The passion stories tell of Jesus and/or Simon carrying a σταυρόςFootnote 1 and Jesus calls his followers to take up a σταυρός.Footnote 2 But what did carrying a σταυρός mean exactly? In the popular conception, Jesus carried what quite early on became the classic Christian cross structure, the whole cross (†).Footnote 3 In support of the view that carrying a σταυρός was an ancient practice, equated with carrying a patibulum – the cross-beam to which one was fastened and which was then hoisted up the vertical pole (stipes) – scholars have often pointed to several ancient sources. Some recent crucifixion studies have treated these instance of cross-bearing in Latin and Greek sources in the context of a more general study of crucifixion, most notably the major influential studies by Gunnar Samuelsson and John Granger Cook.Footnote 4 While such studies are indispensable, they have understandably integrated these cross-bearing sources in a larger discussion of the terms patibulum and σταυρός. Yet the study of the topic can benefit from further (and more detailed) systematic analysis of the sources.Footnote 5
The recent interaction between Samuelsson and Cook shows that there are often contrasting views on what we actually (can) know of crucifixion and cross-bearing. Samuelsson concludes that we cannot be certain of precisely what object Jesus carried to his execution, nor do we know what the other extra-biblical sources on cross-bearing mean. For example, referring to Jesus’ call to bear one's σταυρός Samuelsson concludes: ‘contra the common view expressed in commentaries, it is not possible to fully define what the texts describe Jesus as talking about’.Footnote 6 Moreover, Samuelsson remarks in reference to the theme of carrying the σταυρός in the passion narrative: ‘Neither the Biblical nor the extra-Biblical texts describing someone who carries an execution or a torture tool towards his own punishment are explicit on the theme. These texts do not mention anything about for what purpose the carrying occurred.’Footnote 7 Cook, however, is more confident about the object that was carried, namely, a patibulum, or cross-beam.
On the basis of a critical assessment of the sources, with due respect to their ancient context and the fact that they reflect Roman practice, I have recently argued that possibly four of the eight Latin sources that supposedly refer to cross-bearing are in fact ‘classic’ examples of carrying a patibulum: Plautus, Carb. fr. 2, Clodius Licinus, Rer. Rom. 21, Lex Puteolana ii.8–10, and possibly Plautus, Mil. glor. 358–60.Footnote 8 But what about the Greek sources that supposedly speak of cross-bearing? Can we say more about them than Samuelsson felt able to? Should the often-mentioned Greek sources be involved at all in a discussion of cross-bearing in the New Testament?
In this article I will focus on the Greek sources that speak of cross-bearing (or, to be more exact, that supposedly speak of carrying a σταυρός). In the discussion of these texts I will frequently refer to the studies by Samuelsson and Cook, because their often-contrasting treatment of the sources is illuminating and because their studies have been highly influential. In this article, I will argue that, contrary to Samuelsson's view, when the sources speak of carrying a σταυρός, it is possible to reconstruct to a certain extent what they mean. I will show that it is likely that some Greek sources presuppose that what was being carried was a sort of cross-beam, because they mostly presuppose a Roman context, and in the Roman context it is relatively clear what was being carried, a point already made by Cook.Footnote 9 It is not sufficient, when interpreting ancient texts, to analyse them in isolation.
It is important to note that, while in this article we examine the Greek sources, a study of the Latin texts on carrying a patibulum is presupposed; as we will see, it is very likely that Roman penal practices influenced the Greek writings under discussion. We will not engage in a discussion on cross-bearing in the whole New Testament here, but will touch upon a number of relevant implications resulting from the study of Latin sources.
