III. Roman-Period Clay Lamps / Types from Eastern Provinces only / Augustan and Imperial Lamps

Late Palestinian circular lamps


Cats. 548–49, purchased in Asia Minor, have a circular biconical body. The top of cat. 548 is surmounted by a conical dome, pierced by a large central filling-hole surrounded by a ridge. Between this dome and the high outer rim of the lamp is a flat shoulder with a Greek inscription in relief capital letters. The top of cat. 549 is nearly flat, pierced by a large central lipped filling-hole. Its narrow outward-sloping shoulder is decorated with a row of beads and has a large geometrically decorated discus. Both lamps have a knob handle; on cat. 548 it is placed on the exterior of the rim; on cat. 549 on the upper part of the discus. Each lamp has a small round wick-hole on the side opposite the knob handle. The bases are set off by a raised ring. Despite important differences, the two lamps do belong to the same formal type (circular shape and conical knob): Kennedy type 28 = Bagatti type 3, of which they are variants. Published examples assert their eastern place of manufacture or origin (Syria and Palestine); for cat. 548, see DACL 8, col. 1198, no. 1241, fig. 6721; Kennedy 1963, no. 218, pl. 30; Bagatti 1964, p. 263, nos. 6–14, fig. 2; Rosenthal and Sivan 1978, p. 142, no. 580; Israeli and Avida 1988, p. 172, no. 488; Hübinger 1993, no. 243, pl. 30; Djuric 1995, p. 80, C 248; Loffreda 1989, pp. 124–25, no. 661; Loffreda 1990, pp. 487–88, fig. 5.23. Their iconography, however, is different: the inscription of a Christian eulogy on cat. 548 testifies to a Byzantine link; but the abstract, simple decor of cat. 549 points rather to early Islamic inspiration: see the simple, mostly abstract, decorative vocabulary of, for instance, Trost and Hellmann 1996, no. 210, fig. 31 (branches, squares); Rosenthal and Sivan 1978, nos. 570–73 (branches); Bagatti 1964, no. 11, fig. 3 (top and bottom); Loffreda 1989, for instance, p. 494, nos. 37–49 (slipper lamps). Both cats. 548 and 549 belong in an east Mediterranean tradition of the seventh and eighth centuries.

It is interesting to note that the general shape of cat. 548 is not far from the shape of African lamps of type Atlante XVI. This type has been dated in Carthage from the second half of the fifth to the sixth century A.D. and perhaps later (Bussière 2000, p. 128). Bonifay alludes to a possible relationship between the two types, and, quoting Orssaud and Sodini 1997, he suggests that the eastern Syrian-Palestinian type might have influenced the African type (Bonifay 2004a, p. 429). But if, in fact, the chronology attributed to the eastern type (sixth to eighth century A.D.) is reliable, the contrary hypothesis would be more logical, considering that the type in North Africa started earlier. During the fifth and sixth centuries imported African lamps, made in Terra Sigillata Africana (types Hayes I and II), were imitated in the eastern Mediterranean. That could have been the case for lamps of this type too.

Banner image: Detail of cat. 548