Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Hercules Fighting the Hydra


A fine Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a large decorated discus and angular volute nozzle. The scene upon the discus depicts a single figure, with well defined muscles, his arms outsretched as he battles an undulating snake. The scene is elegantly composed to fill the whole of the circular space available. The male figure is distinguishable as Hercules, from the lion-skin cloak he wears, the knotted paws visibly tied around his torso. The hero’s right arm is outstretched away from his body, his hand clenched around the head of a snake. This serpentine figure represents the Lernaean Hydra; whom Hercules was required to kill as part of his Twelve Labours. The decorative discus is surround by concentric circles, with an unusual, heart-shaped channel intersecting them, leading from the discus to the volute nozzle. The reverse features a slightly raised ring base, surrounding a marker’s mark that reads FAVSTI.

Date: Circa 1st Century AD
Provenance: Ex major S.M., London, Collection 1970-2010.
Condition: Very fine condition. Some repairs to the discus and general wear due to age.


The scene depicted here portrays the mythological contest between Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra; the hero’s second labour. The account is detailed in Hesiod’s ‘theogany’ and describes the Hydra as a many-headed serpent, with poisonous breath and blood. Hercules, as part of his Twelve Labours, is tasked by King Eurystheus to kill the serpentine monster. According to legend, Heracles kills the creature with the aid of his nephew, Iolaus, burning the severed stumps so that a new head did not grow from the wounds. Eventually the monster is killed and Hercules completes his second labour.

The maker’s mark to the reverse is from a well-known lamp workshop, with subsidiaries in  Italy, Egypt, Petra, and in Cyprus. The lamp can be classified as Loeschcke type IA, with a broad channel, and were exceedingly popular during the Augustan-Tiberian period.

Weight 72.1 g
Dimensions L 10.7 x W 7.7 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Roman Mythology

Reference: For similar discus iconography: The J. Paul Getty Museum, item 83.AQ.377.232 and for a similar maker’s mark: The Metropolitan Museum, New York, item 74.51.2163

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