Saturday, February 27, 2016

John Granger Cook's Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World


Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World

Series: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 327
Author: John Granger Cook
Bibliographic info: xxiv + 536 pp. = 560 pages in all.
Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.
Buy the book at your local bookseller.
Also available Abebooks, Barnes and Noble, the Publisher, or

John Granger Cook has written an immense volume on how the Romans suspended people, reviewed a little more than a year ago at various places, like here. The tome appears to be an exhaustive work on the Roman practice and Dr. Cook has done a great deal of research, and mind you, careful research, too. I've gone through the first one hundred pages of the text proper so far and for the most part it's very excellent.

Yet I already have a few beefs with it. First, the Latin crux and the Greek σταυρός certainly do mean, which Dr. Cook disputes, "a pole in the broadest sense" -- Gunnar Samuelsson's words, not mine. My previous post, Crux Utilitatis, demonstrates that they do mean exactly that. Second, the Romans probably never or hardly ever used crosses (two timber beams inlaid into each other); more likely they usually pushed up or hoisted people onto poles using lifting-beams (i.e., patibula) instead, and other times they nailed the lifting-beam with the person on it onto the pole and tilted the macabre assembly up.  Third, that the Romans never impaled people when they "crucified" them -- two graffiti and some of the ancient writings give lie to that!
Well this is my first installment of my review, I'll be updating this post with a description of the book and then follow up with my musings on it as time progresses.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Crux utilitatis

This is about utility poles: telephone poles and power poles, not crosses of the kind you see in churches!

Here is a power pole with single transom (crossarm), behind the East Jefferson Regional Library, Metairie, LA.

Here is another power pole behind the Robert E Smith Library in New Orleans 

And here is a power pole with two transoms behind the Niversit* building, New Orleans, LA.  Nota bene how this pole leans.

And here is a power pole with four cantilevered transoms on Jackson Avenue at Simon Bolivar Street
in New Orleans. Note there is a cross looking on from a storefront church.
And here is yet another utility pole next to the St John's Lutheran Church school gym in Mid-City.
Note the contrast between the utility pole (crux utilitatis) and the gym's cross (tropaeum).

Now please go back to my previous post with the carefully constructed cruces commissae / semi-immissae (Katrina crosses).  Which sort of pole would the Romans have suspended and killed people on? A CROSS!? Or a utility pole?

* Formerly University Hospital, Perdido Street side.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Katrina Croses

These were set up on the tenth anniversary of Katrina in the neutral ground of No. Jeff Davis Parkway at Canal Street in Mid-City New Orleans. From a distance they look like the crux commissa* type but close-up they sort of look like a semi-immissa"* type because of the half-lap joints.

* Using Justus Lipsius' definitions.

Here they are from a distance.

Here's a single cross.

Notice the horizontal is attached to the vertical by five bolts.
This is required to create a solid joint.

Close-up of the half-lap joint.
Note the cut-out in the horizontal to accommodate and exploit the full size of the vertical.
Now would the Romans go through all this hassle and bother just to suspend a criminal? I think not.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Strange and Horrid Ancient Halftime Shows.

The Romans used to have a "halftime" show during each session of games, called the ludi meridiani, or midday entertainments, in late morning and at noontime when the sun would transit the meridian, so to speak, which were ever-increasingly elaborate executions known as damnatio ad bestias, or condemnation to wild animals.

Basically the ludi meridiani went like this: (items in brackets mine typical for all quoted blocks)

To meet this ever-growing pressure to keep the Roman crowds happy and engaged by bloodshed, bestiarii were forced to consistently invent new ways to kill. They devised elaborate contraptions and platforms to give prisoners the illusion they could save themselves — only to have the structures collapse at the worst possible moments, dropping the condemned into a waiting pack of starved animals. Prisoners were tied to boxes, lashed to stakes, wheeled out on dollies [mobile poles] and nailed to crosses [T-poles], and then, prior to the animals' release, the action was paused so that bets could be made in the crowd about which of the helpless men would be devoured first.

Then one exceptional bestiarii or beast-fighter by the name of Carpophorus, to satisfy the sick taste of the spectators (especially the jaded and filthy rich honestores, or top 0.1%), came up with a plan to combine damnatio ad bestias with crucifixion by impalement: he started to train large animals with oversize endowments to rape people, literally to death! And here is how that went:

To have his work [actually his prowess at killing large wild animals such as twenty bears at one time with his bare hands] compared so fawningly to battles with some of Rome’s most notorious mythological beast sheds some light on the astounding work Carpophorus was doing within the arena, but he gained fame as well for his animal work behind the scenes. Perhaps most shockingly, it was said that he was among the few bestiarii who could command animals to rape human beings, including bulls, zebras, stallions, wild boars and giraffes, among others. This crowd-pleasing trick allowed his editors to create ludi meridiani that could not only combine sex and death but also claim to be honoring the god Zeus. After all, in Roman mythology, Zeus took many animal forms to have his way with human women.

Historians still debate how common of an occurrence public bestiality was at the Roman Games — and especially whether forced bestiality was used as a form of execution — but poets and artists of the time wrote and painted about the spectacle with a shocked awe.

"Believe that Pasiphae coupled with the Dictaean bull!" Martial wrote. "We've seen it! The Ancient Myth has been confirmed! Hoary antiquity, Caesar, should not marvel at itself: whatever Fame sings of, the arena presents to you."
The Ancient Myth has been confirmed??? Uh..., no.

Source article: "Could You Stomach the Horrors of 'Halftime' in Ancient Rome?", Cristin O'keefe Aptowicz,, posted 2/6/2006. Link: