|ACTA ACCLA, Updated
Ken Baumheckel Collection of Oil Lamps
By Ken Baumheckel
Burning reproductions of 4-spout, 1-spout, and Herodian oil lamps
Terra cotta oil lamps provided portable light and fire for every
household in Syria and Palestine from the end of the Early Bronze Age. Oil lamps
were used in the First Temple, and their importance and familiarity to the
people of the eastern Mediterranean can be appreciated by their use in a number
of metaphors in the Bible. David, YHWH, the tribe of Judah, G-d's word, G-d's
commands, man's perspective on life, John the Baptist, and Jesus are all called
"lamps." (See 2 Samuel 21:17, 2 Samuel 22:29, 1 Kings 11:36, Psalm
119:105, Proverbs 6:23, Proverbs 21:4, Luke 11:34, John 5:35, Revelation 21:23.)
Introductory note about the dating of the lamps
I have arranged the lamps in descending order beginning with the oldest,
according to the best information I have on their attribution. There is
considerable overlap of types, as older forms often continued to be made while
new forms were being developed.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Bronze Age | Iron Age |
Persian - Hellenistic | Roman | Late Antiquity |
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I. Bronze Age Lamps
|1 - 4. Four Early Bronze Age Oil Lamps. 3300-2200 BCE.
During the preceding Chalcolithic Period (4300-3300 BCE), a
small number of pottery bowls were utilized as oil lamps in the home. A wick
was placed in the bowl and leaned against the rim, oil was added to the bowl,
and the wick was lit. Archaeologists find these bowls and know they were used
as lamps because of the soot that still remains on the rim of the bowl. In the
Early Bronze Age, bowls continued to find a second life as lamps, but now for
the first time potters also began to create vessels specifically designed to
serve as lamps. These vessels had indentations along the rim, and these
indentations were designed to serve as wick emplacements (Sussman 2007, pp.
Comment: All four of the Early Bronze Age lamps in this
collection were made by hand with little or no use of a potter's wheel, have
rather thick walls, and have wick rests that were made by merely indenting the
rim with a tool or by slightly thumb-indenting and stretching it. This stands
in marked contrast to the pronounced pinching of the rim that was used to form
the wick rests of the wheel-made, thin-walled saucer lamps during the next two
|1. Early Bronze I lamp, 3-spout, 3300-3000 BCE. Cylindrical
body of coarse clay with large inclusions. Very thick sides and bottom. Three
wick rests, possibly formed by pressing a stick down into the irregular rim.
12 cm. wide, 6.5 cm. high. Similar to Sussman 2007, lamp 46 for size and
thickness, Sussman 2007, lamp 50 for shape.
|2. Early Bronze I lamp, 6-spout, 3300-3000 BCE Coarse clay with large inclusions, very thick module, hemispherical wall profile. Six thumb-indented wick rests. 13.5
cm wide, 6 cm high. Sussman 2007, lamp 46.
|3. Early Bronze Age lamp, 5-spout, 3300-2250 BC. V-shaped wall
profile. Thick module body added to separately formed bottom. Five spouts made
by cutting across rim before clay hardened. 12.5 cm wide, 6 cm high. Sussman
2007, lamp 55.
|4. Early Bronze III lamp, 4-spout, 2700-2250 BCE. Spouts made by
stretching. 6 cm in diameter, 2.2 cm in height. Brown, gritty clay, flat base.
Entire rim is sooty. Sussman 2007, lamp 104.
|9. Middle Bronze Age Oil Lamp. 2200-1550 BCE.
|9. Middle Bronze Age lamp, single spout,
rim straight up like a bowl. 2200-1550 BCE. The fabric of the lamp is gritty
orange clay with large quartz inclusions, and the lamp is 11.7 cm long, 9.5 cm
wide, and 3.7 cm high. The lamp has a slightly rounded, tool-scraped bottom,
and the wick rest has a lot of soot.
Adler 7; Sussman 1985 p. 45; Israeli & Avida 1; QEDEM 8.312-314; BAR p.
45; Sussman 2007, lamp 323; Smith (1964) fig. 1.
