Why did the centurions break the thieves legs?

Um, all the references to Gehenna that Jesus made…:confused:?

True, but remember that the Centurion had a rank equivalent to a modern army Captain.

The fact that the Centurion would be bored with a task does not mean that he cannot or will not assign it to someone else. A Decurion and a contubernium or two could easily be assigned the night guard.

Hi, Brendan!
…I understand that the Roman Empire would kill those who deserted their post regardless of how tedious, treacherous, obscured or insignificant–so if you’re a Centurion, bored at having to crucify yet another prisoner… well, you get creative!

Maran atha!


Gehenna was already a stock term for Hell / the fate of the wicked then. It’s not a reference to the actual state of the Valley of Hinnom at that time.

The only time when there were corpses and fires burning in the Hinnom was seven to six hundred years before Jesus, when many Judahites were offering (human) sacrifice to gods like Moloch in the area. The fires were sacrificial fires, the corpses were burnt offerings.

The actual garbage dump of Jerusalem in those days was in the Kidron Valley, and the most common kind of ancient refuse are usually of the kind that don’t require kindling a fire (read: broken pottery).


No one said the Centurion would desert his post. It was his job to assign the posts. Much like a Captain does now.

The Procurator would give the order to crucify someone, The Legion Prefect would order a centurion to see that it was carried out. The centurion would see that it was carried out. That would most like mean telling a contubernium ( squad of 8 men) “hang that guy there, and guard him until he dies”. There is no requirement by anyone that the Centurion himself remain.

The modern equivalent would be the Military Governor (Procurator), tells the Brigadier ( Prefect) that he wants something guarded. The BG orders a Captain to see to it.

The Captain picks a squad and assigns them the duty. No one, least of all the Generals, expect the Captain to actually DO the guarding, simply to see that it is done.

Likewise, no one in the Roman Army would have expected a Centurion to actually stand guard. It was beneath the rank.

To complement the last posts, the Roman military structure in Judaea.

The Roman prefect of Judaea was a knight of the equestrian order (ordo equester, aka the equites), the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome. As an eques, the prefect did not have the authority to command a legion; one had to be of senatorial rank to be able to command one. The nearest legions were stationed in Syria; the prefect’s superior, the legate of Syria (who was a senator by rank), was in charge of three or four.

There were also legions in Egypt, which was actually an interesting exception to the rule. Octavian/Augustus banned senators from ever setting foot on Egypt; the reason for this was that Egypt was a very stragetically-important area (for one, it was the breadbasket of the Empire, not to mention that its geographic placement made it heavily defensible), and so, it was deemed too precious to be handed to senators. (Who knows? A senator who held control of Egypt might use his position to challenge the emperor, and Rome will have a hard time fighting against one who controlled a very valuable and naturally-guarded place like Egypt. The Empire will be torn apart.)

So in Egypt, a different law was in force: the legions there were commanded by their second-in-command, a senior tribune, who was inferior to the prefect in terms of equestrian seniority. When a legion passed Egypt, the legate commanding it could not literally enter the province on foot with them and had to detour. He probably had to avoid walking on Egypt by travelling by sea.)

Since legions were out of the question, the prefect commanded auxiliary troops - 3,000 of them. Most of these auxiliaries were not Roman citizens (although they could receive citizenship as a reward at the end of their service), but local recruits from nearby non-Jewish areas such as Samaria or Syria.

As mentioned earlier, Jews were granted exemption from military service by Augustus; at the same time, he forbade troops to be conscripted among non-citizens (peregrini) in Jewish territory. Similar exemptions were granted by other Roman officials later. This as mentioned pretty much explains why we don’t hear of any Palestinian Jew serving or being forced to serve in the Roman army, legionary or auxiliary. (That did not however prevent a few Jews in areas outside Palestine from voluntarily becoming Roman soldiers themselves.)

Scholars still debate as to what may have caused this exemption to be granted. A common idea is that Jews were exempted in light of their traditional customs such as the Sabbath rest or keeping kosher, which does not would make following the Roman military lifestyle difficult. However, the fact that Samaritans - who revere the same Torah and follow a lot of similar customs as the Jews - could and did serve as Roman auxiliaries seems to throw this explanation into doubt. It is more likely therefore that the exemption was a reward for past assistance. I mean you do have to remember that before Rome conquered Judea, Rome and Judea were allies.

