Many history lovers and Bible readers know that the ancient Romans were fond of crucifixion as a manner of execution. But did they keep track of the crucifixions on any kind of written record? And if so, do any of those records survive today?
Romans may have kept records of crucifixions, but if so, none survive today. Eventually, the Romans forbid crucifixion for citizens but continued to allow it for slaves. At that point, slave owners likely kept records of their crucified slaves for practical purposes.
This article will further explore the topic of Roman crucifixions, including why the Romans crucified people and whether they invented the practice. It will also touch on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Also see Did the Romans Have Coffee? to learn more.
How Do People Know About Crucifixions If No Records Exist?
Most of what people know about Roman crucifixions comes from two leading Roman historians: Flavius Josephus and Appian of Alexandria. The crucifixion story of Jesus Christ in the Bible is also a well-known introduction to crucifixion for many people.
Both Flavius Josephus and Appian of Alexandria wrote extensively of Roman crucifixions, mentioning that the Romans crucified thousands and thousands of people. Additionally, archaeologists have found a few crucified bodies over the years — but only a few.
As of the 2003 publication of “The History and Pathology of Crucifixion” by F.P. Retief and L. Cilliers, there had been only one discovery of crucified remains.  Another set of crucified remains was found in Mendes, Egypt, and another in Italy in 2007. 
The most recent discovery of someone who appears to have been crucified happened in Europe in 2017.  Still, despite the lack of physical evidence and copies of crucifixion records, it’s widely known that the Romans did crucify slaves and criminals. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of information that survives to this day.
In fact, the most significant and widespread account of a crucifixion is that of Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth, which is recorded in all four New Testament Gospels.
As John Granger Cook mentions in his book Crucifixion In the Mediterranean World: “Historical crucifixions per se seem to have been of little interest to Roman writers in the literature that has survived, with the exception of the crucifixion of Gavius, which Cicero mentioned frequently in his (never delivered) speech in prosecution of Verres.” 
Also see Did the Romans Invent the Steam Engine? to learn more.
Why Did the Romans Crucify People?
The Romans crucified people to punish them for crimes or actions they considered disgraceful. However, perhaps more importantly, they crucified people to humiliate and shame them. Crucifixion was the most disgusting, shameful way to die. It was a way for the Romans to ‘add insult to injury.’
As F.P. Retief and L. Cilliers point out in the article mentioned above, crucifixion was easily one of the “most brutal and shameful” ways to die. That’s why it was the method of death chosen for Jesus.
Although Jesus died in Jerusalem, most biblical scholars agree that Roman officials ordered the crucifixion because they saw him as a threat, politically speaking. And the Romans didn’t just want to kill or punish Jesus. They wanted to humiliate, disgrace, and mock him, as evidenced by the crown of thorns they placed on his head.
Crucifixion was a brutal method of death reserved for people the Romans believed were the lowest of the low.
One scholar puts it best by calling Roman crucifixion “a symbol.” He goes on to say that crucifixion wasn’t just about torturing the dying man (though the method of death was torturous). It was, as Ehrman points out, “a symbolic statement that WE are Roman power and YOU are nothing.” 
Also see Did the Romans Lift Weights? to learn more.
Did the Romans Invent Crucifixion?
The Romans did not invent crucifixion. Some people credit the Persians with the invention of crucifixion, but it was likely used even earlier by the Babylonians and Assyrians.
Although crucifixion almost certainly existed in the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, the Persians were the ones who really made it famous.  Today, most people equate the most brutal and expansive crucifixions with the Roman empire — and they certainly performed a lot of crucifixions — but the Persians were systematically crucifying people, as well.
How Crucifixion Killed
The most recent set of crucified remains found by archaeologists indicates that people’s feet may have been nailed side by side onto the cross instead of through the front as scholars initially believed. Other than that detail, though, crucifixion seems pretty similar to how it appears in the Bible.
Ultimately, crucifixion killed the crucified victims through suffocation. The person’s hands were nailed outstretched to either side of his body, and his feet were (possibly) nailed to the cross, as well.
Often, soldiers would break the leg and thigh bones so that the victim couldn’t use his legs to support his weight. The victim would try to use his arms to hold himself upright to breathe. However, eventually, the body’s weight would dislocate the shoulders, forcing the person to sag down and have no way of supporting himself. Eventually, that would cause him to suffocate to death.
Of course, as described in the crucifixion of Jesus, the victims weren’t always left alone to die. Sometimes the soldiers would cut them, stab them, break their bones, etc. so that they’d die more quickly, as soldiers weren’t allowed to leave until the person was dead.
Also see Did the Romans Have Ice? to learn more.
Did Roman Historians Mention the Crucifixion of Jesus?
Some Roman historians did mention Jesus of Nazareth and his crucifixion. Flavius Josephus mentions him twice in his book Jewish Antiquities, and Tacitus, a Roman senator, and historian, includes Jesus in his work Annals of Imperial Rome.
Both of these works were written after Jesus’ crucifixion by men born after the event happened; however, they were real men and real historians, so they are taken seriously by biblical and historical scholars alike.
Jesus is also mentioned by Roman governor Pliny the Younger and Roman historian Suetonius, though these mentions are brief and without much detail or context.
There are no existing records of Roman crucifixions, but historians’ accounts prove that they were widespread. The matter of Jesus’ crucifixion is more hotly debated.