Oil lamps were originally called ‘lychnus’, from the Greek ‘λυχνος’, with the oldest Roman lamps dating back to the 3rd century BC. Over time, the manufacture of lamps increased, and so did the variation in decoration, which depended mainly on the shape and size of the lamp. During the fourth and fifth century AD, North Africa started to produce oil lamps from red slip, much like this fine example, with large discus areas which allowed for numerous designs. This oil lamp falls under the so-called ‘Christian lamps’, Atlante X; Hayes IIA type, which holds characteristics from central Tunisia, one being the neatly drawn motives around the shoulder. Initially produced in Tunisia only, these oil lamps were broadly exported throughout the empire for about three centuries.
Ancient Roman North African Terra Sigillata Oil Lamp
An Ancient Roman oil lamp displaying the characteristic red slip of North African terra sigillata. The vessel features a long canal nozzle, a rounded body, and a lug handle extending outwards to the rear. To the top, the discus presents a central filling hole, surrounded by a rich assortment of flowers moulded in relief. The shoulders, acting as a decorative border for the scene, feature long palm leaves, which spring from the handle and extend around the discus. The reverse remains unadorned and presents a short circular base.
Provenance: Ex S.M. Collection, London, Mayfair, acquired 1970s-90s.
Condition: Fine condition; a minor crack to the nozzle.