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29. ROMAN CANDLE LAMP

A late Roman candle lamp: grey fabric and golden brown slip.

Most people think the Romans only used oil lamps. This is not true, as particularly in the later empire and in northern regions, candles were also in existence.

The home of the candle seems to have been Italy, its use going back to the Etruscans. The Romans used candles “candela” and were the first to produce a candle that resembles the candle we know and use today. In Rome, they used tallow, to make their candles. Tallow is the fat from cows or sheep. The tallow was extremely smoky and had an unpleasant smell due to the glycerin they contained.

Beeswax, though available and imported from Olbia and the Black Sea region throughout the Roman Empire remained expensive, so wax candles (candela cerea, cereus) seem to have been used by the rich only.

The Romans often used candles in ceremonies. They were burnt in candlesticks or candelabra with spikes or sockets and made from clay, wood or bronze. The socket often has an aperture to remove the candle ends. The aperture in this example has been infiled at a later date, possibly to seal it for use with oil. A candle dating back to the first century AD is now in the British Museum.

These lamps are particularly rare Roman antiquities for sale


Condition: Excellent. Surface accretions and soil deposits.

Dimensions: 10.2cm dia. approx.

Provenance: Ex. Private collection, UK. Ex. UK auction house.

Price: £180.00

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