Oil lamps were originally called ‘lychnus’, from the Greek ‘λυχνος’, with the oldest Roman lamps dating back to the 3rd century BC. 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. During the fourth and fifth century AD, North Africa started to produce oil lamps from red slip, much like this fine example, with large discus areas which allowed for numerous designs. This oil lamp falls under the so-called ‘Christian lamps’, Atlante X; Hayes IIA type, which holds characteristics from central Tunisia, one being the neatly drawn motives around the shoulder. Initially produced in Tunisia only, these oil lamps were broadly exported throughout the empire for about three centuries.
The Leviathan is a monster referenced frequently within the Old Testament books, as well as within mythology. A dark and powerful force, the Leviathan was the embodiment of chaos and disorder. Amongst New Testament theologians, the creature was identified with the sin of envy, one of the seven capital vices.
The majority of such lamps were made in Tunisia, with workshops in the North and Central region of the country. They mostly feature Christian iconography and christograms, scenes from the Bible and saintly figures were all common motifs.
To discover more about the ancient origins of oil lamps, visit our relevant post: Oil Lamps in Antiquity.