Posts filed under 'Uncertain Dates'

1667: Chatan Chocho, Ryukyu diplomat

Add comment July 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1667, the uncle of the sessei — think Chief Minister or Grand Vizier — of the Ryukyu Kingdom covering the island chain south of Japan was beheaded for a diplomatic scandal.

The Ryukyu Kingdom was a weak state that made its way in vassalage to burlier neighbors, including mainland China to its west and the Japanese feudal state Satsuma to the north. Satsuma had defeated Ryukyu in war in the early 17th century, and according to Angela Schottenhammer (The East Asian Mediterranean: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce and Human Migration) Satsuma dominated Ryukyu to the extent of providing it gold, silver, and tin — not native to Ryukyu — for the latter to send as offerings to China.

The primary interest of Satsuma lay in trade with China … Since Satsuma did not have direct contacts with China and [China] officially did not want to have any relation with Satsuma, Satsuma controlled the lucrative tribute trade activities of the Ryukyus with China backstage. As far as we can tell from the available documents, Satsuma issued a series of orders to the Ryukyuans to conceal their relations with them from the Chinese, especially during the times of a Chinese investiture mission staying in Ryukyu, in order to successfully continue to obtain Ryukyuan products. Ryukyuan tribute missions were secretly used by Satsuma to obtain highly prized Chinese products for resale in Japan. The Satsuma-Ryukyuan relationship, like Robert Sakai describes, “was maintained side by side with the tributary relationship between China and Ryukyu”. This practice was carried on in the Qing dynasty. It is clear that the Ryukyus contituted an asset to Satsuma as an economic bridge between China and herself.

This trilateral relationship will help to explain the beheadings that occasion this post.

Our man Chatan Chocho, a former member of the Ryukyuan governing council, was chagrined to discover in 1665 that the emissary Eso Juko, recently dispatched from Ryukyu to China, had been ambushed by so-called “pirates” who were actually Chatan’s very own retainers in disguise. They made off with the gold offerings that were bound for the young Chinese emperor.

Needless to say this was an offense against statecraft and commerce far more serious than mere brigandage. Satsuma investigated it with al the urgency due its economic bridge with China.

It’s known as the Chatan Eso Incident, which tells you that Chatan’s attempt to bury his own connection to the crime by having those involved murdered privately did not succeed. In its capacity as the Ryukyuan boss, Satsuma ordered both Chatan and Eso condemned to death, and delivered them to Ryukyu to execute the sentence. Their children were scattered to outlying islands in internal exile. (It’s not clear to me whether Eso, the envoy who got robbed, was viewed as actively complicit in the heist, or if his execution flowed from the failure to complete his mission or a general policy of maximal due diligence.)

* I’m reporting this, with trepidation, per the dates in Wikipedia entries. I have had no luck at all tracing a primary source for this date; nor even the original calendar register to confirm whether “July 11” is indeed a correct Gregorian rendition. The best that I can report is that, per this calculator that served us well in our Torii Suneemon post, July 11 corresponds to 20th-21st Satsuki (the fifth month) of the Japanese lunisolar calendar, and 1667.5.21 is the date reported in the Chinese Wikipedia entry for the incident. That is very thin sourcing indeed; there’s ample scope for error here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Politicians,Power,Ryukyu,Satsuma,Uncertain Dates

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Feast Day of James, the brother of Jesus

Add comment May 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

James 5:1-8

May 3 is the current Catholic feast date of the author of the Epistle of JamesJames, the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just.

He’s a major leader in the New Testament accounts of the primitive church, closely associated with the traditionalist Jewish side of the movement, wont to give precedence to Mosaic law and ritual — a contrast compared to the Gentile-evangelizer St. Paul. James, however, also appears in Acts of the Apostles as a principal decider of the circa CE 50 Council of Jerusalem edict to the effect that non-Jewish converts to Christianity would not be required to circumcise or observe Jewish dietary strictures.