Comment: Single-spouted lamps with a slight pinch for the wick and an
incurved rim first appeared along with the four-spouted lamps in the Middle
period and continued to be made until about 1400 BCE, the middle of the Late
Bronze Age, after which rims on lamps began to be turned outward to form a
ledge. Incidentally, broken vessels (especially the bases of bowls and jugs)
could find a second life as oil lamps, as we know from the surviving presence
of soot. According to Sussman, this was common practice during the Middle
Bronze Age (2007, p. 40).
II. Iron Age Lamps
13. Iron I Oil Lamp. 1200-1000 BCE.
13. Iron I large lamp with nozzle pinched shut. 1200-1000
BCE. Sussman 1985 pp. 46, 47; Adler 19, 20.|
Comment: This lamp is poorly balanced; when placed on a flat surface it
tends to tip backward, and since the wall of the lamp is nearly flat, the lamp
could not have retained a pool of oil in this position. Smith notes this
problem common to many Iron I lamps and believes that an upright bowl was
likely placed beneath the lamp as a supporting stand so that the lamp could be
balanced correctly. This is the first lamp with two holes in the top of the
lamp, the large one for the reservoir of oil, the smaller one for the wick.
Why this lamp type was discontinued is unclear. Bailey remarks on the inherent
benefits to a closed nozzle, noting that it allowed for greater control of the
wick and the ability to create a smokeless flame, since the wick could be
tamped down. In my own experiments, I have seen that unless the nozzle is
closed, there is no way to prevent the flame from crawling down into the lamp
and becoming larger and smokier as the reserve of oil in the bottom of the
lamp begins to get depleted.
While they were buried, many oil lamps were reached by the roots of
plants growing above them. Those plant roots left marks, sometimes
mineralized, on the lamps.
17. Iron Age II Oil Lamp. 1000-800 BCE.
|17. Iron Age II lamp with seven spouts, 1000-800 BCE. Adler
23, Smith Fig. 6; Sussman 2007, lamp 1451.
Comment: Seven-spouted oil lamps have been found in Syro-Palestine in
Middle and Late Bronze Age contexts but are more common in the Iron Age. This
type of oil lamp may have been placed on each of the ten lampstands of the
tenth century BCE First Temple that Solomon built. As Sussman explains,
"In Zechariah 4, the prophet [in his vision of a future temple] describes
a gold lamp stand. The lamps on it are seven in number, and the lamps above it
have seven spouts. The word used for spouts, mutzakot (mutzakah, singular) is
the noun form of the verb ytzq, meaning 'to pour, flow.'" (1985, p. 44).
21 - 22. Two Iron Age IIBC Oil Lamps With a Foot. 900-525 BCE.
Comment: Footed lamps reflect the political division of Israel into the
Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom that followed the death of Solomon, circa
928 BCE. Although lamps without a foot are common throughout Israel, footed
lamps are extremely rare north of Megiddo. (Footed lamps are however found in
Cyprus and Transjordan.) Late in Iron II, there was a tendency toward a smaller
bowl and a larger and heavier foot. Some of the footed bases were cut from the
wheel with a string while the lamp was being turned on the potter's wheel, as
can be seen in the photo of the bottom of my lamp with the shorter foot. String
marks do not appear on the bottom of my lamp with the higher foot. By the way,
just as broken bowls and jugs were recycled into oil lamps during Middle Bronze,
the thick round foot on these Southern Kingdom lamps often found a second life
as a stopper for a jug (to keep the contents sealed from insects or dirt),
according to Ussishkin. Though the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, footed
lamps continued in use. Stern reports that they were found by G. E. Wright among
other objects in a tomb at Beth Shemesh that dates to the late sixth century
|21. Iron II BC smaller southern lamp with short foot, 900-525
BCE. Amiran plate 100.20; Kenyon fig. 7.3; Aharoni plate 30; Smith (1964) fig.
|22. Iron II BC larger southern lamp with high foot, 900-525
BCE. Amiran plate 100.19; Kenyon fig. 7.4; Aharoni plate 31; BAR p. 47; Smith
(1964) fig. 10.
III. Persian Period/Archaic Greek to Hellenistic Lamps
|23. Oil Lamp With Two Open Spouts.
Ninth-Third Century BCE.
|23. 9th to 3rd Century BCE lamp with two open spouts from
Samaria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, or North Africa, 9 cm long, coarse orange clay
with burnished bottom. Smith Feb 1964, Fig. 8; Moscati lamps 367, 368, 494,
766, 767, and 898.
