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. Erotic scenes were an exceedingly popular depiction on oil lamps, making up the largest repertoire. Scenes such as this, with the female reclining were common, along with a variety of other heterosexual scenes. Most scenes are heterosexual in nature, but some lamps also depict homosexual interaction and scenarios between dwarf entertainers and women.
The maker’s mark on this lamp is an abbreviated form of the maker/workshop (L.)Mun(atius)Trept(us). References to this workshop show an Italic base, with exports across Western Europe and North Africa. Dates for the workshop activity are given as circa AD 90-140, which correlates also to the dating provided by the lamp’s form.
To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.