Byzantine Christian Oil Lamp


A finely crafted terracotta oil lamp from the Byzantine Empire. The lamp features an elongated body leading to a rounded nozzle and small burn hole. A larger filling hole sits at the centre of the body, surrounded by a shallow channel.  The lamp’s prominent feature is a tall protruding handle, formed into an anthropomorphic shape, likely depicting the face of Christ (or possibly a saint). Detailing has been added to the face in the form of incised oval eyes, facial hair and a surrounding halo. The central filling hole is also surrounded by further decoration.

Date: Circa 6th-7th century AD
Condition: Fine Condition: Some earthly encrustation and crystallization.


SKU: SA-78 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. As the Byzantine Empire prevailed, lamp decoration was strongly influenced by Christianity, which was the predominant religion in the Byzantine world. Into the early Islamic period, lamp decoration became more abstract, featuring lines, crosses, dots, and geometric shapes. Lamps like this one have also been called “animal head” lamps, due to the appearance of the knob on the handle, or “slipper lamps,” referring to the overall shape.

To discover more about Byzantine art, please visit our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire, Art and Christianity.


Weight 91.9 g
Dimensions L 11 x W 5.5 cm

Pottery and Porcelain



Christian Ideology

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