Oil lamps in antiquity were made from a variety of materials, including gold, silver, lead, bronze, and ceramic. At Rome, an oil 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 customary to use lamps at funeral ceremonies and for public purposes. Over time, the manufacture of lamps highly increased, and so did the variation in decoration, which was mainly dependent on the shape and size of the lamp. Common decorative themes depicted on the discus could be entertainment scenes, such as gladiators in combat, common myths, gods and animals. The crescent moon, visible to the lamp’s handle, is associated with the Roman goddess Luna, known in Greek mythology as Selene, the divine embodiment of the moon usually depicted in Ancient Roman art paired with Sol Invictus. Lunar motifs were also linked with the Roman goddesses Diana and Juno.
To discover more about the ancient origins of oil lamps, visit our relevant post: Oil Lamps in Antiquity.