SOLD Ancient Catacomb Terracotta Oil Lamp, Roman Empire (1885A-WAR)



This Roman catacomb terracotta oil lamp is a basic, undecorated, and functional lamp beautiful in its simplicity. It is a well moulded piece with a finely rounded circular body, a short raised rim surrounding the fill hole centered in the middle, and has a hand made spatulate nozzle added to its body. The nozzle extends out with flat angular ridges and a wide opening to accommodate the wick which extends from inside the lamp,through the nozzle, and then reaches over its edge. It has no handle but, like all such lamps, it has a flat bottom to rest comfortably and securely on any surface.  Much of the original crème slip on this lamp remains and has turned a brownish-beige from the soil in which it was buried underground. There are minor chips the rim atop the fuel chamber and projecting nozzle and is otherwise is very good condition.

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Although most famous for Christian burials, people of all religions were interred in the catacombs due to a shortage of land and demand for burial space after a switch from cremations to underground burials in the 2nd century A.D. Roman made closed earthenware terracotta lamps became the dominant oil lamp style in the Roman world as an inexpensive alternative to candles made from beeswax, tallow or animal fat. Oils often made from Spanish olives were poured into the lamp through its central hole, and a linen, flax, or papyrus wick was inserted through the nozzle spout and ignited at the wick’s tip. Although oil lamps were handmade,  most were made using bivalve moulds to create consistent quality. With or without handles, plain or with decorative designs, they were often covered with a light slip after the halves were securely joined to prevent oil from seeping through the porous clay, a technique first used by the Greeks who exported lamps throughout the Mediterranean. The central hole receiving oil and the wick nozzle were cut and the lamp was left to dry before being fired in a kiln. Early Christianity oil lamps were also seen as a symbol of light and a manifestations of the presence of the divine.

Additional information

Place of Origin

Ancient Mediterranean


Ancient, Roman Empire


2nd Century CE

Materials and Technique


Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 1.125” W: 3.5” D: 2.375”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 2.60cm W: 8.89cm D: 6.03cm




Very good, see description

Item Number


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