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Section: Ancient Lamps
Page 2 of 2Last updated: 5 October 2014

Making a Mouldmade Lamp
Making a Mouldmade Lamp

A revolution in the production of Greek and Roman lamps

The earliest mouldmade lamps were closely modelled on contemporary lamps made on a wheel (see the two lamps below). This was perhaps an attempt to make the new-fangled inventions look familiar, rather like the first printed books imitating manuscripts or the first automobiles doing their best to look like horse-drawn carriages. It seems the ancients were as resistant to change as their modern counterparts.

Two lamps of the 3rd century BC. The Rhodian lamp on the left was wheelmade; the Egyptian one on the right was made in a mould.

However, it was not long before the advantages of making lamps in moulds were seen and exploited. Lampmakers began producing not only lamps with attractive decoration (such as the Hellenistic example adorned with Erotes seen on the left below) but lamps formed in bizarre shapes, such as human or animal heads (seen on the right).


Although lamps continued to be made on the wheel throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, typically in localised workshops, it was the mouldmade lamp which dominated and it was not to lose its supremacy in the Mediterranean until the Middle Ages.


Diagram from Karin Goethert, Römische Lampen und Leuchter, Auswahlkatalog des Rheinischen Landesmuseums Trier, Trier, 1997.

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