Comment: The small size of this lamp is typical of the trend toward
smaller lamps from the middle of the first millennium BCE and onward.
Regarding two-spout open lamps, Smith remarks (1964), "Bicorn [i.e.,
two-spouted] lamps had been popular for a long time in Phoenicia, whence they
were subsequently transmitted to Phoenician colonies in Cyprus and North
Africa-particularly the latter, where from the 7th century to Hellenistic
times they were standard design. In northern Palestine bicorn lamps were never
so popular, but they continued to be made into the Persian period."
24. Iron IIC-Persian Period Oil Lamp. 720-400 BCE.
|24. Iron IIC-Persian Period lamp with wide tool-shaped rim,
smaller and rounder in outline, 13 cm. across, 720-400 BCE. Stern p. 128, Type
A2; Tel Yoqne'am II Photo IV.3, left; Sussman 2007, lamps 1158, 1160, 1161,
1162, 1163. Coarse pink clay, yellowish burnish.
Comment: This lamp is made of hard-fired coarse pink clay with a light
yellow slip on the surface. It was crudely made and has a warped rim which
bends downward on one side. Some pink dirt adheres to the surface on the top
of the lamp, and there is mineralization from long burial on the spout, along
the rim, and especially on the underside of the lamp. It has a wide ledge rim
sharply scarped from the bowl, and the sides of the relatively small U-shaped
wick rest are pressed inward and downward toward the bowl until they almost
IV. Roman Period Lamps
35-43. Herodian Oil Lamps. First Century CE.
Comment: Herodian lamps were made on a potter's wheel, so with careful
inspection one can usually see circular striations in the clay. The potter
obliterated most of the striations when he rubbed the bottom and sides of the
lamp to burnish it and close the pores. However, the potter could not burnish
the interior of the lamp, so a spiral design can often be seen in the floor of
the lamp as viewed through the filling hole. More minute circular striations can
sometimes be found on the shoulders and on the rim and ledge around the filling
hole of Herodian lamps.
|35. Herodian lamp with pronounced rim and wide ledge around
filling hole. Tan clay, 7.8 cm long, 5.8 cm wide. Smith Type 1; Masada C I.
|36. Herodian lamp with pronounced rim and wide ledge around
filling hole. Pale orange clay, 8.5 cm long. Smith Type 1; Masada C I.
|37. Herodian lamp with rim and medium ledge. Red clay, 9.3
cm long. 1st century CE. Smith transitional type; Masada C II.
|38. Herodian lamp with rim and medium ledge around filling
hole. Orange clay, 8.5 cm long. Smith transitional type; Masada C II.
|39. Black Herodian lamp with rim and small ledge around
filling hole. Middle third of first century CE. Poorly fired, so losses from
flaking. Handle missing. 7.8 cm long, 5.2 cm wide. Adler 142; Smith Type 2;
Massada C III (narrow ledge) and C VIII (gray ware with handle, missing).
|40. Black Herodian lamp with rim and medium ledge around
filling hole. Middle third of first century CE. Concentric circles to either
side of wick hole; three more concentric circles run between dotted lines
formed by roulette across the nozzle. Vertical handle with triple molding.
QEDEM 8.334; Adler 156; Israeli & Avida 84.
|41. Herodian lamp with straight sides, rim around the bowl
but not the filling hole, a nozzle decorated with a rouletted line and two
concentric circles, and a hole to facilitate oil recovery. Circa 50 - 70 CE.
Masada C V, lamp 68.
|42. Herodian lamp with straight sides, raised rim around the
bowl and inset rim around the filling hole, a nozzle decorated with two
rouletted lines and two concentric circles, and a hole to facilitate oil
recovery. Circa 50 - 70 CE. Masada C V, lamp 68.
|43. Two-nozzle Herodian lamp with rim and small ledge around
filling hole. Gray clay with cream slip, 10.5 cm long, 8.0 cm wide. Two
incised lines on each nozzle, loop handle (missing). 50-150 CE. Adler 127, Israeli &
Avida Pl. XI. 58; Masada C IV (large body) and C XI (multiple nozzles);
Loffreda lamp 215.
