Sean AnthonyMay 12, 2014
Crucifixion and Death as Spectacle
Umayyad Crucifixion in Its Late Antique Context
American Oriental Society 2014
Crucifixion is one of the most widely envisioned symbols in history. So much so, that for a contemporary reader the notion almost immediately plants an image of Jesus on the cross. Sean Anthony, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Oregon, argues that an assumption of uniformity in the role of crucifixion hinders our understanding of it, which is especially true when looking at crucifixion as a cross-cultural category during the Late Antique period. In Crucifixion and Death as Spectacle: Umayyad Crucifixion in Its Late Antique Context (American Oriental Society, 2014), crucifixion is examined in the early Muslim context but placed within broader social and political tactics of late antiquity. Extreme death techniques, especially in the disciplining of religious deviants, were most often public spectacles of ritualized violence used to legitimize political leaders. Umayyad leadership used crucifixion as a ideological tool to reinforce their own political legitimacy. Anthony demonstrates how this all plays out in the cases of Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr and Zayd ibn 'Ali. The study of crucifixion also enables us to examine the rich ways that Muslims remembered and accounted for their own personal histories. In our conversation we discussed the relationship between early Islam and late antique societies, crucifixion in the Zoroastrian setting, the treatment of the dead Muslim body, crucifixion in the Qur'an and Hadith, the public/private spheres of the body, deciphering historical sources, religious deviance, and the ironic fate of the conquered Ummayads.