10 Dark Secrets Of The Byzantine Empire

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10 Dark Secrets Of The Byzantine Empire



For 1,000 years after the Western Roman Empire fell, the Eastern Empire of Byzantium stood strong. Ancient and powerful, the Byzantine court soon became known as a warren of intrigue and secrets. No one was safe, and no one could be trusted.



Since the Byzantines always felt that an unpopular ruler could be replaced, a number of emperors died violent deaths.

Constans II was clubbed to death with a soap dish while resting in his bath. Michael III lost both his hands trying to block a sword. Nikephoros Phokas was warned of a plot and ordered a search of the palace, but his wife had hidden the assassins in her bedroom, which no guard would dare to search. They stabbed him to death that night.

At least, Leo the Armenian went out in style. Ambushed on Christmas Day by assassins disguised as a choir of chanting monks, he seized a heavy cross from the altar and battled them around the Hagia Sofia until his arm was cut off and he was struck down. Less romantically, the killers then threw his corpse into a toilet.




Photo credit: Marc Walters

The Byzantines believed that disfigurement disqualified candidates for the throne. As a result, emperors often mutilated their rivals rather than killing them outright. Blinding was popular, as was cutting off noses and tongues. In later years, castration became the most common practice.

In some ways, mutilation was considered kinder than execution. John IV Laskaris lived for 40 years after being blinded. But it was undoubtedly brutal. Empress Irene had her own rebellious son blinded in the room where she had given birth to him. The youth died of his wounds a short time later.

However, it was sometimes possible to come back from mutilation. Basil Lekapenos was castrated as a boy to prevent him from causing trouble when he grew up. With the throne closed to him, Basil became a powerful courtier and ruled through a series of puppet emperors.

8The Noseless Emperor


Photo credit: Panathinaikos 24

The terrifying Justinian II was first overthrown in AD 695. The rebels cut off his nose and slit his tongue down the middle before exiling him to the Crimea. Undeterred, Justinian escaped to the land of the Khazars and began plotting a return to power. The new emperor bribed the Khazars to murder their guest, but Justinian was warned and personally strangled the assassins before escaping to Bulgaria in a fishing boat.

Forging an alliance with the Bulgarian khan, Justinian returned to Constantinople and led an army through the sewers and into the city where he took a terrible revenge on his enemies. Regaining the throne, he ruled for another six years, wearing a golden nose and using an interpreter to translate the gurgles from his ruined tongue.

His cruelty eventually grew too much, and he was overthrown again in 711. This time, they killed him.




Photo credit: diakonima.gr

Today, the word “Byzantine” can refer to an atmosphere of confusion and intrigue, and that was certainly true of the court in Constantinople. There, eunuchs and courtiers jockeyed for influence and emperors ruled through powerful favorites.

In one ninth-century example, the eunuch Staurakios helped Empress Irene overthrow and blind her own son. Staurakios himself was soon forced from power by the eunuch Aetios, who schemed to make his brother emperor. But Aetios failed to guard against the finance minister Nikephoros, who orchestrated a coup and reigned as emperor until the Bulgarians converted his skull into a drinking cup.

This atmosphere of intrigue lasted until Constantinople fell. Even as the Ottomans massed outside the walls, Grand Duke Loukas Notaras was reportedly scheming to secure lucrative court positions for his sons.

6Civil War


Photo via Wikimedia

In the ninth century, Michael I was forced to resign by a trio of his generals: Leo the Armenian, Michael the Amorian, and Thomas the Slav. Leo became emperor. But when he fell out with Michael, the Amorian’s followers infiltrated the Christmas service and hacked Leo to death. Thomas the Slav rose in revolt against Michael, sparking a massive civil war which badly weakened the empire against the Arabs.

Similar problems arose in the 10th century when Bardas Phokas’s rebellion was put down by General Bardas Skleros. When the eunuch Basil Lekapenos schemed against Skleros, he started his own revolt in self-defense. Lekapenos countered by releasing Phokas from prison and putting him in command against Skleros.

