A Roman terracotta oil lamp featuring a short canal nozzle with elaborate scrolled volutes, a concave discus and one filling hole. The discus of the lamp is decorated with a marine scene, depicting a fish, possibly a bream or a snapper, swimming left and a squid swimming right. Three concentric rings frame the scene. This lamp is of Loeschcke type I, which is characterised by a circular body and fairly wide nozzle with obtuse-angle tip, flanked by two volutes.
Created in the Early Augustan period, the type lasted until the end of the Flavian period. Loeschcke type I, first developed in Italy, became extremely popular and was diffused to all parts of the Roman Empire through either export or local imitation. Artificial light was common throughout the Roman Empire, and pottery oil lamps offered an alternative to candle light. Candles, made from beeswax or tallow, were cheaper to buy but do not survive as well. Pottery lamps functioned by adding oil through the central hole, and burning a wick placed into the nozzle area. Wicks were commonly made from pieces of linen, but could also be made from flax or papyrus.
Reference: Walters, H. B., 1914, Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Lamps in the British Museum, p. 91, no. 599.
For the shape: Christie’s sale 9482, lot 110.
Period: 1st – 2nd century AD