North African Roman Redware Oil Lamp


A Roman terracotta oil lamp from North Africa featuring a long, canal nozzle with a rounded body. The discus is decorated with a single male figure, holding in his hands a bunch of grapes. Two filling holes have been placed to either side of the figure. The shoulders, acting as a decorative border for the scene, feature a geometric pattern. There is a lug handle to the rear of the lamp for holding. The base features a raised ring connected to the handle, forming a design that is sometimes called a ‘patera’.

Date: Circa 5th - 6th century AD
Provenance: From the collection of Arno Jumpertz, Leverkusen, Germany, 1924-1984. Much of the collection was exhibited at Neus museum, 1985.
Condition: Good. Repair to the nozzle and discus, and chip to the lug handle.


The scene depicted here of a male figure holding a bunch of grapes could refer to the verse in the Old Testament, Book of Numbers, in which Moses sends 12 spies to Canaan. God had decreed that the Israelites would have a place to call their own, the Promised Land, which was believed to be Canaan. Moses, sending spies from each of the twelve tribes, wished to know the lay of the land, the strength of its people. Going forth, they spied for forty days. Upon returning they gave Moses their report. Ten of the twelve spies decreed that the Israelites could not take possession of the land, that the people were too strong and the cities too fortified. Only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, disagreed and urged the people to fight for the Promised Land. They were not listened to and the people despaired, not trusting in their God. Those that had not believed were struck down with plague and the Israelites were forced to wander the wilderness for 40 years in penance.

The man depicted could thus be Joshua, who was to eventually lead the Israelites to the promised land. He is shown holding a large cluster of grapes, to testify to the goodness and fertility of the land he spied upon.

Christian motifs and scenes from the Old Testament were exceedingly popular on lamps from the 4th-5th centuries. This particular lamp can be classified as an Atlante type X; Hayes type II A oil lamp, identified by its place of origin (North Africa, most likely Tunisia) and the vibrant colouring of the clay.

Weight 135.2 g
Dimensions L 12.6 x H 5.7 cm
Christian Ideology


Pottery and Porcelain