Oil lamps were used throughout antiquity to produce light with an oil-based fuel source. The skills of the early inhabitants were used to craft the Holy Land’s oil lamps, which burned with the oil of the area’s abundant olive trees. The lamps’ symbols, designs, shape, and decorations all serve as indicators of the time and place of production, as well as of the culture and standard of living enjoyed by the lamps’ users. Oil lamps from the Holy Land differed in their decoration from the traditional motifs of other civilisations. Initially, designs took the form of stylised birds, grains, trees, plants, and flowers. Subsequently, the decoration became more geometric, being often linear with raised dots.
The menorah has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times, and is described in the Bible as the seven-lamp (six branches) ancient Hebrew lamp stand, made of pure gold. It was used in the portable sanctuary, which was set up by Moses in the wilderness, and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. Fresh olive oil of the purest quality was burned daily to light its lamps. The triumphal arch of Titus set up in Rome in c.81 AD by Domitian commemorated his brother’s success in the Jewish War (70-71 AD). There is a key central relief panel which shows the victorious procession of the Romans with Jewish booty, including the sacred Menorah from the Temple of Soloman in Jersualem. This highlights the Menorah’s importance as a symbol of a faith group, and draws light on the conflicts between the Jewish people and the Roman State.