A highly ornate and elaborate Roman Oil lamp featuring a heart-shaped nozzle, wide decorated shoulders and a deep discus. The discus is decorated in relief with the figure of Serapis, on a throne, holding a long spear. The three- headed dog, Cerberus, sits beside him. Three concentric circles surround the discus scene. A large acanthus leaf handle has been placed to the rear. A maker’s mark decorates the flat bottom.
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. Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the underworld, was also placed at his feet. The long spear that he can be seen holding also represents his lordship and dominion over the land of the dead.
The marker’s mark on the reverse of this lamp is similar in style to that of an established North African workshop, potentially a variant of the mark. Three sheaves of grain ascending from a horizontal line. Considering the iconography, a strong North African presence would be consistent.
Date: Circa 2nd – 3rd century AD
Provenance: Private Israel collection, SM. Israeli export license for the collection.