2. Greek Texts on Carrying a σταυρός
When looking for parallels for New Testament texts/phrases/terms in the ancient Mediterranean world, the first place to look are texts in ancient Greek. This also holds true for the theme of cross-bearing. However, there are actually very few Greek texts that contain the same terminology as that used in the New Testament. Scholarship over the past two hundred years has found a limited number of Greek texts that contain the semantic domains of ‘to carry’ or ‘to take up’ combined with the term σταυρός or ξύλον, as follows: Footnote 10
– Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. rom. 7.69 (1st cent. bce)
– Chariton, Chaer. 4.2.7; 4.3.10 (1st cent. ce)
– Plutarch, Sera 554a–b (46–after 119 ce)
– Lucian, Peregr. 34 (ca 165–80 ce)
– Artemidorus, Onir. 2.56 (2nd cent. ce)
2.1 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. rom. 7.69
Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ca 55 bce–ca 7 ce) went from Asia Minor to Rome before 29 bce and taught rhetoric there.Footnote 11 He wrote a history of Rome up to 264 bce, which was published from 7 bce onward. In book 7, Dionysius recounts an often-told and rather peculiar story. Strange occurrences happened at the time of the consulship of Quintus Sulpicius Camerinus and Spurius Larcius Flavus (7.68.1): unusual sights that appeared to many, abnormal human and animal births, cattle pestilence, sickness etc. A certain farmer named Titus Latinius was brought before the Senate, and he said he had received a message from Jupiter Capitolinus saying that the Romans had offended Jupiter by failing to appoint an acceptable leader of the dance in the recent procession (7.68.3). The farmer first ignored the vision, but after receiving more visions and after harm came to his house because of his disobedience in not relaying Jupiter's warning to the Senate (he even lost a son), the news eventually reached the Senate by word of his friends. The senators at that point finally realised what the incident was that Jupiter had referred to in his message to Titus Latinius: just before a procession a certain Roman citizen (ἀνὴρ Ῥωμαῖος) had ordered one of his slaves to be put to death. He thought it fitting that this slave should lead the procession, bound with his arms stretched out. But during the procession, the slave made indecent movements (τὴν αἰκίαν ἀσχήμονας ἐκινεῖτο), and the senators identified this incident as that of the unacceptable dancer that Jupiter had indicated. The text that scholars have often pointed to as an instance of cross-bearing reads as follows:Footnote 12
A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists (τὰς χεῖρας ἀποτείναντες ἀμφοτέρας καὶ ξύλῳ προσδήσαντες παρὰ τὰ στέρνα), followed him, tearing his naked body with whips.Footnote 13
The first observation is that neither the noun σταυρός nor any verb that means ‘carrying’ appears in the text. However, the fact that the slave is bound (προσδήσαντες) and led through various parts of the city (δι᾿ ἀγορᾶς; ἄλλος ἦν τῆς πόλεως τόπος) implies that he carried something. The object that was bound to the man and the manner in which this was done are of course of interest to us: a piece of wood (ξύλον) was bound to the slave across the chest/breast (στέρνον), with both hands stretched out (τὰς χεῖρας ἀποτείναντες ἀμφοτέρας). Apparently, this piece of wood was a sort of beam, as it was tied across the chest to the arms,Footnote 14 and apparently it did not prevent the slave from walking in the procession (παρηκολούθουν) and from being whipped (μαστιγούμενον) through the city.Footnote 15 It seems likely that fastening the wood not to the back but to the front of the body gave his fellow slaves a better opportunity to strike at the man's back (διήκοντι παρηκολούθουν ξαίνοντες μάστιξι γυμνὸν ὄντα).
Although Samuelsson is right to note that nothing in the text points to crucifixion,Footnote 16 it is understandable that this text has been mentioned as proof of the practice of cross-bearing. At a cursory glance, one could infer that it is indeed a reference to cross-bearing,Footnote 17 as it was a slave whose execution had been ordered; it was a Roman context and we know that in the Roman context slaves were often crucified or suspended. Furthermore, there is evidence that some who had been condemned to be executed walked through the city bearing a piece of wood.Footnote 18
However, Sverre Bøe, Samuelsson, David W. Chapman and Eckhart J. Schnabel are rightly sceptical about the story recounted here involving crucifixion. There is one major problem with identifying this text as a description of actual ‘cross-bearing’ (apart from the absence of any specific terminology referring to ‘carrying’). Apart from Dionysius, the story with the ‘dancer’ appears in Greek literature only in Plutarch, and his terminology is different; he uses φούρκιφερ to describe the slave carrying the object. This is derived from the Latin furca, a forked object like a Y or a V or perhaps ∀,Footnote 19 which is also found in most of the Latin retellings.Footnote 20 Dionysius’ use of ξύλον probably covered the meaning of an implement for punishment well enough.Footnote 21 Moreover, the Greek equivalent of furca, φοῦρκα, appears for the first time in Plutarch's writings, i.e. much later than Dionysius.Footnote 22 Two relatively late (Christian) Latin sources say that the slave was bound to a patibulum,Footnote 23 but the evidence from non-Christian sources points to a furca. Moreover, Samuelsson's remark that nothing points to crucifixion is still valid: the manner of the slave's death in Dionysius’ passage is unclear; it only states that the slave was to be put to death (ἐπὶ τιμωρίᾳ θανάτου). Therefore, this text should not be regarded as an extra-biblical reference to cross-bearing.
