Roman oil lamps, Roman antiquities, Roman artifacts, Roman art, Roman pottery

A Sample of our finer Roman oil lamps

Over the years we’ve sold countless ancient pottery oil lamps. As is typical of the market for this type of antiquity, most ancient lamps are the more common low-fired pottery lamps from the Levant (Palestine / Israel / Jordan / Syria). These have a special significance for many collectors and the general public because of their connection to the Holy Land, Judaism and early Christianity. Less common and more expensive are the finely made red ware lamps of the early Roman period. These are formed of a higher grade of clay fired to a higher temperature. These often feature molded designs on their discus, ranging from mythological imagery to scenes from the theater, and sometimes have clear maker’s marks on their base. We have several of these in stock. These are depicted here, in multiple views, with links to them in both our Etsy shop and eBay store.

il_570xN.893236702_brsfil_570xN.893236710_r8cv

il_570xN.1026158280_3028

ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp from North Africa, 2nd Century AD, featuring an unusual scene of a dwarf or child slave with a wine amphora. Probably a theatrical image derived from Roman comedy. In our eBay store here –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Head-of-Jupiter-1st-2nd-Century-AD-/132219587757?hash=item1ec8e6ccad:g:hH4AAOSwgZ1Xsflm  And in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261629936/a-roman-pottery-oil-lamp-with-rare?ref=shop_home_active_11

il_570xN.1008209208_amti

 

il_570xN.1054736287_k7xd

il_570xN.1054736079_d6kc

ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp, possibly North Africa, Circa 120-180 AD, featuring a Krater (large open top vase with handles) with vegetation growing from it. In our eBay shop here –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Superb-Roman-Redware-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Vase-Decoration-and-Makers-Mark-/132190951787?hash=item1ec731d96b:g:Qm8AAOSw0fhXiVAl  And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265120673/roman-redware-pottery-oil-lamp-with-vase?ref=shop_home_active_2

il_570xN.1023156130_ov28

il_570xN.908987254_o71q

il_570xN.1023156316_91j0

ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp with a wild haired head of Jupiter, from North Africa, 2nd Century AD. In our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Head-of-Jupiter-1st-2nd-Century-AD-/132219587757?hash=item1ec8e6ccad:g:hH4AAOSwgZ1Xsflm

And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265121541/roman-redware-pottery-oil-lamp-with-head?ref=shop_home_active_1

s-l1600s-l1600a

ABOVE: We also have a selection of oil lamps from the Holy Land, Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic. Above is a good example of a Late Roman type. In our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Late-Roman-Pottery-Holy-Land-Oil-Lamp-Circa-AD-400-/132190749536?hash=item1ec72ec360:g:zysAAOSwCGVX3tsy   And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/280572988/a-late-roman-pottery-holy-land-oil-lamp?ref=shop_home_active_6

This Week’s Featured Antiquity: A Roman Holy Land Pottery Oil Lamp

Our object of the week is an unusual type of pottery oil lamp dating from the later years of the Roman Empire, not long before the full transition of the Empire’s eastern half to what we now call the Byzantine Empire. This general type of pottery lamp seems to have been manufactured at workshops in northern Syria, and possibly further south into what is now Lebanon, over a period of nearly 200 years. Our example seems to date to the earliest phase of production and features some quite unusual characteristics, outlined below.

The most obvious and uncommon aspect of this lamp is the long, pointed handle. Most late Roman and early Byzantine period lamps manufactured in the Near East feature short handles of spike or thumb shape. The long, rather delicate form of this lamp’s handle is both aesthetically pleasing and uncommon.

il_570xN.1100362577_fsug

The other interesting aspect of this lamp is its combination of decorative elements. The raised pellets around the central fill hole were a common theme on this broad category of lamps over a long period. But the cross-like image in low relief at the rear of the lamp, and continuing upward onto the handle, is puzzling. At first glance, this appears to be a Patriarchal cross, a type featuring two cross bars over the central vertical bar. But this type of cross did not appear in any numbers until the 9th and 10th Centuries in the Byzantine Empire. An alternative explanation might be that this was an attempt to depict the so-called “Tau” cross, the simple T-shaped crosses on which criminals were sometimes executed in the Roman Empire. But the image is still vague. In our opinion, any attempt to assign this cross-like relief image to a specific type of Christian iconography is no more than guess work.

