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The History of the Ichthus

by Gregory B. Dill

You see them on the back of automobiles everywhere. Occasionally, you see them worn on necklaces or bracelets. I've even seen them as key chains and on hats. Even the evolutionists show off this symbol with the name "Darwin" aptly inscribed upon it. I've even seen these mysterious symbols with a small, pointy, dorsal fin protruding off the top of one of these, resembling a shark.

Those little fish symbols. Just what are they? What do they mean? What are they suppose to symbolize?

The "ichthus", when displayed properly should look like either of the four figures displayed below:


Just what does the Ichthus mean?

Ichthus (ikh-thoos) or ichthys is the Greek word simply meaning "fish".

The Greek spelling for ichthus is -- These are the first letters of the Greek words Iesous (Iota), Christos (Chi), Theou (Theta), Uios (Upsilon), and Sotor (Sigma).  The English translation is IXOYE.  The five Greek word stand for the English words meaning, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" or "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior".

This symbol was used primarily amongst Christians of the early church years (1st and 2nd century A.D.) The symbol was introduced from Alexandria, Egypt; which at the time, was a very heavily populated seaport. It was the port in which many goods were brought over from the European continent. Because of this, it was first used by the peoples of the sea as a symbol of a familiar deity, in this case, Jesus Christ.

The symbol was later used as a means of identifying or acknowledging a fellow believer in Christ without the need for any verbal communication being exchanged. Why was this necessary?

During the reign of Emperor Nero (54 A.D.- 68 A.D.), and throughout the reign of subsequent evil emperors of the Roman Empire, Christians were commonly persecuted, tortured, and put to death because of their faith in Christ Jesus. Emperor Nero himself personally despised Christians. He blamed them for the great fire of A.D. 64 which burned nearly half of Rome. It was during Nero's persecutions that both Peter and Paul are thought to have perished.

Spread throughout the empire, Roman soldiers were stationed everywhere to keep order and to act as police. This included keeping a watchful eye on the happenings of the daily lives of the people. Often times, when a soldier spotted a Christian, he would report it to his superiors who in turn would be ordered to arrest the Christian and to be brought in for interrogation. The Christian would then be harassed and tortured in order for them to recant and to submit to the many polytheistic religions of Rome. In most cases death would be the final end.

In order to prevent this unnecessary capture and persecution, Christians would often draw an ichthus in the dirt, mud, sand, or on the walls of caves to let another Christian know that he too was a fellow believer of Christ and that it was safe to talk about their faith without the fear of being turned in.


It wasn't until around 307 A.D. under the reign of Constantine that Christians were no longer persecuted. During his reign (307 A.D. - 337 A.D.) he declared Christianity as the official religion of the state which was a direct result of his own conversion to Christianity, although his perspective of Christianity was somewhat polluted with pagan ideology. Nevertheless, Christians, in general, were spared from persecution - at least for the time being. Shortly after the Constantine dynasty ended, a successor, Julian the Apostate (360 A.D. - 363 A.D.), would later reinstate the pagan religions of Rome as the state religion and the protection of Christians was nullified.

Today, Christians all throughout the world have brought back to life this most interesting and historic symbol. Christians today proudly show off the symbol that their spiritual ancestors once boldly and courageously showed to fellow believers centuries ago. So the next time you pass by a vehicle proudly displaying the ichthus, wave and acknowledge your fellow brother or sister. After all they're family!


The Greek Ichthus letters combined as a wheel (can be seen in six or eight spokes)

Ichthus symbol shown as an old wheel of a coach
The Greek ichthus letters combined as a wheel

The Greek ichthus letters, the letters combined as a wheel, the ichthus sign, and the Maltese cross
The Greek ichthus letters, the letters combined as a wheel,
the ichthus sign, and the Maltese cross

The above pictures were sent to us by Ernst, a fellow Christian that lives in the Netherlands.  He had the wonderful opportunity to visit the town of Ephesus in Turkey. 

Ernst says, "There they told me about the Ichthus sign. I already knew something about it, and I was looking on the internet for the complete explanation to use in our local community brochure. Thank you for explaining it on the internet. So I can use it more easily. But there is another matter, your site is not complete, in fact in Ephesus many places are marked with another secret symbol, sometimes plain and sometimes more hidden. It is shown as a old wheel of a coach.

Put all the Greek letters on top of each other and the sign appears. I X O Y E the E  must be like Σ and the horizontal lines a bit curved.

In Ephesus you can find several variants., and if you like it, I will sent you one of my pictures."

Thank you so much Ernst for sharing this with us!!  It is always great to learn more about Christian history.


The above pictures were sent to us by Marty, who lives in Ontario, New York.  Thank you so much for sharing these pictures with us!! 

Marty says: "I went to my mom's house for a bon fire the other night and she picked up a piece of wood and saw a weird design on it.  I looked at it more closely before she threw it on the fire and said "wow that looks like the Ichthus".  I took a picture of it and I didn't know what to do with the picture, so I saw your website and figured you guys might like it. Enjoy!"


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