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Section: Ancient Lamps
Page 7 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 Roman settlements of this country have yielded fewer lamps than might be expected, but in Gaul great numbers have been unearthed and lamp-kilns have been discovered. A lamp found in a sepulchre at Colchester, of the common Eoman shape, is ornamented with a herald's staff, caduceus, placed between two cornucopise; and another, dug up in London, exhibits a winged figure of Mercury standing on an orb, holding a crow[1] in the right hand and a palm branch in the left. A pear-shaped terra-cotta specimen was unearthed near Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, London, with an annular holed boss for fixing on to a candelabrum, or to a staff for processional purposes. One found in 1873 near Hexham, on the site of Corstopitum, a Roman town of some importance, covering about twenty acres, where some excavations are now being made, has a long perpendicular shank for socketing into wood or stone. The specimen is about 2 inches long, the shank 1½ inches. Finds of bronze lamps in Britain are comparatively rare.

A Gallo-Roman example found at Cologne, a colony first called by the Romans Colonia Agrippinensis, and afterwards Colonia Claudia Agrippina, is enriched with the figure of a hare eating a bunch of grapes; and another, in my possession, found in excavating the thermae at Augusta Trevirorum, the modern Treves, exhibits Jupiter with the eagle of the Olympian divinity.

The greater number of the Romano-British lamps in the British Museum are annular and without handles. The colours of the pastes vary a good deal, but a dark salmon shade of red predominates, while others run from a light grey to a dark brown. There is a specimen fashioned as a gladiator's helmet; another has a nozzle at either end. The subjects of enrichment comprise a peacock, a lion attacking a horse, gladiators fighting, a stag, a galley, Cupid and a hare, and a bacchante. There are several open lamps very roughly made, and a covered-in specimen had been distorted in the kiln; all of these latter are evidently of native make, but the finer examples mentioned had been probably imported from Rome.

Many superstitions were connected with lamps, and notably the one for their employment in choosing the name for a child, when a certain number of these vessels were selected, and one lighted for each name in the list; the last to burn out decided the matter. Lamps were often given as birthday presents, and some have been found with the inscription ANNV NOV FAVSTV FELIX and a specimen of this kind may be seen in the British Museum.

There is some confusion as to the classification of pottery, including lamps, owing to the designation "Etruscan" having been applied to the fictile Greek vases (Hydriae) found in considerable numbers in Etruria; and the name was extended to pottery found in Greece of the same period. The more correct term for such ware should rather be Greek. No pottery is, strictly speaking, entitled to the designation " Etruscan " excepting that found in Etruria of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. The Etruscan ware is black throughout the paste. Native Etrurian art is not to be specially distinguished from that of some of the more southern provinces of Italy, though such States were probably at an early period more or less subjected to Etruscan domination. The first foreign influence brought to bear upon Etruscan art forms was Egyptian, and then the Greek, and of this the sepulchres afford abundant proof. The ornamentation on real Etruscan terra-cottas closely resembles that present on some of the pottery found by Dr Schliemann at Mycenae, so that it was greatly on a par with that of contemporary Greece up to the end of the sixth century B.C., but there the parallel ceases. Two lamps

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