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. Pottery oil lamps could be made in three different ways: handmade, wheel made, or by mould. The use of the mould (which was made from clay or plaster) quickly became popular, because one mould could produce several lamps.
Scenes such as this, or with other victims of prey, were used regularly on lamps across the Empire. They were especially popular during the mid 1st – 2nd century AD. The scene was not only limited to discus decoration but extended to terra sigillata vessels and large-scale mosaics.
To discover more about oil lamps in Antiquity, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.