Phokas defeated Skleros in single combat and destroyed his forces. But Phokas, Skleros, and Lekapenos then teamed up against the young Basil the Bulgar-Slayer. Typically, they soon fell to infighting and Basil successfully secured power. He later became famous for blinding thousands of prisoners and sending them back to Bulgaria, where Tsar Samuel promptly died of horror.

5The Purple-Born


Photo via Wikimedia

The Byzantines had long considered purple the imperial color, with only members of the royal family allowed to wear certain purple dyes. Eventually, the emperor built a special room with walls made of the precious purple stone porphyry.

Imperial children born in this room were dubbed porphyrogennetos (“purple-born”). They were immensely prestigious and weren’t supposed to marry outside the empire, although Vladimir of Kiev famously demanded a Purple-Born bride as the price for military aid and his conversion to Christianity.

The Purple-Born also attracted great loyalty from the common people. Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos was overthrown as a boy, but his Purple-Born status protected him and he was allowed to remain as co-emperor for 24 years.

When Basil II died, the only remaining Purple-Born were the sisters Zoe and Theodora. The citizens of Constantinople rioted at every attempt to remove them from power, and the pair dominated the empire until Theodora’s death in 1056.




Photo credit: Smithsonian

As citizens of the greatest city on Earth, the people of Constantinople were never afraid to express themselves, often through violence. In the most famous example, fans of the Blue and Green chariot racing teams united to riot against Justinian I.

The emperor was prepared to flee, but the day was saved by his wife, Theodora, who proclaimed that she would rather die an empress than live as a commoner. The rebels were subsequently massacred.

Not all riots destabilized the empire. One particularly bloody civil war was effectively ended by a prison riot. Megaduke Alexios Apokaukos was inspecting his new jail when the political prisoners ran amok and murdered him, crippling his faction.

The assertive tendencies of Constantinople’s citizenry survived the Ottoman conquest, and many a sultan cowered inside the Topkapi Palace while an enraged mob tore his vizier to pieces.



Photo via Wikimedia

Eunuchs served the Byzantine state in every capacity, from courtiers to priests to generals. (The eunuch Peter Phokas became famous for defeating a Scythian warlord in single combat.) They were perceived as nonthreatening because they had no children to inherit their status.

However, eunuchs like John the Orphanotrophos (manager of Constantinople’s orphanage) became notorious for leveraging their brothers into high office. John himself grew so powerful that his whole family had to be castrated and exiled by a nervous emperor.

Castration was technically illegal in the empire. As a result, many eunuchs were enslaved outside the empire as young boys and then castrated just before they were brought across the border. But it wasn’t unknown for impoverished Byzantine parents to castrate their sons in the hope that these boys would grow up to secure lucrative positions at court.

2Sex Slaves


Photo via Wikimedia

Multiple sources from the period allege that eunuchs were frequently used as sex slaves because they maintained their youthful looks. This was officially forbidden, but the church struggled to find a way to stop it without condemning slavery (and thereby the emperor).

The problem is illustrated in the 10th-century Life Of St. Andrew The Fool, which basically puts the blame on the eunuchs. A character does point out that “if a slave fails to obey, you surely know how much he will suffer, being maltreated and beaten.”

But Andrew insists that “if the slaves do not bow to the abominable passions of their masters, they are thrice blessed, for thanks to the torments you mention, they will be reckoned with the martyrs.”

1The Zealots Of Thessalonica


Photo credit: Cplakidas

In 1341, the empire was undergoing one of its regular civil wars. The new emperor was nine years old, and his father’s friend John Kantakouzenos had been appointed regent. The boy’s mother, Anna, and Megaduke Alexios Apokaukos formed an alliance to usurp the regency, sparking a massive conflict.

But this time, something different happened. In the city of Thessalonica, the common people seized control from the aristocracy. Calling themselves “Zealots,” these revolutionaries championed the rights of the poor. Accounts from the time claim that violent mobs of Zealots attacked and slaughtered the rich.