This James has been debatably conflated at times with the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus and/or James the Less* — as in this passage from the Golden Legend:

James the Apostle is said the Less, how well that was the elder of age than was St. James the More. He was called also the brother of our Lord, because I have resembled much well our Lord in body, in visage, and of manner. He was called James the Just for his right great holiness. He was also called James the son of Alpheus. He sang in Jerusalem the first mass that ever was there, and he was first bishop of Jerusalem.

These associations are all matters of scholarly debate, for the name “James” appears repeatedly in the New Testament, and the contexts do not always make it obvious when one encounters a recurring character. No matter how many other faces we might attribute to him, James the first century Jerusalem patriarch was clearly a figure of great authority among the earliest Christians and a co-leader of the Jerusalem Church. His consanguinity with the Messiah cannot have hurt his cause.

There are various accounts given of his martyrdom in 62 or 69** CE which boil down to falling foul of the Jewish authorities, just like his brother. Importantly, he’s referenced by the ancient historian Josephus in a passage from The Antiquities of the Jews that not only casts light upon his death but provides a contemporary non-Christian source verifying the development of this sect. The setup begins with the ascent of a young and aggressive high priest named Ananus, who

was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

Given his importance, James finds his way into quite a few extra-canonical Christian texts as well; for example, there’s an apocryphal Gospel of James dating to the second century. Of particular interest to we connoisseurs of death are gnostic texts from papyri discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt titled the First and Second Apocalypse of James: the Second Apocalypse has an account of James’s martyrdom, very detailed in spite of the fragmentary text, after his preaching in Jerusalem troubled the Jews:

On that day all the people and the crowd were disturbed, and they showed that they had not been persuaded. And he arose and went forth speaking in this manner. And he entered (again) on that same day and spoke a few hours. And I was with the priests and revealed nothing of the relationship, since all of them were saying with one voice, ‘Come, let us stone the Just One.’ And they arose, saying, ‘Yes, let us kill this man, that he may be taken from our midst. For he will be of no use to us.’

And they were there and found him standing beside the columns of the temple beside the mighty corner stone. And they decided to throw him down from the height, and they cast him down. And they […] they […]. They seized him and struck him as they dragged him upon the ground. They stretched him out and placed a stone on his abdomen. They all placed their feet on him, saying ‘You have erred!’

Again they raised him up, since he was alive, and made him dig a hole. They made him stand in it. After having covered him up to his abdomen, they stoned him in this manner.

And he stretched out his hands and said this prayer – not that (one) which it is his custom to say:

My God and my father,
who saved me from this dead hope,
who made me alive through a mystery of what he wills,

Do not let these days of this world be prolonged for me,
but the day of your light […] remains
in […] salvation.

Deliver me from this place of sojourn!
Do not let your grace be left behind in me,
but may your grace become pure!

Save me from an evil death!
Bring me from a tomb alive, because your grace –
love — is alive in me to accomplish a work of fullness!

Save me from sinful flesh,
because I trusted in you with all my strength,
because you are the life of the life!

Save me from a humiliating enemy!
Do not give me into the hand of a judge who is severe with sin!
Forgive me all my debts of the days (of my life)!

Because I am alive in you, your grace is alive in me.
I have renounced everyone, but you I have confessed.
Save me from evil affliction!

But now is the time and the hour.
O Holy Spirit, send me salvation […] the light […]
the light […] in a power […].’

After he spoke, he fell silent … [text ends]

* Saint James the Great was definitely a different fellow.

** The proximity of this martyrdom to the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE) led some subsequent ancient writers — not Josephus himself — to cite it as a cause of the great Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which famously destroyed the Second Temple.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Israel,Jews,Martyrs,Palestine,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Stoned,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates

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3rd Century BCE: Grauballe Man

Add comment April 26th, 2020 Headsman

We’ll never have the actual execution date, of course, but April 26 in 1952 was the date that researchers in Jutland hauled out of a peat bog the 3rd century BCE body of Grauballe Man, so spectacularly preserved that his fingerprints could still be taken. His throat slashed, Grauballe Man is thought to have been subjected to either an execution or a ritual sacrifice, and his body dumped into this oxygen-sparse slough so congenial to natural mummification.

