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Ancient Oil Lamps

Shop for Ancient Oil Lamps at Forum Ancient Coins

The earliest lamp other than a bowl with a wick is a saucer lamp. This lamp is a pinched rim bowl. It appeared with the introduction of wheel-made pottery. It had four pinched corners, used with four wick holes. The one-pinch corner lamp, or cocked-hat lamp, became the standard for about 2000 years.

The first Greek lamps were the cocked-hat type, made in Athens during the 7th century B.C. The transition to the bridged nozzle lamp occurred in Asia Minor. Athens then produced high-quality lamps from the 6th to the 4th century B.C. These new types were exported throughout the Mediterranean. They were wheel made, with a closed in shoulder and a distinct nozzle. They were glazed with the fine black glaze used in Athens. These lamps were used down to the 3rd century B.C. All areas of the Greek world eventually copied these for local use. During the Hellenistic period, molded lamps were produced; these became the standard throughout the Roman period. The early molded lamps were simple, but by the 2nd century B.C., designs appeared on the shoulders.

The Roman lamp in the 1st century A.D. had reached a high state of quality. Lamps from workshops in Rome became very popular throughout the Empire. They were eventually copied in local workshops. They typically had a short, flat nozzle, and handles at the back. The early workshops all signed the lamps with stamped names or symbols at the base. Designed and ornamented shoulders were used in the Palestinian area, and the frog lamp from Roman Egypt became a standard type. This oval lamp originally had a frog relief image. The design changed later to palms incised at the shoulders. Various other designs were used.

The major use of the ancient lamp was illumination of domestic, commercial, and public buildings. At religious festivals and games, lamps were used on a large scale. Thousands of lamps were used during the secular games in 248 A.D. presented by Philip I. At Pompeii, around 500 lamps were used on a commercial street to light the shops. Lamps were used in large quantities 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. Only the most unusual and desirable lamps are over $400. An attractive historical collection can be acquired for a reasonable amount of money.

