from: Journal of Higher Criticism 3, 291-309 (1996)


J. Massyingbaerde Ford
University of Notre Dame

We are accustomed to thinking about the crucifixion of males and to seeing a male figure on the cross. But it is important to ask whether women also faced this punishment and disgrace. Did Jesus undergo a death which would show his empathy only, or chiefly, for men? Were the logia about bearing the cross [2], which occur within the context of the predictions of his own rejection and death, addressed only to men?

In general we may say that throughout history in secular and ecclesiastical practice women have normally been subject to the same punishments, including the death penalty [3], as men although they were rarely afforded all the privileges and responsibilities enjoyed by the male. Greco-Roman law does not seem to have exempted women from any form of the death penalty and this may be true in other parts of the world. Yet in classical art usually we see a male figure affixed to the cross.

Nevertheless, the idea of a female figure on the cross is arousing the interest of Christians internationally. In 1975 the artist, Edwina Sandys, broke with tradition by portraying in sculpture a bronze Christa, a woman with outstretched arms on the cross wearing only a loin cloth. When it was shown in the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, some found the sculpture profoundly moving, but others were exercised that the Incarnate Crucified God be portrayed as a woman. Some people saw Christa as symbolic of the many ways in which women have been metaphorically crucified throughout the ages.

Yet Sandys was not the only artist to portray a Christa on the cross. In 1977 Arthur Boyd, an Australian artist, won the Blake prize for his picture of a (pregnant) [4] woman on the cross; behind her is the bare Australian countryside in which the trees are cruciform [5]. He said that he wished to portray the suffering of women as well as men. An African artist also sculptured a crucifix on which the figure was both male and female and showed a child being born from her side-surely symbolic of the church born through the blood and water from the wounded side of Christ (John 19:34) [6]. On May 10, 1986, in Toronto, Canada, the sculpture of a woman on the cross by the artist Almuth Luetkenhaus-Lackey was officially presented to Emmanual College, a theological college of The United Church of Canada. Much discussion and controversy ensued. This is recorded in some detail in the book on the subject by Doris Jean Dyke [7]. This author also mentions Christine on the Cross, a two-foot sculpture by James M. Murphy. This was exhibited in St. James Chapel at Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1984. I have not seen a representation of this, but apparently her legs are spread and nailed on the lowered crossbar and her arms pulled up and nailed above her head to the vertical bar. The artist said: "Last Easter my sketch in soft clay took the shape of a woman. I realized thereby that the world's rejection and hatred of women culminates in crucifying a female Christ." [8] There is another crucified woman in clay from Latin America. She is depicted with the daily instruments of a woman's suffering, the hoe, machete etc. Barbara Listenik from Florida also has an interesting portrayal of a woman on a cross. And we may compare the description of the portrait of the crucified mother in Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev.

Thus it would seem that the subject of the theology of the crucifixion of women is well under discussion. However, I am not aware that anyone has approached the question of women's crucifixion from an historical point of view. In this article [9] I have tried to document evidence for the "crucifixion" of women in the ancient world. I should like to use "crucifixion" in a more generic sense, focusing on those capital punishments in antiquity which involved rendering the body of the victim immobile in order to produce a protracted death, lasting one to ten days or longer [10]. I remind the reader that this type of capital punishment was designed to produce: a) the maximum amount of physical pain; b) the utmost extremity of shame; c) in some cases, to offer propitiation to the gods and goddesses and, often, d) to prevent the victim's ghost troubling his/her executioners and their accomplices. This last was thought to be avoided by entirely destroying the body through exposure to birds and animals of prey or by impaling the vital organs, such as the heart, liver or intestines [11]. A crucified woman would incur far, far greater shame than even a male victim.

Naturally, we should not expect to find as many references to the crucifixion of women as to that of men. Save in exceptional cases (e.g., the Spartans [12], Boudicca, and Semiramis, queen of Babylon), women did not fight in armies, practice piracy, actively join in military forces during revolutions or constitute an armed power threat to male leaders. These crimes carried with them the danger of punishment by crucifixion. So few women had to fear it. After a defeat women and children were normally sold into slavery. Nevertheless, we can produce the following evidence for the crucifixion of women.

1. Babylonian and Assyrian sources [13]

Crucifixion (impalement) is found in the Code of Hammurabi. The punishment for breaking through a wall in a house was death followed by impalement. Impalement after death reflects the crime; he pierced the wall, so his body is pierced [14]. But another, even grosser punishment is inflicted upon an adulterous woman who instigated the death of her husband for the sake of her lover. In Code of Hammurabi, 153 we read: "If a woman has procured the death of her husband on account of another man, they shall impale that woman." [l5] Further, both Babylonian and Assyrian law demanded impalement for a woman who has procured an abortion. Driver and Miles [16] note that the: Babylonian phrase is "they shall put her on a stake," while the Assyrian law has "they shall set her up on pieces of wood." Driver and Miles continue: "... the substitution of a plural noun suggests crucifixion on crossed pieces of wood, which further agrees with the use of the derived Syriac verb meaning 'set up, erected' for 'crucified' (Syr. zqap)." She is also denied burial [17]: the woman suffers the same punishment of death as she inflicted on her infant [l8]. This appears to be implementing the lex talionis (law of retaliation).

