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 or wrestlers, popular myths, and animals. In this case, the lamp’s body is decorated with the depiction of an animated combat between two wrestlers or pugilists, known as pankratiasts in ancient Greek. The ancient sport of Pankration was popular not only in Ancient Greece but also in Rome, often showcased at arenas and at the Colosseum.
Roman Oil Lamp with Wrestlers
An Ancient Roman oil lamp moulded in light terracotta, featuring a short canal nozzle, a single applied handle and a slightly concave discus with one filling hole. The discus is decorated with a combat between two wrestlers, both portrayed nude with the hair arranged in the traditional top knot. The lamp’s body and shoulders are enriched by a geometric pattern, creating the illusion of a sun disk. The reverse displays concentric circles, possibly a symbol of the maker of the lamp. The shape of the lamp might be classified as a variant of Loeschcke type I or as a Deneauve type X A.
Provenance: Ex. S.M Collection, London 1948-2000.
Condition: Extremely fine, with signs of ageing to the surface.