Identification and Creation
Object Number
Lamp with Cross
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Byzantine oil lamp Oil lamp
Lighting Devices
Work Type
lighting device
5th-6th century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
7.1 x 4.7 x 11.9 cm (2 13/16 x 1 7/8 x 4 11/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 81.02; Sn, 8.02; Pb, 9.47; Zn, 0.535; Fe, 0.18; Ni, 0.09; Ag, 0.15; Sb, 0.07; As, 0.46; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.009; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: All the lamps in this group (1957.68.A-B, 1975.41.138, 1992.256.94, and 1992.256.227) are very dark, almost black, with a faint green cast. The surfaces are in good condition and are relatively free of corrosion products. 1992.256.227 is the one exception, and it shows some pitting and raised corrosion products. 1975.41.138 has a deep, pre-burial dent at the rim under the shell-shaped lid. All of the lamps have possible oil residues mixed with accretions and corrosion products in their interiors.

The lamps and lids are all cast. Although there is no visible evidence supporting the use of molds to make the wax models for the lamps, it seems likely that at least the wax model for the general shape of the body was cast. The interior surfaces do not reflect the shape of the feet, and the feet and handles were probably added manually to the cast wax bodies. The lids were cast separately and attached with a hinge held by a bronze pin, which is peened at both ends to hold it in place. The cruciform handle of 1957.68.A-B is not integral to the cast; it is instead held in place mechanically with a mortise and tenon joint. Grooves (0.1 cm wide at the top and bottom of the tenon) catch the edge of the mortise and help to hold this “removable” handle in place. Long striations visible in the better-preserved surfaces are burnish marks from finishing the surfaces during fabrication.

Lamps 1957.68.A-B and 1975.41.138 have tapered square holes at the middle of the bottom to insert the pin at the top of a stand such as 1975.41.141.A-C. These sleeves appear to have been formed by piercing the bottom of the wax model with a similar square pin and then building additional wax around that pin in the interior. With 1992.256.94, instead of a provision added in wax, a roll of sheet bronze was inserted into the hole to form the sleeve. It is not clear if this sleeve is held in place mechanically or if a solder is present.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Louise M. and George E. Bates, Camden, ME (by 1971-1992), gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The bulbous body displays a short spout and shallow base with a pricket receptacle. The conch-shaped lid is joined to the body by a pin. The cruciform handle consists of a flared-arm cross handle, a finger ring, and a reinforcing bar connecting the cross and ring. The base of each arm of the cross is inscribed with a short line emphasizing the separation of the arms. A large number of similar lamps are preserved; they are dated from the fifth to seventh centuries and have been found in Romania, Syria, Istanbul, Greece, Germany, and Egypt (1).

Each of Harvard’s Byzantine lamps consists of a bulbous body, spout, lid, and handle. The central cavity held oil that provided the fuel for the wick in the spout. Most of these examples were pierced at their base by a tapering rectangular indentation rising through the central cavity to receive the pricket of a stand. Although some lamps could be hung from above, all lamps in this group lack suspension rings. Instead, they were placed on a table or a stand (such as 1975.41.141.A-C). The basic form of the reservoir, handle, and spout derives from ancient Greek and Roman types, with some examples dating probably as early as the third millennium BCE.

Lamps were widely used during the Byzantine period in both sacred and profane settings. In the Christian liturgical context, lamps functioned as votive offerings, processional objects, funerary accoutrements, and lighting devices for worship. Similarly, lighting was an important component of imperial ceremonial. The use of lamps in magical rituals is also attested during the early Byzantine period (2). Many homilies and theological essays of the Byzantine period ascribe symbolic significance to lamps, for example, as metaphors for the soul (3). In the household, lamps were primarily used for illumination of domestic space, but they could also play a role in private devotional practices (4). Excavations such as those in Cyprus show that together with a table and couch, lamps were the most common household furnishing until candles largely replaced lamps by the seventh century (5).

Byzantine lamps range from strictly utilitarian examples to elaborately adorned vessels accented with crosses, animals, and precious stones. The cross and shell embellishments found in these examples mix religious and classical motifs. Clay lamps were the least expensive and most widespread, while bronze and silver appeared in aristocratic households and ecclesiastical settings (6).


1. Compare D. E. Miner, ed., Early Christian and Byzantine Art, exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art; Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore, 1947) 64, no. 251, pl. 38; L. Wamser and G. Zahlhaas, Rom und Byzanz: Archäologische Kostbarkeiten aus Bayern, exh. cat., Prähistorischen Staatssammlung, Munich; Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (Munich, 1998) 87-88, no. 80; J. Fleischer, O. Hjort, and M. B. Rasmussen, eds., Byzantium. Late Antique and Byzantine Art in Scandinavian Collections, exh. cat., Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (Copenhagen, 1996) 84-85, nos. 52-53; and M. Xanthopoulou, Les lampes en bronze à l’époque paléochrétienne, Bibliothèque de l’Antiquité tardive 16 (Turnhout, 2010) 100-105, nos. LA 3.001-3.026, esp. LA 3.003, 3.006, 3.010, 3.022, and 3.025.

2. L. Bouras and M. G. Parani, Lighting in Early Byzantium (Washington, DC, 2008) 21-29; Xanthopoulou 2010 (supra 1) 65-70.

3. E. D. Maguire, H. P. Maguire, and M. J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House, exh. cat., Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, 1989) 58; and Xanthopoulou 2010 (supra 1) 70.

4. A. Kazhdan and L. Bouras, “Lighting in Everyday Life,” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. A. P. Kazhdan, 3 vols. (New York, 1991) 2:1228; Bouras and Parani 2008 (supra 1) 20; and Xanthopoulou 2010 (supra 1) 63-65.

5. D. Soren, “An Earthquake on Cyprus: New Discoveries from Kourion,” Archaeology 38 (1985): 52-59, 52.

6. Maguire et al. 1989 (supra 3) 58; and A. Gonosová and C. Kondoleon, Art of Late Rome and Byzantium in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, 1994) 175.

Anne Druckenbrod Gossen

Exhibition History

Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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