Ancient Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Dwarf Actors


A Roman, glazed, terracotta oil lamp featuring a large, rounded body with a short, rounded nozzle. A pierced lug handle is placed at the rear of the lamp, decorated with two vertical grooves. The discus, framed by a circular groove, presents two figures, most likely dwarf actors, in relief. Both figures are facing right, with the one on the left depicted standing, having his right hand placed on the waist and his left raised. The other dwarf is portrayed in a kneeling position with one hand held near the hip. There is a filling hole at the centre of the discus, in between the two figures. To the reverse, a faded maker’s mark has been stamped on the base, which is marked by a simple circular groove.

Date: Circa 2nd century AD
Provenance: From a huge specialist collection of Roman oil lamps formed by R. Brockie (deceased), all acquired before 2008 from a central London ADA gallery; Southport Lancashire.
Condition: Fine condition with some loss of glaze. Minor crack to the top of filling hole. Maker’s mark illegible due to age.

In stock

SKU: CY-159 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. It is thought that the Romans took the idea for lamps from the Greek colonies of Southern Italy. During the Roman Empire, it became commonplace to use lamps in funeral ceremonies and for public purposes. 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. Common decorative themes depicted on the discus were entertainment scenes, such as gladiators in combat, common myths, and animals. Pottery oil lamps could be made in three different ways: handmade, wheel made, or by mould. The use of the mould, which was made from clay or plaster, quickly became popular, because one mould could produce several lamps.

This type of lamp is known as Loeschcke VIII (Bussiére form D II 1), of which had many variants but generally characterized by a circular body and a short, rounded nozzle. Based on the nozzle type we can further identify it as  Bussiére form 4a, due to the inclusion of a straight line and two flanking dots seperating the discus and nozzle.  Lamps of this type were popular from the end of 1st century AD and spread all over the Roman Empire.

Maker’s marks and stamps decline in use from the third quarter of the 2nd century. Lamps themselves also tend to be inferior in quality compared to their 1st century counterparts, so a signature of pride seemed unnecessary.

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

Weight 60.2 g
Dimensions L 9.4 x W 6.2 x H 3.8 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


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