The Zealot council ruled Thessalonica for the duration of the civil war. For a time, they swore allegiance to Megaduke Apokaukos, but they remained hostile to the aristocracy and eventually asserted their independence by murdering his son.

The revolution was only put down after John Kantakouzenos became emperor. Some of the Zealots invited the Serbian king Stefan Dusan to take the city, but others found this unpatriotic and fighting broke out. Kantakouzenos took the city easily and executed the leading Zealots.

10 Weirdest Musical Instruments

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10 Weirdest Musical Instruments



All musical instruments are a little strange to outsiders. Each culture has developed its own instruments whose sounds strike foreign ears as weird. Other instruments look so bizarre that they barely seem to be machines of music at all.

Sometimes, it is how they are played that is odd. The Greek goddess Athena’s aulos—a double-piped reed instrument—provoked howls of laughter when she first played it because she had to puff out her cheeks.

Here are 10 real instruments which have been seriously employed in making music.

Featured image credit: cbc.ca

10Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin’s mind was hugely fertile and was not content with sticking to one area of creativity. Perhaps his strangest invention—and his favorite—was the glass armonica. Running a finger around the rim of a wineglass can cause it to resonate and produce a note. On seeing a person perform a musical piece on many glasses, Franklin was inspired to create a single instrument capable of replicating the sound at a range of frequencies.

By attaching glass bowls of varying sizes to a central rotating axle, a player merely has to dampen his fingers and place them in the correct place. The armonica was a huge success. Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss all composed pieces specifically for the armonica.

The popularity of the armonica slowly faded as it was replaced by the piano. Like the harpsichord, also displaced by its noisier cousin, the armonica was not able to be heard in large concert halls which the piano could dominate.


9Le Petomane

If the human voice can be called the most versatile instrument, then the author reserves the right to describe Le Petomane’s talented body part an instrument. Le Petomane packed music halls in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His special skill was to fart on command and with tuneful control.

Le Petomane—a stage name for Joseph Pujol meaning “the Fartomaniac“—discovered his talent while in the army. Seeing how much his fellow soldiers enjoyed it must have encouraged him as he later entertained customers at his bakery. Taking to the stage, he soon made it to the Moulin Rouge in Paris where he became the theater’s biggest star.

Le Petomane was able to “inhale” air through his anus at will and expel it as desired. So amusing was this ability that he gave private performances for visiting royalty. He also sued an impostor who used a hidden bellows to produce a similar flatulent display. He was the only true Petomane. He later retired to his bakery and founded a biscuit factory.

8The Great Stalacpipe Organ

The largest musical instrument in the world is in Virginia. Spread over 3.5 acres of an underground cavern system, the Great Stalacpipe Organ usesstalactites struck by hammers to produce its sounds.

The organ was designed in the 1950s and built by one man. The crystal of the hanging stalactites will naturally ring when hit. But to get the exact desired notes, the organ’s designer, Leland W. Sprinkle, spent three years filing them down.

The Stalacpipe Organ can be found in Luray Caverns, and visitors can hear it being played live. They can also buy CDs of music recorded on the organ. It was only in 2011 that an original piece of music, “In the Cave,” was written specifically for the Stalacpipe Organ.



Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It turns out that great fences can make great instruments. For the Great Fences of Australia project, violinists Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor traveled thousands of miles across Australia.

They played the long fences which span the continent. Running their violin bows across the taut wires produces a screeching and startling sound. Drumsticks are beaten on the fences for percussion.

The project has been taken worldwide, with the musicians playing concerts for audiences on specially designed fences. Rose and Taylor have also inspired other musicians to take up the playing of fences. It is not only Australia which has benefited from their art; they play on notable fences throughout the world.

Rose and Taylor have documented the lives of those who build and maintain the fences and studied the culture which drives the building of the fences.

6Zeusaphone Or Thoramin

Tesla coils are inherently cool. Who doesn’t love controlled lightning? Taking its name from the thunderful gods Zeus and Thor, the Zeusaphone and Thoramin combine electricity with music to create a visual display as well as a musical one.