The Grauballe Man
By Seamus Heaney

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel

like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.


Grauballe Man on display at Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum. (cc) image from Colin.

The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat

that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

These same bogs have yielded other eerily well-preserved time-travelers from antiquity, including Tollund Man (believed to have been hanged in the 4th century BCE) and Elling Woman (believed to have been hanged in the 3rd century BCE). Peat bogs ranging from Ireland and England to Germany and the Low Countries have overall yielded numerous other specimens, ranging up to 10,000 years old — quite a few of them victims of evident violence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Denmark,Execution,Known But To God,Put to the Sword,Uncertain Dates

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1577: Eight English Gypsies condemned

Add comment April 18th, 2020 Headsman

The influx into Great Britain from the start of the 16th century of itinerant Romani — also known as Romanichal, English Travellers,* or (for their supposed Egyptian ancestry**) Gypsies — began the outbreaks of racism and moral panic that continue to this day.

April 18, 1577 marks the condemnation of six Gypsies: the date that sentence was executed — there’s little reason to suppose it would have been stayed — is not specifically recorded.. They’d forged official documents, which made them liable to a treason charge; but, merely being a Gypsy in England had been criminalized by a 1530 Act and the penalty of this crime upgraded to death in 1554.

“[A]n outlandish people, calling themselves Egyptians, using no craft nor feat of merchandise, who have come into this realm, and gone from shire to shire, and place to place, in great company; and used great subtlety and crafty means to deceive the people — bearing them in hand that they, by palmistry, could tell men’s and women’s fortunes; and so, many times, by craft and subtlety, have deceived the people for their money; and also have committed many heinous felonies and robberies, to the great hurt and deceit of the people that they have come among,” runs the description of the 1530 Act. Similar legislation was being promulgated all around continental Europe in this same period.

In practice neither law triggered wholesale genocide or expulsion, but lurking at the fringes of settled English habitation and bearing the stigma of crime and deviance, Romani stood in perpetual precarity. Little wonder that many became buyers in a black market of forged documents confirming their legitimate occupation. In this case, six Gypsies were apprehended in Berkshires in March 1577 making use of the counterfeit products of a Cheshire schoolmaster named Richard Massey.

Massey was lucky himself not to swing for this offense. The Gypsies, less so; according to David Cressy

Their leaders were tried to Aylesbury for high treason, for falsifying warrants under the Great Seal, though one, Philip Bastien, was set aside ‘because he may give evidence against others’. Roland Gabriel, Thomas Gabriel, William Gabriel, Lawrence Bannister, Christopher Jackson, George Jackson, Richard Jackson, and the widow Katherine Deago were all found guilty of ‘counterfeiting, transferring, and altering themselves in dress, language, and behaviour to such vagabonds called Egyptians, contrary to statute’. All were sentenced to be hanged, though whether all went to the gallows is uncertain. Katherine Deago was most likely reprieved, for a Gypsy with that name appeared in Essex a year later.

* Not to be conflated with Irish Travellers, who are of different heritage. The distinction is fraught political terrain in the U.K.

** Actually, this ethnic group hails from India, migrating thence around the 11th century.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Uncertain Dates

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1974: Marc Filloux and Manivanh, journalists

2 comments April 14th, 2020 Headsman

On or about this date in 1974, French journalist Marc Filloux was killed in Khmer Rouge captivity along with his Laotian translator and girlfriend Manivanh.

The Agence France-Presse Southeast Asia correspondent, Filloux (English Wikipedia entry | this is where it’ll be when French Wikipedia adds it) was a sort of retirony case in that he’d been hired back to the Paris bureau.

Before resuming native soil, Filloux took a trip to Cambodia seeking interviews with the leadership of the Khmer Rouge — at this point still a Maoist guerrilla insurgency, although a growing one that now stood within a year of seizing power.