2. Jewish sources

a) 1 Maccabees

A fairly clear reference to crucifixion of women during the persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes is found in 1 Maccabees:

Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death, in keeping with the decree, with their babies hung from their necks; their families (tous oikous) also and those who had circumcised them were killed (1 Mace 1:60-61).[19]
Goldstein [20] assumes that both parents were crucified, and this is supported by Josephus' account of the incident:
Indeed, they were whipped, their bodies mutilated, and while still alive and breathing, they were crucified, while their wives and the sons whom they had circumcised in despite of the king's wishes were strangled (apegchon), the children being made to hang from the necks of their crucified parents (tôn anestauromenôn goneôn) (Antiquities 12.256).
The motif of shame is important here; not only do the parents suffer the public shame of crucifixion, but a mockery is made of the very mark of the covenant, namely circumcision (cf. Gen 17). Josephus (Wars 2.253-255) also refers to the crucifixion of brigands and those of the common people who were their accomplices (kai tôn epi koinônia phôrathentôn dêmotôn, hous ekolasen, apeiron ti plêthos ên). These may have included women. He also relates the story of Florus' cruelty in Jerusalem (Wars 2.293). On this occasion Florus extracted seventeen talents from the Temple treasury, and Jews passed round a collection box for him. He responded to the insult by attacking Jerusalem. He asked that the ring leaders of the collection should be handed over to him (Wars 2.301). Upon their pleading for the "culprits" he ordered his soldiers to sack the "upper market" (Wars 2.305), but the soldiers went into every house and many of the citizens were handed over to Florus for scourging and crucifixion:
Many of the peaceable citizens were arrested and brought before Florus, who had them first scourged and then crucified (anestaurosen). The total number of that day's victims, including women and children (ho de sumpas ton ekeinês apolomenôn tês hemeras arithmos sun gunaixin kai teknois, oude gar nêpiôn apeschonto), amounted to about three thousand six hundred (Josephus, Wars 2.307-8).

b) The case of Ida

Another interesting case appears in Josephus (Antiquities 18.65-80). In the reign of Tiberius there was a certain noble Roman matron, Paulina. One Mundus fell in love with her and, because she refused to be bribed for sexual favors, he accepted the help of a freedwoman, Ida, in order to attain his desire. She arranged with the priests of Isis to go and inform Paulina that the god Anubis was exceedingly pleased with her and requested that she dine with him and then share his bed. Paulina, after securing the approval of her husband, went to the temple. As would be expected, Mundus took the place of Anubis. A short while afterwards, Mundus met Paulina and mockingly boasted that he had succeeded in his desire. The case was brought before the Emperor. Josephus reports as follows:

When Tiberius had fully informed himself ... he crucified both them [the priests] and Ida, for the hellish thing was her doing and it was she who had contrived the whole plot against the lady's (Paulina's) honor (Antiquities 18.79).
One wonders whether all the priests of Isis were male. It is remarkable that Mundus himself was merely penalized with exile. His offense was deemed less grave because he was moved by male sexual passion (Antiquities 18.80). From a sociological point of view, crucifixion in this case is inflicted on a woman for both sacrilege and depriving a Roman husband of his honor. Josephus calls the incident "deeds of a scandalous nature" (praxes aischunôn ouk apêllagmenai); he speaks of the "daring deed of the priests of Isis" (tou tôn siakôn tolmêmatos); he describes Ida "expert in every kind of evil" (pantoiôn idris kakôn) and, in summing up, refers to the scheming of the priests as hybrismena.

c) Eighty alleged witches at Askalon

The tractate b. Sanh. 43b has a discussion on hanging after stoning, in which the sages maintain that this punishment is only for the blasphemer and idolater:

A man is hanged with his face towards the spectators, but a woman with her face towards the gallows: this is the view of R. Eliezer. But the sages say: a man is hanged, but not a woman. Whereupon R. Eliezer said to them: But did not Simeon b. Shetah hang women at Ashkelon? They retorted: [on that occasion] he hanged eighty women, not withstanding that two [malefactors] must not be tried on the same day. [21]
This apparently refers to the death of eighty witches by one of the most outstanding Rabbis of the first century. The note in the English Talmud reads:
Witchcraft among Jewish women prevailed at that time to an alarming extent, and in order to prevent a combined effort on the part of their relations to rescue the culprits, he had to execute all of them at once. He hanged them, then, to prevent such practices and to avoid rescue, but his action is no precedent, and in itself was actually illegal, as the Sages pointed out. [22]
Sanhedrin 46a explains that more severe punishment was required by circumstances of the times. Simeon's hanging of eighty women may denote their exposure after death; but it could also mean hanging while they were alive, which would prove a great deterrent to magic and witchcraft [23]. However, there is not enough evidence to decide the point.