2.2 Chariton, Chaer. 4.2.7/4.3.10
The second Greek source that has been quoted in reference to cross-bearing is Chariton, Chaer. 4.2.7 and its retelling in 4.3.10.Footnote 24 Chariton's romantic novel was probably written between 25 bce and 50 ceFootnote 25 and it contains a fair amount of historical references. In fact, it is the only extant classical novel which is linked to historical persons.Footnote 26 The story relates to events that supposedly happened approximately 400 to 500 years earlier. Yet, ‘while Chariton required a background of historical events for his characters, the background had to fit the characters, not vice versa … he was prepared to adapt the record drastically to secure what he wanted’.Footnote 27 This is an important issue, for it raises the question posed by Bøe: ‘Does it inform us about procedures of crucifixion in Italy or Persia in 400 bc or about crucifixion in Greece in the first century ce?’Footnote 28 In his dissertation, Christoforo Iavicoli has opted for the former hypothesis by listing this text among Persian witnesses to cross-bearing,Footnote 29 while if the latter were the case, it would be necessary to argue that contemporary (Roman) crucifixion practice influenced the narrative.Footnote 30 Cook clearly favours the latter option, as he notes that the condemned carry patibula.Footnote 31
When Samuelsson discusses the use of σταυρός in Chariton's novel, he notes that the use of σταυρός is parallel to the punishment of crucifixion, and he accordingly concludes that this is seen as one of the few accounts of cross-bearing.Footnote 32 Yet Samuelsson notes also that ‘it is unknown what they actually carried’, although he gives no substantiation for this.Footnote 33 While Samuelsson draws attention to the foreign aspect (τὴν ἔξωθεν φαντασίαν σκυθρωπήν) of the carrying of the σταυρός as a whole, Bøe notes that this ‘foreign’ aspect only pertains to the detail of being ‘chained together by feet and neck’ as a deviation from the normal procedure.Footnote 34 There is no consensus, therefore, about whether this should be counted as a reference to cross-bearing.
At any rate, the narrative contains an episode in which the narrator relates how some of Chaereas’ fellow prisoners try to escape and murder someone in the process. When they are captured, the governor Mithridates orders that all sixteen prisoners be punished. Their punishment consists in carrying (ἐκφέρει) their σταυρός on the way to their execution by crucifixion (ἀνασταυρόω). The text is as follows:
They were duly brought out, chained together at foot and neck, each carrying his own cross (ἕκαστος αὐτῶν τὸν σταυρὸν ἔφερε). The executioners added this grim public spectacle to the requisite penalty as a deterrent to others so minded. Now Chaereas said nothing as he was led off with the others, but on taking up his cross (τὸν σταυρὸν βαστάσας) Polycharmus exclaimed, ‘It is your fault, Callirhoe, that we are in this mess. You are responsible for all our troubles!’Footnote 35
Chaereas recounts this event in 4.3.10, which, interestingly, shows that he equates the σταυρός upon which he hung with the one he had carried (together with 4.3.9). Chaereas cries out to Mithridates:
Faithless Callirhoe, wickedest of all women! Because of you I have been sold, have wielded a shovel, have carried a cross (καὶ σταυρὸν ἐβάστασα) and been delivered into the hands of the executioner.Footnote 36
