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Section: Ancient Lamps
Page 12 of 14Last updated: 12 April 2008

On Terra-cotta Lamps
On Terra-cotta Lamps

An Edwardian Article - from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, December 10, 1906.

Robert Coltman Clephan, FSA Scot.

early times, and the clay in its vicinity, a sort of silicious earth or frit, is well adapted for making it. The shapes and sizes of native ancient Egyptian lamps vary exceedingly, arid the quality both of manufacture and enrichment is greatly inferior to that of Greece or Italy; indeed, the potter's art in Egypt was always far behind these countries in excellence,[3] probably mainly for the reason that the Egyptians from very early times found that vessels cut in alabaster answered their purposes much better than did ware; which latter, being cheaper, was mostly made for the use of the poorer classes. I am not aware, however, of any alabaster lamps having been discovered—none, at least, that can be certified as such—though some of the vessels found may have been used as lamps with floating wicks, like those mentioned by Herodotus, which we have not been able to identify.

A favourite early shape for Egyptian lamps is that of a conventionalised frog or toad. The frog is emblematic of the Resurrection and fertility; .while the toad, according to Chseremon, symbolises the Resurrection. An example of this form, made of a yellowish-grey paste, from Coptos, is given on fig. 16; and another from the same place, fig. 17, affords an instance where the frog is given fully formed and in its natural size, behind which is a curved line of annulets. This specimen is of red clay whitened over, and the sacred Christian monogram is stamped on the bottom. A lamp of the Christian period, in the fine museum of Egyptian antiquities at Alnwick Castle, is enriched in front with the figures of two lions, and between them a Maltese cross. The tongues of the lions are protruding, their tails curved over their backs. Around the edge is a wreath of ten pendants and pellets, while below is a festooned band of drop-shaped ornaments, besides a pendant, cross, etc. An inscription in Greek characters shows that the lamp had belonged to Timotheos, Archbishop of the Thebaid (Alexandria). It is of red paste and 4¾ inches long. Representations of the gods as applied to lamps are comparatively rare in Egypt, and this is not surprising, as so few specimens dating before the Christian era have been found. Still, the older religion, despite all edicts, continued to linger on in Upper Egypt, and notably at Philae, up to the fifth century A.D. Fig. 18 furnishes an example of this kind from Thebes. It is of a light red paste, dipped in a white slip, shoe-shaped and grotesque, the receiver fashioned in the recumbent form of the god Bes, a figure with wrinkled face, large ears, hanging stomach, hands on the hips, and knees wide apart, concerning whose attributes there is some ambiguity. At the period of the lamp, this deity was regarded as the "old god who renewed his youth"; but during the middle empire he was the god of war and pleasure, and specially associated with childbirth and the protection of children. The handle of this specimen is annular, and the

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