During the Roman Empire, 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. During the fourth and fifth century AD, North Africa started to produce oil lamps from red slip, much like this fine example, with large discus areas which allowed for numerous designs. The catalogue type Hayes II is split into two categories, this oil lamp falls under Hayes II A which holds characteristics from central Tunisia, one being the neatly drawn motives around the shoulder.
The lion was an animal frequently depicted on oil lamps. Within later antiquity as Christianity became the favoured religion the depiction of a lion referred specifically to St Mark, who was known as the ‘the Lionhearted’.