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Tunica molesta – burning tunic

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Nero's Torches, Henryk Siemiradzki
Nero's Torches, Henryk Siemiradzki

Tunica molesta was a large tunic, soaked in tar, resin or oil, which was put on by convicts in ancient Rome. The clothes were then set on fire. The convict was burning alive as part of the ad flammas execution.

This type of execution was already mentioned in almost the 12th century tablets from the 5th century BCE. Such a punishment was due to the traitor or arsonist. The convict was first bound, then beaten and set on fire (the terms vivicomburium, damnatio ad flammas, vivus uri, crematio).

This execution was particularly popular during the Empire, especially from the second century CE; slaves or citizens of the “lower category” (so-called humiliores) were subject to it. The reason could be arson, desertion, magic or betrayal. Christians have often been the victims. Tacitus mentions it, for example, claiming that Nero was in 64 CE. make burnt followers of Christ “human torches” in their garden (Annals XV, 44).

  • Donald G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome

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