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), 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.
The myth of Diana and Actaeon can be found in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis’, which was written at turn of the 1st century AD. According to the myth, Actaeon, the grandson of the famous hero Cadmus, came across the nude goddess as she was bathing. Her nymphs tried in vain to conceal the goddess’s nudity but it was too late. In anger at being spied upon, Diana sprays water from the spring she is near, changing Actaeon into a stag. He is hunted by his own hounds and ruthlessly killed.
To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.