Ancient Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with a Sphinx

£ 975.00

A Roman terracotta oil lamp with a decorated concave discus and a ring handle with two grooves on the upper part of the lamp. Within its centre is a sphinx, a monster with the body of a lion, the head and breasts of a woman, and eagle wings. According to Greek mythology, this monster would devour those who failed to solve its riddle and here it is represented surrounded by the bones and the scull of its victims. A filling-hole and an air hole are located to the right of the beast and beneath it. The scene is framed by two concentric circles and the shoulders of the lamp are decorated with radiating lines.  The reverse features two concentric circles surrounding the maker’s mark. The maker’s mark is written on two lines; P V LL to the top and A E N I to the bottom. This dates the lamp to circa 170 to 225 AD, when the prolific African workshop was in operation. This lamp belongs to the Loeschcke type VIII group (Bussière form D II 1), which is characterised by its handle, circular body, and a short rounded nozzle that is separated from the main body by a horizontal line flanked by two dots.

Date: Circa 2nd - 3rd Century AD
Provenance: Madame Suzanne Gozlan then by descent. Madame Suzanne Gozlan (1921-2022), Doctor of History and Archaeology, professor at the Ecole Normale d'Instituteurs de Chartres and lecturer at the University of Paris, Sorbonne.
Condition: Excellent. Very clear discus and good colouring. Burn marks to the nozzle.
Product Code: RES-220
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. 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.

According to legend, the sphinx was sent by the gods to plague the town of Thebes. This continued until Oedipus took up her challenge, and when he solved the Sphinx’s riddle, she cast herself off the mountainside in despair. Sphinxes were popular in ancient art. In archaic vase paintings they often appear amongst a procession of animals and fabulous creatures such as lions and bird-bodied sirens.

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

Weight 100.5 g
Dimensions L 10.5 x W 7.5 x H 3 cm



Southern Europe

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