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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Lamp: human figure crouching over phallus
Lighting Devices
Work Type
lighting device
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

10 x 3.9 x 4.85 cm

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Bequest of Henry W. Haynes, 1912
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Mold made lamp. Material is soft, well-levigated light-gray clay with micaceous impurities. Has a reddish brown glaze. Nozzle is coated with carbon. Designed for suspension with two rings on line with the long axis of the lamp, with a fill hole between the rings.

The lamp is in the form of a phallus surmounted by a crouched human figure. The man’s ribs are clearly visible, indicating emaciation, perhaps even death. Wear over time has left the facial features less well defined, but the eyes appear closed, the outward-facing ear is large, the nose flat and broad, and the lips seemingly full. The hair is difficult to discern, though the hairline and faint texturing may suggest curly hair. These features are characteristic of stereotypical depictions of black Africans (1). Furthermore, the figure of the crouching or sleeping black person was popular in the Hellenistic and Roman periods; such representations may more specifically indicate personal servants (2). In addition to these features, it was not uncommon to represent black men with large phalli. At baths especially, depictions of the macrophallic black man could simultaneously ward off evil (with phalli frequently used as apotropaic) and image black men’s use as personal attendants (3).

This crouched figure with the phallus appears to be unique among extant lamps, but phallic lamps in general were not uncommon in the Roman period. Such lamps took various forms, from a basic phallus to the inclusion of different ornamentations, such as a bull body and carrying baskets. Greeks and Romans produced phallic vases and ornaments as well. Moreover, depictions of Priapos, characteristically with large phallus, were common. Across this spectrum, the phallus may have variously had apotropaic functions and associations with fertility.

Generally speaking, in light of the prevalent sexual use of slaves, the juxtaposition of the crouching (and sleeping?) man and the phallus may make a play of slaves’ sexual objectification by their masters. Considering also the specific uses of macrophallic representations at baths—as apotropaic and as depicting slaves and personal attendants, the lamp may well fit within a bathing context as simultaneously jocular and protective.


1. The Image of the Black in Western Art, ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., vol. 1, From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire, new ed. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2010), 24, 26, 304.

2. Ibid., 172.

3. Ibid., 16, 259, 274.

On the crouched or sleeping black person, as well as representations of black persons generally in Roman art, see The Image of the Black in Western Art, ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., vol. 1, From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire, new ed. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2010).

On macrophallic depictions of black men at Roman baths, especially as representing personal attendants, slaves, and having apotropaic functions, see John R. Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art 100 B.C.–A.D. 250 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), esp. 119–42.

For further examples of Roman phallic lamps, see:
Donald M. Bailey, ed., A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum, vol. 3, Roman Provincial Lamps (London: British Museum Publications), Q 2651 and Q 2652 (plate 73, 324), Q 3351 (plate 127, 421).

David Mountfield, Greek and Roman Erotica (Friboug: Miller Graphics, 1982), 67.

Rudolf Noll, “Die antiken Lampen im Landesmuseum zu Innsbruck,” Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien 30 (1937): 232–34.

Verena Schumacher, “Die Sammlung römischer Lampen im Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum,” in Le Luminarie antique: Lychnological Acts 3, ed. Laurent Chrzanovski (Montagnac: Editions Monique Mergoil, 2012), 323–24, 330.

James Wiseman, “The Gymnasium Area at Corinth, 1969-1970,” Hesperia 41, no. 1 (1972): 20–21, plate 9.

Subjects and Contexts

  • Roman Domestic Art

Related Works

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at