A Khmer Rouge patrol seized Filloux and Manivanh almost immediately upon their entry into Cambodia, apparently taking them as spies. They would never emerge from custody.

Italian correspondent Tiziano Terzani reported hearing rumors that the Khmer Rouge had executed them as spies, but specifics on their fate have never been confirmed.

Cambodia in 2013 unveiled a monument in Phnom Penh to the journalists killed and disappeared during the Cambodian Civil War. Both Marc Filloux and Manivanh are on it.


(cc) image by Writer128.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cambodia,Espionage,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of Saint Octavian, martyred by the Arian Vandals

2 comments March 22nd, 2020 Headsman

March 22 is the feast day of Saint Octavian of Carthage — a martyr for orthodox Nicene Christianity to its rival tradition of Arianism.

Ninth century illustration of Constantine burning Arian writings

One of the most consequential of the ancient world’s many confusing christological ruptures, the Arian controversy arose in the fourth century when the bishoppriest Arius of Alexandria preached that Christ was a subordinate entity to God the father — distinct from what is now the mainline trinitarian Christian position that God the father and Christ the son are equal and consubstantial divinities. The Arian position enjoyed substantial support, and it was largely to resolve this controversy that the Emperor Constantine convened the Nicene Council to define the church’s official line.

Nicene Christianity ruled Arianism heretical which the emperor — concerned above all to enforce uniformity within his realm — backed up with book-burnings and anathemas. But the doctrine proved tough to extinguish, waxing and waning in the ensuing decades and often finding a sympathetic ear among Constantine’s own successors.

And crucially, while all this was shaking out, it was Arian missionaries who converted the Germanic tribes fringing the empire’s borders — Goths, Gepids, Burgundians, and (crucial for this post) Vandals — and made Gothic Christianity a carrier of of the Arian contagion long after it had been suppressed within the Latin and Greek worlds.

Come the fifth century, the Vandals had established a kingdom in Carthage on the North African coast, stretching to Sicily and Sardinia and harrying in the Mediterranean the failing Roman state. These polities, however rivalrous, were brother-nations within Christendom — except that the Vandals were still Arians, a gulf that could easily be worth a martyr’s crown.

That’s where our man Octavian comes in. As the (Nicene) archdeacon of Carthage, he was inherently exposed any time the civil authorities might feel like making an example. The Vandal king Hun(n)eric, inheriting the throne of the Vandal Kingdom in 477 from the legendary Genseric, had this feeling exactly; he’s notorious for unleashing an anti-Nicene persecution. Besides Octavian, that persecution also claimed Saints Victorian and Frumentius, who are commemorated on March 23 of the Roman martyrology.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Tunisia,Uncertain Dates,Vandal Kingdom

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Feast Day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna

1 comment February 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Second-century Christian bishop and martyr St. Polycarp of Smyrna has his feast day on February 23. Be sure to shout supplications loudly, as he’s the patron for earaches.

Reputedly inducted into the mysteries by the Apostle John himself in the late first century, Polycarp was a consequential clergyman in the early church and a living link between the early church fathers and the literal companions of Christ.

As the bishop of the Christian community in Smyrna — these days it’s the Turkish city of Izmir; pilgrims can visit a cave where Polycarp was supposedly tortured, but the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater where he was martyred have been buried by urban development — he’s credited with an important epistle to the Philippians.* Likewise, he’s the addressee of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (c. 110).**

Less pleasantly, a mid-second century century document titled Martyrdom of Polycarp is the earliest account of a Christian martyrdom outside the of actual scripture, and unsurprisingly casts its subject in a bold and eloquent mold.