Most of these soldiers would have stayed with the prefect in the provincial capital of Caesarea Maritima (by-the-Sea); the rest were stationed across various garrisons within the province, for example the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem (where they kept a perpetual watch on the Temple). The majority of the troops would have only showed up in public during festival seasons along with the prefect; they didn’t roam across the land 24-7, looking for Jews to terrorize or crucify, as movies sometimes seem to imply. That picture is more accurate for the 50s-60s, in the height of the Jewish-Roman War, not the time of Jesus thirty years earlier (which was still relatively ‘peaceful’ by comparison).

The prefect’s 3,000 auxiliaries would yield about five or six cohorts (one cohort equals 480 men = six centuries, since a century is around 80-100 men on average).

This is, as mentioned, the situation in Judaea. The Galilee was different, since Herod Antipas had his own army - Roman soldiers, who were supposed to only appear in emergency situations when Antipas needed them, had no business being there otherwise. We know Herod the Great copied the Roman military structure for his own army (also made up of recruits from various areas), and it’s likely that his sons continued the tradition. The ‘centurion’ Jesus met at Capernaum is more likely to be a Herodian soldier than a Roman one (cf. the story of the royal official in John’s gospel).

This is how the chain of command in Judaea Province went.

In Jerusalem, on an everyday basis, Jewish leaders such as the high priest and his advisory council (synedrion in Greek - the ‘Sanhedrin’) and the aristocrats of the city - many of whom were also priests - were responsible for running the government in place of the Roman prefect. It was the Temple guards who had regular police duties; the prefect’s auxiliaries in the Antonia and various other forts across the country seldom had police duties.

This is pretty much why it was the chief priests and the Temple police that arrested Jesus. Normally, the local police force would be the ones who would go about arresting any criminals or troublemakers and handing them over to the chief priests and the leading citizens, who were the responsible officials of the city, who would examine cases on behalf of the Roman governor.

Very serious cases would have been passed on to the prefect (because after all, the death penalty was officially in the hands of the Romans), although it’s also possible that at certain times the Jewish leaders might have taken care of such dangerous criminals by themselves by performing summary executions of their own - which would technically be illegal. But it’s not as if the Romans were totally able to police the internal life of the provinces closely; usually the Romans just winked at these illegal executions (hey, it reduced the number of cases they had to review ;)) as long as the Jewish officials made sure that they aren’t discovered doing it.

The high priest Ananus/Ananias, son of Ananus/Ananias/Annas - the one in the gospels, the father-in-law of Caiaphas - was deposed in AD 63 precisely because he took advantage of the time in between governatorial assignments - that interim period when the old governor left Judaea and the new one still hadn’t come yet - to violate the exclusion of the death penalty by ordering the execution of James the Just, the ‘brother’ of Jesus. He was deposed because his actions caused a public uproar; it got too much publicity.

The stoning of St. Stephen (which is explicitly a mob lynching; there was no verdict and no sentence involved in the stoning, which as Luke describes it, was the result of the council getting so annoyed and angry at Stephen) and Saul/Paul’s persecution of Christians under authorization of the high priest could also represent times when Jewish officials bent the rules. In fact, these incidents might have happened - just like the execution of James - during the interim period when there was no Roman governor present in Judaea.

It was when the local Jewish leaders and the Temple police could not handle a situation on their own that the prefect and his 3,000 auxiliaries would actively step in. In turn, it was when the governor and his troops could not handle a situation on his own that his superior, the legate of Syria, and the legions he commanded would step in. So it’s like a chain of command: the Jewish leaders and the native police force at the bottom, above whom was the prefect and the auxiliaries, above whom was the Syrian legate and the legions.

As far as we know, the legions in Syria never went down to Judaea during the time of Jesus. All the recorded incidents Pilate was involved in (the standards/shields, the aqueduct riot, the Samaritan prophet) seem to have involved his own auxiliaries. Pilate apparently never had to call on the legate for assistance. Indeed, that the legions came during the Jewish-Roman War thirty years later is an indicator of just how the situation in Judaea had deteriorated at that time.

Meanwhile, this is how the situation in the Galilee went.

As mentioned earlier, Herod Antipas the tetrarch had his own army with which to defend his tetrarchy. His soldiers would have been a combination of Jews, local non-Jews and half-Jews (Samaritans, Idumaeans, Syrians) and foreigners - as were most armies of the day, such as his father’s. (Herod the Great for example employed Gauls, Thracians and Germans for his personal bodyguard.)

