Across the Roman Empire, 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.
This lamp is marked to the underside with ‘C. OPPIUS. RES’, standing for the maker, ‘C. Oppius Restitutus’. He would have been a Roman potter or owner of a pottery workshop, probably during the late Flavian to the early Antonine period (listed in the Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum; D.M. Bailey). He was the most prolific central Italian lamp maker of this period, and lamps from his workshop have been found across Gallia Narbonensis, Cyprus, Africa, and Italia (in particular: Rome, Sicily, and Sardinia).
The representation of the boar and the club refers to Hercules’ Twelve Labours. As his Fourth Labour, Hercules was sent to Psophis, in western Arcadia, to defeat and capture the terrible Erymanthian boar.
For more information about the meanings of animals in Roman art, see our relevant blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art.