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And let there be light.


FOR most of us, lighting is a simple matter of flicking on a switch.

Sometimes, particularly for romantic or religious occasions, we may have recourse to candles.

In the ancient world, however, lighting both for everyday and ritual situations was provided by oil lamps, of which an example is shown here.

The earliest pottery lamps were simple bowls containing oil with one or more pinched corners for wicks.

The Ancient Greeks made lamps of this type in the 7th century BC, developing vessels with closed shoulders and distinct nozzles about a hundred years later.

These Greek lamps were wheel-made with a fine black glaze and were exported throughout the Mediterranean region, being the dominant type of lamp until the third century BC.

In the Roman period, they began using plaster or clay moulds for making lamps.

These were plain at first but later featured designs which could be quite elaborate.

The lamp pictured here comes from Roman Egypt and dates to around the 2nd century AD.

This sort of lamp is generally known as a frog lamp, as some examples were moulded to resemble frogs, an Egyptian symbol of fertility associated with the goddess Heket.

It's made of typical Nile silt clay, containing white inclusions and abundant mica that glitters in the sun.

The wicks for ancient lamps were normally fashioned from plant fibres, such as papyrus and rush, or from strips of fabric.

Ancient oil lamps are far from rare as they were produced and used in huge numbers.

It has been calculated, for example, that in Pompeii around 500 lamps were needed to light the shops in one street alone, while thousands were used during the games presented by Philip I in 248 AD.

Lamps also served a funerary purpose.

They were often placed in tombs in order to light the way for the deceased to the afterlife.

The relative abundance of these lamps and the large variety of designs make them a popular category of antique for collectors.

As with many collectable antiquities, there are considerable numbers of reproductions on the market, so it's very much a case of buyer beware.

This one was purchased from a charity shop that had sourced it from a dealer in antiquities and it shows all the right signs of age and burial.

Priced at pounds 35 it was a very reasonable buy, as these lamps generally retail from pounds 50 upwards.


* The Roman oil lamp from above and below
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Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 21, 2012
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