III. Roman-Period Clay Lamps / Terracotta Figurine Lamps



Cats. 582–85 are all lampstands with a bowl for burning incense. Each item bears two lamps, making the artifact a lighting device as well. Only cat. 585 shows burn marks on the nozzle tips of the two small lamps. None of the four bowls presents any trace of combustion, possibly because the artifacts (with the exception of cat. 585) have never been used as either lighting devices or incense-burners. While Bailey admits that lampstands equipped with a bowl performed these two functions (Bailey BM III, p. 329), he suggests that “the central bowl of these items would be ideal to hold a glass bottle of oil for replenishing the lamps when necessary” (Bailey BM I, p. 71). Whether this suggestion is founded or not is uncertain. Nevertheless by using the term thymiateria for lampstands similar to the four Getty ones, most authors explicitly admit their function as incense-burners (Wiegand et al. 1904, pp. 87–92; Grandjouan 1961, nos. 872 and 979; Joly 1974, pp. 33–36; Bailey BM I, pp. 70–71; Manzoni 1978/79; Bailey BM III, p. 329; and Möhring 1989, p. 853, who speaks of Räuchstände or Räuchergefäße). However, Heimerl simply calls similar Pergamene items Ständerlampen, while explaining the presence of bowls on them as containers for fire pokers (Heimerl 2001, pp. 64–65). Apart from being the place where incense was burned, could these bowls have been filled with some perfume, which the heat of the two adjacent lamps would help to diffuse in the air? True, we must bear in mind that alcohol, the chief solvent of modern perfumes, was unknown to the ancients, who used oils, which are much less volatile (Grimal 1981, p. 112). Petronius, describing Trimalchio’s banquet, writes: “some long-haired boys brought ointment in a silver basin, and anointed our feet as we lay. . . . A quantity of the same ointment was poured into the mixing-bowl [i.e., a crater] and the lamp” (Petronius Satyricon 70).

It may seem odd that perfume would have been mixed with the lamp oil itself, hence the above suggestion that it might have been poured into the central bowl instead. Speaking of lamps in general and not particularly of lampstands, Forbes states that “even lamp-oil was perfumed” (Forbes 1955, p. 28, note 63). To strengthen his view, he quotes Martial “ . . . et lucerna vidit nimbis ebria Nicerotianis!” ( . . . and the lamp drunk with Nicerotian showers!) (Martial Epigrams–8). Niceros was a famous perfumemaker of the time. However, the quote does not clearly say whether the perfume was poured into the lamp itself or on it.

All four Getty examples have two moldmade lamps, but they have different body shapes: cat. 582 that of a small altar; cat. 583 of a bust; cat. 584 of a small temple with a statue; and cat. 585 shows an eagle with spreading wings. No exact parallels to these four have been found, but the general shapes of cats. 582–83 and 585 exist along with other forms such as pinecones, columns, male or female heads, and standing figures identified (Silenus, Cupid, Bacchus, Serapis, Harpocrates) or not. (For these different shapes, see Joly 1974, pls. 32–35; Bailey BM III, Q 1853, pl. 29, Q 2727, pl. 81, and Q 2729, Q 2735, pl. 82; Heimerl 2001, group 15, pp. 64–66, no. 324, pl. 8, nos. 474 and 498, pl. 12, no. 509, pl. 13, nos. 684 and 697–704, pl. 16, and nos. 706–35, pl. 17); Bochum Museum, Schüller Collection, has several items purchased in Anatolia.

The decors shown on the four Getty lampstands are common on Roman imperial lamps of the first and second centuries: Jupiter, Mercury, and Minerva (cat. 582), Mercury alone (cat. 583), a small temple with an unidentified female statue (cat. 584), and an eagle with spreading wings (cat. 585). Despite the presumed eastern Mediterranean origin of these artifacts, the iconography does not reveal any special link with oriental cults, as Manzoni speculates about cat. 585. The eagle represents nothing more than Jupiter’s attribute as seen on so many Italic or African lamp discuses (Manzoni 1978/79, pp. 209, 211).

So far lampstands have been found, in some numbers, in two principal regions: Asia Minor (chiefly at Cnidus and Pergamon, a few at Halicarnassus), and in Libya (at Sabratha, Cyrene, and Benghazi). Examples in limited numbers have been discovered at Herculaneum, Stabiae, Lipari, Pozzuoli(?), Athens, Kenchreai, Corfu, Nicosia, and Alexandria; one fr. in the shape of a pinecone has been excavated in London (see Bailey BM III, p. 329).

Cats. 583–85 have a light orange-red clay and a dark brown slip unevenly displayed. Cat. 582 has a slightly darker orange-red clay and possibly a slip of the same color. May these colors, dominant in the lamps produced in Cnidus (Bailey BM III, p. 333), suggest that the Getty lamps were found or made at this site? The fourteen locally made lampstands found in Pergamon have a wider range of clay colors (Heimerl 2001, pp. 180–81, nos. 1036–49, in group 15). Only one Pergamene example, no. 1044, has the same clay color (Munsell 5YR7/6) as cat. 585, but its slip color is different.

Because of the chronology attributed to the lamps attached to them, the Getty lampstands can be dated to the middle or second half of the first century A.D. (cat. 582) or the second century A.D. (cats. 583–85).

Banner image: Detail of cat. 582