Throughout the history of the world, from Europe to the Americas, it has taken years to balance the relationship between crime and punishment. Before modern prisons, crimes in ancient times were frequently corrected by corporal punishment; or physical punishment. Based on certain groups’ views of justice, punishments were imposed in various fashions and were often gruesome in nature. Punishment was thought by many to scare off repeat offenders, to warn anyone even cogitating the same crime or, in religious views, to clean the soul of the convicted. Though today’s justice system is still plagued with injustice, it has come a long way due to past concepts of equity and correctional reformers who sought to find alternative and more humane forms of punishment.
The subject of punishment has always been a moral question. Societies today have veered away from the ancient ways of maintaining civil order. In ancient societies there was little organization and no official law enforcement. In Ancient Greece, Rome and Israel the people were not as keen on reforming prisoners as they were on getting them away from citizens. In Ancient Greece, laws were not put into place until 900 B.C and the city of Athens holds the most in-depth evidence of how these laws were enforced. The Greeks punished crimes by execution, banishment or exile and in many situations the bodies of criminals were left to scavengers and the elements instead of being buried. Athenians also imposed crucifixion, fines, public humiliation, destruction of the criminal’s home, ostracism, and imprisonment. In many cases, exile or ostracism was the primary punishment for crimes including homicide. Therefore, Greece holds a reputation of leniency because of their seldom use of corporal punishment.
Then there are the Hebrews of Ancient Israel whose early history is recorded, including their ideals on law and penology, within the Bible. Many crimes, such as murder, adultery, rape, kidnapping, and bestiality were punishable by death. The Hebrews strongly believed in corporal punishment ranging from beating and drowning to mutilation and slaying by spear or sword. For the ancient Hebrews physical retaliation was a chance for revenge as if they hoped to even out the brutality of the punishment with the ruthlessness of the crime. Many of their actions in regards to crimes were nothing shy of inhumane.
Lastly, though not least, the early civilization of Rome is yet another example of harshness in regards to penalization. Granted the list of punishments the Romans imposed is far shorter in length than the Hebrews, they were hardly as lenient as the Greeks. The Romans imposed fines for some offenses, but they used the death penalty most often. Sadly to say, they were creative in the way they implemented the death penalty such as burning for arson, throwing from a cliff for perjury, hanging for stealing, burying vestal virgins alive for violating their vow of chastity, sewing an offender in a sack with...