44. Daroma Oil Lamp. 50-100 CE.
|44. Daroma mold-made lamp with triangles and lines around
filling hole, a ring base, and a knob handle. 50-150 CE. Adler 305.
Comment: Daroma lamps were manufactured in Judaea after the destruction
of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when the urban population, including artists
and craftsmen, fled Jerusalem. These are essentially the first decorated lamps
made by Jews and intended for Jewish use. The sides of the triangles in the
motif on my lamp bow outward and probably represent flower petals or leaves of
some sort. According to Adler, floral motifs are common on Daroma lamps. Other
motifs include agricultural tools, craftsmen's tools, geometric designs,
Jewish symbols, and jewelry.
48. Beit Natif Oil Lamp. Late Third-Fifth Century CE.
|48. Beit Natif lamp, late 3rd to 5th century CE. Large
peacock tail with two circles above it, on nozzle. Plain wide rim around
filling hole, encircled by line. Shoulder has a wreath of chevrons ending with
encircled pellets; line of dots below. Pyramidal handle, triple ring base.
Root marks inside. Adler 516, Israeli & Avida 363.
V. Late Antiquity to Modern Period Lamps
50. Early Samaritan Oil Lamp. Fourth-Fifth Century CE.
|50. Early Samaritan lamp, bow-shaped nozzle. 4th - 5th
century CE. Israeli & Av. 399, Adler 656 (similar).
53. North African Redware Oil Lamp. Fifth Century CE.
|53. North African redware lamp. Mid to late
5th century CE. Fish on discus. Hayes type IIA, lamps 288-289 (similar); Herrman & Van Den
Hoek object 102 (similar).
54. Byzantine "Candlestick" Oil Lamp. Fifth-Seventh Century CE.
|54. Byzantine "Candlestick" lamp. 5th-7th century
CE. QEDEM 8.476-479; Sussman (1985) p. 49.
|55. Inscribed Byzantine "Candlestick" Oil Lamp. Fifth-Eighth
|55. Inscribed Byzantine "Candlestick" lamp with Greek inscription,
"The light of Christ shines on all." 8.9 cm long, 6.2 cm wide, and 3.0 cm high. End of 5th to early 8th century CE. Loffreda
p. 19 lamp 18; Adler 936.
Comment: To either side of the stylized palm tree(?) are two devices which Loffreda considers symbols representing flights of steps descending into and ascending out of a baptismal pool.
The inscription runs clockwise around the lamp.
It begins facing the shoulders, then switches to facing the center of the lamp, and reads:
ΦΩΣ (= "Light", with a lunate sigma) ΧΥ (abbreviation of ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ, = "of Christ") ΦΕΝ (abbreviation and dialect-influenced spelling of ΦΑΙΝΕΙ, = "enlightens") ΠΑΑΣΙΝ (spelling variation of ΠΑΣΙΝ, with an extra alpha and lunate sigma fused with iota, = "to all").
|57. Byzantine Oil Lamp. Sixth-Eighth Century CE.|
|57. Byzantine lamp with laurel on shoulder and cross on
nozzle, a false ring base, and a rounded nozzle. 6th-8th century CE. Israeli
& Avida 481, 486 (similar).
Comment: Fingerprints are visible inside the lamp.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
OIL LAMP REFERENCES
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from the Adler Collection. Old City Press: Israel, 2004.
Bailey, D. M. A Catalogue of the lamps in the British Museum: I:
Greek, Hellenistic, and Early Roman Pottery Lamps. British Museum
Publications: London, 1975.
Baur, P. V. C. (Rostovtseff et al., editors). The Excavations at
Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions
and Letters: Final Report IV: Part III: The Lamps. Yale University Press:
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Hayes, J. W. Ancient Lamps in the Royal Ontario Museum I: Greek and
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Herrmann, John J. Jr., and Van Den Hoek, Annewies. Light from the
Age of Augustine: Late Antique Ceramics from North Africa (Tunisia). Harvard
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--. The ‘Herodian’ Lamp of Palestine: Types and Dates. In Berytus.
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Random House, 1975.
Ken Baumheckel was a member of ACCLA and a founding member of OCACC. Address
comments on the webpage to the webmaster.
Fake oil Lamps