Crucifixion as Spectacle in Roman Campania

in Novum Testamentum
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Four artifacts from ancient Campania illuminate Roman crucifixion: a notice in Pompeii announcing the execution of some individuals by crucifixion in Cumae during a gladiatorial spectacle; the lex Puteolana which regulated both the crucifixion at private expense of slaves and public crucifixions in that town; the lex Cumana which probably regulated crucifixion there; and a graffito in a taberna of Puteoli that appears to be the oldest surviving Roman portrayal of crucifixion in existence. This evidence provides those in the guild of New Testament studies with additional tools for understanding the scandalous nature of Paul’s gospel of the crucified Christ.

Crucifixion as Spectacle in Roman Campania

in Novum Testamentum



  • 6)

    JacobelliGladiators41. The Tabula Peutingeriana made in the thirteenth century is based on ancient maps that show the coastal road linking Pompeii with Cumae (there is a small gap). Cf. L. Bosio La Tabula Peutingeriana: Una descrizione pittorica del mondo antico (Rimini: Magioli 1983) P. 40 Segmentum V 3-5 and the website with high resolution images: (last accessed 22 Dec. 2010).

  • 25)

    Sen.Ep. 7.3 trans. of Seneca Ad Lucilium epistulae morales (vol. 1; LCL; ed. and trans. R.M. Gummere; London/New York: Harvard University 1925) 30 slightly modified.

  • 26)

    Hopkins and BeardColosseum72. Tert. Apol. 15.5 also speaks of “ludicrous cruelties at midday” (ludicras meridianorum crudelitates [their translation]). Cassius Dio 60.13.4 mentions midday deaths during spectacles of Claudius’s reign but does not specify that they were deaths of noxii. Cp. Suet. Cl. 34.2. Tert. Nat. 1.10.47 after describing the burning of a criminal playing the part of Hercules then says that during the midday break “Pluto” drags away dead gladiators. Wiedemann Emperors and Gladiators 55 lists the standard program but does not cite evidence other than the association of the three categories in a mosaic (the Zliten mosaic in Libya fig. 5 and p. 15) the edicta munerum and Mart. Sp. That mosaic however combines scenes from all three elements of the standard program (venationes gladiatorial combat and executions of noxii by beasts are depicted) but not in the narrative order of the alleged “program.”

  • 28)

    J.-J. Aubert“A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?,” in Speculum Iuris: Roman Law as a Reflection of Social and Economic Life in Antiquity (ed. J.-J. Aubert and B. Sirks; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 2002) 94-133 esp. 113 (with reference to supporting literature).

  • 29)

    Cf. G. Lafaye“La venatio dans les jeux de l’ampithéâtre,” DAGR V (1892) 700-711 esp. 708: a drawing of a clay bas relief now in the Louvre shows a nude woman (wearing a loin cloth) hands tied behind her back sitting on a bull being attacked by a panther (see the photograph in Wiedemann Emperors and Gladiators fig. 7).

  • 31)

    G. Lafaye“Crux,” DAGR I/2 1573-5 esp. 1574. Cf. the discussion of G.B. de Rossi “25 novembre” “9 dicembre 1877” BArC Ser. 3 Year 4 (1879) 21-23 24-26 Pl. III/1 (in L. Costa’s collection) and H. Dressel in CIL XV 65151 (Leae Sae on the reverse; the noxius could be an Amor tied to a spear).

  • 35)

    P. Veyne“Païens et chrétiens devant la gladiature,” MEFRA 111 (1999) 883-917esp. 895.

  • 36)

    AE 1975255 (II C.E.) Paestum (uncorrected). CIL IX 3437 = ILS 5063 honors a quinquennial prefect who sponsored a three-day gladiatorial spectacle which included noxeos quattuor (four condemned individuals). In EAOR III 42 = ILS 5063a a wife in a funeral monument to her husband who was aedile of Puteoli mentions his patronage of a four-day show in Beneventum that included the death of four wild animals sixteen bears four noxii and some herbivores.

  • 37)

    AE 1975256 (Paestum time of Marcus Aurelius): a quinquennial duovir who provided a venatio with convicts; CIL IV 9978 = GladPar 72 (Nola): servi ferro s[anguinari iussi—] murderous slaves condemned to the sword; CIL XIV 4616 + XIV 5381 = EAOR IV 29 = AE 1977 153 (Ostia 2nd half of II C.E.): a duovir who sponsored games that may have included women condemned to death (et mulieres [a]d ferrum dedit . . .)—see EAOR IV p. 65 for the difficulty of deciding whether ad ferrum dare means “give [them] over to execution” or “make [them] fight”—for the latter sense cf. Suet. Nero 12.1 (exhibuit autem ad ferrum etiam quadringentos senatores) and CIL X 3704 (IIII paribus / ferro dimicantib[us]); CIL IV 1203 = GladPar 55: a spectacle in Pompeii that included condemned individuals called pyrricharii. On that category see Plutarch Sera 9 554B Sabbatini Tumolesi “Pyrricharii” passim; idem Gladiatorum paria 87 and Coleman “Fatal Charades” 56 68 70. For a gladiatorial troupe (Aphrodisias) owned by a high priest that included condemned criminals (καταδίκοι) see Roueché PPAphr 13 (and cp. PPAphr 14).

