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Roman Execution Practices

While Roman execution practices varied over time, they were always effective. The Roman Emperor or leaders depended on public obedience and executions were designed to ensure the public feared the consequences of violating the law. In fact, in the majority of cases, executions for crimes against the statutes of the emperor, the Roman Senate, or the Empire itself were held in public so all who witnessed them would see the full penalty they'd suffer if they betrayed the Empire. In most cases, the method used involved a prolonged form of suffering, often including physical torture. Tools, apparatuses, and different natural elements were often utilized as a means through which the emperor would display his power and the extent of his cruelty.

Roman Execution Practices

The Most Famous Roman Execution Practices

One particular method of Roman execution is easily one of the most recognizable forms of public executions in all of Roman history: criminals were nailed by their hands and feet to a wooden cross that held them high off the ground. Their feet were nailed in a manner that bent their legs and the cross was placed in a post hole in the ground so the criminal was on display high above the crowd.

This method of Roman execution has become the most documented execution in history since it was used to execute Jesus Christ after he was ordered to be crucified by a Roman general named Pontius Pilate. Today, the image of Jesus on the cross is one of the most widely recognized religious symbols in the world. This form of execution, called crucifixion, remained one of the most popular Roman execution practices until the rule of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor in Roman history.

Other Execution Methods

Another form of torture often used with people who betrayed the Roman Senate was the use of the Tarpeian Rock. This rock was actually a cliff that overlooked the city of Rome, just north of the Forum on the Capitoline Hill, one of the highest points in all of Rome. There were two forms of execution on this rock: one in which the accused was killed on the rock and then thrown off of the cliff and another called execution by precipitation. In this form, the accused was left alive as they were thrown off of the cliff by Roman soldiers to fall to his death before the feet of the witnesses. These methods of execution were used for those who had committed crimes against the law of Rome. Such crimes included treason, lying under oath, and any offenses that were direct disobediences against the senate and the moral standings of Rome's citizens.

The Gemonian Steps

One of the most brutal of all Roman execution practices took place at what was considered to be the replacement for the venue of the Tarpeian Rock. The Gemonian Steps, or Stelae Gemoniae as it was referred to in many Roman accounts of executions, rose upon the Capitoline Hill from the Forum and ended at the Mamertine Prison.

If a Roman citizen was found guilty for the crime of treason of against the Emperor, the accused was dragged to the top of the Steps of Mourning (as they're referred to in many historical accounts) by hooks and then thrown down the long stone staircase to the feet of those who witnessed the execution. This method of execution was used at the discretion of the Emperor and was mainly used as a public display of intolerance of any form of treason or contempt toward him.

After the body of the accused would fall to the last step, it was left to rot and be picked at by scavengers until it was carried away and thrown into the nearby river. This particular execution method was documented as one of the most popularly used of all of the execution practices in all of Rome. It certainly was also one of the most gruesome.