As Steven D. Smith has pointed out, several scholars have argued that there are Roman themes in Chariton's novels, for example in the description of certain thematic interests, power structures, half-citations and allusions.Footnote 37 The novel does not feature either Rome or the Roman Empire, but, as Catherine Connor has written, ‘just because Chariton's novel doesn't mention Rome doesn't mean that it is not about – or at least a response to – Rome’.Footnote 38 Thus, Saundra Schwartz has argued that the novel paints an ambiguous picture of imperial Rome without mentioning it explicitly.Footnote 39 Moreover, the city of Aphrodisias, Chariton's supposed home, had ‘close ties’ with Rome.Footnote 40 Additionally, if the novel reflects the political context of the first century ce,Footnote 41 it would not be strange for Chariton to borrow ideas or customs from Roman forms of punishment, especially if we consider that we know that Romans carried out crucifixions in Asia Minor in the Roman era.Footnote 42 No Greek writer before Chariton or the gospel narratives described any individual carrying a σταυρός. It seems very much possible that Chariton introduced the carrying of the cross as a ‘gloomy, foreign spectacle’, as he himself says in 4.2.7, as if the Persians had invented it, especially if Persia is a foil for Rome, as Schwarz has argued.Footnote 43 (Perhaps Chariton thought that the practice of carrying one's execution device originated in Rome.)Footnote 44 It could have functioned as a novelty that was reminiscent of Roman practices current in the days of Chariton himself. This is, of course, a guess, but it is an informed one. Nevertheless, the love story presents itself as a noteworthy verbal parallel of the gospel traditions,Footnote 45 in the sense that a σταυρός is carried and the condemned is crucified on the same tool (we do not know how), and another similarity is that both traditions can be linked to a Roman context.
Although Chariton's suspension accounts have been identified with crucifixion,Footnote 46 this is less clear if we look at how the noun σταυρός appears in Chaereas and Callirhoe. The noun is found sixteen times,Footnote 47 but there is no indication of what form the crucifixion takes. The story is not clear about the precise shape of the execution tool, other than that Chaereas was somehow mounted (ἐπιβαίνοντα τοῦ σταυροῦ) on it: Mithridates and the others arrive while this is being done (present active participle)Footnote 48 and this probably excludes impalement as execution method, which caused almost immediate death.Footnote 49 That the σταυρός must not be equated with the patibulum too quickly is clear from Chaer. 4.3.9–10, where Chaereas implores Mithridates to put him back on the σταυρός, which he carried for Callirhoe's sake. We have to acknowledge Samuelsson's statement that ‘[t]he form of this tool, e.g., crux commissa (T), crux immissa (†), crux simplex (I) or something else, is however not revealed’.Footnote 50 Yet to exclude entirely the possibility that the condemned carried what the Romans called a patibulum and what was sometimes referred to as the horizontal bar would be to posit too strong a dichotomy. Σταυρός is a term that could be used both for the transverse bar as a separate object and for a pole (either for impalement or suspension), and that could additionally be used as a synecdoche. But then again, Chariton's text does not inform us of the use that was made of the object, i.e. it does not indicate whether the execution tool consisted of one or more parts. Personally, however, I think two aspects in particular must be taken into account: (1) the remarkable similarities with the gospel traditions; (2) the firmly established connection with first-century Rome that can be detected in the novel. These things considered, this passage could be regarded as a parallel to carrying a σταυρός in the New Testament, though it is not a clear parallel.