Tesla coils work by building up large electrical charges which, once they become too great, discharge through the air and make a spectacular arc of plasma. When this discharge happens, sound is produced much like the thunder made by lightning. By connecting the Tesla coil to an electronic musical instrument, the coil can be used as a plasma speaker.

5Wintergatan Marble Machine

This musical instrument took 14 months to design and build for the Swedish folktronica band Wintergatan. A complex machine of gears, wheels, and switches, the instrument uses falling marbles to create sound—though the snare function relies on basmati rice.

The whole process of building the instrument was documented in a series of YouTube videos, and the finished result went viral with over 28 million views. Unlike some bespoke musical instruments, this one is fully playable, not merely repeating a single song. The machine went on tour with the band in 2016.


4Vegetable Orchestra

The Great Stalacpipe Organ will last for thousands of years. Other odd instruments prove to be somewhat more ephemeral. The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra uses exactly what you would expect them to use to create music—drilled carrots, pumpkin drums, and pepper horns.

Founded in 1998, the orchestra uses instruments designed from vegetables to create unique sounds. The variability of the vegetables at their disposal and the fact that they create all their own instruments gives the orchestra complete control over their work.

With the leftovers from making their instruments, the orchestra creates ahearty vegetable soup which they give to the audience.


All pipe organs work on similar principles. A keyboard is used to control the flow of air through pipes. Different sizes of pipes produce different notes. However, not everyone is satisfied with this relatively simple arrangement. In 1873, Frederic Kastner patented the pyrophone—also known as the fire organ or the explosion organ.

The pyrophone uses a quirk of physics to produce its sound. Under the right conditions, a flame inside a tube can create a note. By controlling the size of the flame, the note can be turned on and off.

Despite the best efforts of its creator and the coolness of its name, the pyrophone never caught on. Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, was hired to travel across Europe to expound on the delights of the pyrophone. But he had little success.

2Beer Bottle Organ

At some point, everyone has blown over the top of a bottle and produced a note. If you are a beer drinker, then you might have missed the opportunity to create your own musical instrument. The beer bottle organ uses beer bottles filled to different levels to create different notes.

Unfortunately, the beer has to be replaced with glycerol to prevent evaporation from changing the sound. Air is blown over the mouths of the bottles when a key on the keyboard is pressed.

The bottle organ has a long history. On the island of Helgoland in 1798, a church congregation became tired of their organ requiring constant tuning. They commissioned an organ builder to make one which would not need to be altered because of temperature or weather conditions. He struck on the idea of using glass bottles, and the bottle organ was born.

1Floor Buffer, Vacuum Cleaners, Rifles

Sir Malcolm Arnold was a serious composer, if somewhat overlooked in recent years. Although his works are still played today, his most popular piece by far is a comic mockery of overly pompous pieces. Commissioned in 1956, his work A Grand, Grand Overture is scored for an organ, orchestra, three vacuum cleaners, a floor polisher, and four rifles—perhaps a dig at Tchaikovsky’s use of the cannon.

At the Last Night of the Proms in 2009, the vacuum cleaners were played by pianist Stephen Hough, conductor Jiri Belohlavek, and violinist Jennifer Pike. The part of floor polisher was filled by noted naturalist Sir David Attenborough, playing a floor polisher provided by the composer’s family. As is traditional, those playing the vacuum cleaners and floor polisher were shot at the end of the performance.

10 Amazing Mythological Treasures

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10 Amazing Mythological Treasures



Mythology is an amazing thing—within it there are endless amounts of stories and myths, and many have seeped into our common perception of culture. The best stories, however, are the treasures, the devices and gifts that men spend their lives searching for in the name of glory, honor, and adventure. Unfortunately, some of them end up dying at the hands of killer rabbits and black beasts (I’m looking at you King Arthur). So, in the name of all things glorious and rabbit-like, let’s tell the stories of 10 mythological treasures.

