Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Geometric Decoration


A Roman terracotta oil lamp of beautiful simplicity, with one filling hole on the concave discus and one wick hole on the short nozzle. The discus features a raised circle and small decorations to the sides. The series of concentric circles on the reverse may reflect a stylised maker’s mark.

Date: Circa 1st-2nd century AD
Condition: Fine and intact, with some signs of ageing on the surface.


At Rome, 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.

Weight 46.8 g
Dimensions L 9.5 cm


Pottery and Porcelain