Just as baffling is the maker’s mark or decorative element on the lamp’s flat base, shown below. Connected to a stylized palm frond that runs the length of the nozzle’s underside is a radiating sixteen pointed element set inside concentric raised circles with simple hatching between them. At first glance, this starburst design looks for all the world like the Union Jack on flags from Great Britain. But closer inspection shows another set of eight spokes in much lower relief between the eight main spokes. Is this a maker’s mark or is it simply a pleasant design? And in either case, does it carry any early Christian symbolism, as it resembles both a cross and a Chi-Rho symbol or Christogram?

il_570xN.1100362829_6yl3

In view of the date at which this piece was made, around 400 AD, and the combination of decorative elements (a possible cross on the upper surface, a palm frond – an image re-purposed from Pagan antiquity – and the cross-like design on the base,) it seems most likely that this lamp was made for sale to Christian customers. However, it is worth noting that at least in the Levantine region, pottery lamp makers did not seem to favor a specific category of client. Whether Christian, Jewish, Samaritan or Pagan, lamp makers seem to have created products for all types of customers and with all types of imagery.

This lamp is available in our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-AD-400-Holy-Land-/132102302002?hash=item1ec1e92932:g:BMoAAOSwCGVX8ENH

and in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/292086487/late-roman-pottery-oil-lamp-ad-400-holy?ref=shop_home_active_11

Roman Provincial Coinage: A Brief Review

Roman provincial coinage is an area of study in which non-academics, especially avid collectors and dealers, can make real contributions to the study of the ancient Roman world. While many thousands of different provincial types or variants are known, new ones are still routinely being discovered.They offer a much wider range of imagery than the Roman Imperial issues, with reverses that touch upon religious, economic and social phenomenon, political events and foreign relations. The images used in this article are Roman provincial coins sold by Clio Ancient Art over the last several years.

Roman provincial coins, Antioch coin, Philip II, ancient coins, Tyche

Syria, Antioch, Bronze 29 mm of Philip II, AD 247-249, with turreted, draped & veiled bust of Tyche right, leaping ram above, star below. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

The Roman provincial coin issues dating between the late 1st Century BC and the end of the 3rd Century AD were initially struck in both the western and eastern portions of the Empire, from points as distant from one another as Rhesaina in the province of Mesopotamia to Emerita Augusta near the Atlantic coast of Hispania. But by the end of the 1st Century AD, provincial coinage had become an exclusively eastern phenomenon, with coins being struck at mints in southeastern Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria/Palestine and Egypt.

Roman coins, ancient coins, Augustus, antiquities

Bronze 24 mm coin of Julia Traducta in Spain, with head of Augustus. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Most Roman provincial coins were issued in the name of individual cities or leagues of cities. A city could receive permission from the Roman Senate or the Emperor to issue coins, and these would mainly be used as small change, supplementing the official coinage of the Roman state apparatus struck at Rome and a few other Imperial mints. City coinages were nearly always bronze.

Other provincial coins were literally that: coins issued by a particular province, such as Syria or Egypt. These coins usually included silver issues of several values based on the Tetradrachm, as well as a range of bronze denominations. These currencies were intended to be sealed into their provinces, creating a closed economic system.

c_14_278_stitch

Egypt, Alexandria. Potin Tetradrachm of Diocletian, AD 284-305.

Victory (Nike) advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Roman Syria, Roman Empire, Roman Coins, Ancient Coins

Syria, Antioch. Bronze 30 MM of Phillip I. 244-249 AD. Laureate and cuirassed bust of Phillip facing left holding spear and shield. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Both Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria had continuous histories of coin production in both bronze and silver, lasting from the time of Augustus until AD 298. The later Egyptian teradrachms were struck in an alloy called Potin, comprised of bronze, tin and lead. This alloy patinates in very particular ways during burial in the ground, resulting in some especially beautiful surfaces on the coins.

Provincial coins are an endless source of information and enjoyment. Because most were struck in bronze, even large and very well preserved examples sell for very reasonable prices, especially when compared to Imperial bronze coins of similar size and quality.

Roman Provincial, Nicopolis, Roman coins, ancient coins, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis Orichalcum 5 Assarion (28 mm) of Gordion III, AD 238-244 Reverse of Demeter standing, facing left, holding torch and ears of grain, VP CAB MODECTOV NIKOPOLEITWN PROC ICTR (in Greek). Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

To learn more about Roman provincial coins, we recommend the following –

  • The Roman Provincial Coinage Initiative online. Organized through Oxford University, the site includes an excellent overview of Roman provincial coins and an extensive database with good, clear images (over 19,000!) and descriptions. http://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/intro/
  • The Wildwinds ancient coin site online. Although Wildwinds combines Greek with Roman Provincial coins, they are easily distinguished through use of an alphabetical list of issuing authorities, a geographically ordered index and other tools for narrowing a search. http://wildwinds.com/coins/greece/i.html

Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Juglet Pendant

This week’s featured antiquity is a remarkable late Roman glass pendant in the shape of a vase or juglet. It belongs to a class of decorative pendants and related objects that first appear in the Eastern Mediterranean in the mid-Third Century AD and evolve into a variety of types and forms into the Fifth Century AD.

