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Death by Crucifixion

An Overview and History of Death by Crucifixion


Whether performed by Romans at Golgotha or by U.S. personnel at Abu Ghraib, crucifixion is one of the slowest, most torturous forms of execution ever devised.

Detail from Pieter Brueghel the Younger's "The Crucifixion" (1617), depicting the execution of Jesus Christ as well as others hanging on nearby crosses.

Public domain. Image courtesy of the Art Renewal Center.
History: Crucifixion was most common in ancient Rome. Although it has never been legal in the United States, it is worth noting that a CIA interrogator killed Manadel al-Jamadi in Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003 by crucifixion. The only country to practice crucifixion as an official form of capital punishment is the Sudan.

Death on Display: The ancient Romans would sometimes crucify rebels by the dozens, then leave their corpses hanging for as long as they would continue to hang. In the eyes of the Romans, crucifixion's deterrent effects probably justified what was otherwise a highly inefficient form of execution.

How It Works: The prisoner is hoisted off the ground, arms restrained to the sides or behind the back, and simply left alone. Over time, the prisoner will grow tired and fall forward--constricting the lungs and causing asphyxiation. Death by crucifixion can take hours or even days.
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