running down their cheeks the couple embraced like a couple of newlyweds.

When the guests left,Yohanin said to Miriamme I would like to go to bed, would you please come and snuggle with me. For the next hour or so, the couple reminisced about their life, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. Yohanin then quietly kissed his wife, said I love you and went to sleep. He never woke up!

Isaac and Ezekiel conducted a funeral for Yohanin which took place on the piece of property which was to be used for a Christian Church. Much like the tribute given a few days ago, Isaac reminded the crowd of over two hundred people of all the accomplishments and kindnesses and love Yohanin had delivered over the years. He also paid tribute to Miriamme who sat in the arms of Elizabeth. It was a wonderful good bye to a wonderful man.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

The photo shows, “Christ’s Farewell to Mary,” by Piotr Stachiewicz, painted in 1900.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Eighth Epistle

I should explain how the request to build wagons with seats on them came about. It all happened after the purchase of Yohanan and Miriamme’s farm, about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Here is the story!

What was once Nahum’s grandfather’s little leather shop is now a multi-functional operation.

It all started with a visit by Isaac to Miriamme and Yohanan’s. The elderly couple asked Isaac to invite Nahum and Ezra to come to their home for dinner on Friday.

Nahum and Ezra left early with Samuel and Ethan managing the shop. They rode their horses to see Yonanan and Miriamme.

Miriamme had prepared a sumptuous dinner and while the couple was certainly showing their age, they were both able to chat and converse very well.

After dinner, the couple surprised Nahum and Ezra when they presented them with a proposal that neither of them expected.

They told the men that they were now too old to run their farm and would like to sell it to Nahum and his son. They had two conditions, and they believed only Ezra could fulfill these conditions.

So, what are the conditions? Well, number one they wanted to be promised that the course piece of property at the east end of the farm, near the side road, would be the home of a future Christian Church.

Number two, they would like Ezra and Elizabeth to live in the main home and Yohanan and Miriamme would live in the small apartment. They would live separately, but wanted the security of knowing that someone was close by if/when needed. The amount they wanted for the farm was significantly less than the market value, partly because they had no heirs, but mainly because they wanted a Church built on their property.

Nahum and Ezra left with a promise they would return within three days with their answer.

When the two men reached town, they decided to meet with their wives immediately as this was a significant offer and affected all of them. They met at Nahums late into the evening.

The wives were more awe struck than the men! They could not believe they could be blessed with such a kind offer. They all agreed that Nahum should visit the Banker tomorrow morning to secure necessary credit and paper work.

The meeting with the Banker went well, Nahum had saved over the years and Ezra had received large gifts of money at their wedding. Also, Nahum was a respected businessman and member of the community so a small loan was no problem.

Nahum, Ruth, Ezra and Elizabeth returned to the couples home on Monday. Nahum said he would like to accept their offer and he had made arrangements with the Banker Man to transfer the funds into their account. Elizabeth startled the group when she stood and said she had another condition on the offer. Miriamme was quick to reply that the offer they had presented to Nahum was not open for dispute. But Elizabeth stood firm and said she insisted. Ok, Miriamme said what is it??

Elizabeth replied that the deal depended on Miriamme agreeing to teach Elizabeth how to cook and bake. The old woman jumped up and threw her arms around Elizabeth and said you will be my daughter. The deal was completed that night.

Now came the need to sell the old shop which was difficult for Nahum, because it had been handed down for four generations.

One day a well dressed man riding in an elaborate carriage stopped at the shop, looking for Nahum. His name was Jonathon; he was a very wealthy land developer who was looking for property to build an inn. He said he was talking to Banker Man who told him about Nahums shop being for sale.

He thought the site of the old shop was ideal as it was just off the main roadway and stood alone, not too close to any other buildings. Of course Nahum was anxious to sell, even though his heart was still aching about giving up his family property.

The discussions were very short, both parties agreed on a price and a closing date and both parties were happy!

Over the next six months a new shop was built with a modern, clean bright Medical Centre for Elizabeth.

One day just after the new shop opened a carriage stopped out front and Jonathon got out. Nahum welcomed him warmly and invited him for a tour.

