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Crucifixion is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.
It was in use particularly among the Persians, Seleucids, Carthaginians, and Romans from about the 6th century BC to the 4th century AD, when in the year 337 Emperor Constantine I abolished it in his empire, out of veneration for Jesus Christ, the most famous victim of crucifixion. It has sometimes been used even in modern times.
A crucifix, an image of Christ crucified on a cross, is for Catholic Christians the main symbol of their religion, but most Protestant Christians prefer to use a cross without the figure (the "corpus" - Latin for "body") of Christ.
Crucifixion was almost never performed for ritual or symbolic reasons outside of Christianity, but usually to provide a death that was particularly painful (hence the term excruciating, literally "out of crucifying"), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it) and public (hence the metaphorical expression "to nail to the cross"), using whatever means were most expedient for that goal. Crucifixion methods varied considerably with location and time period.
The Greek and Latin words corresponding to "crucifixion" applied to many different forms of painful execution, from impaling on a stake to affixing to a tree, to an upright pole (what some call a crux simplex) or to a combination of an upright (in Latin, stipes) and a crossbeam (in Latin, patibulum).
If a crossbeam was used, the condemned man was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which would have been torn open by flagellation, to the place of execution. A whole cross would weigh well over 300 pounds (135 kilograms), but the crossbeam would weigh only 75-125 pounds (35-60 kilograms). The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and had a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion. Upright posts would presumably be fixed permanently in that place, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post.
The person executed may sometimes have been attached to the cross by ropes, but nails are mentioned in a passage of Josephus, where he states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem (70), "the soldiers out of rage and hatred, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest", and in John 20:25. Objects, such as nails, used in the execution of criminals were sought as amulets.