Roman Oil Lamp with Hercules Slaying Hydra

£ 550.00

An Ancient Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a solid vertical handle and a rounded nozzle. The shoulder displays circular ridges marked off by two grooves which slope into a large sunken discus. One large filling hole to the centre left in the decorated field. Here, next to a tree, is depicted the hero Hercules, naked, with his right arm raised and holding his club, and with the other arm and hand holding one of the many heads of the monster Hydra, which features multiple long, scaled necks, swirling around Hercules. The reverse features a base ring enclosing a small impressed concentric circle, possibly a maker’s mark. A very fine example, depicting a compelling mythological scene.

Date: 1st-3rd Century AD
Provenance: From a specialist collection of Roman oil lamps formed by Roberton Brockie (deceased), all acquired before 2008 from a central London ADA gallery.
Condition: Extremely fine.


Product Code: RES-161
Category: Tags: ,

The second labour of Hercules was to kill the Lernean Hydra. Lerna was a lake in the Argolis, the eastern part of the Peloponnesus. This serpentine water monster featured nine heads, of which one immortal. The myth goes that when the hero cut one of the heads off, two new ones would spring up from the severed neck. Realising that he could not defeat the monster this way, he called his nephew Iolaus to help him. Favoured by the goddess Athena, Iolaus was inspired to use a firebrand to scorch the severed necks after each decapitation. And so Hercules went on to decapitate and then cauterize each of the necks, finally cutting off the immortal head and burying it underground under a great rock.

The Roman oil lamp, originally called a ‘lychnus’, from the Greek ‘λυχνος’, has been almost unparalleled in its distribution throughout the Empire. First developed towards the end of the Hellenistic period, oil lamps were to keep their general shape longer than any other item of pottery throughout the Mediterranean. 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. Lamps such as this fine example belong to the group of Bussière D X 10 lamps of Loeschke type VIII, which are characterised by a circular body and short round nozzle. Early examples form this group date to the Claudian times and proliferated between the 1st and 3rd century AD.

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

Dimensions L 10.7 x W 7.4 cm



Southern Europe

Roman Mythology


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