Martin Hengel provides a full discussion of this text [24]. He examines all three references to this incident: Sifre Deut. 21; y. Hag. 77d and Sanh. 23d; and Rashi on Sanh. 1 1b. The case has four historic points: 1) the subject, Simeon b. Shetah; 2) the place, Askalon; 3) the object, women in the plural; and 4) the predicate, hanging. Although all three versions are independent, they stand in similar traditions. In y. Hag. 77d (2.2) Simeon is in danger of hell fire if he does not execute the witches; here we find ourselves in the world of popular legend interwoven with syncretic magic. Simeon, with the help of eighty young men, brings the witches up from their cave and crucifies them. Obviously, this tale does not come from scholarly circles [25]. The Sanhedrin text is based on Ex 22:17, "Do not permit a sorceress to live." Hengel accepts the literary analysis of Jacob Neusner [26]. Simeon was a representative of early Pharisaism and the arch-enemy of Janneus. He was obviously a powerful personality, although Josephus gives him scant attention [27].

With regard to Askalon, Hengel argues that it was the last bulwark of heathenism in the Holy Land. Even in Roman times it retained its status of civitas foederata et libera. There was mutual hatred between the citizens of Askalon and the Jews. Hengel thinks it is extremely unlikely that Simeon could have been responsible for a mass execution in Askalon [28]. He argues that "Askalon" could be taken in a metaphorical sense and that the "women" could refer to men who conducted themselves in an effeminate way [29]. And he concludes that the incident does not refer to women's crucifixion but to the period when the Pharisees gained power under Alexandra and took vengeance on their foes [30]. I cannot wholly concur with Hengel on this, and I think that his position might have been different if he had had more examples of the crucifixion of women available to him [31].

3. Greco-Roman literature

a) Tacitus, the case of Pedanius Secundus

According to ancient Roman law, if a slave murdered his master, all the slaves of the household should suffer the same punishment in case they were accomplices in the deed and because they represented a continual threat of danger to their masters/mistresses.

Tacitus relates the case of Pedanius Secundus, who was murdered by a slave: his household, which included four hundred slaves, were crucified (Annals 14.43). Tacitus says that the people objected to the mass destruction of all Pedanius Secundus' slaves, especially on account of the lack of discrimination with regard to number, age and sex: "... he was answered by a din of voices, expressing pity for the numbers, the age, or the sex of the victims, and for the undoubted innocence of the majority" (Tacitus, Annals 13.45: Loeb). Nevertheless, according to Tacitus, all were executed, women, old slaves, children, without distinction, were sent to the cross. Tiberius was obliged to line "the whole length of the road, by which the condemned were being marched to punishment, with detachment of soldiers" (Annals 14.45).

b) Apuleius:,four modes of punishment for a young girl

Lucius Apuleius, was born in Madaura towards the beginning of the second century C.E.; later he resided in Carthage, which was his home base as an itinerant sophist. In his novel The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses) he recounts an interesting tale. Lucius, the hapless protagonist, magically transformed into an ass, reports that thieves brought in a young maiden, probably a gentlewoman, whom they intended to keep as a hostage until her parents paid the price (4.24). They left her in charge of an old woman who told her fables to assuage her grief [32]. The Ass tried to rescue the maiden, but the thieves caught him and threatened him with death. They then discussed the fate of the maiden. They had already secured here with chains (puellaque statim distenta vinculis), but they suggested four capital punishments: a) being burnt alive; b) being thrown to the beasts; c) being hanged on a gibbet (tertius patibulo suffigi); d) being flayed alive with tortures (6.31-32). One man suggested still a more cruel way. Rejecting beasts, crosses, fire or torture (feras nec cruces nec ignes nec tormenta), he proposed rather that the ass should be killed and the maiden be sewn up in the carcass, thus undergoing all the forms of punishment together: wild beasts, fire by the scorching sun, the agony of the cross (patibuli cruciatum), and being eaten by vultures and dogs (6.32).

We find a variant of this fable in Ps.-Lucian (Lucius, or The Ass 25) [33]. He describes the discussion about the girls death:

But she mustn't be thrown down on to the rocks; that's too easy a death. Rather let's devise her the most painful and protracted death, and one to keep her lingering in agony before it kills her.
She was sewn up in the Ass to suffer suffocation, being fed upon by vultures, scorched in the hot sun and afflicted by the stench of rotting flesh.

