Crucifixion was done in Roman Britain, new evidence shows

Remarkable new archaeological evidence suggests that crucifixion was carried out in Roman Britain.

The only victim of the barbaric execution system found in Europe to date was discovered in a field in Cambridgeshire.

He was almost certainly an English slave or laborer of Romano descent who was likely crucified for witchcraft, seduction, serious social defiance, or a serious offence. is different.

In their late 20s or early 30s, the victim may have been a slave or salaried worker in a local industrial complex, possibly involved in the production of candles, cosmetics, and soaps.

Archaeologists discovered his skeleton – complete with a nail nailed through the instep of his right foot – in a Roman cemetery in the village of Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire.

He is only the second confirmed Roman victim of crucifixion discovered in the world. The first was found in Israel in 1968.

Tomb of a crucified skeleton unearthed in Fenstanton

(Albion Archeology)

Contrary to public perception, crucifixion was a relatively rare method of execution in Roman times.

One of the world’s leading authorities on the matter, Professor John Granger Cook of LaGrange University, Georgia, USA, estimates that from about 200 BC to the virtual abolition of crucifixion in 337 AD, between 100,000 and 150,000 people were crucified in Roman-controlled territories. This meant that on average fewer than 200 people were crucified each year in territories ruled by the Romans with more than 70 million people.

Most death sentences are carried out in other ways, such as lethal sword strikes, beheading, burning, and throwing people at dead animals.

As crucifixion is a relatively rare punishment, used for crimes that are particularly serious and threatening to society or during times of social revolt, study the Fenstanton victim, his cemetery, and the environment. The circumstances surrounding it may shed light on the underlying political or social circumstances surrounding his execution.

It is certain that the period of his execution – the mid to late third or very early fourth centuries – was one of exceptional social and political turmoil in which the level of security in England was often extreme. fragile.

The life and death of crucifixion victims in Fenstanton was particularly difficult and tragic. He was born around the third century AD – and probably lived through much of the insecurities of the regions of that period.

The skeleton was found along with the remains of 43 other individuals buried in five small Roman cemeteries in Fenstanton. In common with many of them, the crucifixion victim had broken bones. Many of those buried also had probable malaria. The area is swampy and there will be many mosquitoes.

The crucifixion victim herself had lost 75% of her back teeth in her short life, suffered from a painful two-tooth abscess, and suffered from degenerative arthritis in her back.

Skeletons show him with broken bones, multiple tooth loss and degenerative arthritis

(Albion Archeology / Adam Williams)

An examination of his bones revealed that he had been in trouble with the Roman authorities for some time before his crucifixion.

Evidence from his left ankle and shin and right shin suggests he had an abnormal bone growth there, possibly caused by leash or metal shackles. It is possible that his legs were probably attached to a wall or other structure. Therefore, it is likely that he has been detained for a period of time.

The place where he was crucified is not known for certain, but it is probably relatively nearby.

Evidence from his tomb suggests that his body may have hung on the cross for some time before he was buried. Very unusually, he appears to have been buried in a makeshift crate, rather than in a coffin or shroud or nothing at all.

Roman crucifixion victims often left to rot on their crosses – and so a stretcher-like crate would likely be required to carry his rapidly decomposing corpse from the place of execution to his grave.

Aerial shot of the Fenstanton cemetery where the skeleton was found

(JJ Mac)

Perhaps notably, the only person in the cemetery to be buried above a casket was the one buried right next to him.

It is therefore conceivable that the second individual – a woman in her late 30s or early 40s – was also crucified, but only attached to her cross with ropes, not nails. .

Both methods were used by the Romans. In both procedures, the victim can die of suffocation within a few days (because of the reduced pressure caused by the person’s body weight, which will make it increasingly difficult for the person to breathe).

The man crucified in Fenstanton had only his right foot nailed to the cross. The nail was driven horizontally through the back of his ankle and heel. Only 1-2cm of the nail was able to actually penetrate the vertical wood of the cross.

Professor Granger Cook said: “This is a hugely important find as it is only the second discovery of a crucifixion victim since Roman times.

“The only other Roman example of a heel bone, with a nail nailed through it, is from the skeleton of a first-century individual, discovered in Jerusalem about 50 years ago,” he said. he said.

“The new British discovery could shed important new light on the use of crucifixion in the Roman Empire,” said Professor Cook, the author of the world’s most detailed study of the method. Crucifixion in the Mediterranean world.

Early second century AD graffiti found in an ancient Roman tavern in Puteoli, Italy, is the earliest known depiction of a crucifixion

(Giuseppe Camodeca)

Detailed examination of the Fenstanton skeletons was carried out by skeletal archaeologist, Dr Corinne Duhig of Wolfson College, Cambridge.

The site of the execution of crucifixion victims will likely be the subject of future research, but, perhaps significantly, perhaps in the Middle Ages, a gallows was placed, just a short distance from the Roman cemeteries. Old code a mile – on higher ground, which is still called Galley Hill (the word “galley”, in this case, is derived from or related to the word “gallows”).

The Fenstanton Roman Cemetery is part of one of the most fascinating newly discovered archaeological sites in Britain. In Roman times it was a significant roadside settlement on an important Roman road (Via Devana, which ran from Colchester to Chester) and included an industrial complex, manufacturing products from Colchester. animal fat. Archaeologists have found hundreds of broken cattle leg bones. But there are also a variety of structures, including a Roman villa-style building, with tiled roofs and underfloor heating.

There is also a very large 10m x 7m large wooden building from the Roman period or shortly after the Roman period, the iron key may have been found.

Most mysterious of all is the evidence of a series of four giant wooden pillars 50cm in diameter of unknown function.

Only a more detailed study of the findings from the complex is likely to shed more light on the lives and deaths of the men and women in the cemeteries and the exact function of the site itself. mysterious residence.

David Ingham said: “There are many unusual aspects to the Fenstanton site and we are determined to solve its remaining mysteries and shed more light on the lives of those buried. of Bedford-based Albion Archeology, who is leading the investigation. Crucifixion was done in Roman Britain, new evidence shows


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