Jonathon then said to Nahum and Ezra, within an hour a large wagon would be arriving with something for the new shop. A short time later a four horse team with a huge wagon arrived. The driver parked and two riders proceeded to climb up and open the load. They then dropped down two large crates.  Inside was some furniture. Nahum and Ezra went over and shook Jonathon’s hand and gave him a warm hug. Jonathon explained that when he was ordering furniture for his new inn, he thought you might like to have some new furniture for your office and lunch room. He added that he appreciated the honest way they had conducted the sale, and for the wonderful job Ezra had done on his lawns. He was very grateful.

While they were dismantling the crates Jonathon asked who the elderly couple was. When Ezra explained he walked over and introduced himself. Yohanan was so in awe of the carriage that he could hardly speak. He finally said, Mister that is the most beautiful carriage I have ever seen!. Thank you Jonathon replied, would you like to see inside, oh please may we? With that the driver was instructed to show them.

Jonathon then went over and whispered in Ezra’s ear. With a huge smile Ezra replied FOR SURE!!!!

When the couple got down Jonathon approached them and said, I am driving to my new inn to oversee the unloading of the wagon, and then I am returning home, would you like to join me? I will drop you off back here in about six hours. We can stop and have dinner on the way back.

The couple looked at each, neither one knowing what to say! They were both in such awe now. Finally Ezra said, ok let’s go, I will join you, I can sit with the driver and you two can stay inside. Oh my, Miriamme replied, let us go home for a few minutes to put on nicer clothes. Both men smiled and said take your time!

A few minutes later they returned nicely attired in their best clothes and Miriamme brought along some fresh biscuits she had baked and some cold tea. They were both so excited to ride in such a luxurious carriage. It was a monumental day for the couple.

**************

Elizabeth woke Ezra one early morning and said she was going into labour. Ezra called Miriamme from her sleep and the two of them helped Elizabeth deliver a healthy little boy. They said they would name him Paul, after the disciple Zeke had been working with. The grandparents were delighted.

A few weeks later a baptismal was held and the usual discussion by the grandparents took place with each pair claiming Paul looked like their side of the family. Elizabeth, Ezra and Miriamme all smiled to themselves. It was truly a happy gathering.

*************

During the next year Nahum and Ezra had the good fortune to purchase a blacksmith shop from old friend Seth who wanted to retire and actually move not far from the new shop.

Nahum was always proud at how the ladies in his family could speak freely and be part of any and all discussions. When the discussion of the blacksmith shop came up Elizabeth and Ruth with support from Hannah, said the blacksmith shop should be a separate building away from the main shop and the clinic. Nahum and Ezra were surprised and proud of the ladies for speaking up and making a good point. It was agreed the blacksmith shop would be away from the clinic and downwind too.

The deal went smooth with Seth supervising the transition and relocation. While this was taking place another friend mentioned to Ezra that his cousin was a blacksmith in Rome but wanted to return home. When Nahum and Ezra were interviewing the young man, Bartholomew or Bart, he asked if they had considered building wagons now that they had a blacksmith shop. They were surprised but said why are you asking? He said that a friend of his who worked at the same large plant in Rome, building wagons, was also looking to move back to the Jerusalem area.

It was not long after that Bartholomew, or Bart and his friend Ethan were members of the Nahum the Carpenter shop and they were now making sandals, repairing harness, fixing implements and building wagons! Much different to the shop of twenty years ago!.

When Joshua heard of this he was so anxious to see Nahum and ask him if he could order a new wagon. He ordered one for himself and two for neighbours. The wagon business had started.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

The photo shows, “The Forge of Vulcan,” by Francesco Bassano the Younger, painted in the latter part of the 16th century.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Seventh Epistle

Joshua and Zilpah came to visit Nahum and Ruth one Sunday. During their visit Joshua asked Nahum if he had heard of a travel wagon? Nahum said Simon referred to it once in a conversation with a local farmer.

Joshua said he and two of his farmer neighbours were realizing how difficult it was to move workers from one place to another, they had to take small carts of a horse each. He said he had heard that a company in Rome was building them and farmers were finding them such a time saver, and they were even using them to transport family and friend, some held as many as fourteen people. Nahum said he would ask Simon for more information.

Simon showed Nahum a drawing of a farm wagon that could have seats added to transport people. He had made some in Rome. He said they were easy to build.

When Nahum told Joshua he ordered three.

Samuel and Ethan said they would make padded leather seats for even more comfort.