Apuleius and Lucian probably draw from a common source. I realize that my reference here is to fiction, but the modes of punishment are those that were implemented in real life, and the importance of this story does not lie in its romance but in the listing of punishments, including crucifixion, which are assumed to be appropriate for women as well as men.

c) Petronius, the case of the widow of the crucified man

Another interesting case occurs in the satirical novel of Petronius, the Satyricon [34]. This particular tale [35] is set in Ephesus and is told by one Eumolphus (Satyricon, 111-113). Petronius remarks that "He was not thinking of old tragedies or names notorious in history, but of an affair which happened in his lifetime." A widow followed her husband's corpse into the vault to mourn beside him. It so happened that some thieves were crucified near the vault where the widow mourned. A soldier, who was keeping his station and guarding the bodies of the crucified so that none of the relatives would take them for burial, went down to comfort the widow and encourage her to take sustenance and then made sexual advances. During his absence one of the bodies was stolen. The soldier realized that this would endanger his life, but the widow came to the rescue and permitted her husband's cadaver to be put on the cross. Petronius continues:

The sailors received this tale with a laugh ... But there was no laugh from Lichas: he shook his head angrily and said: "If the governor of the province had been a just man, he should have put the dead husband back in the tomb, and hung the woman on the cross" (debuit patris familiae corpus in monumentun referre, mulierem affigere cruci). (Satyricon, 113) [36].
It would appear then, that the widow's sin was sacrilege because she disinterred her husband. The story has an explicit antifeminist motif (Satyricon, 110) and is told to show that the most devoted wife can succumb to the advances of a stranger.

e) Aristophanes

A further example is found in Aristophanes:

Shall we let these willful women, O my brothers, do the same? Rather first their necks we'll rivet tightly to the pillory frame (es tetremenon xylon). (Lysistrata, 678-679)
This is probably a case of apotimpanismos [37].

f) Justinus, the case of Agathocles and his concubines

Justinus, in his Epitome of the Philippic History [38], reports another incident of the crucifixion of women, namely, the concubines of Agathocles. The context was the hostilities between Antiochus, king of Syria, and Ptolemy, king of Egypt. Ptolemy opposed Antiochus but was content with retrieving the cities which had earlier been lost to Ptolemy. This done, he settled back into a dissolute life with the illicit mistresses of Agathocles. The latter began to rule the state, and no one was less powerful than the king himself. However, when matters became known to the populace, they killed Agathocles, and, out of revenge for the treacherous murder of Eurydice, the king's wife, they crucified the women. The punishment of these women seemed to expiate the dishonor of the kingdom. The pertinent passage reads:

Yet, when the matter became known, the people rushed together and Agathocles was killed and also out of vengeance for the death of Eurydice, the women were submitted to crucifixion. When the death of the king and the punishment of the concubines had, as it were, atoned for the infamy of the kingdom, the Alexandrians sent ambassadors to the Romans and besought them to take responsibility for the safety of the king's son (a minor) and protect the kingdom of Egypt, which they said had already been split by a contract made between Philip and Antiochus. (Epitome, 2.30.25; my translation) [39].

f) Dio Cassius, the cases concerning Nero and Buduica

Dio Cassius was a close relative of the orator Dio Chrysostom and a native of Bithynia. His father was a Roman senator and served in Cilicia and Dalmatia. The date of his birth seems to have been between 155 and 164 C.E. He himself went on to become a member of the senate. Dio Cassius may be, therefore, an important authority with regard to our subject. He recounts two cases of female impalement/crucifixion.

Dio Cassius reports that Nero fastened naked boys and girls to stakes and covered them with the hides of animals and then satisfied his brutal lust upon them (Roman History 62.13.3). Repulsive as this case of child abuse and sadism is, Dio Cassius recounts another even worse.

He also describes an horrendous incident which occurred in Britain about 61 C.E. He tells how Buduica, the war-like queen of the Britons, after delivering a powerful harangue to her troops, led her army against the Romans. She sacked and plundered two Roman cities and inflicted dreadful atrocities upon the captives.

The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them (tas gar gunaikas tas eugenestatas kai euprepestatas gymnas ekremasan, kia tous te mastous autôn perietenon kai tois stomasi sphôn proserrapton); afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body (kai meta touto passalois oxesi dia pantos tou somatos kata mêkos anepeiran). All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets and wanton behavior, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate. This was their name for Victory, and they regarded her with most exceptional reverence" (History, 62.7.2-3).

It is interesting that the torture, involving crucifixion and impalement (presumably after death), is associated with religious rites. In this case human sacrifice is seen as pleasing to the gods and goddesses, either in expiation or in thanksgiving. We are not without examples in Scripture.

g) Diodorus Siculus

Diodorus Siculus, as his name shows, was from Sicily and seems to have begun his writing about 56 B.C.E. He recorded five incidents which are of interest to us.

i) In Book 2 of The History, Diodorus relates the events in Asia beginning with the time of the Assyrians. He describes how Ninus, the king of the Assyrians, defeated Pharnus, the king of Media.

