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 particular variation, Terra Sigillata Africana, is native to the Roman province comprising present-day central Tunisia, but was broadly exported and then imitated all over the Roman Empire. The depiction of fish indicates a Christian connotation. The fish, known as Ichthys, was used from the 2nd century AD and became a wide-spread motif during the 3rd and 4th centuries. Ichthys, or ΙΧΘΥC in Greek, stood for ‘Jesus Christ, son of God, Saviour’ (Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υιός, Ζωτήρ). The acronym is made up of each first letter of the phrase, which was the basis of Christian belief and ideology. Fundamentally, it declares Jesus Christ had two natures, human and divine.
To discover more about the ancient origins of oil lamps, visit our relevant post: Oil Lamps in Antiquity.