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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Antiquities| ▸ |Antiquities by Type| ▸ |Oil Lamps||View Options:  |  |  |   

Ancient Oil Lamps

The major use of the ancient lamp was illumination of homes, shops and public buildings. At Pompeii, around 500 lamps were used on one commercial street to light the shops. At religious festivals and games, an enormous number of lamps might be used and large quantities of lamps were used as votive offerings to the gods in temples. Many lamps are found in tombs where they were intended to light the way of the departed. The ancient lamp is an highly collected artifact. All but the most desirable and very finest ancient lamps are priced under $400 and an attractive historical collection can be acquired for a reasonable amount of money.


Late Roman - Byzantine, Holyland (Syro-Palestinian), Bi-Lanceolate Pottery Oil Lamp, c. 300 - 500 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
Adler notes these lamps are found throughout the northern part of Israel, especially in Beit Shean and Hamat Gader, and date to the fourth and fifth centuries. Hamat Gader was already a well known health and recreation site in Roman times, mentioned in Strabo, Origen and Eunapius, as well as the Rabbinic literature. Construction of the bath complex began in the 2nd century by the 10th Roman Legion, which was garrisoned in nearby Gadara (modern Umm Qais). The ancient Hebrew name means hot springs of (the ancient city of) Gadara. The Arabic name El-Hamma preserves this, and the name of the tel located near the site, Tel Bani, is a corruption of the Latin word meaning "baths." The empress Aelia Eudocia composed a poem praising the qualities of the multiple springs which was inscribed so that visitors could see it as they went into the pool. The photo to the right is of the ancient Roman baths. Click the photo to see a larger image.Hammat Gader Baths

AL93918. Bi-lanceolate pottery oil lamp; Adler Collection (website) type N2; 8.0 cm (3 1/8") long, near Choice, complete and intact, light encrustation, wear, c. 300 - 500 A.D.; pink-buff clay, mold made with incised decoration, the body includes the entire lamp from tip of nozzle to tip of "tongue" handle, wide rim surrounds a large fill hole, incised herring-bone geometric wreath pattern on narrow convex shoulders, two incised lengthwise lines on the handle, incised lines between fill hold rim and nozzle; bi-lanceolate oil lamp similar condition to the lamp in the photo; $40.00 (€35.20)
 


Late Roman, Holyland (Syro-Palestinian), Jewish "Candlestick" Oil Lamp, c. 350 - 500 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
The pattern on the nozzle, branches issuing from a central ridge, is often called a "candlestick," meaning it is a representation of the menorah. A more menorah-like variation has the "candlestick" on a tripod base. Some authorities believe it is a palm branch and it is sometimes indecisively called a a palm-menorah. The strongest evidence that the palm-menorah actually is a menorah is a variation of this lamp with a cross on the nozzle. This suggests that Jews and Christians used the same type of lamp, differentiated only by their respective religious symbol, a phenomenon also encountered on North African Red-Slip Lamps. The type is found across Israel but most commonly in Jerusalem and within 50 kilometers of Jerusalem.
AL21763. Jewish Small "Candlestick" Oil Lamp; cf. Schloessinger 477, Menzel 657, Adler 905, Bailey BMC Q2300; 8.0 cm (3 1/8") long, Choice, complete and intact, some bumps, light deposits, small earlier variety, c. 350 - 500 A.D.; pink-buff light clay, traces of a cream slip, tear drop shape from above, no handle, double rim around filling hole, decorative radiating pattern around shoulder continues on the nozzle with six branches from a central ridge (palm-menorah), ring base; $270.00 (€237.60)
 


Late Roman, Holyland (Syro-Palestinian), Jewish "Candlestick" Oil Lamp, c. 350 - 500 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
The pattern on the nozzle, branches issuing from a central ridge, is often called a "candlestick," meaning it is a representation of the menorah. A more menorah-like variation has the "candlestick" on a tripod base. Some authorities believe it is a palm branch and it is sometimes indecisively called a a palm-menorah. The strongest evidence that the palm-menorah actually is a menorah is a variation of this lamp with a cross on the nozzle. This suggests that Jews and Christians used the same type of lamp, differentiated only by their respective religious symbol, a phenomenon also encountered on North African Red-Slip Lamps. The type is found across Israel but most commonly in Jerusalem and within 50 kilometers of Jerusalem.
AL21819. Jewish Small "Candlestick" Oil Lamp; cf. Schloessinger 477, Menzel 657, Adler 905, Bailey BMC Q2300; 8.0 cm (3 1/8") long, Choice, complete and intact, much of slip lost, light bumps, small earlier variety, c. 350 - 500 A.D.; pink-buff light clay, traces of cream slip, tear drop shape from above, no handle, double rim around filling hole, decorative radiating pattern around shoulder continues on the nozzle with six branches from a central ridge (palm-menorah), ring base; $270.00 (€237.60)
 


