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Roman Execution Methods Included Throwing Someone Off of a Cliff: The Tarpeian Rock

Today in the heart of the oldest part of Rome, the Capitoline Hill, one can visit the Tarpeian Rock, a notorious site of execution in Ancient Rome. There prisoners, often found guilty of treason or murder, were hurled off an 80-ft high precipice to their deaths. It was a death that was associated with shaming the victim. It is believed by some that one of the leaders of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans, Simon bar Giora, was executed in this way after he was taken back to Rome in chains.

The site of the Tarpeian Rock as it looks today at the southern end of the Capitoline Hill in Rome.

However, if I had to face execution in ancient Rome, this might have been one of the more humane and quick ways to go. Most of the other notorious methods used in the Roman Empire sound much worse. Here were ten other methods:

(1) Punishment of the Sack—being tied up in a large burlap sack with a poisonous snake, a dog, and a rooster, to be thrown into the river to drown.

(2) Burned Alive—at the stake—No thank you.

(3) Death by Parasites—encasing one’s body in a barrel full of honey and milk then leaving them out in the elements where the rotting would attract ants and other insects that would consume the victim alive. To me this has to be the worst.

(4) Pouring molten gold (or lead) down the throat

(5) Boiling in Oil—a fate of many Christians under Nero, including by legend the Apostle John, who was miraculously unharmed.

(6) Torn apart by wild beasts in the Arena

(7) Decimation—killing one-tenth of an army battalion guilty of mutiny or dereliction of duty.

(8) Strangulation—perhaps this later evolved into hanging

(9) Crucifixion—the most notorious; reserved for pirates, enemies of the state, and slaves.

(10) Decapitation—the quickest and a choice usually offered to Roman citizens.

It seems to me human beings over history have had no lack of creativity when it comes to torturing those they found worthy of death—usually done to strike fear into anyone who might consider breaking the law. Plotting against or defying the supreme leader usually brought on the worst of these tortures.

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