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Alexamenos (Graf. Pal. I.246)

Role: Literate Worker


Detail of the Alexamenos Graffito (Photo Credit Brent Nongbri)

Alexamenos Graffitto Line Drawing McClellan

Gender: Male

Date: Early 2nd - early 3rd century CE

Brief Description: The image shows a man or young boy worshiping a donkey headed man who is affixed to a cross. Beneath the cross is a crudely made inscription in rudimentary Greek. The graffito was scratched into plaster on the wall of a room, usually identified as a paedagogium or school room, near the Palatine Hill in Rome, Italy. It is usually identified as one of the earliest images of Jesus.

Initial Publication: Raffaele Garrucci, Un crocifisso graffito da mano pagana nella casa dei Cesari sul Palatino (Rome: Copi tipi della civiltà, 1856), 529-45.

Find Spot: Internal wall of a building located on the south-eastern slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome. The building is usually referred to as the Paedagogium. The graffito was found on the south-east wall of room 7. 

Current Location: Museum Palatino inv. 381403, Rome.

Material: Plaster

Measurements: 38 cm x 33.5 cm

Language: Greek



English Translations:

Alexamenos worships [his] God  

Alternate Translation:

Alexamenos worshiping a god


Alexamenos was a second-century enslaved Christian child who was educated at the paedagogium (schoolroom) that is located on the Palatine Hill in Rome. 

His existence is noted in the famous Alexamenos graffito, which is generally regarded as one of the earliest images of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In the image, Alexamenos is shown looking up at a donkey-headed man on a cross. Tertullian and Minucius Felix refer to the pagan view that Christians worshiped a donkey headed God (Ad Nat. 1.14.1-4; Minucius Felix 9.3; 28.7). In the image the crucified man (Jesus), is seen from behind. The cross is the  “T” or tau shaped cross known as a crux commissa. Above the crossbar there seems to be a tabula where the titulus (identifying title) would have been attached. 

Both Alexamenos and the crucified figure are wearing a short, sleeveless tunic known as a colobrium. This particular form of dress was associated with servile status and work. The donkey head itself was associated with servile status 

Given that the Palatine schoolroom is filled with graffiti that mention the names of students it is likely that both Alexamenos and the author of the graffito were enslaved children who were being educated as part of the imperial household. There is some external evidence of Christians in the imperial household during the Severan period (Tertullian, Scap. 4; See Euelpistus). 

Alexamenos is a Greek name meaning Alexander that was frequently used of enslaved workers in Rome (Solin, 1996).

While some scholars have identified the graffito as evidence of hostility towards Christians or even evidence of the persecution of Christians in Rome, the graffito is more at home in the satirical context of playroom taunts. Many other examples of playful taunts have been found in the space. The graffito presents evidence that Christian and non-Christian enslaved people worked alongside one another.  

Keywords: Christian; Graffiti; Imperial Household; Inscription; Literate Worker; Rome

Image Sources:

  1. Line Rendering of the Alexamenos Graffito. Made by Dan McClellan.

  2. Detail of the Alexamenos Graffito 2nd Century C.E., Rome © Brent Nongbri


Keegan, Peter.  “Reading the ‘Pages’ of the Domus Caesaris: Pueri Delicati, Slave Education, and the Graffiti of the Palatine Paedagogium.” Pages 69–98 in Roman Slavery and Roman Material Culture, ed. Michelle George. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Harley-McGowan, Felicity. “The Alexamenos Graffito.” Pages 105-140 in The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries. Edited by Chris Keith et al. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

Schwaller, Tyler. “Picturing the Enslaved Christ: Philippians 2:6-8, Alexamenos, and a Mockery of Masculinity.” JECH 11.1 (2021): 38-65.

Solin, Heikki and Marja Itkonen-Kaila, eds., Graffiti del Palatino I: Paedagogium (Helsinki: Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae, 1966), 210-212, 246.

How to Cite:

Moss, Candida R. “Alexamenos (Graf. Pal. I.246).” Ancient Enslaved Christians. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. <>.



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