And the king of the country, Pharnus, meeting him in battle with a formidable force, was defeated, and he both lost the larger part of his soldiers, and himself, being taken captive along with his seven sons and his wife, was crucified (kai autos meta teknôn hepta kai gunaikos aichmalôtos lêphtheis anestaurôthê)(2.1.10).
Both verbs are in the singular, but appear to refer to the king and his family. But we cannot state with certainty whether the spouse and children were actually crucified. The text is patient of different interpretations. If the conqueror intended to exterminate the whole race, then we have a motive for the crucifixion of the women and children.

ii) In Book 2 we also find a sequel to this story. Diodorus recounts in considerable detail aspects of the life of Semiramis, whom King Ninus married. She was a woman of surprising ability and succeeded to the throne on the death of her husband. According to Diodorus, she founded Babylon, made the hanging gardens, and waged campaigns against Egypt, Ethiopia, and India. He reports that the King of the Indians, Stabrobates, wrote a letter to Semiramis accusing her of being an aggressor and strumpet, and calling the gods to witness that he would crucify her when he gained the victory (2.18.1).

then in the course of the letter, after saying many slanderous things against her as being a stuumpet and calling upon the gods as witnesses, he threatened her with crucifixion when he had defeated her (polla de kai arrêta kat' autês hetaipan hôs hetairas [hôs hetairan (D) or eis hetarpeian (F)] blasphêmesas ... êpeilei katapolemêsas autên staurô prosêlôsein) (2.18.1).
The motif behind this threat may have been the shaming of a woman who had dared to take upon herself the role of a man, especially in war and leadership. Semiramis usurped the military prerogatives of males.

iii) In Book 18 Diodorus Siculus discusses the disturbances in the armies after the death of Alexander and how Perdiccas rose to power. The latter, after defeating King Ariarathes, took the king and his supporters captive. Dio concludes this portion:

Now the king and all his relatives Perdiccas tortured and impaled (touton men oun kai tous suggeneis autou pantas aikisamenos enestaurose) (18.16).
In this case, as in the incident of Pharnus above, the motive is important. If the conqueror(s) intended the extermination of the race, then the children and women must have been killed, preferably by crucifixion, so that their ghosts or their descendants would not wreak vengeance on their enemies.

iv) Speaking of the year 206 B.C.E., Diodorus reports that:

The Carthaginians, after bringing the Libyan War to an end, had avenged themselves on the Numidian tribe of the Micatani, women and children included, and crucified all whom they captured (to tôn Mikatanôn Nomadôn ethnos sun gunaixi kai teknois timôrêsamenoi pantas tous sullêphthentas anestaurôsan) (26.23.1-4).

v) In Book 35 Diodorus reports an incident in Sicily. Bandits killed a father and his son. The grandson exacted vengeance where he could:

Zibelmius ... went to such lengths of cruelty and lawlessness (against the Thracians) that he exacted punishment from those who offended him together with all their households (hôste tous proskophantas panoikious timôreisthai). On the most trivial provocation he tore men limb from limb, or crucified them or burned them alive (epi gar tais tuchousais aitiais tous men diemelize, tons de anêstaurou). He slaughtered children before the eyes of their parents or in a parent's arms ... (goneôn de en omnasi kai kolpois egkatesphaze tekna) (
He also tells us that Cratesipolis, a woman leader, crucified about thirty captives ( Vengeance was not confined to males any more than punishment was.

h) Ammianus Marcellinus

We can find another possible allusion to the crucifixion of women in Ammianus Marcellinus (born 330 C.E. in Syrian Antioch). He describes how one Aginotius was condemned and hoisted up (sublimis raptus occiditur) and adds that his woman accomplice was condemned to the same fate (pari sententia Anepsia interfecta), although this case may have been either hanging or crucifixion (Ammianus, History 28.1.56).


Our evidence for crucifixion of women is not at all prolific, but the references extend over a considerable portion of time, from the Code of Hammurabi to the time of Constantine. Geographically we have found references in Assyria, Babyloninia, Palestine, Rome, Britain, Greece, and India. We have found no statement that women were not to be crucified. We might venture to suggest, therefore, that the crucifixion of women was not unexampled in the Greco-Roman world.

4. Mythical References

a) Ps. Plutarch

There are two curious mythological references to the crucifuxion of women in Ps.-Plutarch, Concerning Rivers [40]. This work discusses the derivation of the names of rivers and mountains. It is dated after the second century C.E.

The author tells us that Chrysippa fell in love with a relative called Hydaspes. In the dead of night and with the help of a nurse (servant), she attained her desire. But the king, learning of these matters, ordered the nurse to be buried alive and then, having crucufied the daughter, he was overwhelmed with grief and threw himself into the river. Hence the river was called Hydaspes.

When Chrysippa, owing to the wrath of Venus, fell in love with her relative Hydaspes and she was possessed by an unnatural passion, she could not restrain herself; at dead of night with the help of her nurse she effected a meeting. But the king, when he heard of the matters which had transpired, ordered the old woman who had connived the tryst to be buried alive and when his daughter was raised on the cross, overcome by extreme remorse, he hurled himself headlong into the river, Indus. (Rivers, 1.4.1-2)
In the same chapter we also read of some local virgins who lived unchastely and were crucified and flung into the river while a hymn was sung to Venus.
And if the native virgins have not lived chastely, they throw them into the river while they sing a hymn to Venus in their tongue. (Rivers, 1.4) [41]
These texts are interesting because both refer to Venus. The first would seem to suggest that Chrysippa's unlawful love was instigated by the wrath of Venus, and that the punishment of both the nurse and the girl may be expiatory sacrifices offered to atone for unnatural love or incest that otherwise might have incurred a more severe punishment. In the second text we are obviously dealing with a case of sacrilege, and the fact that a song is sung to Venus while the punishment is being implemented may suggest that the human sacrifice was offered to appease the goddess.

