Supposedly the first image of the crucifixion of Jesus.

"It is also evident from this caricature…that the relationship between pagans and Christians was often hostile."
Artifacts from Ancient Rome¹, James B. Tschen-Emmons

At first glance it's just a bit of graffiti, scratched into the plaster on a wall sometime during the first to third centuries CE. It depicts one man with a donkey's head, arms outstretched as though on a cross, and another man below him with an arm raised. In Greek is written "Alexamenos worships his god". Supposedly, this is the first depiction of Jesus Christ on the cross, although of course there's some doubt about this. (A photograph of the graffito can be seen here.)

It was discovered in 1857 in the ruins of a Roman boarding school near the Palatine Hill in Rome. The building had become part of the foundations for later structures, and has been dated to between 92 and 211 CE. In all, 369 graffiti were found and recovered, most of which were fairly typical (scratched names and crude drawings). All of these pieces now reside in the Palatine Museum.

So, what does it all mean? Christians at this time were at best tolerated in the Roman world, and at worst persecuted. It wasn't until the Edict of Milan in 313 that Christianity even had legal status, and even then the Roman pagans would have made sport of Jesus' followers. There were certainly stories circulating that they worshipped donkeys and many other slurs besides (drinkers of blood, devourers of children). Whilst some say the donkey depiction was inspired by the stories that Jesus rode such an animal into Jerusalem, it's more likely that the donkey, being seen as a low animal, was used to mock both the worshipped and the worshipper. The Jews had also faced such slurs in Egypt; Apion, an Egyptian historian, had made the same claim hundreds of years previously.

Turning the crucified Jesus into a donkey may have been the least of the problems. Few commentators² seem to pay attention to the fact that the victim on the cross appears to have his back and buttocks facing outward, rather than the conventional images of having the back to the cross. Is this yet another slur on Jesus and the Christians? What does this mean? Was this a reference to something else? I keep thinking to the slur that the Knights Templar kissed the arse of a statue of Baphomet. Is that subtly implied here? Speculation is free.

So what of poor Alexamenos? There's another bit of graffiti recovered that states "Alexamenos is faithful", so we have to assume that he was, just in the face of abuse and scorn.

There are so many mysteries, which will certainly never be resolved, but meanwhile, this artifact stands as one of the likely oldest images of the crucifixion, being worshipped to boot.

¹ Artifacts from Ancient Rome

Iron Node 2

$ xclip -o | wc -w

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