Byzantine Oil Lamp with Maker’s Mark

£ 150.00

A stunning and intricately decorated Byzantine clay oil lamp. This beautiful ovoid buff-coloured lamp is mould-made, and features a conical handle to the rear. The discus is finely segmented with a ridge, and features a raised swirling motif between the filling hole and mouth of the lamp. The shoulders of the lamp feature more finely rendered swirls and spirals, as well as an area of herringbone decoration, and two small yet detailed birds pecking at the spirals. The base is flat, and features a round maker’s mark, displaying an eight-point star. This type of oil lamp is classified as Vessberg Type 19, also known as a slipper lamp.

Date: Circa 6th-8th Century AD
Provenance: Ex SM, Mayfair London collection 1970-99, thence by descent.
Condition: Very fine. Some minor encrustations to sides and base.


Product Code: BS-20
Category: Tags: , , ,

In Antiquity, a lamp was originally called a lychnus, from the Greek λυχνος, with the oldest Roman lamps dating back to the third century BC. It is thought that the Romans took the idea for lamps from the Greek colonies of Southern Italy. During the Roman Empire, it became commonplace to use lamps in funeral ceremonies and for public purposes. Over time, the manufacture of lamps increased, and so did the variation in decoration, which depended mainly on the shape and size of the lamp. Common decorative themes depicted on the discus were entertainment scenes (such as gladiators in combat), common myths, and animals. Pottery oil lamps could be made in three different ways: handmade, wheel made, or by mould. The use of the mould (which was made from clay or plaster), introduced in the third century BC, quickly became popular, because one mould could produce several lamps. The Byzantine Empire existed as a continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces, meaning that the form of these oil lamps shows strong similarities to the Roman style.

To discover more about the ancient origins of oil lamps, visit our relevant post: Oil Lamps in Antiquity.

Dimensions L 9 x W 7 cm

Southern Europe



Reference: For a similar item, The British Museum, museum number 1853,0528,33.

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