NumisWiki Lamp Type Pages

Beit Nattif Lamps

Beit-Shearim Lamps

Bet Shean Lamps

Bi-Lanceolate Oil Lamps

Candlestick Lamps

Early Samaritan Lamps

Erotes Confronted Oil Lamps

Jerash Lamp

Pinched-Rim Oil Lamps

Lamp 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, NJ, 1970).
Atasoy. S. Bronze Lamps in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum: A catalogue. BAR 1436. (Oxford, 2005).
Bagatti, B. "Lucerne fittili de Palestina dei secoli VII- VIII" in Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 40 (1964), pp. 253 - 269.
Bailey, D. A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum. Four volumes. (British Museum, 1975-96).
Bailey, D. Excavations at Sidi Khrebish Benghazi (Berenice). Volume III, Part 2: The Lamps. (Tripoli, 1985).
Bailey, D. Greek and Roman Pottery Lamps. (Portsmouth, 1963).
Barag, D. Hanita, Tomb XV: A Tomb of the Third and Early Forth Century CE. Atiqot 13 (1978).
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).
Bonnet, J. Lampes céramiques signées. Définition critique d'ateliers du Haut Empire. (Paris, 1988).
Bruneau, P. Exploration archéologique de Délos, Les lampes. (Paris, 1965).
Broneer, O. Corinth, Vol. IV, Part II: Terracotta Lamps. (Princeton, NJ, 1930). PDF
Broneer, O. Isthmai, Vol. III: Terracotta Lamps. (Princeton, NJ, 1977).
Bussière, J. & B. Wohl. Ancient Lamps in the J. Paul Getty Museum. (Los Angeles, 2017). Online
Bussiere, J. & J. Rivel. Lampes antiques de Mediterranee: La collection Rivel. BAR 2428. (Oxford, 2012).
Chrzanovski, L. Lumieres Antiques: Les lampes à huile du musée romain de Nyon. (Milan, 2000).
Chrzanovski, L. Lamps from Chersonesos in the State Historical Museum Moscow. (Rome, 1998).
Consentino, R. Catacomba Di Commodilla: Lucerne Ed Altri Materiali Dalle Gallerie 1, 8, 13. (Rome, 1993).
Dejean, H. Lampes Antiques à travers les Ages: Le Corpus. (La Gaude, France, 2012).
Deneauve, J. Lampes de Carthage. (Paris, 1969).*
Djuric, S. The Anawati Collection, Ancient Lamps From the Mediterranean. (Toronto, 1995).
Douglas, D. Ancient Near Eastern Oil Lamps: A Perspective on Ancient Jewish Oil Lamps from the Chalcolithic to Byzantine Period (4500 B.C.E. – 640 C.E.). (Toronto, 2016).
Durand, C. "Les lampes nabatéennes et romaines de Khirbet edh-Dharih (Jordanie). Ier-IVe s. ap. J.-C." in Frangié and Salles (Paris, 2011), pp. 43 - 73.
Eckardt, H. Illuminating Roman Britain. (Montagnac, 2002).*
Ennabli, A. Lampes chrétiennes de Tunisie (Musée du Bardo et de Carthage). (Paris, 1976). Online
Fabbricotti, E. Catalogo delle lucerne di Tolemaide (Cirenaica). BAR 962. (Oxford, 2001).
Frangié, D. & J. Salles (eds.). Lampes antiques du Bilad Es-Sham, Jordanie, Syrie, Liban, Palestine, Actes du colloque international, Pétra-Amman, 6-13 novembre 2005. (Paris, 2011).
Frecer, R. Gerulata: The Lamps, A Survey of Roman Lamps in Pannonia. (Prague, 2014).
Gendelman, P. & A. Dayan. "Byzantine and Early Islamic Lamps and a Lantern from the French Hospital Compound, Yafo (Jaffa)" in Atiqot 100 (2020), pp. 189 - 209. Online
Grandjouan, C. The Athenian Agora, Vol. VI: Terracottas and Plastic Lamps of the Roman Period. (Princeton, 1961). Online
Goethert, K. Römische Lampen und Leuchter. Auswahlkatalog des Rheinischen Landesmuseums Trier. (Trier, 1997).
Gualandi, G. Lucerne fittili delle collezioni del Museo Civico archeologico di Bologna. (Bologna, 1977).
Grawehr, M. "Die Lampen der Grabungen auf ez-Zantur in Petra" in Ez Zantur III, 2, Terra Archaeologica, V. (Mainz, 2006), pp. 271 - 377. English summary PDF
Hadad S. "Oil Lamps from the Third to the Eighth Century C.E. at Scythopolis–Bet Shean" in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 51 (1997), pp. 147 - 188. Available Online
Hadad S. The Oil Lamps from the Hebrew University Excavations at Bet Shean. Qedem 4. (Jerusalem, 2002). Available Online
Hayes, J. Ancient Lamps in the Royal Ontario Museum - I: Greek and Roman Clay Lamps. (Toronto, 1980).
Hellmann, M. Lampes antiques de la bibliothèque Nationale. (Paris, 1987).
Heres, G. "Die römischen Bildlampen der Berliner Antikensammlung" in Schriften zur Geschichte und Kultur der Antike 3. (Berlin, 1972).
Herrmann, J & A. van der Hoek
. Light from the Age of Augustine. (Harvard, 2002).*
Howland, R. The Athenian Agora, Volume IV: Greek Lamps and their Survivals, American School at Athens. (1958). PDF
Huld-Zetsche, I. Die Lampen aus den römischen Töpfereien von Frankfurt am Main-Nied. (Regensburg, Germany, 2014).
Israeli, Y. & U. Avida. Oil-Lamps from Eretz Israel - the Louis and Carmen Warschaw collection at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Jerusalem, 1988).
Kaufman, J & R. Deutsch. Haneroth Halalou: My Collection of Oil Lamps from the Land of Israel. (2012).
Kehrberg, I. "Selected lamps and pottery from the Hippodrome at Jerash Syria" in Archéologie, Art et histoire, 1989, 66-1-4, pp. 85-97. Online
Kelsall, P. Lighting the Ancient World: The development, manufacture, art and uses of the pottery oil lamp. (Staffordshire, 2018).
Kennedy, C. "The Development of the Lamp in Palestine" in Berytus Archaeological Studies 14 (Beirut, 1963), pp. 67-115.
Khairy, N. Nabataean Clay Lamps: An Analytical Study of Art and Myths. BAR 2788. (Oxford, 2016).