2.3 Plutarch, Sera 554a–b
The versatile and prolific writer Plutarch (ca 45–125 CE), from Chaeronea in Boeotia, studied in Athens, then went to Rome and travelled around the Roman Empire. One of his writings contains an often-quoted passage that is linked to ‘the historical reality of criminals condemned to death by crucifixion carry[ing] the cross, i.e., the crossbeam, from the court – or the prison in which they had been held – through the city to the place of execution’.Footnote 51
In De sera numinis vindicta (written after 81 ce), Plutarch gives Quietus an account of a discussion at Delphi between himself, his brother and several others. The title of the treatise, ‘On the Delays of the Divine Vengeance’, appears to represent the standpoint of a certain Epicurus, who has already left the group. Plutarch, however, explains why the punishments of the gods are slow in coming. At one point, he advocates the view that ‘divine punishments’ are really a form of therapy; they are measures taken by the gods to correct and prevent harm. In 554a, Plutarch quotes Hesiod, in order to show that evil already bears its own punishment within it. He explains this by two analogies, the second of which is of interest to us:
[A]nd whereas every criminal (κακούργων) who is punished (τῶν κολαζομένων) must carry his own cross (ἐκφέρει τὸν αὑτοῦ σταυρόν) on his body, vice frames out of itself each instrument of its own punishment.Footnote 52
Most scholars (of crucifixion) agree that this text speaks of cross-bearing,Footnote 53 but Samuelsson's view is worth noting. He claims that it is unclear what the σταυρός here is and contends that it ‘is some kind of punishment tool, probably a suspension tool, but which kind? As mentioned earlier, a pointed pole – the suspension tool used in an impaling – lies closer at hand than a cross (†).’Footnote 54 Samuelsson justifies this on the basis of the use of the noun σταυρός in Plutarch's Moralia, which he claims is ambiguous.Footnote 55 Yet, when we look closely at the noun σταυρός in Plutarch's work (it appears only seven times in total),Footnote 56 we see that Samuelsson is clearly biased towards his own prior definition of σταυρός as a pointed stake/pole. For example, the first instance of σταυρός that Samuelsson gives – Plutarch, Flam. 9.3Footnote 57 – contains no reference to anyone being impaled or any other details of its use and is in fact a quotation, not a term specifically used by Plutarch, as Samuelsson holds.Footnote 58 That a σταυρός is sometimes used for the purposes of fortification or to create a palisadeFootnote 59 does not automatically mean that all the instances of σταυρός refer to a pointed stake, although the evidence from Plutarch is too meagre to settle this issue. Σταυρός is a broad term, with multiple uses, as is shown by Plutarch's rhetorical question in An vit. 499d: ἀλλ' εἰς σταυρόν καθηλώσεις ἢ σκόλοπι πήξεις; Samuelsson notes here that σταυρός implies suspension, because the verb καθηλόω implies nailing and not impaling as Plutarch's other alternative (σκόλοπι πήξεις) suggests. On the next page, he then states: ‘The noun [σταυρός] leans toward impaling while the verb implies nailing.’Footnote 60 Clearly Plutarch is giving an ‘either/or’ example, and this shows that the term σταυρός is not used solely as ‘pointed stake’.Footnote 61 It seems rather contrived to insist that σταυρός means a stake (for impaling) in this text, while the function of the rhetorical question shows otherwise. Samuelsson should have allowed for a wider semantic range for this term. As to the traditional view that Plutarch speaks in Mor. 554a–b of cross-bearing, i.e. carrying a patibulum, as in some Latin sources: there are grounds for caution here. On the basis of his valuable discussion of the terms, Cook assumes a priori that the relationship between the two terms is clear and he equates σταυρός here with patibulum.Footnote 62 Plutarch's example envisions punishment (τῶν κολαζομένων) for an evildoer (κακούργων), but a clear crucifixion context is absent, although both Samuelsson and Cook agree that it must refer to an execution.Footnote 63 Plutarch's use of κολαζομένων does not always imply death.Footnote 64 Moreover, it remains to be demonstrated that Plutarch is talking here about Roman practices, if there was such a thing as a ‘common Roman’ practice at all.Footnote 65 It is evident that Plutarch was very much engaged with Rome, as his own life as well as his writings show.Footnote 66 Therefore, he could easily have been familiar with the practice that a condemned person carried his torture device (patibulum) on the way to execution (crucifixion). The verbal agreement with the gospel traditions, however, is the most persuasive argument.Footnote 67 The train of thought can be easily followed here: Jesus is condemned and executed by the Romans, and he carries a σταυρός (which apparently is part of Roman practice); Plutarch talks about a condemned person carrying a σταυρός; therefore the texts refer to the same practice. Although this is not improbable, we should be careful in accepting it. Clearly, Plutarch talks about how a criminal carries a σταυρός on his body (τῷ μὲν σώματι). The inference often made is that the individual carried it on his back and this could indicate that it was attached to the person. But we do not know this for sure. Moreover, there is no clear crucifixion context. Yet there are two factors that make it likely that this passage does refer to crucifixion and thus to cross-bearing, as some Latin sources do too. (The word σταυρός is used either because there was no technical term for patibulum, or because Plutarch was not aware that there were different terms in Latin, as the word patibulum is not very common.) First, due to his acquaintance with the Roman Empire and its customs, and probably with forms of crucifixion/suspension in his own area, it is likely that Plutarch is referring here to Roman practices. Second, there is no evidence that carrying a σταυρός was ever used for anything other than capital punishment.