  • 41)

    ColemanLiber Spectaculorum92. Cf. the account in Josephus Vita 420-421 and the description of the slow death by crucifixion in Sen. Ep. 101.13. Cp. the narrative of a nineteenth-century crucifixion (28 Oct. 1863) on a Wednesday in Amoy China of a criminal who kidnapped young girls and sold them into prostitution. He was still alive on the following Saturday when his legs were broken and he was strangled (J. Jones “On the Punishment of Crucifixion in China” Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London N.S. 3 [1865] 138-139).

  • 43)

    Eus.H.E. 5.1.41. Trans. of Eusebius Ecclesiastical History (2 vols.; LCL; ed. and trans. K. Lake; Cambridge MA/London: Harvard University 1926/1932) 1:427.

  • 46)

    Tac.Ann. 15.44.4 (36917-20 Heubner) modified. The text as transmitted is corrupt. The version I have adopted here is advocated by Woodman Tacitus 326 (his trans.) 388 (note on the textual problem). Cf. also J.G. Cook Roman Attitudes toward the Christians: From Claudius to Hadrian (WUNT 261; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck 2010) 40 69-70 for a short discussion of the textual problem in the ancient world the fifteenth century and the modern era.

  • 48)

    AE 197188; Libitina: Pompes funèbres et supplices in Campanie à l’époque d’Auguste (ed. F. Hinard and J.C. Dumont; Paris: Hinard 2003) II.11-13 (p. 18-19); Cook “Envisioning Crucifixion” 265-266 (my trans. modified by remarks from Professor Bodel). On the date cf. G. Camodeca “Per la riedizione della leges libinariae flegree” in Panciera Libitina 83-104 esp. 85-86. The superscript was [De publi]co libitina[e] “on the public service of the undertaker” according to Hinard/Dumont (ibid. 3-4: a genitive of definition) and not libitinario which is a hitherto unknown use of the term libitinarius since it does not appear in the lex Puteolana and otherwise in Latin is a noun which means “contractor” or “employee of the undertaker.” It is not known to modify abstract neuter nouns (such as publico in the superscript). John Bodel informs me in a personal communication that this would leave an odd imbalance in the heading of the stone. Cf. Bodel “Organization” 148-149 for alternative restorations based on column width and bracket holes including: [De munere publi]co libitina[rio] and [De publi]co libitina[rio] (on the latter of which Bodel remarks: “No other combination of columns and brackets coincides so well.” The latter formulation would result in this meaning: “On the public undertaking concession” (or concession of undertaking); i.e. “On the concession/contract for performing undertaking services.” I thank Professor Bodel for the translation. The inscription was found on the via Rosini in the ancient forum of Puteoli (F. Demma Monumenti pubblici di Puteoli: Per un’archeologia dell’architettura [Rome: Bretschneider 2007] 169) and Camodeca “Per la riedizione” 85 (found in three pieces between Aug. 1955 and Jan. 1957).

  • 49)

    Claire Lovisi in Hinard/DumontLibitina94.

  • 50)

    Aubert“Double Standard” 114.

  • 52)

    Tert.Apol. 50.3. Trans. of Tertullian Apology. De spectaculis (LCL; ed. and trans. T.R. Glover; Cambridge MA/London 1931) 223.

  • 55)

    Cic.Ver. 2.5.163 (trans. of Cicero The Verrine Orations [vol. 2; LCL; ed. and trans. L.H.G. Greenwood; Cambridge MA/London 1935] 647). Cp. Pl. As. 549-51 (a slave) Qui aduorsum stimulos lamminas crucesque conpedesque / Neruos catenas carceres numellas pedicas boias / Inductoresque acerrumos gnarosque nostri tergi (us against goads hot irons and crosses and foot-shackles and thongs[?] chains cells neck-frames ankle-fetters collars and painters [= floggers]—painters keen as can be and intimate with our backs! trans. substantially modified of Plautus (vol. 1; LCL; ed. and trans. P. Nixon; Cambridge MA/London: Harvard University 1916) 183 (text from Plaute [CUFr I 116 Ernout]).