Judaean Kingdom - Roman Judaea, Herodian Oil Lamp, c. 25 B.C. - 100 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
This simple but elegant lamp design was developed during the reign of Herod, and thus they are called Herodian Lamps today. The type is found throughout all of Israel, especially in Jewish towns and areas, such as Jerusalem and Judea. Some have been found in Jordan. It is believed to be a type used mainly by Jews. They remained in common use until the end of the first century. The latest examples, from the middle of the second century, have been found in Judean Desert caves. Attempts have been made to more precisely date some of these lamps based on variations, however, excavations indicate the variations occur simultaneously.
AL93890. Herodian oil lamp; cf. Adler 3.1.HER.3, 96; Hays ROM 53; Schloessinger 331 - 332; 9.3 cm (3 5/8") long, 5.7 cm (2 1/4") wide, Choice, complete and intact, slightest chipping in nozzle, minor encrustations, c. 25 B.C. - 100 A.D.; finely made, pink-orange clay, buff-cream slip, rounded wheel made body with flat top, sharp carination to vertical sides, nozzle with a splayed shape with nearly straight sides hand-formed separately and attached, joint between the nozzle and body smoothed with a knife, rim around filling hole; $270.00 (€237.60)
 


Judaean Kingdom - Roman Judaea, Herodian Oil Lamp, c. 25 B.C. - 100 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
This simple but elegant lamp design was developed during the reign of Herod, and thus they are called Herodian Lamps today. The type is found throughout all of Israel, especially in Jewish towns and areas, such as Jerusalem and Judea. Some have been found in Jordan. It is believed to be a type used mainly by Jews. They remained in common use until the end of the first century. The latest examples, from the middle of the second century, have been found in Judean Desert caves. Attempts have been made to more precisely date some of these lamps based on variations, however, excavations indicate the variations occur simultaneously.
BK21914. Herodian oil lamp; cf. Adler 3.1.HER.3, 96; Hays ROM 54; Schloessinger 332; 8.8 cm (3 1/2") long, 6.1 cm (2 3/8") wide, Choice, complete and intact, light bumps, light encrustations, c. 25 B.C. - 100 A.D.; rounded wheel made body, sloping shoulder with rounded carination to vertical sides, nozzle with a splayed shape hand-formed separately and attached, joint between the nozzle and body smoothed with a knife, rim outside narrow discus ledge around filling hole, incised line across nozzle; $250.00 (€220.00)
 


Judaean Kingdom - Roman Judaea, Herodian Oil Lamp, c. 25 B.C. - 100 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
This simple but elegant lamp design was developed during the reign of Herod, and thus they are called Herodian Lamps today. The type is found throughout all of Israel, especially in Jewish towns and areas, such as Jerusalem and Judea. Some have been found in Jordan. It is believed to be a type used mainly by Jews. They remained in common use until the end of the first century. The latest examples, from the middle of the second century, have been found in Judean Desert caves. Attempts have been made to more precisely date some of these lamps based on variations, however, excavations indicate the variations occur simultaneously.
AL21916. Herodian oil lamp; cf. Adler 3.1.HER.3, 96; Hays ROM 54; Schloessinger 332; 8.7 cm (3 7/16") long, 6.2 cm (2 7/16) wide, Choice, complete and intact, a few bumps and scratches, light deposits, c. 25 B.C. - 100 A.D.; pink clay, cream-buff slip, rounded wheel made body, sloping shoulder with rounded carination to vertical sides, nozzle with a splayed shape hand-formed separately and attached, joint between the nozzle and body smoothed with a knife, rim outside narrow discus ledge around filling hole, incised line across nozzle; $250.00 (€220.00)
 


Ancient Israel, Pinched-Rim Oil Lamp, Late Bronze I - Late Bronze IIA, 1550 - 1300 B.C.