2.4 Lucian, Peregr. 34
We will discuss the fragment from Lucian of Samosata (ca 165–80 CE) briefly, as it is not often linked to cross-bearing.Footnote 68 Lucian wrote the satirical De morte Peregrini shortly after the death of the cynic Peregrinus Proteus in 165 ce. Lucian's account, which portrays Peregrinus as a charlatan and Christians as simpletons, contains a short passage which is connected with cross-bearing:
Anyhow, he [Peregrinus] was being escorted by crowds and getting his fill of glory as he gazed at the number of his admirers, not knowing, poor wretch, that those who are led to the cross (καὶ τοῖς ἐπὶ τὸν σταυρὸν ἀπαγομένοις) or in the grip of the executioner have many more at their heels.Footnote 69
Peregrinus seemed to be revelling in the number of his followers. Yet Lucian makes the point that those who will be crucified (and those in the grip of the executioner) have a larger entourage. How does this relate to cross-bearing? Bøe notes: ‘Lucian does not speak of carrying the cross, but the choice of the verb ἀπάγω in the passive voice seems to suggest the role of a victim on the way to his own crucifixion.’Footnote 70 The clause καὶ τοῖς ἐπὶ τὸν σταυρὸν ἀπαγομένοις leaves room for action by the victim (‘and those who are led to the σταυρός’). Whether ‘those who are led’ carried their own σταυρός is not discussed, and indeed it is not Lucian's point. An interesting parallel can be found in Dionysius’ Ant. rom. 12.6.6 (ἐπὶ τοὺς σταυροὺς ἀπήχθησαν),Footnote 71 and it seems that ἐπί + σταυρός + ἀπάγω is a parallel to the much-used passive forms of in crucem agere.Footnote 72 Yet Bøe's statement that ‘we should not take this text as firm attestation of cross-bearing in antiquity’Footnote 73 should be expressed in stronger terms: neither this text, nor the one from Dionysius (Ant. rom. 12.6.6), can be regarded as instances of cross-bearing.
2.5 Artemidorus, Onir. 2.56
References to Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica (the interpretation of dreams) often appear in New Testament discussions on cross-bearing.Footnote 74 The author of the Oneirocritica refers to himself as ‘of Daldis’, and in earlier works ‘of Ephesus’ (3.66). Although the seemingly autobiographical material in the Oneirocritica may have a stylistic purpose, it seems ‘safe to conclude that Artemidorus strongly identifies with western Asia Minor, a fact that is corroborated by his incorporation of a large number of topographical references and linguistic elements from his region into his text’.Footnote 75 Artemidorus seems to have travelled in Asia Minor, Greece and ItalyFootnote 76 and the work was probably written during the Antonine and Severan dynasties, i.e. in the second part of the second to the early third century. Galen (late second to early third century) mentions an Artemidorus ‘of Phocaea’ (also Asia Minor, 15.444), who might be the same author.Footnote 77
The text we are interested in reads:
A criminal seeing someone carrying (βαστάζειv) one of the chthonic demons, either Pluto himself or Cerberus or another from Hades, indicates [that he is] to carry a cross (σταυρὸν βαστάσαι). For the cross (ὁ σταυρός) resembles death, and one who is about to be nailed to it first carries it (πρότερον αὐτὸν βαστάζει).Footnote 78
Intriguingly, in a recent edition, Daniel E. Harris-McCoy translates σταυρός with ‘crucifix’.Footnote 79 The use of ‘crucifix’ is incorrect because it is anachronistic and it differs from a σταυρός altogether: the latter is a torture device while a crucifix is an artistic object that represents Jesus’ crucifixion.Footnote 80 While Samuelsson discusses all the other supposed instances of cross-bearing, he has curiously omitted this fragment.Footnote 81 Cook discusses this passage in his excursus on ‘Patibulum and σταυρός’, where he notes that because of his travels, Artemidorus ‘was certainly aware of Roman crucifixion practice’.Footnote 82 What is more interesting is Artemidorus’ apparently matter-of-fact statement (see the causal conjunction γάρ) that crosses are carried.Footnote 83 This leads Cook to believe that Artemidorus is falling back on common knowledge of ‘Roman crucifixion practice’ because of his travels.Footnote 84 Moreover, Cook is certainly right to think that Artemidorus probably meant the transverse bar of the ‘cross’, because Artemidorus seems to imply that a σταυρός for crucifixion consists of two beams (ἐκ ξύλων) which are nailed together, as seen in 2.53:Footnote 85
Being crucified is a good thing for all sailors. For the cross is made from beams (ἐκ ξύλων) and nails (ἥλων) like the ship, and its mast is like a cross (ἡ κατάρτιος αὐτοῦ ὁμοία ἐστὶ σταυρῷ).
