Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Gladiatorial Scene


A Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a grooved ring handle and heart shaped nozzle. A large central discus is finely decorated with a combat scene involving a leaping lion and gladiator. The lion is depicted with his jaws clenched around the gladiator’s arm, locked in combat. The gladiator, probably a Bestiarii, has been cruelly chained to a pole, which he grasps in vain. The discus is separated from the shoulders by two incised concentric circles. Incised, outward-slanted rays decorate the shoulders. The base is marked with one large circular groove followed by two smaller concentric circles.

Date: Circa 2nd century AD.
Condition: Fine Condition, small underlining crack on the shaft. Some errosion to the nozzle and handle.


This scene clearly makes reference to the gladiator fights with wild animals. Venatores were dedicated fighters who specialised in wild hunts. In contrast to the Bestiarii, who were most often convicted criminals who fought wild animals. Venatores would have been fully armoured and would wield a sword and shield. Bestiarii were less fortunate and were sent to battle wild animals with no weapons and no armour. They would fight all manner of wild beasts, from lions to ostriches and wild boars. The man depicted here appears chained to the pole situated at the base of the discus, identifying him as a Bestiarri rather than a Venator.

This type of lamp, classified as Bussière form D X 2, variant b (a varient of Loeschcke type VIII) was popular during the later part of the 2nd century. Loeschcke type lamps were characterised by their circular bodies and rounded nozzles. This specific lamp is classified as a Bussière form from the lychnologist’s North African catalogue of lamps. Thus we could insinuate that this particular lamp was North African in origin. Further evidence of this can also be attested by the slanted ray design to the shoulders, a feature predominantly of North African lamps.

Weight 114.3 g
Dimensions L 12.1 x W 9.2 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For similar iconography, please see: The J. Paul Getty Museum, California, item 81.AQ.38.3

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