On his being led to the tribunal, there was immense clamour at the news that Polycarp had been apprehended. At last, when he was brought near, the Proconsul asked him, if he were Polycarp; and, on his acknowledging it, he began to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Compassionate thine years;” and other similar expressions, which it is their wont to use. “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; think better of the matter; say, Away with the godless men.” But Polycarp regarded with a sad countenance the whole multitude of lawless heathen in the theatre; and waving his hand towards them, groaned, and looking up to Heaven said, “Away with the godless men.” And when the Governor urged him further, and said, “Swear, and I will dismiss thee; revile Christ;” Polycarp replied; “Eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he hath wronged me in nothing, and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour.” And on his pressing him again, saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” Polycarp replied; “If ye vainly suppose that I shall swear by Caesar’s fortune, as ye call it, pretending to be ignorant of my real character, let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian; and if ye wish to hear the Christian doctrine, appoint me a time, and hear me.” The Proconsul answered, “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied, “To you I thought it right to give account, for we have been taught to give to rulers and the powers ordained of God such fitting honour as hurteth not our souls; but them I deem not worthy, that I should defend myself before them.” The Proconsul said unto him, “I have wild beasts in readiness, to them will I throw thee, if thou wilt not change thy mind.” But he said, “Bring them forth then, for the change of mind from better to worse I will never make. From cruelty to righteousness it were good to change.” Again he said unto him, “I will have thee consumed by fire, since thou despisest the wild beasts, except thou change thy mind.” Polycarp answered; “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burneth for an hour, and is speedily quenched; for thou knowest not of the fire of future judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring what thou wilt.” (an 1833 translation)

* Prevailing scholarship holds Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians to be a concatenation of two distinct epistles.

** Polycarp probably appreciated that this letter featured sections admonishing congregants “Let nothing be done without the bishop” and “Honour the bishop”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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25: Aulus Cremutius Cordus

Add comment February 9th, 2020 Tacitus

(Thanks for the guest post to Roman Senator and historian Tacitus. It originally appeared in Book IV, Chapter 34 of his Annals, and concerns the undated death of a historian some 30 years before Tacitus’s birth, Aulus Cremutius Cordus — accused of treasonable historying during the oppressive reign of Tiberius.)

In the year of the consulship of Cornelius Cossus and Asinius Agrippa, Cremutius Cordus was arraigned on a new charge, now for the first time heard. He had published a history in which he had praised Marcus Brutus and called Caius Cassius the last of the Romans. His accusers were Satrius Secundus and Pinarius Natta, creatures of Sejanus. This was enough to ruin the accused; and then too the emperor listened with an angry frown to his defence, which Cremutius, resolved to give up his life, began thus: —

Then is there one Cremutius
Cordus, a writing fellow, they have got
To gather notes of the precedent times,
And make them into Annals; a most tart
And bitter spirit, I hear; who, under colour
Of praising those, doth tax the present state,
Censures the men, the actions, leaves no trick,
No practice unexamined, parallels
The times, the governments; a profest champion
For the old liberty.

-The Sejanus character from the 1603 Ben Jonson play Sejanus His Fall. Shakespeare himself appeared in this play when it was performed; however, it was not performed for long and its author was menaced by the Privy Council … seemingly because authorities believed that it “tax[ed] the present state” of late Elizabethan/early Jacobean politics as veiled comment on purged English elites like the Earl of Essex or Walter Raleigh.

It is my words, Senators, which are condemned, so innocent am I of any guilty act; yet these do not touch the emperor or the emperor’s mother, who are alone comprehended under the law of treason. I am said to have praised Brutus and Cassius, whose careers many have described and no one mentioned without eulogy. Titus Livius [Livy], pre-eminently famous for eloquence and truthfulness, extolled Cneius Pompeius in such a panegyric that Augustus called him Pompeianus, and yet this was no obstacle to their friendship. Scipio, Afranius, this very Cassius, this same Brutus, he nowhere describes as brigands and traitors, terms now applied to them, but repeatedly as illustrious men. Asinius Pollio‘s writings too hand down a glorious memory of them, and Messala Corvinus used to speak with pride of Cassius as his general. Yet both these men prospered to the end with wealth and preferment. Again, that book of Marcus Cicero, in which he lauded Cato to the skies, how else was it answered by Caesar the dictator, than by a written oration in reply, as if he was pleading in court? The letters of Antonius, the harangues of Brutus contain reproaches against Augustus, false indeed, but urged with powerful sarcasm; the poems which we read of Bibaculus and Catullus are crammed with invectives on the Caesars. Yet the Divine Julius, the Divine Augustus themselves bore all this and let it pass, whether in forbearance or in wisdom I cannot easily say. Assuredly what is despised is soon forgotten; when you resent a thing, you seem to recognise it.

