The Roman oil lamp, a product almost unparalleled in its distribution throughout the empire, developed towards the end of the Hellenistic period and was to keep its general shape longer than any other item of pottery throughout the Mediterranean. The vast trade networks set up with the expansion of the Roman empire allowed for this item to be spread across Europe, Eastern Asia and Northern Africa. Oil lamps were used by the Romans for mainly three reasons; to light private and public spaces, to give as offerings in temples to the gods and to be placed within a grave or funerary context. As well as linear, geometric and circular designs, favourite subjects for decoration of oil lamps included gods and mythological scenes, scenes from everyday life, gladiatorial depictions, drawings relating to entertainment and theatre, and various animals, fish and birds.
The Alpha (A) initial is found on other lamps of a similar design, with the same angular volute nozzle, however there is no known place of manufacture. Based on the maker’s mark, this particular lamp can be dated to the early 1st century, from Augustus to Tiberius.
To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.