Click for a larger photo
The similar referenced lamp, Sussman 665, was found at Gezer, Israel, an archaeological site in the foothills of the Judaean Mountains at the border of the Shfela region roughly midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

This type of lamp has many nicknames including: pinched-rim, cocked hat, saucer, and shell type. With few exceptions, they can be roughly dated by the height of the base and the prominence of the rim opposite the nozzle. Both the height of the base and the width of the rim grew over time. On the earliest lamps the edge of the bowl is vertical with no outward folded rim. Most of the earliest lamps have a round bottom, with no distinct base. The last lamps of Southern Israel have a high stepped base comprised of a disk base on a distinct heel. On some of the latest Iron Age lamps the rim becomes so wide and the base so thick that the oil receptical appears somewhat impractically small. The simple pinched-rim form had a revival in the Hellenistic period, at which time the lamps were smaller and of a finer clay.
AH21270. Pinched-rim oil lamp; Sussman p. 54, figure 6.33; 665 (Gezer), Petrie Gerar 91p; 6.3 cm (2 1/2") high, 12.1 cm (4 3/4") long, 13.8 cm (5 3/8") wide, Choice, cracking, minor reconstruction, burn mark, Late Bronze I - Late Bronze IIA, 1550 - 1300 B.C.; wheel-made with wheel marks on underside (perhaps intended to be decorative), buff-brown clay with a cream slip, thin-walled shallow bowl, lip slightly everted, v-shaped spout, round thick bottom made by adding clay to the underside of the turned bowl; ex Edgar L. Owen; $200.00 (€176.00)
 


Late Roman, Holyland (Syro-Palestinian), Jewish "Candlestick" Oil Lamp, c. 350 - 500 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
The pattern on the nozzle, branches issuing from a central ridge, is often called a "candlestick," meaning it is a representation of the menorah. A more menorah-like variation has the "candlestick" on a tripod base. Some authorities believe it is a palm branch and it is sometimes indecisively called a a palm-menorah. The strongest evidence that the palm-menorah actually is a menorah is a variation of this lamp with a cross on the nozzle. This suggests that Jews and Christians used the same type of lamp, differentiated only by their respective religious symbol, a phenomenon also encountered on North African Red-Slip Lamps. The type is found across Israel but most commonly in Jerusalem and within 50 kilometers of Jerusalem.
AL21776. Jewish Small "Candlestick" Oil Lamp; cf. Schloessinger 477, Menzel 657, Adler 905, Bailey BMC Q2300; 8.2 cm (3 1/4") long, near Choice, intact, bumps, encrustations, chip in filling hole rim, chip rear right shoulder (all visible in photos), small earlier variety, c. 350 - 500 A.D.; pink-buff light clay, tear drop shape from above, no handle, double rim around filling hole, decorative radiating pattern around shoulder continues on the nozzle with six branches from a central ridge (palm-menorah), ring base; $200.00 (€176.00)
 


Ancient Israel, Pinched-Rim Oil Lamp, Late Bronze IIB - Iron Age I, c. 1300 - 1000 B.C.

Click for a larger photo
This type of lamp has many nicknames including: pinched-rim, cocked hat, saucer, and shell type. With few exceptions, they can be roughly dated by the height of the base and the prominence of the rim opposite the nozzle. Both the height of the base and the width of the rim grew over time. On the earliest lamps the edge of the bowl is vertical with no outward folded rim. Most of the earliest lamps have a round bottom, with no distinct base. The last lamps of Southern Israel have a high stepped base comprised of a disk base on a distinct heel. On some of the latest Iron Age lamps the rim becomes so wide and the base so thick that the oil receptical appears somewhat impractically small. The simple pinched-rim form had a revival in the Hellenistic period, at which time the lamps were smaller and of a finer clay.
AH21344. Pinched-rim terracotta lamp; cf. Sussman p. 45, figure 5.28; Petrie Gerar 91l; 11.8 cm (4 5/8") wide, 11.5 cm (4 1/2") long, 5.2 cm (2") high, Choice, wear and tiny chips at the nozzle, shallow surface crack in reservoir (flaws visible in the photo), Late Bronze IIB - Iron Age I, c. 1300 - 1000 B.C.; buff pottery wheel-made lamp, sides pushed-in (pinched) to create elongated wick channel, wide rounded turned-out rim, thick round bottom; ex Edgar L. Owen; $180.00 (€158.40)
 


Late Roman - Byzantine, Holyland (Syro-Palestinian), "Elongated" Pottery Oil Lamp, c. 400 - 620 A.D.

Click for a larger photo
This type is identified by Adler as a Transjordan elongated lamp. Adler writes that the shoulders are narrow and ornamented with a wide variety of motifs including linear bands, geometric, and floral designs; the handle is tongue shaped projecting horizontally and decorated with three or more bands; the nozzle is decorated with geometric or floral designs or rarely a cross. The type is found in the northern part of Transjordan, and in Israel, mainly in northern Israel and the Beit Shean area. They date to the fifth and sixth century but possibly also the beginning of the seventh century. In the Hellenistic and Roman eras Beit Shean was the Decapolis city Scythopolis. Click the photo on the right of the Roman theater at Beit Shean, to learn more about the city. Scythopolis

