Stavros, Scolops (σταῦρός, σκόλοψ). The cross; an instrument of capital punishment used from a very early period in the East.
The words σταυρόω and σκολοπίζω (more usually ἀνασταυρόω, ἀνασκολοπίζω) are applied to modes of execution which were certainly common among the Persians; and it is probable that impalement, as well as actual crucifixion, was thus denoted. It has been doubted whether the later or Roman method of crucifixion was practised by the Persians; but the case of Artayctes ( Herod.ix. 120) seems to prove that nailing to a tree or plank was not unknown to them. It was the usual punishment of rebelsat least of those who headed revolt. Darius in the Behistun inscription boasts that he had “crucified” the leader of every rebellion that he had put down, giving their names (Rawlinson's Herodotus, vol. ii. Appendix); and it was inflicted on Inaros, the champion of Egyptian liberty ( Thuc.i. 110). For the sake of ignominy, the bodies of those who had been otherwise executed were sometimes exposed on a cross after death, not always from humanity. Oroetes, after putting Polycrates to death in some horrible way which Herodotus refuses to describe, crucified the corpse ( Herod.iii. 125). We find Xerxes thus treating the body of Leonidas, no doubt as a rebel ( Herod.vii. 238); and at a later period Ptolemy Philopator does the same to Cleomenes after his suicide ( Plut. Cleom.38). According to a strange story in Pliny , Tarquinius Priscus adopted this form of posthumous disgrace to check the frequency of suicide among the citizens, driven to despair by the forced labour with which his gigantic building operations were carried on ( H. N.xxxvi. 107).
Among ancient nations, the Carthaginians were conspicuous for their cruelty, and crucifixion was horribly frequent among them; it was probably through their example that it was subsequently introduced into Sicily and Italy. It was the usual punishment of rebels, and, as is well known, was commonly inflicted on unsuccessful generals (Polyb. i. 11, 24, 79, etc.). In the war with their mercenaries and African subjects which followed immediately upon the conclusion of the First Punic War, the atrocities on both sides, ghastly enough in the narrative of Polybius, have been sensationally exaggerated in Flaubert's novel Salammbô.
The Greeks were honourably distinguished in the ancient world for their aversion to torture and mutilation in every shape; indeed, it is only in quite recent times that Christian Europe has attained the same standard of refinement. In some ways they could be cruel enough, and the frequency of capital punishments showed a singular disregard of human life. The rage of faction led to massacres like that of Corcyra, on which Thucydides moralizes in a well-known passage (iii. 81 foll.). Prisoners of war were put to death in cold blood the Plataeans by the Spartans (iii. 68);
With all this, however, the Greeks habitually abstained from aggravating their executions, whether of criminals or prisoners of war, by insult and torture; and they especially abhorred outrages on women and children. This side of the Greek character is well brought out in Mahaffy's Social Life in Greece; see especially pp. 238, 262 foll., 3d ed. It was so from the earliest historical times. The tyrants of the seventh and sixth centuries are not charged with any atrocities like those of the Visconti and other mediaeval despots in Italy; even the bull of Phalaris (q.v.) is now explained as an instrument of Phoenician Moloch-worship. A few isolated acts of vengeance are recorded of this period, only however in the outlying parts of the Grecian world, and therefore probably due to the contagion of barbarian example. During the struggles at Miletus between the wealthy citizens and the commonalty, the latter (who were called Γέργιθες) when victorious collected the children of the rich upon threshing-floors and had them trampled to death by oxen; the rich, having in turn gained the upper hand, burnt in pitch (κατεπίττωσαν: cf. the tunica molesta of Juvenal, viii. 235; Mart.x. 25) all whom they got into their power, along with their children ( Pont.ap. Ath.xii. 524 a). This story belongs probably to the “two generations” of civil strife at Miletus recorded by Herodotus; but no such horrors are mentioned in Greece proper, where even Helots and serfs ranked as Hellenes. Pisistratus and his sons governed according to the laws of Solon, and even the proceedings which arose out of the murder of Hipparchus fall short of the cruelties inflicted on regicides in quite recent times. There is, in fact, no evidence that crucifixion, impalement, and burning alive were regarded as Greek punishments, at least where, as in Hellas itself, there was no contact with less civilized races. It was the same with mutilations of all kinds, such as the blinding prescribed by the laws of Locri in Italy (Demosth. c. Timocr. p. 744. 140) or the cutting off of hands and feet as practised by the Persians ( Xen. Anab.i. 9. 13). The cruelties alluded to in Aesch. Eum.186-190, including impalement, are those not of Greeks, but of barbarians, and the distinction is pointedly drawn. The Greeks distinguished between reverence for the human body, for which they had a passionate admiration as shown in their athletic exercises and their works of art, and reverence for human life, which they held cheap enough. This feeling continued unimpaired as long as Greece retained her freedom.
