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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Oil Filler for a Lamp
Other Titles
Former Title: Crucible
Alternate Title: bowl
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
7th-12th century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Antioch (Syria)
Find Spot: Middle East, Türkiye (Turkey)
Byzantine period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Mixed copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
2.3 x 6.5 x 9.3 cm (7/8 x 2 9/16 x 3 11/16 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is dark brown with a few light green mottled areas. Some rusty brown is present around the bottom of the bowl. The striations and other rough texturing of the surface, especially the interior of the bowl, appear to be the result of forceful manual cleaning and perhaps some chemical stripping. Two cracks run across the rim and into the body of the bowl, and another crack runs across the spout. An oval feature with a rough, radiating, crystalline structure and slightly raised rim is located in the bowl asymmetrically across from the spout. The dimensions of the feature vary slightly from the interior to the exterior surfaces.

The object was cast in one piece. The raised nub with the indentation in the center of the bowl appears to be connected to raising, although its original function is unclear. The irregular protrusions from the rim are the remains of more elaborate decorative elements, as can be seen from the asymmetrical shapes and rough texture of their broken edges. The slightly beveled edges on the underside of these protruding elements appear to be as cast without additional refinement. It is not clear how the five irregularly spaced circular depressions (all c. 2.4 to 2.8 mm in diameter) on the top of the rim were formed.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)


Recorded Ownership History
Excavated from Antioch, sector 17-O (no. a-653-U571) (Turkey, Hatay) by the Syrian Department of Antiquities (later the Hatay government) and the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and Its Vicinity, (1935-1939), dispersed; to Fogg Art Museum, 1939.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and its Vicinity
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 molded edge of this lamp filler leads to the half-cylindrical spout (1). The bowl is hemispherical, and there is a small, raised ring in the center of the interior that is not visible on the exterior. A small, raised circle on the wall of the bowl is visible on both the exterior and interior. The bowl is otherwise plain and smooth on both sides. A series of circular depressions appear on the top of the molded edge. The prominent molding on the sides of the bowl may have once been symmetrical, but now one side is better preserved than the other; the prongs on the edge opposite the spout also appear to have been broken.

There is not full agreement on what role this type of object fulfilled. It has been suggested that these were used for filling oil lamps (2), where the small spout would aid in directing valuable lamp oil into small fill holes, although it has also been suggested that they are “cosmetic mortars” (3).


1. Compare similar objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 39.40.51, from Nishapur, Iran, dated from the ninth to tenth centuries; 39.40.100, also from Nishapur and dated to the tenth to twelfth centuries; and 32.150.202, from Ctesiphon, Iraq, dated to the seventh to eighth centuries.

2. See L. Bouras and M. G. Parani, Lighting in Early Byzantium (Washington, DC, 2008) 3.

3. See J. W. Allan, Nishapur: Metalwork of the Early Islamic Period (New York, 1982) 37-38, 74-75, nos. 79-82 (called “cosmetic mortars).

Lisa M. Anderson

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Verification Level

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