Roman North African Lamp (2)


Roman North African Lamp (2)


Roman North African Clay Lamp


Roman lamps are a type of closed lamp, typically topped with concave disk. Derived from Hellenistic prototypes, these Roman closed lamps offer a number of advantages over open ones. They allow a better containment of oil, and have a more efficient burning rate than open lamps. On one end lies the handle, while the other featured a spout, with an open mouth. The wick, made from materials such as oakum, would have sat in the mouth of the lamp, and run all the way down the base. The fuel would most likely have been made from olive oil and/or animal fat. On average, these lamps would burn for a period of 50-70 minutes.

This Roman lamp dates to the 3rd century BCE from North Africa. Roman North African lamps were a widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean, found in Egypt, Tunisia and a vast majority in Carthage. This lamp is made up of Tunisian is pinky-buff-coloured fabric and incised with two leaves on its top, most likely victory leaves (the 'palms of Victory'). There are two filling wholes on top, one in the direction of the spout, and the other slight off-centre. The vertical lug handle is solid, and the spout (now missing) is decorated at its base with a bar and two dots. A section of the base is also missing. Its early date suggests close ties to a Hellenistic predecessor and is further accentuated by the small holes present at the base of the spout, a common feature of Hellenistic lamps. Their function could have been a means to access the wick with a needle to help intensify or regulate the flame, or to create airflow to help stimulate combustion. Considering its date, this lamp was most likely fabricated through manual moulding, as pre-made moulds did not come into popular use until the 2nd century BCE onwards.


From Stone to Screen


North Africa


From Stone to Screen


Roman - 3rd century CE


Emma Ramsden (Research and Content)
David Assaf (Web Design)
Jessica Matteazzi (Photography)
Chelsea Gardner (Collection Curator)




Djuric, S. (1995). Ancient Lamps from the Mediterranean. North York: Eika Bookselling & Publishing.

Elrasheedy, A. & D. Schindler (2015). Illuminating the Past: Exploring the Function of Ancient Lamps. Near Eastern Archaeology 78. 36-42.

Pereira, C. (2014). Roman Lamps of Scallabis (Santarém, Portugal). British Archaeological Reports International Series 2627. Oxford: Information Press.

Rosenthal, R. & R. Sivan (1978). Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection. Jerusalem: “Ahva” Press.

Szentléleky, T. (1969). Ancient Lamps. transl. by A. Debreceni. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

Additional Reading:

Bailey, D.M. (1996). A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum (vol. 4): Lamps of Metal and Stone, and Lampstands. London: British Museum Press.

Bailey, D.M. (1972). Greek and Roman Pottery Lamps. London: British Museum Press.

Perlzweig, J. (1961). Lamps of the Roman Period: First to Seventh Century After Christ. Germany: J.J. Augustin Gluckstadt

Zhuravlev, D. ed. (2002). Fire, Light and Light Equipment in the Graeco-Roman World. British Archaeological Reports International Series 1019. Oxford: The Basingstoke Press.


Ceramic - Terracotta


Ceramic Lamp


Roman Lamp


Roman North Africa; Ceramic Technology; Roman Lamps

Original Format

Ceramic Lamp

Physical Dimensions

11.7 cm x 6.0 cm




From Stone to Screen, “Roman North African Lamp (2),” UBC CNERS Artifact Collections, accessed March 21, 2019,