10The Mead Of Poetry
Norse Mythology

1- mead
We all like a fine drink every now and then, but when you’re a god, you can’t just have any mortal liquor. The Norse pantheon has a very strange drink indeed—the Mead of Poetry. The story behind the mead goes that there was once a man named Kvasir, a human forged from divine spit who was the smartest man in the known world. One day, Kvasir was killed by two dwarves who, in their jealousy, made from his blood a fine mead that granted anyone who drank it Kvasir’s intelligence.

Eventually, the mead came into the ownership of the giant Suttung, who was tricked out of the mead by the king of the gods, Odin. Odin, on his journey back to Asgard, lost some of the mead (by regurgitation) from Asgard and it fell to Midgard, our world. Anyone who was touched by the mead became the terrible poets and scholars, while the greatest were the ones doused with the mead by Odin personally.

Dive into a world of gods and goddesses, unearthly powers and tragic tales of divine heartbreak with the critically acclaimed Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes at Amazon.com!


Icelandic Folklore

2- pants
If you’re familiar with Icelandic mythology, you know that the Necropants are a weird tidbit of Icelandic folklore that tie into the country’s beliefs about witchcraft. To obtain this fine pair of legwear, you have to be a witch first. After that, you must obtain the permission of a man to get his flesh after he has passed from this realm. That’s when the real fun begins.

Once the man has died, you must take his corpse and flay the flesh from the waist down in one piece. As soon as you’ve managed that, you put on the skin-pants and then place a single coin stolen from a poor widow into the scrotum. The coin is to be accompanied by a magical seal, which will result in your new scrotum-wallet never running out of money so long as you never lose the original coin.

8The Treasures Of Tuatha De Danann
Irish Mythology

3- sword
In Irish folklore, the Tuatha De Danann were the children of the goddess Dana. The Tuatha De Danann came to Ireland from a distant place not known to man on May Day to grant the people of Ireland sacred knowledge. They arrived with four wise men, each of whom came from four distant cities and each of whom bore a gift for the people.

The first gift, which came from the city Falias, was the enigmatic Lia Fail, or the Stone of Destiny—a stone that would cry out under the throne of the true king of Ireland. The second artifact came from Gorias, and that gift was the powerful Sword of Light, an unbeatable sword whose story bears some similarities with Excalibur. From the city of Findias came the Spear of Lug, a mighty spear that would be a great gift to any warrior and would keep him safe on the battlefield. The last gift came from the city of Murias, a great cauldron from which no one left unsatisfied when it cooked meals.


7The Sibylline Books
Roman Mythology

4- sybilline

Photo credit: Kladcat

The concept of an oracle—someone with the divine sight that lets them see into the future—is a very old one that has roots in all mythologies. The most famous oracle is the Oracle of Delphi, but perhaps you might not have heard of the famous Roman oracular tomes known as the Sibylline Books. The legend of the Sibylline books starts as such—when Tarquinus Superbus was the head of Rome, a mysterious old woman tried to sell him nine rolls of prophecy. Tarquinus, being particularly stingy for a Roman emperor, declined and she then burned three of them. He then said no again to her offer of six, and she promptly burned three more and offered the final three at the exact same price as the original nine. Tarquinus, somehow thinking this was a good deal, finally bought them on advice from his augurs, or the Roman bird-priests.

Upon the scrolls were written prophecies to lead Rome throughout the ages, and all were written in Greek hexameter. Whenever Rome was in crisis, the Sibylline Books were consulted. So, where are these books now? Most of them were burned or lost as the ages went by. No one doubts that Rome was a little too trusting when it came to oracles, but perhaps these books had something else that made them special.

6The Aegis
Greek Mythology

5- aegis
One of the most powerful works of the ancient Greeks is the Iliad, the story of the Trojan War. It is also one of the first recorded records of a mysterious artifact of godly origins known as the aegis. Most scholars are unsure of what the aegis actually was, but it is known that the item, in the hands of the gods, granted its owner protection from any blow or spear. The origins of the aegis are said to lie with Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who created the first aegis from the skin of a giant during the Gigantomachy, the great battle between the Olympians and the giants. When Medusa was slain by the hero Perseus, the Gorgon’s grotesque image was affixed to the aegis, making it a mighty weapon as well as a defense in the field of battle.

