Roman Terracotta Oil Lamp with Isis & Serapis


An ancient Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a deep-set body with a single pierced handle. The lamp sits upon a flat base. The small concave discus is adorned with two figures in profile. To the front is a bearded male, identified as Serapis by the modus on his head. Behind him is a female figure, wearing a headdress and clearly recognisable as Isis. Her headdress features a solar sun disk framed by two cow’s horns on either side. The discus is surrounded by two concentric circles. The shoulder’s of the lamp are large and flat and feature a highly decorative motif. A vine tendril with large leaves and clearly defined grape clusters undulate across the surface. The vine tendrils end in two opposing scrolls, sitting just above the small, heart-shaped nozzle. There is a small ring handle to the rear of the lamp, decorated with two grooves. The reverse features a flat base, marked by three concentric circles. At its centre is a maker’s mark of three palm fronds on a linear base. The mark bears resemblance to other lamps, with a North African origin. Taking into consideration the subject matter, this would fit well with our lamp also.

Date: Circa 2nd century AD
Provenance: Madame Suzanne Gozlan then by descent. Madame Suzanne Gozlan (1921-2022), Doctor of History and Archaeology, professor at the Ecole Normale d'Instituteurs de Chartres and lecturer at the University of Paris, Sorbonne.
Condition: Excellent condition. Well defined and clear subject matter.


The cult of Serapis developed largely in the 3rd century BC, under the Hellenistic ruler Ptolemy I Soter. The establishment of a new cult was essentially political policy to try and unite both the Greek and Egyptian population. The name Serapis is a culmination of Osiris-Apis, formed from the Coptic rendering. Alexander the Great, wishing to establish a unifying cult figure needed a new deity that would resonate with both his Egyptian and Greek subjects. Having favoured Amun in iconography, Alexander had wished to drive his cult however Amun was not favoured in Lower Egypt, which had a stronger Greek presence. Instead, an anthropomorphic figure was created, hailed as a manifestation of the popular Apis bull, a cult with an extreme following in Lower Egypt. Thus the cult of Serapis was first formed. Linked to Osiris, the Ancient Greeks identified Serapis with Hades, god of the dead. Iconographically they portrayed him with the modus, a grain-measure that represented the land of the dead. His worship continued well into the Roman period, absorbed into the religious fabric of society.

Isis was already an established figure in the Egyptian pantheon. A mother figure, wife of Osiris, she became a consort to Serapis and the pair were introduced to Roman society from the 2nd century BC, at the height of Hellenistic power. The pairing appealed to the Greco-Roman demographic in Egypt and naturally progressed to the mainland. The mysticism of Isis and Serapis appealed to the demographic and their own mystery rites were initiated.

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

Weight 67.3 g
Dimensions L 9.9 x W 7 x H 3.8 cm

Egyptian Mythology

Pottery and Porcelain


Roman Mythology

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