About a decade ago, reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died, I realized that I had for years taken the Crucifixion more or less for granted — that I had grown callous to its horror by a too easy familiarity with the grim details and a too distant friendship with our Lord. It finally occurred to me that, though a physician, I didn’t even know the actual immediate cause of death. The Gospel writers don’t help us much on this point, because crucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetime that they apparently considered a detailed description unnecessary.It is a particularly brutal way to execute someone. Beheading would be infinitely easier to endure; in contrast, crucifixion seems to have been designed and optimized to cause the most amount of agony imaginable. Donald Sensing at Sense of Events writes a remarkable post on why Jesus of Nazareth would be crucified; Dr. Davis writes about the how of the practice itself and its effects on the body.
Apparently, the first known practice of crucifixion was by the Persians. Alexander and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world — to Egypt and to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians and (as with almost everything the Romans did) rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill at it. A number of Roman authors (Livy, Cicer, Tacitus) comment on crucifixion, and several innovations, modifications, and variations are described in the ancient literature.It's a medical description of a terrible act, mixed with some sense of the suffering that was being dispensed on this Friday, a Friday both long ago yet as immediate as today's news. A Friday that would change the world forever.