Antiquities > Oil Lamps

Lamp: authentic or fake?



Although I have a few antiquities I am by no means an expert and so I am questioning this broken and repaired lamp that has been in my posession a while.

The design is crude on the tondo, a reflection of modern ignorance of the design or ancient mass production of a cheap commodity.

Any information gratefully received.



Having 5 or 6 lamps of my own, I've tried to learn a bit about them reading around. From what I gather, a good part of the available lamps on sale today are funerary lamps, made to be interred with the dead, and never to be used (or maybe just only once). These are usually small and crude, and have been preserved, presumably, by being underground almost since their creation.

I bought a small booklet, Greek and Roman Pottery Lamps, by Donald M. Bailey, in which the author explains the 3 main uses of lamps in antiquity: "domestic or commercial illumination, funerary function, and votive use". He explains about the lamps placed in tombs that "many seem to be unused: there is no sign of blackening around the wick-hole".

Now, being no expert at all (thus, cannot confirm or deny authenticity), yours looks like it would fit this type of use. In any case, Mr Bailey states that "the poorer people (used) common wheel-made or mould-made lamps". If yours is mould-made in industrial quantities for cheap offerings, that would explain the lack of detail.

Well, don't know if any of this helps, but as I've been eager to know more about Roman lamps myself, I thought I'd share this.


Joe Sermarini:
Your lamp was made not from an original mold but from a mold made from another lamp.  This does not mean it is modern.  Many of the nicest lamps were made in Italy using artist made molds.  Ancient knock-off factories in other areas made copies of the Italian lamps (as well as their own local lamps).  It looks OK but I cannot say for certain it is  ancient.   A lamp expert might be able to examine the lamp in hand and determine authenticity.  A lab test could confirm the age.  With inexpensive pieces like this, unless you are willing to pay more than the item is worth for testing or expert opinions, you have to might have to accept some uncertainty.   


Thank-you both for your comments.



I'm afraid that your lamp is a common and well-known fake. It is an example of the La Marsa Group, a series of fake lamps produced in a suburb of Tunis from the 1950s onwards. Other examples from the series (F1 and F5) are included here:

The clay and other characteristics of your lamp are typical of all lamps in that series. Authentic lamps can indeed be crude - but I'm afraid this is not one of them.

I seem to remember that an example of your lamp is recorded in the fakes section of one of the BM catalogues.

The originals on which your lamp is loosely based featured an image of Dionysos holding a kantharos, and leading a youth holding a pedum.


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