Kirsch, A. Antike Lampen im Landesmuseum Mainz. (Mainz, 2002).
Loeschcke, S. Lampen aus Vindonissa. (Zurich, 1919). Online
Lyon-Caen, C. & V. Hoff. Catalogue des Lampes en terre cuite Grecques et Chretiennes. Musée du Louvre. (Paris, 1986).
Magness, J. "Blessing from Jerusalem: Evidence for Early christian Pilgrimage" in Eretz Israel 25 (1996), pp. 37 - 45. Available Online
Menzel, H. Antike Lampen im Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum zu Mainz. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum zu Mainz, Katalog 15. (Mainz, 1954).
Mlasowsky, A. Die antiken Tonlampen im Kestner-Museum Hannover. (Hannover, 1993).
Mlynarczyk, J. Alexandrian and Alexandria-Influenced Mould-Made Lamps of the Hellenistic Period. BAR 677. (Oxford, 1997).
Mlynarczyk, J. Tell Atrib III, 1985-1995: Terracotta Oil Lamps. (Varsovie, 2012).
Mlynarczyk, J. "Terracotta Oil Lamps from Qumran: The Typology" from RB 2013 - T. 120-1, pp. 99-133. PDF
Murray, M. & Ellis, J. A Street in Petra. (London, 1940).
Nagorsky, A. "The Oil Lamps from Bet She’an (Youth Hostel)" in Atiqot 77 (2014), pp. 1 - 21. Available Online
Negev, A. & R. Sivan. "The Pottery of the Nabatean Necropolis, 1977 at Mampsis" in RCRF Acta 17/18 (1977), pp. 108 - 131.
Nitowski, E. "Inscribed and Radiated-Type Byzantine Lamps" in Andrews University Seminary Studies 12. (1974), pp. 18 - 34. Available Online
Nitowski, E. The luchnaria: Inscribed lamps of the Byzantine period. (Berrien Springs, MI, 1986).*
Osborne, A. Lychnos et Lucema. Catalogue raisonné d 'une collection de lampes en terre cuite trouvées en Egypte. (1924).
Ostrasz, A. & Kehrberg-Ostrasz, I. "The Complexity of Lamps: Archaeological Contexts, Material Assemblages and Chronological Typologies of Ancient Lamps" in The Hippodrome of Gerasa: A Provincial Roman Circus. (Oxford, 2020), pp. 358 - 368.
Oziol, Th. & J. Pouilloux. Salamine de Chypre - I: Les Lampes. (Paris, 1969). PDF
Pereora, C. Roman Lamps of Scallabis (Santarem, Portugal). BAR 2627. (Oxford, 2014).
Petrie, W. Ehnasya and Supplement. (London, 1904 - 1905).
Petrie, W. Gerar. British school of archaeology in Egypt, 1928. (Vienna, 1928).
Perlzweig, J. Lamps from the Athenian Agora. Excavations of the Athenian Agora, Picture Book No. 9. (Princeton, 1963).
Perlzweig, J. The Athenian Agora Vol. VII: Lamps of the Roman Period, First to Seventh Century After Christ. (Princeton, 1961). PDF
Robinson, H. The Athenian Agora, Vol. V: Pottery of the Roman Period: Chronology. (Princeton, 1959). Online
Rosenthal, R. & R. Sivan. Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Qedem 8. (Jerusalem, 1978).
Sapouna, P. Die Bildlampen romischer Zeit aus der Idaischen Zeusgrotte auf Kreta. BAR 696. (Oxford, 2000).
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).
Stanislau, L. Light and Life: Ancient Christian Oil Lamps of the Holyland. (Jerusalem, 2001).
Storchan, J. Beit Nattif Lamps and Moulds and their Implications Regarding Lamp Production in Eretz-Israel during the Late Roman Period. (Unpublished thesis, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, 2019). Online
Sellers, O. The Citadel of Beth-Zur. (Philadelphia, 1933). Available Online
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. Late Roman to Late Byzantine/Early Islamic Period Lamps in the Holy Land: The Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Oxford, 2017).
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).
Sussman, V. "Samaritan Lamps of the Third-Fourth Centuries A.D." in Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 28, no. 4 (1978), pp. 238 - 250.
Sussman, V. "The Samaritan Oil Lamps from Appolonia-Arsuf" in Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 10 (1983), pp. 71 - 96.
Szentléleky, T. Ancient Lamps. (Amsterdam, 1969).
Tushingham, A. Excavations in Jerusalem, 1961-67 Vol. I. (Toronto, 1985).
Walters, H. Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Lamps in the British Museum. (London, 1914). Online
Westenholz, J. (ed.). Let There Be Light – Oil-Lamps from the Holy Land. (Jerusalem, 2004).
Williams, H. Kenchrai, Eastern Port of Corinth V, The Lamps. (Leiden, 1981).
Zanoni, I. "Tonlampen" in Petra I (1996), pp. 311 - 336.
Zhuralev, D. Fire, Light and Light Equipment in the Graeco-Roman World. BAR 1019. (Oxford, 2002).

*Not held by Forum.

Lamp Links

Forum 's Catalog of Lamps for Sale - https://www.forumancientcoins.com/catalog/roman-and-greek-coins.asp?vpar=1605&pos=0#Types%20and%20Materials
Lamp Discussion Forum - https://www.forumancientcoins.com/board/index.php?board=46.0
Adler Collection - http://www.steve-adler.com/OilLampsMain.htm
Getty Museum Ancient Lamp Topological Classification - https://www.getty.edu/publications/ancientlamps/typological-classification/
International Lychnological Association - http://www.lychnology.org/
Ken Baumheckel Collection of Oil Lamps - http://www.accla.org/actaaccla/oillamps2010.html

The Foundation for Archaeological Research of the Land of Israel (
FARLI), Ancient Pottery Database - http://apd.farli.org/home
RomQ Collection - http://www.romulus2.com/lamps/index.shtml

Petrie Gerar

Petrie, W. Gerar. British school of archaeology in Egypt. (Vienna, 1928).

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