b) Prometheus and Andromeda

Hengel discusses the "crucifixion" of Prometheus, or perhaps, more accurately, the apotimpanismos of Prometheus [42]. Prometheus, the god who defied Zeus and procured fire for mortals, was fastened to the Caucasian rock with nails and chains (or hoops of iron). This myth was immortalized in Aeschylus' play, Prometheus Bound, and satirized in Lucian's treatises, Zeus Catechized and Prometheus. But a similar tale was told about a feminine figure, the Princess Andromeda. Hengel gives less attention to her, although she was fastened to a rock like Prometheus [43]. But the "crucified" maiden appears to have been of some interest in the ancient world. Euripides wrote a play called Andromeda [44], which seems to have influenced Aristophanes in the Thesmophoriazusae, a work which centers on women celebrating the festivals of Demeter and Persephone, the givers and guardians of the home. The women wish to put Euripides on trial for his scathing remarks about women, and Euripides persuades his friend, Mnesilochus, to dress up as a woman and defend him. However, the ruse is discovered and Mnesilochus suffers the fate of apotimpanismos, although he is rescued in time and does not die.

But the play makes obvious references to Andromeda, so that Mnesilochus's sufferings are but an echo of hers. Thus Andromeda may have been to women what Prometheus was to men. Both are crucified mythical figures who brought blessings to humankind [45]. Andromeda is not a goddess, but her "exaltation" to the heavens is referred to in Manilius' Astronomica [46]. He sees Andromeda in the zodiacal sign of Virgo [47]. I quote at length:

There follows the constellation of Andromeda, whose golden light appears in the rightward sky when the Fishes have risen to twelve degrees. Once upon a time the sin of cruel parents caused her to be given up for sacrifice (quondam poenae dirorum culpa parentun/prodidit [48]) when a hostile sea in all its strength burst upon every shore, the land was shipwrecked in the flood, and what had been a king's domain was now an ocean. From those ills but one price of redemption was proposed (una malorum/proposita est merces), surrender of Andromeda to the raging main for a monster to devour her tender limbs. This was her bridal; eliving the people's hurt by submitting to her own, she is tearfully adorned as victim for the avenging beast and dons attire prepared for no such troth as this ... (hic hymenaeus erat, solataque publica damna/ privatis lacrimans ornatur victima poenae/ induiturque sinus non haec ad vota paratos,/ virginis et vivae rapitur sine funere funus). Then as soon as the procession reaches the shore of the tumultuous sea, her soft arms are stretched out on the hard rocks (mollia per duras panduntur bracchia cautes); they bound her feet to crags and cast chains upon her; and there to die on her virgin cross the maiden hung (astrinxere pedes scopulis, iniectaque vincula,/ et cruce virginea moritura puella pependit). Even in the hour of sacrifice she yet preserves a modest demeanor: her very sufferings become her, for, gently inclining her snow-white neck, she seemed to have full charge of her pose. The folds of her robe slipped from her shoulders and fell from her arms, and her streaming locks covered her body (Astronomica 5.538 557).
Manilius describes how nature emphathized with her, even the breeze (ipsa levi flatu refovens pendentia membra). Perseus arrives and calls the chains happy to "clasp such limbs" (iam cautibus invidet ipsis/ felicisque vocat). So he won a place in heaven for Andromeda [49]. Noticeable in the Manilius passage are the ideas of vicarious sacrifice, propitiation of the gods and goddesses [50], and the details referring to apotimpanismos and crucifixion.

Another interesting reference to Andromeda occurs in Achilles Tatius. The Adventure of Leucippus and Clitophon. He describes a sculpture erected in Pelusium. It was a double picture painted by Evanthes, portraying both Andromeda and Prometheus. They were both in chains and secured to a rock and both were being tortured by monsters, Andromeda by the sea beast and Prometheus by the bird; they both had deliverers, Perseus for Andromeda, Hercules for Prometheus. Both deliverers were Argives (6.3-4). Andromeda rests in a hollow in the rock. She wears a look of both fear and beauty even though her arms are pinioned above her head [51]. Evanthes had depicted the beast just rising out of the water and Perseus descending to help the maiden. Achilles Tatius tells us that rocks and iron formed the bonds of Prometheus. He is writhing in agony but, like Andromeda, wears a look of both fear and hope.

Evanthes' sculpture would suggest that some people saw Andromeda as a parallel to Prometheus. This material is complex but it does suggest an apostrophic and sacrificial [52] approach to the crucifixion of a woman, albeit one found in myth rather than history.


