Byzantine Pottery Oil Lamps from the Levant


Many of the ancient lamps on our website are Byzantine, mainly from the Levant (what is now southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel / Palestine). Unlike Roman hard fired ceramic red slip lamps of earlier centuries, Byzantine lamps tend to be made from low fired pottery and their designs reflect Christian symbolism.

In the Roman period, hard fired red slip lamps, of the types widely known from Italy and the European provinces and from North Africa were never widespread in the Levantine region. Instead, a wide range of low fired pottery lamps were made for differing communities, including Samaritans, Hellenized city dwellers, strictly observant Jews, and Roman immigrants involved in trade or the local administration.

One clearly distinguishing characteristic of Byzantine Levantine lamps is their difference in shape compared to earlier Roman types. The large circular discus that served as a platform for decorative images on most Roman examples disappears during the Byzantine period, with the result that most decoration, either abstract patterns or specific Christian symbols, tend to be concentrated along the shoulders of lamps or just beneath the wick hole on the nozzle. Most are remarkably simple and utilitarian while others are elaborately decorated with clear iconography.

When the Levantine provinces of the Byzantine Empire fell to the Islamic armies in the mid-7th Century, there was no immediate change in styles. But change did slowly come. Some transitional types still include elaborate floral or abstract decoration while others show a clear shift away from Byzantine style towards purely geometric decoration.

For other examples of Byzantine lamps, all with clear provenance and detailed reference information, follow this link:

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