Sean Anthony

May 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.

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Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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