Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp from North Africa

£ 295.00

A very fine and beautifully moulded Roman bright red terracotta oil lamp featuring an intricately decorated discus and shoulder in low relief. The body of the lamp bears an elongated oval shape and circular discus surrounded by a low ridge that continues around a large nozzle hole to form a broad channel. At the top, a solid blade-shaped handle flattened on both sides is attached. A circular ridge on the base extends in a straight line to the handle. The slightly concave discus bears two small filling holes and beautiful decoration in low relief. The primary iconography is a two-handled jug or amphora from which spring stylized vines and buds, flanked by two birds shown in profile, likely belonging to the ‘overflowing vase” motif. The shoulder surrounding the discus bears an ornate pattern comprised of chevrons and beaded semi-circles that simultaneously recalls both floral and geometric motifs. This lamp is a fine example of the group of North African lamps produced in Terra Sigillata Africana (TSA), and was likely moulded in the Roman provinces of North Africa, present-day central Tunisia. It can be classified as type Atlante X, Hayes II A.

Date: Circa 4th – 6th Century AD.
Provenance: From a private Preston, Lancashire collection, RB, who amassed a collection of over 200 lamps, the majority acquired via a London A.D.A. member gallery.
Condition: Very fine; minor wear on decorated portion and on reverse; minor earthly deposits.
Product Code: RES-168
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. 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 “overflowing vase” motif found on this lamp’s discus was very common in Roman North Africa and Byzantium and is thought to be a symbol of abundance or fertility.

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

Dimensions L 12.6 x H 5.5 cm



North Africa

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