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Harborough Museum

Roman Lamps

Roman Lamps

Lamps provided the most common form of lighting in Rome. They were used for lighting in public and private buildings, as votive offerings or gifts to the gods in temples, and lighting at festivals.

Oil lamps were one of the most common household items of ancient times. Ceramic lamps were used to burn oil, usually a plant oil such as olive oil, that was abundant and accessible.

The lamp used a wick, made from fibres such as linen or papyrus, that was inserted into the lamp holder. The end of the wick rested in the nozzle. The oil was then poured into the lamp though the filling hole on top of its body. The wick was lit and a small flame was emitted from the tip of the wick resting in the nozzle. The lamp could be set on any flat surface but was also portable and could be carried in a person’s hand, which is why there were small lamps too.

Aside from their use for indoor and outdoor illumination, lamps also served other purposes. They were buried in tombs and graves along with pottery, jewellery, and other symbolic gifts.

A Roman lamp from the 2nd century AD, showing the mythical ancient Greek figure, Castor or Pollux

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