The Ancient Roman period is one of my favorite interests, so anything to do with these times has a special place for me . I have blogged about Roman pottery in archaeology, so I will now talk about the Roman oil lamp which is quite a fascinating subject. Although the pottery lamps were mostly the same shape there were also a variety of shapes made from different materials.
ROMAN OIL LAMP
Oil lamps were one of the most common household items of ancient times. Lamps made of stone or shell were used as early as the Stone Age. Ceramic lamps were used all over the Mediterranean area from 2000 B.C through the middle ages. They were used to burn oil , usually a plant oil such as olive oil that was abundant. Archaeologists find fewer lamps in areas like Britain, because oil was scarce and expensive there
Roman oil lamp depicting a chariot
Roman Oil lamp depicting Gladiators fighting. ” One of my favorites ”
The lamps used a wick made from fibers such as linin or papyrus, that was inserted into the body of the lamp. The end of the wick rested in the nozzle. The oil was poured into the lamp through the filling hole on top of its body. The wick was lit and a small flame was emitted from the tip of the wick resting in the nozzle. The lamp could be set on any flat surface but was also portable and could be carried in a persons hand. They could also rest on a special stand.
Aside from their basic functional use for indoor and outdoor illumination, lamps also served other purposes. They were buried in tombs and graves along with pottery, jewelry and other symbolic gifts. They could also be dedicated as votive offerings to the gods and goddesses in temples and sanctuaries.
Lamps were made using a two-part mold. Wet clay was pressed into each half of the mold and then the two halves were joined together. They were allowed to dry slightly, and then the molds were removed and the oil-hole and wick-hole were pierced by hand. Finally the lamp was fired in a kiln for up to two days.The lamps could be decorated with almost any scene, from divinities to animals to abstract decoration.
On the lamps base was usually the ” makers mark ” which was a symbol or name indicating the specific workshop that created the lamp. This can be very useful for archaeologists ,because it can sometimes tell us where and when the lamp was made.
Roman oil lamps with makers mark on the base.
A Horse-head Roman metal oil lamp probably used by the Rich.
Roman Oil lamp. Most likely used by the poor.
Most Plebs ( poor people) lived in apartments such as these. some were behind or above shops. All the family lived together. Their grandparents ,parents and children. These apartments were noisy and dirty from the rooms being filled with smoke coming from the kitchen while cooking. You can imagine what little light there was in these homes.