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Example of a Roman flagrum.

The flagrum (Latin: "whip"; or excoriare: "flay", i.e. "scourge") was an ancient Roman implement used in the punishment of offenders, and usually prior to the carrying out of the death penalty. So hideous was the use of a flagrum as a form of punishment that the victim usually fainted and sometimes died before the actual execution could be carried out; the ancient historian Eusebius drew a horribly realistic picture of this torture in his Historia Ecclesiastica (IV, 15).


Although the flagrum is mentioned in ancient texts and depicted in surviving works of art, details of its construction were not known until fragments of one were recovered within the ruins of the buried city of Pompeii. It consisted of a handle bearing two or more leather cords; each cord was tipped with a knot in the leather or affixed with pieces of bone or metal. The effect of the blows was similar to being stung by a scorpion, hence its other name of scorpia; as each blow struck the victim, the ends of the whip would carve out small chunks of flesh, cut blood vessels, and leave the skin hanging in ribbons. The victim of the punishment was tied to a post where the blows were applied; Jewish law limited the number of blows to 40 (2 Cor 11:23-25), but during the time of Jesus the Romans frequently ignored them.

The Shroud of Turin, deemed the authentic burial cloth of Jesus Christ by the Vatican, shows an accurate picture of a man who went through a severe scourging.