The boys completed the three wagons and Ezra delivered them using a team of his well trained horses to pull the first one and tow the other two behind.

The farmers were delighted in their new mode of transport and felt the cost would soon by paid for by the time saved in moving workers. They also appreciated the fact they could take their family all in one wagon now too.

As Elizabeth and Ezra were going to bed Elizabeth leaned over and gave her husband a kiss. She said, Ezra, if nothing happens in the next month we will have to invite our families for lunch again! He sat up and asked are you pregnant, yes she smiled back at him.

Ezekiel was improving every day and was now going out and meeting with Isaac whenever he could. Isaac was giving him an overview of his preaching area and the places where “Churches” had been established.

One evening Nahum surprised his son when he brought Hannah back with him from the shops. Again, she had prepared herself well for the surprise visit, hair all nice, a touch of rouge on her cheeks and another pretty dress.  Nahum had arranged for the two of them to dine at one of the areas nicer dining rooms. They made such a cute couple.

Ezekiel made Hannah’s day when he told her he had decided to stay in Jerusalem area and take over some of Isaacs missions. He also said he was looking to buy property but was not sure where. She was even more delighted when he asked her where she would like to live! Hannah said she had some ideas, but would need to think about them first. Any decision was put on hold for now.

They had a delightful evening and when they returned home Ruth and Nahum sat with them for some time enjoying some of Joshua’s wine, it was a very pleasant evening for all of them. Ruth showed Hannah to the spare room and the family went to bed very happy.

Nahum made his usual bi-weekly stop at Market Man and was surprised when he was asked if Market Man would be able to visit his shops and meet with Ezra. Nahum agreed to meet Market Man at the edge of town on Friday at 8:00 am.

The two men rode to the shops where Ezra was waiting with tea and biscuits for them. Market man asked for a tour and a chance to meet the staff. In particular he wanted to meet Samuel and Ethan. He surprised the two young men when he presented them each with a bag of shekels, a considerable amount too!

He praised them for their quality of workmanship and their creativity. They were pleased, excited and slightly embarrassed all at the same time.  Nahum and Ezra were proud of their “two boys”!

They returned to the meeting room where Market Man produced a drawing of a carriage he had seen recently. He explained to Ezra that he had opened a second store at the far end of town, in an area that served mostly farmers and wine growers; it was quite far from his original shop.  He said he was finding it difficult to transport his people, either between shops, to Church, to family gatherings or to other social events so he wanted a carriage! He showed them his rough drawing.

Nahum and Ezra looked at it and asked Market Man if it would be ok to bring Simon and Bart into the meeting, He agreed.

When the two men arrived, Market Man explained how he was so impressed with Jonathon’s carriage and how much use he got out of it. He explained he wanted a carriage similar, but different and told them his plans and ideas.  Ezra noticed the two men smiling and winking at each other when they heard what Market Man wanted, but said nothing.  The two men looked over the drawings and suggested they could come up with their own set of drawings and a cost estimate in a week. Market Man agreed to return next Friday.  He then thanked them for their time, for the tour and the tea and rode home.

When he had left, Ezra said, ok boys what was so funny. Bart said, wait a minute and he left. He returned a few minutes later with two large scrolls. He opened them and he and Simon explained that they had been designing a carriage in their spare time and they thought it would be perfect for Market Man. Ezra told them to take time off and work on the drawings, they said they would, but would also work on their own time too as they really enjoyed the opportunity.

Over the next few evenings and on Saturday and Sunday, the two men worked on their design. Simon was anxious to use some new glass for the windows. A friend in Rome had sent him two sheets carefully wrapped on a board, telling him they were now producing this product in Rome. He wanted to put glass in the doors so the occupants could look out and still be protected from the elements. It had been used for some time in making bottles and baubles, but now they were making it in a sheet form.

While working on the drawings at home, Simon’s niece became fascinated with her uncle’s work. She was fourteen and wanted to be an artist. She had produced some nice art work already. She said, Uncle, I can make a really nice picture of your carriage if you want. He said sure go ahead.

The next day, she asked her mother if she could stay home from school and work on the carriage drawing. Her mother said definitely not. Simon intervened and whispered to his sister that maybe, just maybe, if the art was very good she may get paid for it. Her mother relented and the girl took out her oils and started.

