How does Crucifixion actually kill you?

What was crucifixion and how did being crucified kill you? Crucifixion is a type of public torture designed to kill a person slowly and with the maximum level of pain a human being can endure without losing consciousness.

by Anna Kitko, Ratio Christi Regional Director for Tennessee and South Carolina.

How does crucifixion kill you?


The utterly vile death of the cross. This was the most egregious punishment permitted for convicts under Roman law.

A death bound with iron

“Let her continue as she pleases, persisting in her vain delusions, and lamenting in song a god who died in delusions, who was condemned by judges whose verdict was just, and executed in the prime of life by the worst of deaths, a death bound with iron.”

The answer given by an oracle of Apollo (c. 284 AD) to a man inquiring how he could dissuade his wife from her Christian beliefs. Recorded by Porphyry and preserved in the writings of Augustine.

(Civitas Dei 19.23; p. 690 CC)


The crucifixion of Jesus is called “folly” and “madness” in the writings of both Paul and the Early Church Fathers for a reason: the idea that the God-Man would be killed in the most heinous of fashions is not only unthinkable, it’s abhorrent. The fact that the very epicenter of the Christian message is described by Paul to include this method of execution runs completely against what we understand about the political climate of the Roman era as well as the religious expectations of a Hellenized culture.

Nothing on the level of crucifixion

For example, if we look at the deaths of the demigods in the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian pantheons, we find barbarism sure, but not on the level of crucifixion: Attis and Adonis were gored to death by a wild boar, Osiris was shredded to death by Titans, and even the great Hercules self-immolated on Mount Oeta. But the difference is that in these cases, their deaths were less concerning than a death by crucifixion. Why? Well, let me show you. Fair warning: If you have a weak constitution for gore, best to stop reading now….

Not for the squeemish

Crucifixion begins not with the victim, but rather with the executioner. The reason that this is so is because if an executioner is given complete sovereignty over the initial death blows of the victim, the punishment may be doled out with as high a level of caprice and sadism as possible in that moment. For this reason, the possibilities for the authoring of physiological pain are endless. Take for example, Josephus’ account detailing just how creative executioners can be in this,

“When they were being taken (by the Romans), they were forced to defend themselves, and after they had fought they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy: so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died and were then crucified before the wall of the city. Titus felt pity for them, but as their number-given as up to 500 a day- was too great for him to risk either letting them go or putting them under guard, he allowed his soldiers to have their way, especially as he hoped that the gruesome sight of the countless crosses might move the besieged to surrender: ‘So the soldiers, out of the rage and hatred they bore the prisoners, nailed those they caught, in different postures, to the cross