Of the Greeks I say nothing; with them not only liberty, but even license went unpunished, or if a person aimed at chastising, he retaliated on satire by satire. It has, however, always been perfectly open to us without any one to censure, to speak freely of those whom death has withdrawn alike from the partialities of hatred or esteem. Are Cassius and Brutus now in arms on the fields of Philippi, and am I with them rousing the people by harangues to stir up civil war? Did they not fall more than seventy years ago, and as they are known to us by statues which even the conqueror did not destroy, so too is not some portion of their memory preserved for us by historians? To every man posterity gives his due honour, and, if a fatal sentence hangs over me, there will be those who will remember me as well as Cassius and Brutus.

He then left the Senate and ended his life by starvation. His books, so the Senators decreed, were to be burnt by the aediles; but some copies were left which were concealed and afterwards published. And so one is all the more inclined to laugh at the stupidity of men who suppose that the despotism of the present can actually efface the remembrances of the next generation. On the contrary, the persecution of genius fosters its influence; foreign tyrants, and all who have imitated their oppression, have merely procured infamy for themselves and glory for their victims.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Other Voices,Roman Empire,Starved,Treason,Uncertain Dates

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Feast Day of St. Apronian the Executioner

Add comment February 2nd, 2020 Headsman

This gentleman is far from antiquity’s most distinguished Christian martyr, but a site such as Executed Today can scarcely omit the sacrifice of one Saint Apronian the Executioner, who we learn was

Executioner for imperial Rome. He was a witness at the trial of Saint Sisinnius who was charged with Christianity in the persecutions of Diocletian. Sisinnius’ statement of his faith converted Apronian. He was martyred soon after.

Many other translations make him not executioner but notary; the Roman Martyrology from which these versions derive marks him as Commentariensis — a prison-keeper.

So there’s a good chance that “executioner” here is a bit of dramatic exaggeration. That said, while ancient Rome had plenty of executions, they wouldn’t necessarily be conducted by a single executioner as we imagine the office from subsequent European history. Depending on the rank of the accused (notably citizen vs. not), the location of the proceedings (Rome vs. provinces), and the prevailing climate, capital punishments might be handled by various civic entities or bodies of armed men.

The office of carnifex, literally “flesh-render” or “butcher”, had the brief to torture and execute slaves and foreigners; evidently, there are hints that this dishonorable position might also be held by a prison warden. Perhaps this is the basis for linking Saint Apronian to the gig.

Despite the distinctive (albeit not unique) professional attribution, Apronian is not the patron saint of executioners. In fact, there is no such sacred patronage, although searches for same turn up this jam:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Executioners,God,Italy,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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Feast Day of the Talavera Martyrs

Add comment October 27th, 2019 Headsman

The gorgeous Basilica de San Vicente* in Avila, Spain is dedicated to a trio of Christian martyrs whose feast day today is.


(cc) inage from David Perez.

The Romanesque masterpiece was begun about 1175, when the relics of three Diocletian martyrs — Saint Vicente and his sisters Sabina and Cristeta — were translated from the Monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza. (In the present day, the relics reside in the church’s high altar.)

Panels in the basilica relay for the illiterate medieval audience their stock martyrdom tale of these faithful siblings: tortured on wooden crosses before having their heads graphically smashed under wooden beams.


Vicente, Sabina, and Cristeta, the martyrs of Talavera, along with St. Anthony (16th century painting).

* The church’s full official name is Basilica de los Santos Hermanos Mártires, Vicente, Sabina y Cristet.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Crushed,Disfavored Minorities,God,Gruesome Methods,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Spain,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Women

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Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!