Samuelsson discusses these passages as well, and it is worth quoting him when he addresses his doubts as to whether the κατάρτιος was a cross- or T-shaped mast:
It is a good assumption that the mast of an ancient ship had some kind of yard to hold up and spread the sail. With the yard suspended without sail, the mast would have been fairly ‘cross-shaped.’ But there is a significant leap from that assumption to stating that this was the universal form of mast, the one Artemidorus and his readers automatically envisioned when they said/heard κατάρτιος (mast). If there were an obvious similarity between a κατάρτιος and a σταυρός in the sense ‘cross’ (†), why did other ancient authors not pay attention to that?Footnote 86
The answer to the question is that κατάρτιος is a very rare word indeed, and before Artemidorus (as a quick TLG search shows) appears only in Cyranides, Nat. hist. 4.67.9 and in Aelius Herodianus, Partitiones 53.9 and 178.5, and thus Artemidorus’ comparison between a κατάρτιος and a σταυρός can be seen as novel.Footnote 87 But together with the statement from Onir. 1.76, ‘if he is a criminal he will be crucified (σταυρωθήσεται) because of the height and stretching out of hands (τὴν τῶν χειρῶν ἔκτασιν)’, we can infer that it must have been a horizontal bar.Footnote 88 It could, of course, be argued that this was above the person's head, but that would render another (transverse) beam useless (and we know that two beams were used). It might be inferred from the passage further on that this stretching out of hands is horizontal, because Artemidorus refers to a mast (with a horizontal component).Footnote 89
The text of Onir. 2.56 shows clear correspondence with the gospel passages (e.g. the use of βαστάζω and σταυρός in Luke 14.27 and John 19.17). This, together with Artemidorus’ travels and other uses of σταυρός, makes a strong case that Onir. 2.56 is referring to a practice that we see elsewhere in antiquity: a condemned individual who carries the transverse bar used to construct a T-shaped execution tool (whether this was a crux immissa or crux commissa does not matter).Footnote 90
3. Sources on Cross-Bearing Reassessed
According to the Gospels, Jesus’ cross was carried by either Simon of Cyrene or Jesus himself (Mark 15.21parr./John 19.17). This practice is attested in several sources which we have assessed here. We have seen that two ancient sources should be disregarded when it comes to cross-bearing, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. rom. vii.69 and Lucian, Peregr. 34, because they lack the relevant terminology and/or details. As for the other three sources (Chariton, Chaer. 4.2.7, 4.3.10; Plutarch, Sera 554a–b; Artemidorus, Onir. 2.56), they very likely refer to the practice described in the gospel passages. However, we should stress that there is no certainty, and caution should be exercised in calling these sources witnesses to the practices described in the New Testament, because the context is sometimes ambiguous. Either way, what connects these three passages is that they were written by authors who were very familiar with Roman imperial customs, and very likely had knowledge of Roman penal practices as well. This does not, however, prove that there was a consistent and widespread practice in the whole of the Roman Empire of compelling the condemned to carry their cross; these writers could easily have picked up the idea while in Rome or in Italy. In fact, the two sources that could be regarded as witnesses to cross-bearing, unlike the gospel traditions, contain indirect information about the carrying of a cross (Plutarch, Artemidorus); they assume that the practice is common but they use it for their own literary purposes. The third source, from Chariton, also contains indirect information about cross-bearing, as it is a fictional novel. It is important not to forget this. However, Chariton, too, assumes that his readership is acquainted with the practice. Ironically, the two sources that cannot be regarded as proofs are closest to the passion accounts in that they tell of events leading up to the death/execution of the protagonist (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Lucian). Thus, all in all, the practice of carrying a σταυρός was certainly practised outside Rome, as the Gospels attest, but otherwise no extant Greek source with an actual report of cross-bearing (e.g. from Greek-writing historians) is found outside Rome.Footnote 91
The passages from Chariton and Artemidorus clearly link carrying a σταυρός to death by execution. In Plutarch this is not entirely clear (but is probably implied). Although the evidence is sparse, I would argue that carrying a σταυρός in antiquity in general should not be seen as a separate punishment without execution, but always as a prelude to execution upon the same device that was being carried. Moreover, any punishment that the sources mention in relation to a σταυρός always seems fatal.
