Did Roman statutory law in the 1st century allow for crucifixion of non slaves? I knew a Roman law scholar who claimed it did not, ergo Christ could not have been crucified but must have been deported to some far corner of the empire.

  • Welcome! This Stack Exchange is for asking questions about the meaning of a specific text. As such, your question is off-topic here. However, this answer on Christianity.SE may help answer your question. In short, the scholar is mistaken - people off all social classes could be crucified. (Lower classes were more commonly crucified, but for example treason was always punishable by crucifixion.)
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 10, 2016 at 19:10
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    Who is this "Roman law scholar who claimed" that? The usual claim is that citizens are exempt and even then there has been exceptions (and/or citizenship was stripped)
    – Semaphore
    Jan 11, 2016 at 8:51
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    I normally downvote any question that references unsourced/unreferenced claims. It makes a big difference if the "scholar" was from an accredited university or paid by a hate group. Also "statutory law" in the Empire is a flexible concept. Roman Republic was (mostly) bound by the rule of law, the empire was an autocracy and the rule of law doesn't apply strictly in an autocracy.
    – MCW
    Jan 11, 2016 at 12:25
  • By tradition, St Peter was crucified in Rome, and he was not a slave. I don't think the Romans were too fussy!
    – TheHonRose
    Jan 13, 2016 at 2:04

4 Answers 4


Jesus was not a Roman citizen. He was not one of the provinciales because he was not born in Roman province (Iudaea).

"The Closing of the Western Mind" by Charles Freeman, chapter 8, says he was born and lived almost entire life in Galilee, which was part of a "puppet state" ruled by a king (e.g., Herod Antipas). Jesus came to Iudaea between 29-33 CE, most probably in 30 CE.

"Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World" by J. G. Cook similarly asserts on page 216 Jesus was a peregrinus ("foreigner, one from abroad" but in practice a subject of Empire as opposed to barbari), and that there were in all 9 recorded names of crucified peregrini. For example he includes Theodotus rhetor. Also we know three names of crucified full Roman citizens: Valerius Soranus, Gavius of Consa, Gaius Silius.

  • +1 definitely. However, after some quick follow-up googling, I'd like to point out that the claims about Soranus and Silius actually being crucified (as opposed to a catch-all "executed") are removed about 400 years from the events and are not very reliable. Take Silius, who was a consul-designate and would-be-emperor - one might expect his crucifixion to have been reflected in contermporary (or nearly so) sources like Suetonius or Tacitus, but all we have is a scholiast from 400 CE. Jan 12, 2016 at 15:30
  • On Silius, I used page 188 of the book you quoted: books.google.co.il/… Jan 12, 2016 at 15:31

In the Aqueduct riots Pilate sent in the troops on a mob and many were slain - and it was explicitly said by Josephus that non-rioters were also killed. Pilate was hardly averse to treating potential unrest with severe force...and a claim to be King of the Jews is treason and a call for rebellion.


As far as I know, the Romans never practiced deportation as a punitive measure against provincials. Simply killing off an offender was the expedient and simple Roman way.

P.S. A citizen under trial could go into voluntary exile before the verdict was handed, to escape forfeiture of property but that was (a) under the Republic (b) applied in practice only to a handful of relatively prominent individuals (e.g. Verres or Rutilius Rufus) who were indicted for political reasons, whether guilty or not.


There is no such thing as "Roman Statutory Law". The legal system in Rome was centered around magistrates, and their agents called lictors. Magistrates had imperium, which meant they had wide latitude to do whatever they wanted, especially in provinces like Judea.

As far as your professor's claim that crucifixion was limited to slaves, that was normally true until the time of the Judean revolt in 66-73 AD, when crucifixion was also used against the rebels. I know of no instance in Roman history where a Roman citizen was recorded as having been crucified in Rome.

During the Judean revolt many non-slaves were crucified. The population of provincial states like Judea were considered provinciales which was a type of citizenship, but not full citizenship. In the Roman empire there were many different classes of citizens. In any case, during the revolt non-slaves were crucified, so that would seem to contradict the professor's statement of fact.

As far as the professor's basic idea, it has some validity, even if it is incorrect in the details. In 30 AD, relations between the Romans and Judeans were relatively cordial and the Romans were mostly located in Caesarea, very far away from Jerusalem. The idea that a Roman prefect and soldiers would enter Jerusalem and crucify a local seems very unlikely given the political situation at the time. One of the few historical details known about Pontius Pilate is that he sent a Roman unit to Jerusalem and it caused a huge scandal because some of their banners had embroideries of the emperor's picture (Tiberius). Pictures of people are illegal under the Torah. Once this became known, Pilate immediately ordered those banners removed from the city out of respect for the local laws. It is common sense that if such a little thing was disallowed, holding a crucifixion would be unthinkable because the affront to the Torah for such a thing would be a thousand times worse than a mere picture.

As far as the idea of Jesus having been "deported", what is the evidence for this that the professor gives? Even if Jesus had not been crucified, that does not imply that he was "deported".

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    This would be a better answer if you provided sources. Jan 11, 2016 at 18:54
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    Odd, given how proud the Romans were that their laws were printed and available in the forum for every citizen to read.
    – MCW
    Jan 11, 2016 at 19:23
  • @MarkC.Wallace The posting of the twelve tables was purely a figment of antique Republican Rome which even at the time (400 BC) was just a compromise gesture towards the plebians. In reality rule was by imperium throughout both the Republic and Empire of Rome, as I wrote. The 12 tables were so obscure that we don't even know what they said today, except for a few excerpts. Jan 11, 2016 at 19:30
  • @MarkC.Wallace Printed????? Jan 11, 2016 at 21:07
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    Well, this is about half true: the importance of magistrates' enactments (edicts) is correctly stressed, but you seem to ignore the huge body of positive legislation in the form of Leges (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_laws) This was the primary legislation which magistrates had a relatively wide berth in interpreting. Jan 11, 2016 at 21:10

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