Unlike the Jewish leaders in Judaea, Antipas as client ruler served as the representative of the Roman Empire, and was therefore vested with its capital power. That’s why he was able to execute John the Baptist and also sought to kill Jesus (Luke 13:31) - he could legally do so.

As client ruler, Antipas had to contribute to the Empire - who served as the patron in this patron-client relationship - in some way. Two of the conditions he had to observe as client was that he had to defend his own borders and not allow revolt at home (that’s why he had his own army :cool:) and had to contribute military aid when Rome required him to do so. In exchange, Rome took care of its client by sending military aid should Antipas run into trouble that he couldn’t handle by himself.

And that’s precisely what happened one time: Antipas decided to marry his half-niece, Herodias, who was already married to another of her half-uncles - the relationship John the Baptist was highly critical about. The first wife (whose name is unknown) managed to avoid divorce by crossing the border to her father, Aretas, ruler of the Arab kingdom of Nabataea. Sometime later, Aretas took advantage of a border dispute to invade the Galilee and thrash Antipas’ army - which his subjects regarded as divine punishment for executing John the Baptist. After some slow communications, Roman troops were sent from Syria (which was where the nearest substantial body of Roman troops was) to punish Aretas for invading Rome’s ally. However, the emperor (Tiberius) died, orders were suspended, and Aretas managed to get away.

Off topic question: Can’t you still create a Latin cross with the stipes embedded into the ground?

Well, assuming that a mortise and tenon is involved (we don’t know the exact construction of Roman crosses - this is just an idea, note), if the tenon is long enough to protrude through the mortise hole I guess that could produce a kind of †-shaped cross.

Just some slight correction.

As noted, there were no legions in Judaea in AD 30 and Pilate was not controlling legionaries, but rather auxiliaries - around 3,000-3,500 of them. Otherwise, the army structure was pretty much similar.

8 men = 1 contubernium
10 contubernia = 1 centuria (headed by a centurion)
6 centuriae = 1 cohors

3,000 soldiers would yield about five infantry cohorts and one cavalry wing (ala). We get the 3,000 from the number of the Sebastian (= Samaritan) soldiers Herod the Great once had in his disposal: the Roman governors pretty much inherited the local Herodian military from the Herodians (via Archelaus) when they took over. The same non-Jewish cities that supplied Herod with military manpower now did the same for the Romans (since for one, Jews were non-recruitable due to the exemption; and second, the Romans used the anti-Jewish sentiments these peoples had to keep the Jewish half of the population in line just like Herod did - Herod used Samaritans to prevent any Jewish assassination attempt on his life).

From the gospel of John we can infer that at least four soldiers or half of a contubernium crucified Jesus (“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier …”). Whether the centurion (the synoptics only mention one centurion; the OP title is slightly misleading IMO) was one of the four or whether these four were his underlings is unclear.

I meant like this:

Or more accurately, three quaternions (teams of four) performed the crucifixions of the two thieves and Jesus and the centurion supervised from Jesus’ spot.


…so Scriptures had it wrong?:

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When**[size=] the centurion**[/size] and those with him who were **guarding Jesus **saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (St. Matthew 27:51-54)

Maran atha!


A crossed lap joint? Personally I kind of imagine that you do have to assemble the cross on the ground when you’re using that type of joint, but I don’t know (maybe someone who actually dabbles with wood can help us out here). :shrug:

On second thought, I take this back. But still, I have this feeling connecting the two beams together using a cross/half-lap joint with the vertical planted on the ground may be a bit cumbersome (though certainly not impossible). Especially if you imitate the type of cross you see in movies, where they also nail and/or tie the joints in place. For example, the cross in The Passion of the Christ:

I took the liberty of making a picture:

The one and only reason was, that the victims could not be rescued - which was impossible when their bones were smashed by iron-bars. Sometimes it even took up to a week until they finally died of circulatory-brakdown. Their suffering couldn’t be brutal and worse enough. That’s why the Romans nailed them often through their heel-bones. The crueler the better. Around the year 2000 a heel-bone was found near Jerusalem town-wall with a nail through it. I don’t know how to insert a picture here - else I woud show the picture of this bone

Here, let me save you the trouble.

This man’s (his name was Jehohanan) remains was actually discovered in the 1960s, the record.