By the time Simon arrived home the next day the picture was on an easel in the outdoor sitting area. Simon was absolutely shocked when he saw it. It was a masterpiece; he could not believe his young niece could produce such a professional piece of art.

He took it to the shop the next day the men were all amazed, they thought the drawing itself would be enough to sell Market Man on the carriage.

The four men sat down and went over the costs of materials and suggested cost of labour. Simon and Bart had a figure in their head as to the selling price, but they wanted to see what Nahum and Ezra came up with.

To their surprise the prices were very close, Ezra being a bit more expensive. He had put in a 10% extra fee for “hidden and unexpected costs” the two men agreed.

They were prepared for Market Man when he arrived before 8:00 am on Friday. Samuel had framed the young girl’s art and it sat on an easel when you entered the meeting room.

When Market Man entered he took a look into the room and stopped in his tracks. He was almost shaking when he asked with a stutter is, is that my, my carriage? They said yes that is what it will look like. He went over to Nahum and hugged him and said you sure do run a professional operation here. He then asked who painted it. When Simon told him, he asked if he could meet the young lady some time, and Simon said when we call you for an inspection of the work progress in about a month I will make sure she is here.

When the boys completed their review of the plans, Market Man was smiling from ear to ear. When they told him the cost, plus or minus 10% he said that is a bit more than I expected, but I did not expect to see the additions of a removable roof over the driver, or the leather bound seats inside. He turned to Nahum and said when I return to my store after leaving here, I will stop at the bank and make a deposit of 20% in your account, please proceed.

The men all shook hands and Market Man mounted his horse and left for the bank.

During the next two months the men made sure all customers were looked after but they really tried to concentrate on the carriage. Bart had completed the frame, the wheels he ordered had arrived, and Simon had built some of the wooden sections and was now working on the doors.  Samuel and Ethan were about half way through making the seats and arm rests. The men told Nahum to arrange for Market Man to come by for an inspection in two weeks.

Ok, Elizabeth said to Ezra, we have to have another family get together.  He said I will tell my dad and he can get word to your folks and Joshua and Zilpah. We should make sure Isaac, Miriamme and Hannah are invited too.

When her mom and dad found out they asked if they could host the party, they wanted to spend time with Paul, and they suggested everybody plan to come on Saturday, stay overnight, go to Church then have the get together next Sunday afternoon. They all agreed.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “The Arrival of Caesar,” by Ettore Forti, painted ca. 1890s.

 

Roman Dictatorship: Some Observations

The relevance of the relationship between the powers granted by states of emergency and the transition to authoritarianism and dictatorship is perhaps self-evident to any student of political science aware of history and contemporary events.

We will define authoritarianism broadly as a regime maintaining obedience through the use of the fear of coercion, and thus the foundation of the state is not legal authority but rather power exercised through an informal dictate. Dictatorship will be defined as the exercise of a like dictate, except under a public, systematic and formalised power rather than a hidden one.

Both types of regimes are characterised by elites of converging interests as well as the use of crisis in order to justify the power of the regime, and the loss of individual liberties. As such, these states have been characterised as crisis states which function in a nigh perpetual state of emergency despite professing outward belief in rights and the will of the people.

Thus, the struggle to preserve the sanctity of sovereign laws over arbitrary mandates of power depends precisely on the separation between normal legal and political procedures and those of the state of emergency.

It is precisely this struggle and conundrum over the distinction between the state of emergency and the normal rule of law which is made evident by the historical case of the Roman Republic and the transformation that occurred in its state of emergency procedures.

This will allow us to demonstrate such transformation as exemplified by the early institution of Dictatorship and the Senatus Consultum Ultimum, what they demonstrated of Roman politics and law in terms of the blurring between the previously strict lines of the state of emergency and normal legal procedure, and taking special note of the incident of the Catiline Conspiracy.

 

Roman Dictatorship

Arguably the original and thus most famous state of emergency in western political history, Roman Dictatorship presents the first ever attempt at addressing what in political philosophy ever since Aristotelian thought has been the problem of equity; equal applications of the law in all circumstances may be inherently unjust or inadequate, hence calling for a temporary suspension or alteration of laws and legal procedure

In principle, the dictatorship in Republican Rome was magistral office like no other exercising for a limited period of six months the power of imperium or in other words supreme administrative and coercive power in order to immediately deal with an external state of crisis, though it was restricted both legally and through political and religious precedent.