  • 58)

    Cf. AE 197189 and L. Bove “Due iscrizioni da Pozzuoli e Cuma” RAAN seduta 12 dicembre 1966 n.s. 41 (1967) 207-221 = Labeo 13 (1967) 22-48 esp. 22 (found south of the ancient city near one of the gates). Camodeca “Per la riedizione” 91 dates the tabula (i.e. the lex Cumana) to the Augustan era. The date of discovery is apparently lost although a probable notice of the inscription appeared in 1952. See Camodeca “Per la riedizione” 91.

  • 59)

    AE 1971 89 = PancieraLibitina52-54. First published by Bove “Due iscrizioni” 22-48. For example: manceps entrepreneur/ contractor (C.a II1 [52 Panciera]); carnifex C.a II3 5 [52-53 Panciera]); ustor one employed to burn dead corpses (C.b I13 [54 Panciera]). Each column of the inscription is incomplete and it is an opisthograph. The inscription mentions the territory of Baia which was controlled by the magistrates of Cumae. Both AE 1971 88 and 89 are now in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

  • 63)

    Bove“Due iscrizioni” 35.

  • 64)

    Apul.Met. 4.13.4-5 (H. van Thiel Der Eselsroman: II. Synoptische Ausgabe [Zet. 54/2: Munich: Beck 1972] 88 30-34) trans. substantially modified of Apuleius The Golden Ass [LCL; ed. and trans. W. Adlington and S. Gaselee; Cambridge MA/London: Harvard University 1977] 163-165. J.K. Krabbe Lusus iste: Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (Dallas: University Press of America 2003) 529 thinks the panels had “scenes painted on them.” There are many textual problems. Cf. B.L. Hijmans M. Zimmerman D.K. van Mal-Maeder Apuleius Madaurensis Metamorphoses book IV 1-27. Text Introduction and Commentary (Groningen: Forsten 1977) 106 (consulted for the trans. above). Hijmans Apuleius 14.24 has sublicas. Cp. Coleman “Fatal Charades” 53 (and n. 80) who notes that the scene is not an invention of Apuleius’s imagination given the comparable scene in Strabo 6.273 (the execution of Selurus the leader of a sedition in the Etna area by a contraption πῆγµα made to resemble Aetna which was set over cages of wild beasts). Coleman dates Selurus’s execution it to the late thirties B.C.E.

  • 68)

    Cic.Pis. 43. Trans. of Cicero Orations (vol. 14; LCL ed. and trans. N.H. Watts; Cambridge MA/London: Harvard University 1931) 193. Partially quoted in Oros. Hist. 4.10.1.

  • 70)

    Tert.Nat. 1.18.10 (and cp. Mart. 5.1 for individuals who hire themselves out to wear the burning tunic; cf. ThessLL VIII s.v. machina I col. 1171: strictiore sensu i. q. apparatus ad opera perficienda constructus instrumentum (in the strict sense an apparatus constructed for completing tasks an instrument); a discussion of the tunica molesta is in Cook Roman Attitudes 42 77-78. On Regulus cf. M. Hengel Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross (Philadelphia: Fortress 1977) 64-66. Auctoro is often used for gladiators (cf. OLD s.v. 1.b).

  • 71)

    Ambr.Iac. 2.11.45 (CSEL 32/2 619-12 Schenkl). In a hymn on Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7) Ennod. Carm. 1.14.22-23 (CSEL 6 546 Hartel) mentions the stones the impious brought and the thousand instruments of death (Dum saxa ferrent impii / Dum mille leti machinas).

  • 72)

    Sen.Dial. 5.3.6 (= De ira III). Trans. of Basore Seneca Moral Essays 1:261.

  • 73)

    Bodel“Organization” 156.

  • 76)

    Hilar.Psal. 143.16 (CChr.SL 61B 2626-9 Doignon/Demeulenaere).

  • 79)

    Cic.Ver. 2.5.11. Leonidas’s slaves were suspected of revolt (Ver. 2.5.10 familia in suspicionem est vocata coniurationis). J.L. Voisin “Pendus crucifiés oscilla dans la Rome païenne” Latomus 38 (1979 422-450 esp. 441 believes palus means crux (i.e. cross) in this passage. The context seems to be against this interpretation. Cp. R.C.G. Levens Cicero: The Fifth Verrine Oration. Edited with Introduction Notes and Vocabulary (Bristol: Bristol Classical 1980) 74 (on 2.5.10) ad palum adligantur: “ ‘bound to the stake’ for flogging as a preliminary to crucifixion.” On the revolt see K.R. Bradley Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World. 140 B.C.-70 B.C. (Bloomington et al.: Indiana University 1989) 48. Pace T.D. Frazel The Rhetoric of Cicero’s “In Verrem” (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2009) 133 who thinks Verres falsely accused the slaves.

