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Section: Ancient Lamps
Page 5 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.

Many of the Etruscan stands are very beautiful. A terra-cotta example in my possession, from South Italy, of about B.C. 600, is illustrated in fig. 5. A column enriched with mouldings springs from a square pedestal supported on four lion's feet; at the top is a hollow disc in which the lamp is placed. The stand is decorated in a rich red colour on a yellowish ground, the column being enriched by bands of clinging honeysuckle, and the mouldings with circlets of pendants. The same floral design covers the pedestal, which is further enriched by a bordering of annulets.

Great numbers of lamps have been found in the excavation of the sites of ancient cities, more especially those devastated by war or overwhelmed by volcanic eruptions ; and we owe the recovery of many fine specimens to the fact of their having been preserved in sepulchres, where the history of an ancient people must always be sought. Manv examples have been found at Carthage, most of which are of bright red ware.

The question of the approximate date of the earliest lamps that have been found is one full of douht and perplexity, and it has not been found possible to trace even the century when they began to supersede the Homeric torch in Greece. No specimens, which can be identified as lamps, have been found in that country before the period arbitrarily classed as historic; and it is doubtful if any examples can be attributed with safety to the archaic period of Greek art, so that any early specimens with a covered-in receiver found in Greece can hardly date much before B.C. 500-400. Turning to a much earlier period, and to Palestine, the passages in which lamps are mentioned in translations of the Old Testament, such as occur in Judges vii. 16 and in 1 Samuel iii. 3, afford no decisive information as to the antiquity of that mode of artificial lighting among the Jews, for the Hebrew words have been translated arbitrarily; still the passage "ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord" would seem to imply rather a lamp than a torch; and the candlestick with seven branches placed in the sanctuary by Moses and those which Solomon prepared for the temple were probably oil-lamps of some kind, placed in candelabra. A Jewish candelabrum with seven branches is sculptured on the Arch of Titus.

That these utensils in some form or other were in common use in Egypt and Greece, B.C. 465, is clear from the writings of Herodotus, who visited the land of the Pharaohs in that year, in the reign of Artaxerxes (Longimanus), of the XXVIIth (a Persian) dynasty, during whose government the Egyptians, under Inarus and Amyrtaeus, attempted to regain their independence, aided by the Athenians, and they were for a time partially successful; but it was in the reign of Darius Nothus, B.C. 425-405, when a revolt fully succeeded, and a second Amyrtaeus became king of Egypt. Herodotus mentions the feast of lamps at Sais, a festival likewise celebrated at Rome in honour of Minerva (Pallas Athene); and it is probable that the practice of burning candles in Christian churches had its origin in pagan religious celebrations. He refers also to a lamp which was

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