5The Axe Of Perun
Slavic Mythology

6- axe
Before the arrival of Christianity, the Slavs had their own sets of myths and legends that are still fascinating to this day. The Slavic pantheon is led by Perun, the master of lightning and the king of the Slavic gods who is thought to be similar to the Norse Thor. Perun was seen as a god of justice as well, someone who knew right from wrong in ways no mortal could, and he had a weapon to match that knowledge—the Axe of Perun. Worshipers of Perun were known to wear miniature versions of his axes for good luck, but the great axe itself was supposed to be able to smite the wicked and be called back to Perun at his whim. With the arrival of Christianity, Perun was replaced by St. Elijah, whose duties were similar to that of Perun and who is still honored to this very day.

Discover more of the folklore and mythology of the Slavs when you buy Fairy Tales of the Russians and Other Slavs at Amazon.com!


Filipino Mythology

7- agimat
The Agimat, also known as the Anting-Anting, is probably one of the few mythological items you can own. The Agimat is a folk amulet from the Philippines that’s said to bestow mystical powers upon its wearer, and its power is said to be renewed on Good Friday. The Agimat is said to have a multitude of powers, ranging from invisibility to the ability to survive in the wild for days on end to freedom from all pain and danger.

The Agimat is such a pervasive belief in some regions that people who own the amulet will often attempt to injure themselves on Good Friday in order to test out their newfound “powers.” Some, however, say that the Agimat isn’t something that needs to be tested—the act of being a good person alone will save you so long as you hold it.

3Kanju And Manju
Japanese Mythology

8- tide jewels
Like most elements of nature, the legend of the tide jewels, Kanju and Manju, ties back to Japan’s mythological belief in dragons. The legend of the tide jewels is considered a Japanese fairy tale and most of what we know about them comes from a single story, which ties back to the legendary Dragon King.

Legend says that the Empress of Japan, Jingu, once decided to take over Korea. To help her in her conquest, she sent one of her servants into the nether realms to talk to the Dragon King. She wanted the tide jewels, two relics forged by the Dragon King, which controlled the very seas themselves. He granted the Empress’s request and, with the aid of the relics, they took over Korea. When the invasion was over, she cast the jewels back into the sea, returning them to the Dragon King.

2The Eye Of Horus
Egyptian Mythology

egyptian symbol
Probably one of the most famous Egyptian symbols, the Eye of Horus is mentioned in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and serves as an amulet of protection. It is often combined with the Eye of Ra, which, depending on the circumstance and context, is probably incorrect. The Eye of Horus was said to be a sign of godly power and royal right to the Egyptians, and the symbol was often used as a method of defining their rule and cementing the belief that they were, in fact, gods on Earth.

The Egyptians believed that the Eye of Horus would guide the pharaoh in the afterlife. Deceased rulers were often buried with a jeweled version of the eye, known as the wadjet, to make sure they were sent to the afterlife properly. In life, the pharaohs used the Eye as a powerful tool to channel the words of the gods.

Hindu Mythology

10- gandiva
The Gandiva is a divine weapon of Hindu mythology, a symbol of the mastery and might of the gods. The Gandiva could be given to mortals for their piety and their devotion to their faith, or if they happened to be demigods of the Hindu pantheon. The Gandiva had the power to smite all evil in its path and was considered a tool for justice. The divine bow was said to be able to defeat 10,000 warriors at once and was only held in the hands of heroes.

The hero Arjuna, the son of a mortal woman and Indra, the god of war, is said to have been granted the Gandiva by Varuna, the god of water. He used it in battle and war to rule his kingdom wisely and justly. After many years, Arjuna passed on and his grandson became the ruler of his kingdom. On his way to heaven, Arjuna threw the Gandiva back into the sea in order to return it to Varuna, who dwelled in the waters of the world. A fair trade, we’d say.