  • 80)

    Cic.Ver. 2.5.14. Trans. modified of Cicero The Verrine Orations (vol. 2; LCL; ed. and trans. L.H.G. Greenwood; Cambridge MA/London: Harvard University 1953) 2:481 485.

  • 83)

    Bodel“Organization” 156-157. The locative Cumis appears on the wall over the trident of a net fighter but not in the immediate vicinity of the scene of crucifixion. Professor Camodeca writes me “. . . a mio parere purtroppo non è affatto certo che il locativo Cumis che si legge vicino ad un tridente sulla stessa parete ovest ma non accanto alla crocifissa si riferisca anche alla condannata alla croce.” For a picture of the trident and the locative cf. F. Zevi Puteoli. [vol. 2]: La carta archeologica (2 vols; photographs by M. Jodice; Napoli: Banco di Napoli 1993) 1:273.

  • 86)

    M. Raimondi“La decorazione pitttorica,” Bollettino di Archeologia 22 (1993) 112-119 (first half of II C.E.) esp. 118 (beginning of II C.E.) Langner Antike Graffitizeichnungen 124. On the wall painting however cf. the dating (early second century) given in Professor Camodeca’s comments below.

  • 89)

    Camodeca“Comunità” 275.

  • 90)

    LangnerAntike Graffitizeichnungen124.

  • 96)

    Guarducci“Iscrizioni” 221. I. Wilson published an image of the crucifixion in his Jesus. The Evidence (Cambridge MA: Harper 1985) 125.

  • 97)

    U. Fasola“Scoperte e studi archeologici dal 1939 ad oggi che concorrono ad illuminare i problemi della sindone di Torino,” in La sindone e la scienza: Bilanci e programmi: Atti del II congresso internazionale di sindonologia 1978 (ed. P. Coero-Borga; Turin: Paoline 1978) 59-81 fig. 10 (328-329) esp. 76.

  • 98)

    J. Zias and E. Sekeles“The Crucified Man from Givʿat ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal,” IEJ 35 (1985) 22-27. For a photograph of the nail and calcaneum bone cf. Cook “Envisioning Crucifixion” 271.

  • 102)

    Maiuri“La Campania” 144.

  • 103)

    Guarducci“Iscrizioni” 222. Cf. Cook “Envisioning Crucifixion” 265 278 (crucifixion of women). The lex Puteolana (II.8) makes provision for the crucifixion of slave women at “private expense.”

  • 106)

    Fasola“Scoperte” 76-77.

  • 107)

    R. Calvino“Cristiani a Puteoli nell’anno 61. Riflessioni sull’importanza della notizia concisa degli «Atti» (28, 13b-14a) e risposta all’interrogativo sulle testimonianze monumentali coeve,” RivAC 56 (1980) 323-330esp. 326-328 with reference to Fasola “Scoperte” 76-77 (who also believes the graffito should be interpreted with reference to the nearby amphitheatre).

  • 108)

    G. Zaninotto“La crocifissione negli spettacoli latini. Parte I. La pantomima del ‘Laureolus,’ ” Collegamento pro Sindone Luglio-Agosto (1987) 11-22; idem “Parte II. Il graffito della taberna di Pozzuoli” ibid. Settembre-Ottobre (1987) 18-26 and idem “Parte III. Graffito e mimo del Laureolo” ibid. Novembre-Dicembre (1987) 15-22. For research on the Laureolus mime cf. Coleman Liber Spectaculorum 83-85.

  • 112)

    Sabbatini TumolesiGladiatorium Paria108.

  • 115)

    As does Zaninotto“Parte II” 19.

  • 118)

    Sen.Cl. 1.22.1. Trans. of Basore Seneca Moral Essays 1:419. Cp. Wiedemann’s comments (Emperors and Gladiators 72-3 in particular his quotation of Callistratus’s [III C.E.] notice that brigands are crucified in places where the others will see them and be deterred from their crimes). On the futility of deterrence as a penal aim cf. Coleman “Fatal Charades” 48-49 (in the amphitheatres “the dominant reaction among the audience was pleasure rather than revulsion”) 57-59 (audience approval of horror). See Callistratus 6 De cognitionibus in Dig. where furca (fork gibbet) has taken the place of crux. On the furca cf. K.M. Coleman “‘Informers’ on Parade” in The Art of Ancient Spectacle (ed. B. Bergmann and C. Kondoleon; Studies in the History of Art 56; Washington DC: National Gallery of Art 1999) 231-245 esp. 235-247 (with depictions of the punishment in the Byzantine MS Cod. Vat. Pal. gr. 431 fol. 11r 15r (“The Joshua Roll”).



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