Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Gladiators


A fine Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a large decorated discus and angular volute nozzle. The scene upon the discus depicts two gladiators in combat, the scene elegantly composed to fill the whole of the circular space. The gladiator to the left is depicted wearing a loincloth and holding a three-pronged trident in one hand  and a net in the other. His attire and weaponry mark him as a ‘Retiarius’, a type of gladiator styled as a fisherman. His opponent on the right is more heavily armoured, carrying a large, rectangular shield and wearing a helmet. Most likely this figure is a ‘Secutor’, who ‘Retiarii’ were often pitted against. In contrast to the lightly garbed fishermen, the ‘Secutor’ was heavily armoured. There is a linear ridge marking the ground the gladiators fight on and underneath is a large ‘tabula ansata’ (a tablet with handles). Within are two rows of text which are unclear but would usually be the name of each fighter. The discus is enclosed by three concentric circles, leaving a plain and narrow shoulder. The filling hole can be found to the centre of the discuss. This lamp belongs to the Loeschcke type Ic, which is characterised by its lack of a handle, circular body, and wide angular nozzle flanked by two volutes. The reverse is undecorated and a double incised ring is used for the base.

Date: Circa 1st Century AD
Condition: Very fine condition. Some repairs to the discus, to the tabula ansata. Comes with a custom-made stand.

In stock

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.

Gladiator scenes were an immensely popular depiction for oil lamps and they give insight into how gladiator sport appealed to everyday Romans. Gladiators, victorious in fights, gained celebrity-like status. Lamps honouring successful victors bear their name, the particular gladiator displayed in his appropriate attire. Plastic lamps were also made in specific shapes associated with gladiatorial equipment, for example in the shape of helmet.

To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.

Weight 79.9 g
Dimensions L 11.5 x W 8.3 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For Similar: The J. Paul Getty Museum, item 83.AQ.377.29

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