Nevertheless, the description alone cannot do the office justice unless it is situated in its proper historical, legal and functional contexts before one can even approach it ultimate political dimension.

The first paradox brought about by trying to put Roman Dictatorship in a proper historical context is how it could have even arisen in Rome in the first place. It is no great mystery that the city of Rome ever since the foundation of the Republic in 509 BC was weary of monarchy, which it had violently deposed, so much so that word king itself was an insult and a much despised word.

Yet, in the office of the dictator one seemingly finds the closest conjuring to monarchy that could be conceived in a republican government, as the dictator wielded the war powers of the monarchy, superseding those of the consuls and initially having command over all other magistrates.

If one takes Livy’s Histories at face value, the mere purpose of the office as a means of averting crisis and fulfilling a function which could not be carried out by the elected magistrates provides proper justification for the installment of the office in 500 BC, less than ten years since the institution of the Republic in the first place.

The dates themselves cause an issue, as it would have been a precarious action indeed for the people of Rome to have reinstated virtually in every way but name the monarchy they so desperately deposed less than ten years before.

In ​The Origin of Roman Dictatorship, D. Cohen seeks to explain and rationalize the origins of this extraordinary office both in terms of an interregnum, positing that it served as a transition from monarchy to republican government, but also a religious function in the early Republic which required the highest authority. Similar offices were to be found in the other city states of Latium, such as Alba and Caere, though with year-long terms of office.

In particular, the act of religious purification carried out by dictators and last performed in ​363 BC in the driving of a nail ceremony (a religious rite likely of early Indo-European origins) as a response to a pestilence carried out by Manlius Imperiosus demonstrated the nigh-sanctity of the office, above that of the Pontifex Maximus (head priest).

The sanctity of the office is further exemplified by the custom of silence which other magistrates were meant to obey before the dictator, and in conjunction with the dictator’s role as a saviour figure, one can understand how the Roman people accepted the existence of such an office in the early years of the Republic.

Beyond this period, and especially following the course of the Punic Wars in the Middle Republic, the office of the dictator lost further and further independence vis a vis the Senate and its authority to overreach the imperium of the Consuls, and eventually tribunes could veto the dictator’s measures just as those of the consuls.

Having approximated the origin of Roman Dictatorship, situating it in terms of Roman constitutional law is necessary. The procedure appointing the dictator appears at first sight as a simple consultation, whereby the Senate would agree that a state of emergency existed give leave of the consuls to appoint a dictator in order to deal with it.

The dictator’s powers were thus to deal with the specific state of emergency at hand; whether it was an insurrection or an invasion, yet the dictator was also charged with recruiting, assembling and leading the army to deal with the threat at hand. At this point, the legal aspect of the appointment is significant, because after the consuls had chosen a candidate for dictator, the ​Lex curiata de imperio granting the dictator his power of imperium had to be passed by the assembly of the people of Rome.

The dictator’s legal mandate was a popular one, and not senatorial. Indeed, the connection of the office of dictator to the people was also represented in its original title ‘magister populi,’ which translated to magistrate of the people, or more practically of the infantry in war, whereas the second in command of the dictator was the ‘magister equites’ or master of cavalry.

Leaving these military vestiges aside, it must be noted that after the carrying out the task demanded of him, the dictator was supposed to relinquish power and after the ​Lex Repetundarum of 300 BC they could be put on trial directly if they had overstepped their mandate in purpose or time.

What this kind of legal precision shows is the ability of Roman law to adapt to states of emergency in that it is able to preserve the rule of law even when limits to power are temporarily suspended. For if one is to believe in the rule of law, a principle by which the laws are universally applicable, public and their power vested in the state and not the individuals; one must precisely have such limitations and controls over states of emergency.

In addition to formal and legal checks on the powers of the Roman Dictatorship, Naomi Lazar points out in her essay ​Making Emergencies Safe for Democracy: The Roman Dictatorship and the Rule of Law in the Study of Crisis Governmentthat informal controls over the dictatorship were just as important; Rome’s strong republican political culture, the choice of appointees (men with a long and spotless record), and the Senate’s control over the treasury.

Nevertheless, Lazar also points out that 7 of more than 90 dictators passed legislation; the ​Lex Ameliana in 434 BC which enforced term limits on Censors, and the right to hold the consulship for plebeians in 367 BC by Camillus (5 times dictator and named second founder of Rome); showing that dictators favoured reformism while in office.