Vlad Vekshtein is a struggling author trying to get his first novel published. He loves mythology and his all-time favorite movie about treasure and mythology will remainMonty Python and the Holy Grail.

10 Interesting Facts About Crucifixion

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10 Interesting Facts About Crucifixion



Crucifixion is arguably the cruelest form of execution. When we read ancient sources, it is hard to distinguish the practice of crucifixion from other similar punishments like impalement.

The Romans learned it from their neighbors and used it especially in the provinces, mostly to discipline their subjects and discourage rebellions. Little did the Romans imagine that the crucifixion of a humble Jew in a lost corner of their territory would give the crucifixion an enduring fame.

Featured image credit: Carl Heinrich Bloch

10Crucifixion In Persia


Many ancient rulers used crucifixion to send a message to their subjects about the things they should not be doing. During the reign of Persian king Darius I (r. 522–486 BC), the city of Babylon dismissed the Persian authorities and revolted against them around 522–521 BC.

Darius launched a campaign to recapture Babylon and laid siege to the city. The gates and walls of Babylon held for 19 months until the Persians broke the defenses and stormed the city.

Herodotus (Histories 3.159) reports that Darius stripped away the wall of Babylon and tore down all its gates. The city was returned to the Babylonians, but Darius decided to send a message that revolts would not be tolerated by crucifying 3,000 of the highest-ranking Babylonians.


9Crucifixion In Greece


In 332 BC, Alexander the Great captured the Phoenician city of Tyre, which was being used as a naval base by the Persians. This was accomplished after a long siege that lasted from January until July.

After Alexander’s army broke the defenses, the Tyrian army was defeated and some ancient sources claim that 6,000 men were killed that day. Based on Greek sources, the ancient Roman writers Diodorus and Quintus Curtius reported that Alexander ordered the crucifixion of 2,000 survivors of military age along the beach.

8Crucifixion In Rome


Crucifixion was not a general form of capital punishment under Roman law. It was only allowed under specific circumstances. Slaves could be crucified only for robbery or rebellion.

Roman citizens were immune to crucifixion unless they were found guilty of high treason. However, during later imperial times, humble citizens could be crucified for specific crimes. In the provinces, the Romans employed crucifixion to punish what they referred to as “unruly” people who were sentenced for robbery and other types of crimes (Metzger and Coogan 1993: 141–142).


7Spartacus’s Revolt


Spartacus, a Roman slave of Thracian origin, escaped from a gladiator training camp in Capua in 73 BC and took about 78 other slaves with him. Spartacus and his men exploited the pathological concentration of wealth and social injustice of Roman society by recruiting thousands of other slaves and destitute country folks. He eventually built an army that defied Rome’s military machine for two years.

Roman General Crassus ended the revolt, which was the setting for one of the most famous cases of mass crucifixion in Roman history. Spartacus was killed, and his men were defeated. The survivors, more than 6,000 slaves, were crucified along the Via Appia, the road between Rome and Capua.

6Crucifixion In The Jewish Tradition


Photo credit: Willem Swidde

Although the practice of crucifixion is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as a Jewish form of punishment, it is suggested in Deuteronomy 21.22–23: “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.”

In ancient rabbinic literature (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6.4), this was interpreted as the exposure of the body after the person was killed. But this view contradicts what is written in the ancient Temple Scroll of Qumran (64.8), which says that an Israelite who commits high treason must be hanged so that he dies.

Jewish history records a number of crucifixion victims. Perhaps the most notable is reported by the ancient Jewish writer Josephus (Antiquities 13.14): The king of Judaea Alexander Jannaeus (126–76 BC) crucified 800 Jewish political enemies who were considered to have committed high treason.

5The Position Of The Nails


Photo credit: askgramps.org

The idea that the nails pierce the victim’s palms is the dominant image we get from painters and sculptors who have represented the crucifixion of Jesus. Today, we know that nails through the palms are unable to support the body weight and likely to strip out between the fingers.

