Ancient Roman Oil Lamp with Chariot

£ 695.00

A Roman terracotta oil lamp with a decorated concave discus and heart-shaped nozzle. The central scene depicts a charioteer riding a chariot, drawn by two horses, known as a ‘biga’. The horses, facing right, gallop ahead, whilst the charioteer’s right arm is drawn back, whipping the horses on. The design is enclosed by a concentric circle and has a looped handle complete with a circular groove. The lamp has a rounded heart-shaped nozzle and two filling holes can be found on either side of the galloping horses.

This lamp can be categorised as Loeschcke VIII, Bussière form D X 5 form, defined by the vine leaf and grape pattern to the shoulders.

Date: Circa 2nd century AD
Provenance: From a specialist collection of Roman oil lamps formed by Robertson Brockie (deceased), all acquired before 2008 from a central London ADA gallery; Southport Lancashire.
Condition: Fine condition. Some loss of glaze to the nozzle and left shoulder. Some areas of encrustation.


The Roman oil lamp, a product almost unparalleled in its distribution throughout the empire, developed towards the end of the Hellenistic period and was to keep its general shape longer than any other item of pottery throughout the Mediterranean. The vast trade networks set up with the expansion of the Roman empire allowed for this item to be spread across Europe, Eastern Asia and Northern Africa. Oil lamps were used by the Romans for mainly three reasons; to light private and public spaces, to give as offerings in temples to the gods and to be placed within a grave or funerary context. As well as linear, geometric and circular designs, favourite subjects for decoration of oil lamps included gods and mythological scenes, scenes from everyday life, gladiatorial depictions, drawings relating to entertainment and theatre, and various animals including fish, birds and horses.

Chariot racing was an immensely popular sport across the Roman Empire. Chariots were pulled by either two horses, as depicted here, known as a ‘biga’ or were pulled by four horses, known as a ‘quadriga’. Chariot teams wore different colours, of bue, green, red or white. Mosaic depict famous clashes between two teams, the chariots, horses and their occupants splayed out spectacularly. Scenes on oil lamps depict both two and four horse-drawn carriages, although with the confines of space, two was the easier depiction.

To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.

Weight 148.1 g
Dimensions L 11.3 x W 8.5 cm


Pottery and Porcelain

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