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Section: Ancient Lamps
Page 3 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.

The usual size of a lamp with a single wick-hole or nozzle ranges from about 2½ to 4 inches in length by about 1 inch in depth, the walls of the receiver being about 1/8 of an inch thick. The greater, number are provided with a single wick-hole, and such a lamp must have given but a very feeble light; but many of these utensils have two nozzles or wick-holes in the receiver itself; some, indeed, with up to a dozen, or even twenty; but these are rare, and such examples are much larger, running up to 8 inches and even a foot in length.

Lamps are both with handles and without; a common form of this appendage is a ring for the forefinger, surmounted by a palmette, on which the thumb is placed to prevent the vessel from swaying or slipping. Crescent-formed and semi-oval handles are also common, while some are triangular. When lamps are without handles, the nozzles are usually elongated; and they are sometimes provided with a small spur or lug, rising diagonally from the rim of the receiver, occasionally one on each side. Some see in this appendage an embryo handle, whilst others regard it as a symbolic sign; but, as a matter of fact, these lugs are handles, and effective ones too, as may be proved by placing a thumb upon the lug, with one of the fingers grasping the bottom of the lamp, which can then be carried about with ease and steadiness—more so, perhaps, than when held by the ordinary projecting handles. These lugs are usually pierced, and the hole is probably for holding the pin or straw, the acus or festuca, with which the wick was trimmed. Fig. 2 affords an example of a lamp with a lug. This specimen is of dark red ware and is quite plain. Wicks were made of tow, ordinary rush or papyrus.

Stands of clay—lamp-holders, as they were called—were provided in the rooms where the lamps were wanted when not being carried about, mainly the kitchen and study, as shown in the excavations at Pompeii, once a Greek colony, destroyed 79 A.D., and they were often fastened to the wall by a nail, or hung suspended from brackets, or were placed in candelabra. In Pompeii, niches for lamps are shown in the walls of these rooms, with chimneys for carrying away the smoke. In cases where lamps were made specially for hanging, the ornamentation is sometimes placed on the under side, and these were used in the salles a manger. Some examples have been found with sockets for fitting on to candelabra, or for carrying about in processions, with sticks or staves inserted. The stands are often most graceful in form, and so also are the vessels sometimes looked upon as holders of a stock of oil; but these flattish, highly-finished vases, with upright sponts, varieties of the aski (wineskins) or gutti, were used for wine, water, or any other liquid. An undoubted specimen of a boat-shaped oil-holder, 11 inches long, of a light red paste, in the museum at the Black Gate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, has been kindly photographed for me by Mr Parker Brewis, one of the curators, and is reproduced on fig. 3. There are also fillers

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