In the Macedonian period Greece no longer enjoyed this happy immunity; as a mere province in a larger Hellenism, it was influenced by lower and less humane races. Alexander himself is not free from the stain of cruelty, as is shown by his treatment of real or supposed conspiracies against his person in the cases of Philotas and Hermolaüs. He is said to have either hanged or crucified 2000 Tyrians; he certainly crucified Musicanus, the Indian rajah who had rebelled after being reinstated in his dominions (Arrian, Anab.vi. 17). His successors improved upon his example: a year after his death Perdiccas and Eumenes crucified the aged Ariarathes of Cappadocia after other tortures ( Diod.xviii. 16); Lysimachus threatened to crucify the Cyrenaic philosopher Theodorus, though an ambassador, but did not carry out his threat ( Cic. Tusc.i. 43. 102). Nicocreon of Cyprus, contemporary with Alexander, actually pounded the philosopher Anaxarchus to death in a mortar ( Cic. Tusc.ii. 22. 52). A similar story is told of an older philosopher, Zeno the Eleatic, and a tyrant of his native city ( Cic. l. c.); but the accounts are contradictory. Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta, used as an engine of torture a figure studded with nails resembling the Eiserne Jungfrau of some German cities (Polyb. xiii. 7). It is not necessary to pursue the records of this period any further. The general aversion of the Greeks to degrading punishments was not understood by grammarians who lived under the law of the later Roman Empire, nor by scholars like Lipsius (De Cruce, 1592), in whose time even worse horrors were perpetrated.
The Romans were naturally a hard-hearted people, and Livy shows considerable audacity in saying that the dismembering of Mettius Fufetius was the only example in their history of a disregard of the laws of humanity; adding that they might boast that no nation had employed milder punishments (i. 28). From the language of Cicero (Pro Rab. Perd. 4. 13) it has been inferred that crucifixion was in use in the regal period. But the words of the old law point rather to simple hanging (infelici arbori reste suspendito, Liv.i. 26), though the cross was no doubt called arbor infelix in later times. Cicero, who is arguing against the revival of the obsolete law of perduellio and the capital punishment of citizens in any shape, is speaking rhetorically throughout: he quotes the formula without the word reste, a misleading and doubtless intentional omission, and talks vaguely of the cross ( 10, 11, 16) and of the detested Tarquin ( 13). No historical conclusions can be drawn from a speech so obviously designed to confuse the questions at issue. It is highly probable that the Romans derived this punishment from the Carthaginians; at least no mention of it appears to occur before the Second Punic War. First we find Hannibal crucifying a guide who had misled him ( Liv.xxii. 13); then the Romans practise it on slaves and deserters ( Liv.xxii. 33; xxx. 43. 13; xxxiii. 36). This last passage describes a revolt among the slaves in Etruria, B.C. 196; the ringleaders are scourged and crucified, the rest given up to their masters to be dealt with at discretion. The enormous increase in the numbers of slaves under the later Republic heightened the dread of a rising among them, and the Roman system became more and more one of undisguised terrorism. Two desperate rebellions broke out in Sicily, and were only put down by regular armiesthe first in B.C. 134-133, the second lasting four years, 102-99. After the pacification
The mode of punishment is too well known to need much description. Scourging, as with Roman capital punishments in general, usually preceded it. Three kinds of crosses were in common use: the crux commissa, or T shape; the crux immissa, with a projection at the top, to which was affixed the titulus, setting forth the crime of the sufferer (this was the most common); and the crux decussata, in the shape of an X (St. Andrew's cross). The word crux is also applied to the single stake used in impalement; the latter process is alluded to by Seneca in two passages, but, as he is speaking of death by torture in general, it may be doubted, in the absence of direct evidence, whether this was a Roman custom (Cons. ad Marciam, 20. 3, where crucifixion with the head downward is mentioned). The upright post is called stipes, the transverse beam patibulum; and it was this, rather than the entire instrument, which the criminal carried to the place of execution (Plaut. Mostell. i. 1, 53, and ap. Non. s. v. patibulum). It was impossible that the whole weight of the body should rest upon the nails; hence there was a piece of wood projecting from the stipes on which the sufferer sat, or rather rode (Tertull. adv. Nat. i. 12; cf. adv. Haer. i. 12). The expression acuta si sedeam cruce, in the famous lines of Maecenas ap. Plin. Ep.101, probably refers to this support, and not, as Lipsius thought, to impalement. When it was wanting, the body was probably sustained by ropes; the combination of ropes with nails is mentioned by Pliny as charms ( Pliny H. N.xxviii. 46). See Eculeus.
The martyrologies contain accounts of sufferers bound to the cross without the use of nails, and left to die of hunger and exhaustion; when it is added that in some instances they survived nine days, we must be allowed to disbelieve. The criminal was stripped of his clothesthe cloth around the loins, as to which the Christian tradition is constant, seems to have been exceptional and usually hoisted on to the cross after it had been set up. Sometimes he was stretched upon it on the ground, and then lifted with it; but the former method was the commoner, and hence the phrases cruci suffigere, in crucem agere or tollere, occur oftener than cruci affigere. The well-known breaking of the legs to hasten death is alluded to by Plautus ( Poen.iv. 2 Poen., 64) and Cicero ( Phil.xiii. 12. 27). The dead body was generally left hanging on the cross, to be devoured by birds and beasts; the feet were but little raised above the ground (not as in most pictures), and it was not out of the reach of the latter ( Plin. Ep.i. 16Plin. Ep., 48; Juv.xiv. 77). Sepulture was therefore forbidden, and a soldier set to watch the corpse ( Petron.111Petron., 112). The place for these executions was always outside the walls of cities; at Rome it was the Campus Esquilinus, to the east of the city, part of which was afterwards occupied by the gardens of Maecenas.
With the establishment of Christianity the associations connected with the Cross led to its abolition, though not from humanity, as other cruel punishments were retained. Constantine at the beginning of his reign had sanctioned it in the case of slaves and freedmen, but later he abolished it.