A summary of the cases of the crucifixion of women renders the following result. There are twenty-two cases, and they fall into the following categories: one as a punishment for violating the rights of a husband; six as a penalty for sacrilege; two in propitiation to the gods and goddesses. One was a case of child abuse; two were meted out for the practice of sorcery; seven were perpetrated in order to exterminate a race (or kinship group) and, implicitly, to prevent vengeance by descendants or haunting by hosts; three appear to have been due to wanton cruelty; and one was a punishment for abortion.

In the light of the above comments one may ask whether crucifixion was merely cruelty or sadism. Was there a religious or anthropological explanation for this form of execution? Some evidence towards a solution can be found in Keramopoullos's book on apotimpanismos. Keramopoullos discusses the apostrophic use of nails from crucifixion to ward off the evil eye, diseases, and the powers of enemies [53]. He suggests that this may help us to understand the early Christian veneration for the wounds of Christ. We have already referred to his remarks about destroying the vital organs to prevent vengeance by enemies or ghosts.

My conclusion must, indeed, be tentative, but I should like to make two points. First, many women in the ancient world must have felt the threat of crucifixion, and such fears were realized in the case of the Christian slavewoman, Blandina, who was impaled and obliged to face the beasts [54].

Blandina was hung on a post (epi zulou) and exposed as bait for the wild animals that were let loose on her. She seemed to hang there in the form of a cross, and by her fervent prayer she aroused intense enthusiasm in those who were undergoing their ordeal, for intheir torment with their physical eyes they saw in the person of their sister him who was crucified for them, that he might convince all who believe in him that all who suffer for Christ's glory will have eternal fellowship in the living God [55].

Thus the logion to take up one's cross and follow Christ applied to women as well as men. In this light we may see Mary and the other women disciples in the New Testament in a new way, as women of wisdom and outstanding courage as well as commitment, for they too might have faced the possibility of crucifixion.

Second, the fascinating myth of Andromeda would have enabled women in the Greco-Roman world to see the possibility of crucified female redeemers. Our contemporary figure of the Christa would have caused them no admiratio.

Salvati speaks about the self-communication of God in Jesus Christ: "The salvific and revelatory self-communication of God reaches its absolute climax with Jesus of Nazareth." [56] Jesus is the essential epiphany of God, the sacrament of encounter with God. It is the Fourth Gospel which brings this revelation to a climax. The humanity of Jesus becomes the sacrament of the divinity. He is the history of God and the God of history, the living narrative of the Father, his human life in each thought, emotion, comportment and action is like an extended narrative of God [57]. However, we understand this only through the cross and resurrection. To lack a deep appreciation of the shame of the cross for men and women is to lack appreciation of the paternal and maternal Anguish of God.

