It was customary among the Romans to scourge or flog a condemned criminal before he was executed. A scourge was a whip with sharp pieces of metal or bone imbedded in the leather. The back and chest of the criminal were struck repeatedly with this whip until the flesh was severely lacerated, sometimes all the way down to the bone. This savage beating often led to death from shock or loss of blood. Jesus apparently grew too weak to carry His cross to the crucifixion site after the scourging administered by Pilate’s soldiers. A passerby from Cyrene name Simon was pressed into service to carry His cross (Matthew 27:32).
The Jews also practiced scourging, but they were more humane in administering this punishment that the Romans. By Jewish law, a person could not be struck more than forty times (Deuteronomy 25:2-3). To make sure this limit was not exceeded, it was customary to stop at thirty-nine blows (2 Corinthians 11:24). There is no evidence that the Romans placed any limit on this cruel punishment.