This coming Friday is set as a day of remembering the crucifixion of Jesus. As a reminder that this is not a spiritual horror story, to be told in whispered tones around a campfire, but an event rooted in history, I offer the following from Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
Crucifixion, [the favored form of public execution in the region], said Josephus, was "the most miserable death," designed to demean the victim publicly.... Victims could be tied or nailed. The skill was to ensure victims did not bleed to death. The nails were usually driven through the forearms - not the palms - and ankles: the bones of a crucified Jew have been found in a tomb in north Jerusalem with a 4.5-inch iron nail still sticking through a skeletal ankle. Nails from crucifixion victims were popularly worn as charms, around the neck, by both Jews and gentiles to ward off illness, so the later Christian fetish for crucificial relics was actually part of a long tradition. Victims were usually crucified naked -- with men facing outwards, women inwards.
The executioners were experts at either prolonging the agony or ending it quickly. The aim was to not kill Jesus too quickly but to demonstrate the futility of defying Roman power. He was most probably nailed to the cross with his arms outstretched as shown in Christian art, supported by a small wedge, sedile, under the buttocks and a suppedaneum ledge under the feet. This arrangement meant he could survive for hours, even days. The quickest way to expedite death was to break the legs. The body weight was then borne by the arms and the victim would asphyxiate within ten minutes.
Truth is...it was a horrible way to die; a picture of how horrible my sin is and how great God's love is.