Ancient Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Erotic Scene


A Roman terracotta mold-made oil lamp featuring a decorated discus. The lamp’s concave discus is decorated with an incised erotic scene between a man and a woman. The male figure reclines upon a bed, whilst his female companion kneels in reverse, holding his legs for support. An incised concentric circle, and a circle-and-dot band adorn the outer edge of the discus. The lamp’s reverse consists of an incised base ring.

Date: Circa 2nd Century AD
Provenance: Ex major S.M., London, Collection 1970-2010.
Condition: Fine Condition. Loss of definition to the discus.


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 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, fish and birds.

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

Weight 61.4 g
Dimensions L 8 x W 7 cm
Pottery and Porcelain



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