The period in which the three texts that probably discuss σταυρός-carrying were written spans about two centuries, and Chariton is probably earlier than our first New Testament occurrence, i.e. in the Gospel of Mark. This means that the Gospels are not the earliest Greek sources on cross-bearing, although the passages where Jesus says that his followers must take up their cross predate the final gospel texts. Consequently, whereas in Latin the carrying of a beam (patibulum) first occurs in written sources at quite an early date (third century bce),Footnote 92 the first extant Greek cross-bearing sources only appear well into the first century ce. Just as there are few Latin sources (probably four), the number of Greek sources that testify to the classic idea of cross-bearing is low (three). It is likely that cross-bearing was simply not a matter of great interest to ancient authors, just as other practical aspects/procedures of crucifixion; the Gospels likewise are very brief about the actual crucifixion of Jesus.Footnote 93 This does not mean that the practice was rare, but nor can we assume on the strength of the textual evidence that it was common or widely known – although these sources seem to assume that their readership was familiar with the practices described. Together with the Latin sources (esp. the Lex Puteolana, which presupposes a legal basis), the conclusion seems warranted that the practice was widespread.
Moreover, just like the three sources on cross-bearing above, the New Testament passion accounts are set in a Roman context, and even more explicitly so, as the Gospels portray Jesus’ crucifixion as a Roman punishment enforced by a Roman functionary and executed by Roman soldiers in a territory governed by Rome. It seems reasonably safe to assume that there was at least some continuity in the practice of crucifixion, and thus that Jesus/Simon carried, as the Latin says, a patibulum (there is no mention of a crux being carried, so there is no reason to assume, given that the imperial context was the same, that the carrying of a σταυρός refers to the cross as a whole).
Additionally, what we have seen in the Greek, but also in the Latin, sources is that the condemned carries his own cross, not another man's.Footnote 94 The accounts of Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross are therefore all the more remarkable. While some have argued (albeit on other grounds)Footnote 95 that this was an invention, most scholars agree that it lends some veracity to the story, and it is understandable that scholars should seek to explain why Simon was forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Also, there is a striking difference in the choice of verbs. While the New Testament uses αἴρω and λαμβάνω often, these are absent in the sources examined here.Footnote 96 The Greek sources use φέρω and βαστάζω. Further inquiry into the choice of verbs might shed light on cross-bearing in the New Testament.
These assessments may also affect the question of the historicity of the sayings under discussion. We will make some brief observations here. The cross-bearing sayings in Mark 8.34parr. are often regarded as post-Easter because it would be in the interests of the earliest Jesus followers to present Jesus as foreknowing the manner of his own death. This would function as an encouragement for the intended community, which was experiencing persecution.Footnote 97 The Jesus Seminar attributed this saying to a later tradition because of ‘its implied Christian understanding of the cross’.Footnote 98 However, (1) if Jesus was engaged in fierce conflict with the religious authorities, he was likely aware of his impending fate;Footnote 99 (2) carrying a σταυρός in relation to crucifixion seems well founded as a historical practice; (3) it is likely that Jesus was familiar with the forms of capital punishment, including crucifixion, which were in use in ancient Palestine, Syria and Egypt under Roman authority even before his own crucifixion.Footnote 100 It is not implausible therefore that Jesus uttered something like the Synoptic cross-sayings (Mark 8.34parr.; Matt 10.38/Luke 14.27).Footnote 101 It is necessary, however, to explore further the question of the historicity of these passages, as well as the implications for the interpretation of the texts on cross-bearing sayings in their respective Gospels.