Biblical Archaeology Review 11:1, January/February 1985

Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence

By Vassilios Tzaferis

From ancient literary sources we know that tens of thousands of people were crucified in the Roman Empire. In Palestine alone, the figure ran into the thousands. Yet until 1968 not a single victim of this horrifying method of execution had been uncovered archaeologically.

In that year I excavated the only victim of crucifixion ever discovered. He was a Jew, of a good family, who may have been convicted of a political crime. He lived in Jerusalem shortly after the turn of the era and sometime before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

In the period following the Six Day War—when the Old City and East Jerusalem were newly under Israeli jurisdiction—a great deal of construction was undertaken. Accidental archaeological discoveries by construction crews were frequent. When that occurred, either my colleagues at the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums or I would be called in; part of our job was to investigate these chance discoveries.

In late 1968 the then Director of the Department, Dr. Avraham Biran, asked me to check some tombs that had been found northeast of Jerusalem in an area called Giv‘at ha-Mivtar. A crew from the Ministry of Housing had accidentally broken into some burial chambers and discovered the tombs. After we looked at the tombs, it was decided that I would excavate four of them.

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