Roman Guard revisited

A Roman guard of strictly disciplined fighting men was stationed to guard the tomb. This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal, which was meant to “prevent any attempt at vandalizing the sepulcher. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb’s entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.

A Roman guard was stationed at the tomb and sealed, making it a capital crime to even disturb the seal.  From our anthropologic studies, we know that a Roman guard would consist of no less than 4 and potentially 20 or 30 men.  Not only would it be difficult for all of the highly disciplined centurions to agree to commit a capital crime on the behalf of a disdained minority (who two days earlier were barbarically tormenting and robbing Jesus), they would face execution for desertion charges running at almost a 50% conviction rate as documented in extra biblical Roman record

The Roman guards fled. They left their place of responsibility. How can their attrition be explained, when Roman military discipline was so exceptional? Justin, in Digest #49, mentions all the offenses that required the death penalty. The fear of their superiors’ wrath and the possibility of death meant that they paid close attention to the minutest details of their jobs. One way a guard was put to death was by being stripped of his clothes and then burned alive in a fire started with his garments. If it was not apparent which soldier had failed in his duty, then lots were drawn to see which one would be punished with death for the guard unit’s failure. Certainly the entire unit would not have fallen asleep with that kind of threat over their heads. Dr. George Currie, a student of Roman military discipline, wrote that fear of punishment “produced flawless attention to duty, especially in the night watches
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2 Comments

  1. ahavens
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    interesting.
    Love the facts.

  2. Posted March 6, 2008 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    I always thought the Roman Guard was a single soldier.


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