I was reading up on medieval hanging and came across this picture. It shows five royals (kings? princes?) being hanged from trees, but the articles I read don't mention any royal hangings.

I had a look online and found the same picture on two other sites but they also don't say anything about it. Other medieval pictures of hangings just show ordinary folk mostly.

Is this picture showing an historical event? Maybe knowing where the picture comes from originally would help.

enter image description here

This is from History.co.uk. it is also on About History and Our Ancient History


2 Answers 2


This is from the so called Crusader Bible:

enter image description here

Image icon MS M.638, fol. 11v
An Execution, Joshua's Final Commands, Joshua's Passing Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions Paris, France ca. 1244–1254 390 x 300 mm Purchased by J.P. Morgan (1867–1943) in 1916 MS M.638, fol. 11v See more information » Page description:
An Execution
After their humiliation, the five Amorite kings are hanged for a full day. Come evening, Joshua orders a soldier to take the bodies down. (Joshua 10:26–27)

Joshua's Final Commands
Years later, before his own death, an elderly Joshua exhorts the leaders of Israel to remember the many blessings of the Lord and to obey the law of Moses. (Joshua 23:1–14)

Joshua's Passing Beside Joshua's deathbed, the people grieve and mourn the passing of their great leader. (Joshua 24:29–31)

Translation: Folio 11v (Latin)

Upper half: How Joshua had the five kings who had been defeated in battle hanged on trees. (Joshua 10: 26)

Lower left: How Joshua, old, advanced in years and near death, gives many orders to the assembled children of Israel, encouraging them to be observant of the laws. (Joshua 23: 1–24 – 24)

Lower right: How, the affairs of the children of Israel now settled, Joshua dies. (Joshua 24: 29)

Folio 11v (Persian)

Persian foliation: 33

Upper left margin: And after that Joshua ordered those five kings to be hanged.

Lower left: When Joshua’s death neared, he summoned his people and gave his last testament.

Lower right: Here, Joshua breathed his last breath and died.

Folio 11v (Judeo-Persian)

Upper left margin, furthest left: The hanging of the five kings.

Lower left margin: At the time of Joshua’s death, he seeks out the Children of Israel and bequeaths his will.

Lower right, beneath Latin: Joshua’s departure from the world.

Italicized words are in Hebrew.

In medieval art, past and especially biblical scenes are often re-contextualised. They are telling the stories in completely anachronistic ways, updating the content of pictures to contemporary fashion, people and surroundings. So that even illiterate people would recognise what's going on. This was done extensively in pauper bibles.

That means a 13th century bible illustration is a source for both: imaginations of the artist about what is told in the story, and what 13th century people actually looked like.

The Maciejowski Bible is an important source of information on clothing and weapons from the 13th century. (src)

This folio's description:

Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions France, Paris, 1240s

The Crusader Bible, also known as the Morgan Picture Bible, the Maciejowski Bible, and the Shah ‘Abbas Bible, is not only one of the greatest medieval manuscripts in the Morgan, it also ranks as one of the incomparable achievements of French Gothic illumination.

The miniatures represent one of the greatest visualizations of Old Testament events ever made. Some of the stories and their heroes are well known, but there are also accounts of less familiar Israelites who fought for the Promised Land—tales that resonate to this day. There are incredibly violent battle scenes in which the implements of war are so accurately depicted they could be replicated. And there are scenes of everyday life, love, hate, and envy, as well as adultery, rape, and murder—all set in thirteenth-century France.

The book of Joshua is one of the history books in the bible. As such it claims to tell an actual historic event. At least Jews and Christians are told and have to believe that this was a true event. But numerous reasons do not allow it to be grouped into the category of reliable historical source.

The Book of Joshua holds little historical value. The archaeological evidence shows that Jericho and Ai were not occupied in the Near Eastern Late Bronze Age. The story of the conquest most likely represents the nationalist propaganda of the 8th century BCE kings of Judah and their claims to the territory of the Kingdom of Israel; incorporated into an early form of Joshua written late in the reign of king Josiah (reigned 640–609 BCE). The book was probably revised and completed after the fall of Jerusalem to the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE, and possibly after the return from the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE.