Therefore, it is possible that the upper limbs of the victim were tied with ropes to the crossbeam to provide additional support. There is, however, a simpler solution. The nails could be inserted between the ulna and the radius rather than the palms. The bones and tendons of the wrist are strong enough to hold the weight of the body.

The only problem with piercing the wrists is that it contradicts the description of Jesus’s injuries in the gospels. For example, in John 24:39, it is stated that Jesus had his hands pierced. Many scholars have tried to explain this contradiction with boring and predictable claims about errors in translation.

The reality is that none of the authors of the gospels had been direct witnesses of the events. The earliest of the gospels, the Gospel of Mark, dates to c. AD 60–70, about a generation after Jesus’s crucifixion, so it is not reasonable to expect a high degree of accuracy in such details.


4Roman Method


Photo credit: Newsweek

There was not a standard way of conducting a crucifixion. The general practice in the Roman world involved a first stage where the condemned was flagellated. Literary sources suggest that the condemned did not carry the whole cross. He only had to carry the crossbeam to the place of crucifixion, where a stake fixed to the ground was used for multiple executions.

This was both practical and cost-effective. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, wood was a scarce commodity in Jerusalem and its vicinity during the first century AD.

The condemned was then stripped and attached to the crossbeam with nails and cords. The beam was drawn by ropes until the feet were off the ground. Sometimes, the feet were also tied or nailed.

If the condemned was able to endure the torture for too long, the executioners could break his legs to accelerate death. The Gospel of John (19.33–34) mentions that a Roman soldier pierced the side of Jesus while He was on the cross, a practice to ensure that the condemned was dead.

3Causes Of Death


Photo credit: causeofjesusdeath.com

In some cases, the condemned could die during the flagellation stage, especially when bone parts or lead were added to the whips. If the crucifixion occurred on a hot day, the loss of fluid from sweating coupled with the loss of blood from the flagellation and injuries could lead to death fromhypovolemic shock. If the execution occurred on a cold day, the condemned could die from hypothermia.

Neither the traumas caused by the nail injuries nor the bleeding were the prime causes of death. The position of the body during the crucifixion produced a gradual and painful process of asphyxiation. The diaphragm and intercostal muscles involved in the breathing process would become weak and exhausted. Given enough time, the victim was simply unable to breathe. Breaking the legs was a way to accelerate this process.

2Forensic Evidence


Analysis of the bones of a crucifixion victim published in the Israel Exploration Journal has revealed a form of crucifixion that is rarely displayed on paintings or mentioned in literary sources. In this case, the bone injuries showed that the nails penetrated the side of the heel bone.

Rather than the traditional position of the legs that we see in many depictions of crucifixion victims, the study suggests that “the victim’s legs straddled the vertical shaft of the cross, one leg on either side, with the nails penetrating the heel bones.”

This study also explains why the remains of crucifixion victims are sometimes found with the nails. Apparently, the condemned man’s family found it impossible to remove the nails, which were normally bent due to the hammering, without destroying the heel bone. “This reluctance to inflict further damage to the heel led [to his burial with the nail still in his bone, and this, in turn, led] to the eventual discovery of the crucifixion.”

1Abolition By Emperor Constantine


Photo credit: ocl.org

Under the Romans, Christianity underwent a surprising transformation. It started as an offshoot of the Jewish religion, turned into an outlaw cult, became a tolerated religious expression, developed into a state-sponsored faith, and finally became the hegemonic religion of the late Roman Empire.

The Roman emperor Constantine the Great (AD 272–337) proclaimed the Edict of Milan in AD 313, decreeing the tolerance of the Christian faith and granting Christians full legal rights. This crucial step helped Christianity become the official Roman state religion.

After centuries of practicing crucifixion as a torture and execution method,Emperor Constantine abolished it in AD 337, motivated by his veneration for Jesus Christ.

CRISTIAN VIOLATTICristian is a freelance writer and editor of Ancient History Encyclopedia. He is currently studying archaeology (University of Leicester) and has a strong passion about the Human Past.

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