Dating to the Fourth Century AD, this example measures just over one inch in height. It is an especially uncommon form of glass pendant featuring two handles. One handle is broken away in this example but the connection points are visible. In addition, this piece is shaped like a slender glass vessel rather than the more typically jug form. The body of this object is formed of a very dark brown or purple glass, appearing black, with a fine applied rim trail of light brown. The surviving handle appears to be formed of the same color glass as the body. A disc base has been separately applied. Incorporated into the body are slices from at least four glass beads or canes, including two eye beads in red and yellow and two composite slices featuring canes of alternating colors.

15174627_1362516003766125_714879567_n                       15129716_1362516043766121_1108348523_n 15134369_1362515963766129_694739111_n

Objects of this type were made not be glass blowers but by bead makers. In fact, if one were to remove the small handle and open the foot of this object it would become a bead. The strong dark colors are typical of the revival of that palette among Roman glass makers beginning in the mid to late Third Century, as seen on both glass beads and glass vessels in the late Roman world.

While it has been suggested that this type of glass pendant may have had a Christian religious significance, there is no real evidence one way or the other. Another theory is that these were miniature scent bottles worn on the body. While finds of these objects seem to be concentrated in the Levantine region, with another substantial grouping in Egypt, suggesting they may have been manufactured in both locations, examples have been found in Southern and Central Europe and in Rome itself.

An excellent reference on this class of objects is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects” catalog #s 343-354 for several similar examples, and pages 170-173 for a detailed description of the general type.

Readers interested in acquiring this item may find it in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/479831410/late-roman-glass-juglet-pendant-4th?ref=shop_home_active_1

and our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Glass-Juglet-Pendant-4th-Century-AD-/132009555359?hash=item1ebc61f59f:g:RsMAAOSwj85YMjZk

Clio’s Object of the Week: A Rare Roman Glass Marbled Unguentarium, Early 1st Century AD

This week’s featured object is a lovely marbled glass bottle sometimes referred to as an unguentarium, from “unguent” meaning a salve or ointment, though in the Roman world this would most commonly have been a scented oil either for personal use or for funerary rites. Reassembled from a few large fragments, like most of its kind, it is complete, measuring 10.2 cm (4 inches) in height, and dates to the early 1st Century AD.

20160809_174051_kindlephoto-14413349

The development of glass blowing made glass a common and affordable commodity rather then the preserve of the wealthy. As a result, blown glass unguentaria have survived in countless forms. The Corning Museum of Glass’ printed and online catalogs of unguentaria list dozens of distinct variations, though the great majority of these appear in plain, transparent, uncolored or naturally pale blue-green colored glass. What sets this glass vessel apart from others is its distinctive marbled glass. In this case, the semi-opaque glass is yellow and white, the white having been derived from antimony and the yellow from antimony and lead.

Throughout the Roman Republic and into the Augustan era Roman glass was still dominated by Hellenistic glass making techniques, focusing on opaque colored glass and utilizing time consuming and expensive techniques such as core forming, casting and slumping. The object featured in this article marks a moment of transition, with the introduction of glass blowing and a new preference for colorless transparent glass, and away from the older Hellenistic approach. It combines the new glass blowing technique with a lingering preference for colored glass. This combination allows the object to be dated to a narrow range of a few decades, from about AD 20-60.

20160809_174021

20160809_174008

To acquire this fine ancient Roman marbled glass vessel, visit it on Clio’s Etsy shop here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/265344324/rare-roman-glass-marbled-unguentarium?ref=shop_home_feat_4

or Clio’s eBay store here –

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rare-Roman-Glass-Marbled-Unguentarium-Roman-Empire-1st-Century-AD-/131966282422?hash=item1eb9cdaab6:g:w2kAAOSw65FXsfiP

Roman Glass, Korea, Roman Asian Trade, Roman artifacts, ancient glass

Distant Connections: Contact and Object Exchange Between Mediterranean and Far East Asian Civilizations in the First Few Centuries CE

Two news items appeared in the popular press during the second half of September, 2016 that addressed recent discoveries of possible East Asian migrants in a Roman period cemetery in London and Late Roman coins found in excavations of a Medieval castle on the Japanese island of Okinawa. While some aspects of the initial excavation reporting was misinterpreted in the popular press, these discoveries do fit into a larger pattern of exchange between the Mediterranean world and the Far East, including not only China but also Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In this brief article, I’d like to examine some of the inaccuracies in the recent news reporting and explore the implications of this surprisingly widespread pattern of exchange spanning distances of as much as 6,000 miles.

