Ancient Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Amphora and Fishbone Design


An Ancient Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a rounded body with a large filling-hole and a relatively small mouth. The vessel displays highly precise decoration and fine ornamentation, with some retention of the original brown-red slip coat. A fishbone pattern decorates the shoulders and the ribbed pyramid lug handle. Multiple concentric ridges frame the filling hole and separate it from the relatively small nozzle. This features pronounced volutes which terminate in a circle and dot design. An amphora accompanied by two clusters of grapes decorates the top, a common motif in Jewish art symbolising the vessels of the Temple. The reverse remains undecorated and presents a ring-base with a central knob.

Date: Late 3rd century - early 4th century AD
Provenance: Ex major S.M., London, Collection 1970-2010.
Condition: Fine and intact, with some signs of ageing to the surface.


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. Oil lamps such as this example are highly reminiscent of the Beit Nattif types. They were discovered in Gezer, Beit Shean and Transjordan, and were more commonly distributed in Northern Israel.

Weight 87.2 g
Dimensions L 8.8 x W 6.5 cm

Pottery and Porcelain