Footnotes and Bibliography

  1. I wish to thank Kathleen Corley for her insightful observations on an earlier paper on this subject read at the Context meeting in Portland, Oregon, 1995. I was not able to incorporate all her suggestions, but I hope to pursue more research on this topic. Dr. Corley suggested that I look into the social status of the women mentioned and also that I begin with the Gospel material concerning the women who stood near the cross.
  2. Mk 8:34; 10:21; Mt 10:38; 16:24; Lk 9:23; 14:27. N.B. the addition of "daily" (kath' êmeran) in Lk 9:23.
  3. Perpetua is a famous example.
  4. The figure looks pregnant, but I am not sure that the artist meant to draw attention to this.
  5. Crumlin, Images in Australian Art, 158-159.
  6. Thiel and Helf, Christliche Kunst in Afrika, 91.
  7. Doris Jean Dyke, Crucified Woman (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1991).
  8. Quoted by Dyke, ibid., 41, from a quotation by Bobbie Crawford, "A Female Crucifix," in Daughters of Sarah, 14/6 (November/December, 1983), 26.
  9. This was originally a paper presented to the Mid-West Society of Biblical Literature.
  10. Fulda (Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, 89-90) observes that the "cross" did not always comprise a vertical and horizontal shaft; the word crux and its cognates can mean a simple pole. See also the diagrams in Fulda's monograph.
  11. Dr. Corley suggested I look into the social status of the women victims. As far as I can see, there was not such an emphasis upon crucifixion as a slave punishment. High-born women seem to have been victims as well.
  12. There is now some doubt about the Spartan women warriors.
  13. See Driver and Miles, Babylonian Laws.
  14. Driver and Miles, Babylonian Laws, 108-9; cf. Josh. 10:26 and 2 Sam. 4:12.
  15. Ibid., 313.
  16. Ibid., 456.
  17. Leyes Asirias, Tabla A, col. vii, lines 92-97; cf. Cardascia, Les lois assyriennes, 244, par. 53.
  18. Driver and Miles (Babylonian Laws, 314) aver that she might have been impaled after death.
  19. Goldstein, I Maccabees, 227, points out that hanging (kremasai) was also the punishment inflicted on the pupils of forbidden philosophers.
  20. Ibid.
  21. This refers to two texts. First, "hanging" (hoka) with reference to Num. 25:4 where Moses orders the execution of those who have submitted to the rites of Baal of Peor ("And hang them [the guilty] up unto the Lord in the face of the sun"). It is difficult to decide whether this includes woman as well as men. The second text is 2 Sam. 21:6 ("And we will hang them up [we-hoka'ah] unto the Lord in Gibeah"). This text is followed by the curious statement: "And it is written, 'And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sack-cloth, and spread it for her upon the rock ... (as a protection against birds of prey).'"
  22. In Epstein, ed., Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, n. 2.
  23. b. Sanh. 46a, commenting on, "Thou shalt hang him ...," says that "him" refers to a male who has attained thirteen or more years, but adds that the hanging in b. Sanh. 46a is certainly far less terrible than Roman crucifixion because the body is hung after death and for a much shorter time; but this comment may be anachronistic.
  24. Hengel, Rabbinische Legende, 18-21.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid., 27. Neusner, Rabbinic Traditions. 90-103.
  27. Hengel, Rabbinische Legende, 36-37.
  28. Ibid., 41-44.
  29. Ibid., 54-56.
  30. Ibid., 58-61.
  31. In private correspondence Prof. Hengel recommended his article to the present writer and stated that he did not know of other cases of the crucifixion of women, but this correspondence took place about six years ago (before the availability of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae on CD Rom).
  32. It is in this context that Apuleius relates the story of Psyche's search for Cupid.
  33. Lucian was born in Samosata in Commagene and says that he is a Syrian. He lived about 125-180 C.E.
  34. Petronius flourished in the reigns of Claudius (41-51 CE) and Nero (54-68 CE). He was governor of Bithynia and at one time a consul.
  35. This is one of the Milesian tales attributed to Aristeides of Miletus. They were popular romantic tales which were forerunners of the Medieval romances.
  36. A variant reads: itaque ne te putes nihil egisse, si magistratus hoc scierint, ibis in crucem? polluisti sanguine domicilium meum ante hunc diem inviolatum ... (Satyricon, 112-113).
  37. See Keramopoullos, Apotimpanismos.
  38. Seel, ed., Justini. Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum.
  39. Re tamen cognita concursu multitudinis et Agathocles occiditur et mulieres in ultionem Eurydices patibulis suffinguntur. Morte regis, supplicio meretrium velut expiata regni infamia legatos Alexandrini ad Romanos misere, orantes ut tutelam pupilli susciperent tuerenturque regnum Aegypti, quod iam Philippum et Antiochum facta inter se pactione divisisse dicebant. There is now a translation by R. Develin, Scholars Press, 1995.
  40. Pseudo-Plutarch, De Fluviis, in Muller, ed., Geographi Graeci Minores, 637-665.
  41. Greek = hoi de egchôrioi tas esebôs anastrephomenas parthenous staurois prosêlosantes eis auton ballousin, tê spôn dialektô ton aphroditês umnon aidontes. Curiously, the Latin translation omits the reference to crucifixion: Indigenae vero virginae quae non castae vixerint, in hunc fluvium dejiciunt, dialecto vemaculoa Veneris hymnum canentes.
  42. Hengel, Crucifixion, 11-14.
  43. Ibid., 12, n. 2.
  44. See Nauck, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, 397 ff.
  45. Although Euripides' play Andromeda is not existant, A. Nauck (Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Lipsiae: B. G. Teuberi, 1889) has edited the fragments. The following parallels can be made between Aristophanes' Thesmorphoriazusae and Nauck's fragnents: Thes./Nauck: 1022/118; 1065/114; 1070/115; 1015/117; 1018/118; 1022/120; 1101/123; 1098/124; 1105/125; 1110/127; 1107/127.
  46. According to the Elder Pliny (Natural History 35.199), Manilius of Antioch was brought to Rome as a slave in 90 B.C.E, but this cannot be verified. See the detailed discussion in the introduction to the Loeb edition: Goold, ed., Manilius. Astronomica. xi.
  47. Bruce Malina tells me that this is not the correct constellation.
  48. Compare Manilius, Astronomica 5.23: "Andromedanque necans genitor cum coniuge Cepheus ..."
  49. Cf. Nauck, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta 293, quoting Erastothenes Catast.
  50. Manilius adds: "The person who is born when Andromeda rises will prove to be merciless in executing punishment: From the same constellation comes the figure of the executioner, ready to take money for a speedy death and the rites of a funeral pyre ... in short he is the man who could have looked unmoved on Andromeda herself fettered to the rock (pendentem e scopulis ipsam spectare puellam)".
  51. Cf. Nauck, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, 393-94, n. 115, where Andromeda is described as Thanatou thlemon mellousa tuchein.
  52. Cf. the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter (Judg 1 1), although we do not the mode of execution.
  53. Keramopoullos, Apotimpanismos, 74-76.
  54. Blandina was a martyr of Lyons who died in 177 C.E. Her story is recounted in the Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1.1-5.28).
  55. Martyrs of Lyons, The text is in Musurillo, Acts of the Christian Martyrs, 75.
  56. Salvati, Teologia Trinitaria della croce, 59.
  57. Idem, 60.