Roman Dictatorship, then, as a state of emergency shows a surprising level of continuity and formality on the part of Roman law and politics to adequately deal with states of emergency; which is why all appointed dictators relinquished power after the crisis was averted, whether they were motivated by religious and political precedent, legal restrictions or just the belief in the SPQR.

As such, the self-appointment as dictators at the head of private armies by both Sulla and Caesar in the late Republic demonstrate not the lapse of Roman dictatorship into a authoritarianism due to states of emergency; but rather the abuse of that old title to legitimize the illegal seizure of the state. One can thus conclusively say that it is not in the emergency powers of the Roman Dictatorship that the pitfall of autocracy can be identified.

 

The Senatus Consultum Ultimum & Catiline Conspiracy

However, the office of dictatorship was not the only response to states of emergency which the Roman Republic employed, as there was another in the form of the Senatus Consultum Ultimum, which was not enshrined in Roman law, with a loose definition of its limits at best.

Before an explanation of the emergency procedure can be made, one must take a step back and look at the institutional history of the Senate. Founded in the monarchy, the Senate was originally an advisory body to kings until it gained greater powers and independence to make laws after the deposition of the monarchy in 509 BC.

Membership into the senate camy by consular appointment of ex magistrates, until 318 BC when the plebiscitum Ovinium took the power away from consuls and gave it to the office of the censor under the condition that once elected, a magistrate was immediately a member of the Senate.

Thus, the it became less exclusive and at the same time gained some elective legitimacy, yet its members enjoyed a mandate for life; an electoral mandate for life which in of itself is characteristic of oligarchical and elitist governments.

In addition to passing laws, the Senate enjoyed control over the treasury and state finances, as well as the ability to give consultations to the consuls which were not binding but by long precedent were obeyed.

It must be noted that the bureaucratic power of the Senate grew after the end of the Punic Wars with the beginning of the Late Republic period in order to keep up with the overseas territories that had been gained in Iberia, Sicily and the west Balkans.

Likewise, individual Senators became immensely wealthy landowners and property speculators due to the gains of the war.

It is precisely this more numerous and powerful Senate which after the Punic Wars first employed the Senatus Consultum Ultimum (SCU). Following the death of Tiberius Gracchus at the hands of an angry mob of patricians accusing him of trying to make himself king while he was passing reforms against huge agrarian estates, the Senate realised both that the Republic’s military resources were greater enough to defeat any external threat, and that the disaffected mob of Italian refugees left by the wars constituted the only legitimate threat of insurrection.

In other words, a state of emergency potentially prone to giving power to the people through an elected dictator was insufficient and potentially dangerous to state sovereignty. The fear materialised itself in the form of Gaius Gracchus, the younger brother of Tiberius who worked to finish the earlier reforms as tribune of the plebeians, and who had an armed bodyguard.

In 121 BC the Senate first used the Senatus Consultum Ultimum to declare a quasi state of emergency similar to martial law in modern terms, which gave power to the Consuls to deal with the threat after one of Gaius’ bodyguards commited a murder. The consul Opimius used the army to apprehend and execute Gaius Gracchus along with several others, leading to a total death count of over 3000 Roman Citizens.

This went against the Lex Valeria and ​Lex Porcia which forbid the execution of citizens without a trial, and trials without the right of appeal. When put on trial for his crimes, Opimius agreed that he had broken the law but justified his actions based on the SCU as it gave him greater powers of imperium under a state of emergency and with Senatorial decree. Opimius’ acquittal would serve to set a precedent for future use of the SCU despite it not being a written law nor having any previous precedents.

Framing the legality of the SCU was difficult for the Romans themselves, not least of which Cicero who helped expand and define its powers and even used it in the course of his consulship. Indeed, the way in which Cicero defined the SCU by the example of Opimius’ act was that magistrates could indeed overstep the written laws under senatorial decree in a state of emergency and in the defence of the country.

Yet, the authority of the decree and thus the act itself lay in the hands of the Senate, not the magistrates themselves as their power depended on the Senate’s prior approval. In other words, the Senatus Consultum Ultimum meant that a temporary state of war was declared against internal threats to the Republic, but without a temporal restriction, a clear definition of what constituted an emergency, nor a religious or political precedent as was the case with Dictatorship.

