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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Miniature Volute Lamp
Lighting Devices
Work Type
lighting device
1-75 CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Unidentified Site
Roman Imperial period, Early
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

3 x 2.9 x 7.2 cm (1 3/16 x 1 1/8 x 2 13/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Part of the original 1943 McDaniel gift to the Classics Department. A lamp referred to as "Miniature Red-glaze Lamp. Hellenistic." is listed on a non-comprehensive list of McDaniel objects dated April 30, 1947.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Orange-buff fabric with slightly mottled orange-red slip. Depressed discus defined by four raised ridges. Central filling hole. Ring base with illegible inscription composed of several curvy lines. A perforated vertical handle protrudes from the rear at the level of the resevoir. Above the handle is a handle ornament in the shape of a leaf with a stylized palmette decoration, which protrudes outward and upward at a slight angle. Long nozzle with flaring end, flanked by two volutes; small air hole just above wick hole. Traces of burning around nozzle hole. Incised, curved lines continue to underside of nozzle and meet at a point.

Artificial lighting in the Roman Empire was accomplished with torches, candles and lamps. Torches were used outdoors, while candles made of wax were used mainly in areas that did not have olive oil. Lamps were the most common means of light, used all over the Empire, but especially where oil was produced or imported.

Lamps range from decorative to functional, though all utilize the same basic features. The oil chamber inside holds the fuel, while the hole at the top is for filling. There is usually a nozzle and a wick-hole for wicks that were made of fibrous materials, most often linen. Lamps themselves could be made in bronze, lead, iron, gold, silver, glass, or stone. However, the most common construction material for lamps was pottery. Though they could be made by hand or on a potter's wheel, they were most often constructed in molds.

First, the maker would construct a clay archetype of the lamp that would be solid, not hollow. Then a plaster mold would be made of the archetype. The mold would often be two parts, an upper and lower part, that wet clay could be pressed into to make a new lamp. When the clay was leather-hard, additional decorations, stamps, or handles could be added, and the wick and filling holes were pierced. A coat of slip was put on before the lamp would be fired in a kiln.

Lamps were distributed both by local workshops and by export from specialty workshops. There is some archaeological evidence for specific names of workshops and their trade routes, but still much is unknown about these factories. Sometimes makers left marks on the bottom of their lamps, which can help archaeologists in determining where the lamp was originally from.

This miniature lamp with a delta-shaped palmette ornament above the handle falls into D.M. Bailey's Type D (BMC Vol.II). Due to its characteristics, it can be dated to the first three quarters of the first century AD, and it was most likely produced in an Italian workshop.

[Jessica Pesce 8/5/10]

Subjects and Contexts

  • Roman Domestic Art

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at