AL93905. Transjordan elongated lamp; Adler type JOR.1, cf. 967 ff. (none with cross); 8.9 cm (3 1/2") long, Choice, complete and intact, small bumps, light deposits, traces of a white slip, c. 400 - 600/620 A.D.; pink clay, mold made, elongated body, tongue shaped handle rising diagonally ornamented with three vertical bands, double rim around large filling hole, convex shoulders ornamented with geometric pattern of dots and lines, cross on nozzle; rare with cross; $180.00 (€158.40)
 




  



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REFERENCES|

Adler, N. Oil Lamps of the Holy Land from the Adler Collection. (Israel, 2004).
Alicu, D & E. Nemes. Roman Lamps from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa. BAR 18. (Oxford, 1977).
Amiran, R. Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land From its Beginning in the Neolithic Period to the End of the Iron Age. (New Brunswick, 1970).
Bailey, D. A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum. (British Museum, 1975-96).
Bailey, D. Excavations at Sidi Khrebish Benghazi (Berenice). Vol. III, Part 2: The Lamps. (Tripoli, 1985).
Bailey, D. Greek and Roman Pottery Lamps. (Portsmouth, 1963).
Baur, P. The lamps, The excavations at Dura-Europos conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters. Final report 4, pt. 3. (New Haven, 1947).
Broneer, O. Corinth, Vol. IV, Part II: Terracotta Lamps. (Princeton, 1930).
Broneer, O. Isthmai, Vol. III: Terracotta Lamps. (Princeton, 1977).
Djuric, S. The Anawati Collection, Ancient Lamps From the Mediterranean. (Toronto, 1995).
Ennabli, A. Lampes chrétiennes de Tunisie (Musée du Bardo et de Carthage). (Paris, 1976).
Frecer, R. Gerulata: The Lamps, A Survey of Roman Lamps in Pannonia. (Prague, 2014).
Goethert, K. Römische Lampen und Leuchter. Auswahlkatalog des Rheinischen Landesmuseums Trier (Schriftenreihe des Rhein. Ldesmus. Trier, 14). (Trier, 1997).
Hayes, J. Ancient Lamps in the Royal Ontario Museum - I: Greek and Roman Clay Lamps. (Toronto, 1980).
Howland, R. The Athenian Agora IV: Greek Lamps and their Survivals, American School at Athens, 1958.
Israeli, Y. & U. Avida. Oil-Lamps from Eretz Israel - the Louis and Carmen Warschaw collection at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Jerusalem, 1988)
Kehrberg, I. "Selected lamps and pottery from the Hippodrome at Jerash Syria" in Archéologie, Art et histoire, 1989.
Menzel, H. Antike Lampen im Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum zu Mainz. (Mainz, 1954).
Osborne, A. Lychnos et Lucema. Catalogue raisonné d'une collection de lampes en terre cuite trouvées en Egypte. (Alexandria, 1924).
Petrie, W. Ehnasya and Supplement. (London, 1904 - 1905).
Petrie, W. Gerar. (Vienna, 1928).
Perlzweig, J. The Athenian Agora VII: Lamps of the Roman Period, First to Seventh Century After Christ. (Princeton, 1961).
Rosenthal, R. & R. Sivan. Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection. Qedem 8. (Jerusalem, 1978).
Schäfer, S. & L. Marczoch. Lampen der Antikensammlung. (Frankfurt am Main, 1990).
Shier, L. Terracotta Lamps From Karanis, Egypt, Excavations of the University of Michigan. (Ann Arbor, 1978).
Slane, K. Corinth, Vol. XVIII, Part II: The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, The Roman Pottery and Lamps. (Princeton, 1990).
Sussman, V. Greek and Hellenistic Wheel- and Mould-Made Closed Oil Lamps in the Holy Land, Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. BAR 2015. (Jerusalem, 2009).
Sussman, V. Oil-Lamps in the Holy Land: Saucer Lamps: From the Beginning to the Hellenistic Period: Collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority. BAR 1598. (Jerusalem, 2007).
Sussman, V. Ornamented Jewish Oil-Lamps From the Destruction of the Second Temple Through the Bar-Kokhba Revolt. (Jerusalem, 1972).
Sussman, V. Roman Period Oil Lamps in the Holy Land: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. BAR 2447. (Oxford, 2012).
Szentléleky, T. Ancient Lamps. (Amsterdam, 1969).
Tushingham, D. Excavations in Jerusalem, 1961-67, Vol. I. (Toronto, 1985).
Walters, H. Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Lamps in the British Museum. (British Museum, 1914).

See Lamp in NumisWiki for additional references.

Catalog current as of Friday, December 13, 2019.
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Oil Lamps