Now, as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to crucifixions there’s very little that we know for sure. We do know that nails were sometimes used, and we know that crucifixion victims were sometimes nailed through their hands or arms - we know this from Jesus and this possible depiction of a kind of proto-crucifixion from a fresco in a tomb in Rome dating from the mid-3rd century BC.

However, the legs and the feet are more of a grey area. We know that this particular man (Jehonanan) was nailed through his ankles, but of course it doesn’t necessarily follow that every crucifixion victim was nailed in the same spot as he was - if the feet were even nailed - since there’s really no established rule for a crucifixion. (This to the point that a recent scholar even argued that there was no single punishment called ‘crucifixion’ in the ancient world at all, but rather a series or family of punishments, all of which involved hanging and sharing some key basic terminology.)

In Jesus’ case, we only know for sure that He was nailed via His ‘hands’ because the gospel of John says so. Nowadays, we Christians often assume, based on Psalm 22 (“They pierced my hands and my feet”) that He was nailed somewhere on His legs or feet as well, but aside from this rather literal interpretation (and the Shroud of Turin - which is admittedly a rather shaky piece of evidence), otherwise there’s little in the way of a definitive answer. (Before Jehohanan’s bones were discovered in the 60s, a few scholars even went so far as to declare that there was no Roman custom of attaching the feet of crucifixion victims to the cross at all. Jehohanan’s remains showed that attaching the feet to the cross was performed in one case, so it does give some hope that it could have also happened in some other execution. But that’s still far from 100%.)

For one thing, our earliest depictions of crucifixion - even depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus - don’t solve the question. Note for isntance in the picture above how the man’s legs or feet doesn’t seem to be nailed onto something. He’s clearly attached to a horizontal bar, but otherwise he seems to be either standing or dangling free-fall. In the case of Jesus, the oldest depiction of His crucifixion - a crude graffiti from around the 3rd century - depicts Him (aside from the donkey head) seemingly standing on a kind of pedestal. Otherwise, given the crude nature of the drawing it doesn’t show how the artist imagined Jesus’ feet went: was it nailed? Tied? Or was He just ‘standing’ there?

In fact, in one early depiction of the crucified Jesus (pre-4th century) the artist explicitly shows His feet to be not nailed at all. Jesus is portrayed completely naked, ‘sitting’ on a kind of peg or seat attached midway through the vertical the cornu or the ‘horn’, aka sedile or ‘seat’) with His legs spread apart as if He’s on horseback.

No but, the Centuriton was not bound to remain, which was the question that I was replying to

) completely naked

All were, and it’s stated in the Gospel. Stripped for as well the flagellation as later the crucifixion.
In Art-illustrations Jesus of course is not depicted nude, but He was. That is - in very few art works, Christ actually is shown naked. Another humiliation for the Roman’s victims. On the other hand, at the time being nude in public had not the strong meaning as today. (Some Prophets worked nude; St. Peter and his fishermen worked naked - not to muck up their gowns).

Thanks for the pictures. I would have placed about same ones, if only I had found out how - which I just did, but still don’t know how to place it on the right spot - so it’ll appear on the end.

In the museum’s description of the found heel with the nail it sais: “The Romans “invented” ways and means to increase and prolong the suffering of the crucified” So, the smashing of bones is less to shorten the pains, but more so to add pains and to prevent and attempt to rescue the victim. As it was custom, the Bible notes explicitely, that the bones of Jesus Christ where NOT broken (of all others they were).

Now on this depiction we again have the very much mitigated scene of two lansquenet stripping Jesus plus offering him (whatsoever) to drink. In reality here Jesus was covered in blood from flagellation and the way with the cross under blows and strokes, where a calm upright standing wasn’t possible.
It is inconceivable what we humans did to God. It would even have been incredible enough, if we had just knocked Him accidentally, as President Mitterand did with the Queen, and she was quite consternated about this in the train’s opening trip of the tunnel under the channel.
As a youngster I read the book about the seer Therese von Konnersreuth
Though the stigmatized Therese von Konnersreuth as she was called, was a pesant with little education, she spoke in Jesus’ language Aramaic and understood other ancient languages. She also lived very long of tiny bits of the Eucharist only.
She had in many visions the complete details of our Lord’s way of grief and suffering.

To even “just” read this, indeed is hardly bearable for it’s immeasurable cruelty how we met God!

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