A kind of gibbet made of pieces of wood placed transversely, whether crossing at right angles, one at the top of the other, T, or below the top, t, or diagonally, X. Death by the cross was a punishment of the meanest slaves, and was a mark of infamy, Deuteronomy 21:23 Galatians 3:13. This punishment was so common among the Romans, that pains, afflictions, troubles, etc., were called "crosses." Our Savior says that his disciples must take up the cross and follow Him. Though the cross is the sign of ignominy and sufferings, yet it is the badge and glory of the Christian.
The common way of crucifying was by fastening the criminal with nails, one through each hand, and one through both his feet, or through each foot. Sometimes they were bound with cords, which, though it seems gentler, because it occasions less pain, was really more cruel, because the sufferer was hereby made to languish longer. Sometimes they used both nails and cords for fastenings; and when this was the case, there was no difficulty in lifting up the person, together with his cross, he being sufficiently supported by the cords; near the middle of the cross also there was a wooden projection, which partially supported the body of the sufferer. Before they nailed him to the cross, they generally scourged him with whips or leathern thongs, which was thought more severe and more infamous than scourging with cords. Slaves who had been guilty of great crimes were fastened to a gibbet or cross, and were thus led about the city, and beaten. Our Savior was loaded with his cross, and as he sunk under the burden, Simon the Cyrenian was constrained to bear it after him and with him, Mark 15:21.
After the person had been nailed to the cross, a stupefying draught was sometimes administered, in order to render him less sensible to pain, an alleviation which our Savior did not accept, Matthew 27:34 Mark 15:23; though he seems afterwards to have taken a little of the common beverage of the soldiers. Sent by the Father to bear the heavy load of penal suffering for a lost race, he felt that he had no right to the palliatives resorted to in ordinary cases, and perfectly lawful except in his own. "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" John 18:11. He drank it, and to the very dregs. The cross being erected under the burning sun, the wounds made by the scourge and the nails soon occasioned a general fever and an intolerable thirst. The blood, interrupted in its regular flow, accumulated in various parts of the body, and caused painful congestions. Every slight writhing of the sufferer increased his anguish, which found no relief but in final mortification and death. Those who were fastened upon the cross lived in that condition several days, and sometimes a week or more. Hence Pilate was amazed at our Saviorís dying so soon, because naturally he must have lived longer, Mark 15:44. The legs of the two thieves were broken, to hasten their death, but their bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath say, Deuteronomy 21:23 Joshua 8:29; but the crucified were usually left hanging, under the eye of guards, till their bodies fell to the ground, or were devoured by birds and beasts of prey.
These dictionary topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859. Public Domain, copy freely.