The most scathing critique that one could make, and justly so, is that the SCU served as little more than a means of carrying out extra-judicial killing, as was demonstrated by the killing of another tribune in 100 BC, whose executor Cicero defended in a trial 37 years later.

It would be an understatement to say that the SCU demonstrates a direct step in the extra-legal and political use of emergency measures, but before that can be done one must look at the most famous case of the use of the SCU which demonstrates to the fullest its legal limitations; the case involving Cicero himself that of the Catiline Conspiracy.

The events are described most poignantly by Livy as such: ​”​L. Catiline failed twice in the consular elections. He conspired with the praetor Lentulus, with Cethegus and many others, in order to assassinate the consul and the senators, to oppress the Republic and set fire to the city. An army was prepared in Etruria, but thanks to Cicero’s watchfulness the conspiracy was discovered.​” (Livy 102).

Although there is much to be questioned with this pithy description of events on the part of Livy, not the least of which that it was a description made by Catiline’s enemies after his defeat, there is some truth. It is indeed true that Cataline did fail to win elections and pass reforms, and that he plotted to overthrow the Republic during Cicero’s consulship with an army of 10.000 to 20.000 armed men.

Those prominent politicians with whom he plotted with were indeed caught with incriminating written evidence proving the necessity of the state of emergency which had already been declared.

Yet, it was Cicero’s response at this point in the course that is puzzling. Instead of having the prisoners immediately executed, Cicero proceeded to put their fate upt to a vote by the Senate, thus showing that he saw the act of executing them as being founded on weak legal grounds, and furthermore that their fate was the responsibility of the Senate.

​In response to this, Julius Caesar responded in a speech calling for the life imprisonment of the conspirators, rejecting not the evidence of their crimes but the authority of the Senate to sanction their killing without a trail, even in a time of crisis. Caesar’s response can’t be seen as a rejection of the emergency powers, but rather a rejection of Cicero’s interpretation of Roman law and especially the Senatus Ultimum Consultum giving the Senate authority to determine life and death in emergency situations.

Regardless, Cicero acquired a majority vote in Senate and had the conspirators executed, but when Caesar and several other senators tried to leave the senate house in order to protest the vote, Cicero had them threatened by his armed guards, which was illegal but permissible under the SCU. The last SCU employed was that against Caesar in 49 BC, which started a civil war that would bring the end of the Roman Republic.

Ultimately, the SCU demonstrates exactly what one would expect from emergency measures granting limitless power to a single branch of government and robbing the others of their sovereignty, as it took away the authority of elected magistrates and gave supreme authority to the Senate.

The problem is indeed obvious from a legal standpoint as the Senate has the power to declare a state of emergency, determine the scope of threat needed to justify the measures taken, and judge legality of events. In a historical sense, the SCU served as a means of permanently silencing political opposition and the very threat of it created such fierce factionalism that it regularly incited murder.

Yet all this was carried out on the legal basis of a mere senatorial consultation for which there was not even a written law. Such extreme laxity of political procedure demonstrates directly how the laws and functions of the state can be hijacked by political elites and lead to authoritarianism and autocracy.

 

Conclusion

While these examples may be brief and their impact minimal of the modern question of the role of states of emergency in the rise of authoritarianism, the capacity to learn from them is undeniable.

In sum, Roman Dictatorship provides neither the precedent for resembles in any way the conception of dictatorship established at the beginning, whereas the SCU proves a tentative step toward the path of autocracy in loose interpretation and limits.

The conclusion that can be made from this is that without a sacrosanct guarantee of rights protection and the independent mandates of political offices, the rule of law can be disintegrated from within the government and a democratically elected state can transform into authoritarianism.

 

The photo shows, “Cicero Denounces Catiline,” by Cesare Maccari, painted in 1889.

Antony And Cleopatra: Failed Politicians

In 31 BC, the outcome of a sea battle off the West coast of Greece forever changed Roman history. As a result, the young and ambitious Octavian would become Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Octavian’s victory firmly established his military power and dealt Marc Antony a serious defeat, which would prove fatal.

This battle took place between Octavian’s fleet on one side and the combined naval forces of Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII in the other. The battle is considered a major turning point in the history of Egypt and marked the beginning of Octavian’s complete takeover of the rich North African kingdom. The Roman Senate gave Octavian the title of Augustus four years later.

