Late Roman Greyware Oil Lamp with Chi-Rho Monogram
An extremely fine Late Roman greyware oil lamp with striking relief decoration. The lamp consists of an elongated, oval body and a circular discus surrounded by a ridge, which continues around the large nozzle hole to form a broad channel. At the top, a solid blade-shaped handle flattened on both sides is attached. A circular ridge on the base extends in a straight line to the handle. On the discus, the main iconography is a beautifully moulded beaded Chi-Rho monogram, flanked on either side by small filling holes and with a set of concentric rings beneath it. The shoulder surrounding the discus bears a repeating pattern of concentric circles along with various floral and vegetal motifs. This delicately rendered design was produced using a mould. This lamp belongs stylistically to a group of North African lamps produced in Terra Sigillata Africana (TSA), specifically type Atlante X, Hayes II A.
Date: Circa 5th – 6th Century AD. Provenance: From a Surrey gentleman's collection (DG), purchased on the London Art market from an ADA member, formed 1990's onwards. Condition: Extremely fine; minor earthly deposits, relief decoration in excellent condition.
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. During the Roman Empire, it became commonplace to use lamps in funeral ceremonies and for public purposes. The vast trade networks set with the expansion of the Roman Empire allowed this item to be spread across Europe, Eastern Asia and Northern Africa, which led to the development of several provincial variations. This style of oil lamp originated in North Africa, specifically Tunisia, but was broadly exported and then imitated all over the Roman Empire. This may explain the execution of this fine example of a Atlante X, Hayes II A lamp in greyware pottery, a material used most frequently in Roman Britain. The Chi-Rho motif here is one of the earliest forms of a Christogram, consisting of the first two capitalised letters in the Greek word for Christ (Christos or ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ). This monogram was used frequently throughout the Late Roman Empire, found on everything from mosaics to signet rings.