Re-framing the picture into its medieval time, the kings hanging are wearing typical garments and crowns. That part of the illustration can be seen as 'authentic'. But that any king would be hanged in that era is already not that likely. That this would be done with five of them in one go even more so. And certainly they would bot be hanged with their fine clothes and battle helmet crowns still on. These things are just added in to explain their role/status/function. Note that the Amorite's crowns signify them being nominally higher status than Joshua with his simple skullcap helmet.

The scene depicted is

(Joshua 10.5, YLT) And five kings of the Amorite (the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon) are gathered together, and go up, they and all their camps, and encamp against Gibeon, and fight against it.

22 And Joshua saith, 'Open ye the mouth of the cave, and bring out unto me these five kings from the cave;'
23 and they do so, and bring out unto him these five kings from the cave: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon.
24 And it cometh to pass, when they bring out these kings unto Joshua, that Joshua calleth unto every man of Israel, and saith unto the captains of the men of war, who have gone with him, 'Draw near, set your feet on the necks of these kings;' and they draw near, and set their feet on their necks.
25 And Joshua saith unto them, 'Fear not, nor be affrighted; be strong and courageous; for thus doth Jehovah do to all your enemies with whom ye are fighting;'
26 and Joshua smiteth them afterwards, and putteth them to death, and hangeth them on five trees; and they are hanging on the trees till the evening.
27 And it cometh to pass, at the time of the going in of the sun, Joshua hath commanded, and they take them down from off the trees, and cast them unto the cave where they had been hid, and put great stones on the mouth of the cave till this very day.

enter image description here

More on that in Douglas Galbi: "Sense in Communication", ch. "A Masterpiece of Sensuous Communication: The Morgan Bible of Louis IX"

  • 1
    I always take extreme revisionism with a block of salt. The Romans and others would collect the defeated as hostages and then kill them at an appropriate time afterwards. Playing dress up to make a display to the people of defeated enemies or promoting chiefs and tribal leaders to "kings" is not a large stretch of the imagination at all.
    – ggb667
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:35
  • @ggb667 Not sure I follow? What "extreme revisionism", and what about "Romans" here? Dec 9, 2019 at 19:41
  • The supposition that defeated captives would not be dressed as kings and hung. This happened repeatedly in history to mock the defeated. Specifically well attested to in roman practices AND OTHERS. It is a easy bit of theater to perform, costs little and demonstrates power and authority. Of course they were not in medieval dress, but contemplating they they would not all be hanged together is ridiculous. There is no evidence they were NOT all hanged together, and doubting a primary source with no actual contravening evidence is what I am referring to. When in doubt trust the text.
    – ggb667
    Mar 3, 2020 at 16:06

Apparently the illustration is from the Morgan Bible, depicting the execution by Joshua of the Amorite kings. For biblical context, see Joshua 10-11.

According to Wikipedia, "The prevailing scholarly view is that the book of Joshua is not a factual account of historical events."

  • Could you also explain why in the context of 'medieval hanging' Amorites from the bible are used for illustration? Dec 7, 2019 at 10:57
  • The question's title correctly identifies the illustration as medieval, while history.co.uk failed to mention that the scene shown was not contemporary. Dec 7, 2019 at 11:26
  • 6
    @LаngLаngС: Because the artist(s) who drew the picture depicted everyone in medieval costume, so that someone who couldn't read the Latin inscription, or saw the picture apart from the inscription (or was an image-search engine :-)) could readily mistake it for a depiction of a medieval event.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 7, 2019 at 17:58
  • 4
    @jamesqf : a more probable reason to use medieval clothing in the depiction of biblical events was that even peasants could understand the story, and identify who is a soldier, who is a ruler, who is a merchant, who is a shepherd, who is a servant, instead of wondering "who are these strange-looking people in those funny costumes?"
    – vsz
    Dec 8, 2019 at 17:13
  • 3
    @vsz: The other side of that is that your typical medieval scribe/manuscript illustrator probably wasn't going to have the slightest idea of what people actually wore in the times of the particular myth they were illustrating. Kind of like people who do modern dress performances of Shakespeare, rather than researching (or paying for) period costuming.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 8, 2019 at 19:24

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