The struggle between Antony and Octavian was actually about the question of who would rule the Roman World. Antony had allied himself with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, a descendent of the Ptolemaic Greek kings.

Furthermore, Antony and the foreign queen were lovers, even having gone through an Egyptian wedding ceremony. Most Romans disliked such a close relationship between an important governing Roman and a foreign queen. They suspected that he would either give her a large area of Roman territory for her own kingdom, or, worse yet, make her queen over the Romans and himself king in the process. Octavian played on the Roman’s intense dislike of the idea of being ruled by a king and denounced Antony’s supposed plans.

Soon, Antony divorced his legitimate wife Octavia, who was Octavian’s sister. It was not long before there was a full-scale civil war between the two powerful Romans. Antony had anchored his fleet in a small harbor on the Dalmatian side of the Adriatic Sea, and soon Octavian’s fleet had him trapped within his harbor.

Octavian also had his land armies placed in strategic positions to cut off all supplies to Antony’s army and fleet. Antony also had a large army encamped on the shores of the Ambracian Gulf (on the Dalmatian Coast across the Adriatic Sea from Italy). There had been skirmishes and indecisive battles all throughout the Summer of 31 B. C. Near the end of summer, Antony’s supplies were getting low and so was the morale of his troops.

Finally, on September 2, Antony came out to fight. His 220 heavy Roman warships were equipped with stone throwing catapults. They attacked Octavian’s 260 lighter vessels at close range.

Octavian’s lighter vessels were more maneuverable, though, and could use their rams more effectively than Antony’s ships could. Also, Octavian had the great advantage of having the brilliant general and military strategist Marcus Agrippa in command of his fleet. Cleopatra had 60 warships in the battle, including her treasure ship with its purple sails.

The fighting continued throughout the day, with Romans on both sides staining the sea red with Roman blood and killing their fellow citizens in about equal numbers. Then, a very strange thing happened. Cleopatra decided to take her ships and flee.

This act of cowardice dealt a serious blow to the morale of Antony’s men and cheered Octavian’s sailors on to ultimate victory. The battle was nowhere near lost, there was not even a clear indication of which fleet was ahead before Cleopatra cut her cables and ran.

Then, the final blow to Roman morale was struck by Antony himself. Upon seeing his beloved queen fleeing, he chose to abandon his stalwart Roman legions and follow her.

After a desperate chase, he finally caught up with her. Meanwhile, Octavian’s ships made short work of mopping up Antony’s fleet. Many of Antony’s brave seamen surrendered to Octavian and the battle was over.

The issue was not over for Antony and Cleopatra, however. Over the next few months, Octavian’s armies won victory after victory as they advanced through Greece and the East toward Cleopatra’s Egypt.

With their armies falling before Octavian’s advance on every occasion of battle, the two lovers soon saw that their cause was lost. Antony tried to commit suicide by falling on his sword. The wound was not immediately fatal and he found the strength to make his way to Cleopatra’s tomb, where she was awaiting news of the end. Antony died in the arms of his lover.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, had made plans of her own. Rather than be forced to walk in Octavian’s triumphal march through the streets of Rome as a captured foreign queen amid the jeers and insults of the Roman people, she would commit suicide. One of her serving girls brought her a basket of fruit containing a poisonous asp.

When Cleopatra heard Octavian’s victorious troops noisily milling about the streets of Alexandria, she put the snake to her breast and let it bite her. Her death was supposed to be completely painless.

The two serving girls she had also killed themselves by asp-bite, and when Octavian’s troops entered the tomb, one of the girl, still alive, had barely the strength to tell the soldiers that Cleopatra had escaped them in death.

And so ends the tragic tale of the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt and the sea battle upon which turned an empire. The Battle of Actium was not a massive battle between huge fleets; in fact, it was a rather small one.

But after the Battle of Actium was won and lost, there was not a single obstacle in the way of Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor, titled Augustus and master of the entire Western world.

Thus, the marriage between Antony and Cleopatra was a clever bit of political maneuver. This fact is clearly brought out in the Battle of Actium, where each of them sought personal gain, rather than the support of each other. Their suicides were the accepted, noble way out for the vanquished – for in the end, they were failed politicians.

 

The photo shows, “The Death of Cleaopatra,” by Achille Glisenti, painted ca. 1870s.