News outlets ran stories beginning on September 23 that attempted to summarize the results of a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, in which the authors had raised the possibility, based on a small sample of Roman period skeletons excavated in London (Roman Londinium), that a couple of the bodies might have had a far eastern origin. Unfortunately, popular reporting of scientific papers, and especially the often sensationalist headlines that result, tends to be misleading. Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove promptly wrote an article for Forbes magazine in which she pointed out the limitations of the initial study and the ways in which the results had been misinterpreted. In her view, put simply, while contact between ancient China and the Mediterranean world certainly did occur, in the form of trade and even diplomatic missions, and that with further study it was quite possible that human remains from the Mediterranean might be found in east Asia and visa-versa, the rush to assume that limited evidence might suggest a Chinese origin for two skeletons in a small sample from Roman London was premature.

A few days later, a flurry of news stories appeared covering the finding of a small number of Roman bronze coins of the Constantinian Dynasty during excavations at the medieval Katsuren Castle on the Island of Okinawa. Initial reports in the Japan Times online and other news outlets showed images of a 17th Century Ottoman coin also found at the site, with a caption indicating it was Roman (see image below). The Japan Times corrected this error the next day with an updated photo and caption. But the initial error underscores the need for popular news outlets reporting on archaeological or other science stories to fully understand their material before publication, something that rarely occurs.

160927140450-04-ancient-roman-coins-exlarge-169

One of several 4th Century Roman bronze coins recovered in excavations on Okinawa. Photo Uruma City Board of Education, Okinawa Prefecture

The find on Okinawa is puzzling, given the difference in age between the coins themselves and the period in which the Castle was flourishing, a span of nearly a thousand years. A few possibilities present themselves: That the Castle has a much earlier origin than previously supposed and the coins have somehow been moved by burrowing animals out of their original context in earlier layers, to be found in the Medieval layers being excavated now. That the coins had been kept in the castle for centuries as exotic curiosities. That the coins had slowly traveled eastward over a period of centuries (less likely). That the coins had been part of the cargo of a ship wrecked on the Island’s coast and found by locals centuries later during a low tide or after a storm dislodged them from the buried wreckage. Perhaps future seasons of excavation at the Castle site will offer clues.

While the Okinawa find is unusual in that the Roman coins are so much earlier than the strata in which they were found, artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean world, from the later Hellenistic Period on through the Roman and Byzantine, are surprisingly common finds in east Asian contexts. The Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China were not unknown to the later Hellenistic kingdoms or the Roman Empire. One literary source illustrates this in detail, while still leaving tantalizing questions. This is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a trade and maritime navigation manual probably written in the mid-1st Century AD by an unknown author, and surviving as a 10th Century Byzantine copy. The Erythraean Sea encompassed, to the ancient Greek speaking world, what we now know as the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The work is so detailed that the trade routes and ports mentioned must have already been well known and frequently visited by the time the manuscript was written. It includes clear references to the Himyarite and Sabaean Kingdoms in southern Arabia, the ports of Bharuch in Northwest India and Kochi in Southwest India, and after rounding the tip of India, other ports that may be associated with the Ganges River Delta and beyond in what is now Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). These most distant locales are more difficult to pinpoint on a modern map due to their ancient place names being so obscure.

Of course, sea routes were not the only method of contact between these widely separated cultures. The famed Silk Route, which was actually a network of many routes through Central Asia, connected the Roman Empire with the Chinese Han Empire (205 BC – 220 AD). The vast Roman output of gold coinage through Indian intermediaries for Chinese silks and Indian and Southeast Asian spices is proof of the frequency and volume of this two way trade. Many hoards of Roman gold coins have been found in southern India. But perhaps the most spectacular evidence of the reciprocal nature of trade along this land route is the Begram Treasure from Afghanistan, found in a Kushan royal storehouse at the Begram site. Begram had been the capital of one of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms. By the time the treasures found in this warehouse were deposited, the site had become capital of the Kushan Empire. Found there were classical bronzes and Romano-Egyptian painted glass vessels, probably made in Alexandria in the first decades after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, alongside Han Chinese lacquer boxes and ivory carvings from India.

begram-roman-egyptian-enamelled-glass

Enamel painted glass tumbler, made in Roman Egypt in the 1st Century AD, part of the Begram Treasure found in Afghanistan. Photo: National Museum of Afghanistan

Finds of Roman antiquities still much farther east are surprisingly common. Han Dynasty Chinese tombs have turned up many examples of Roman gold, silver, bronze and glass artifacts. A particularly striking example, pictured below, is a large 2nd or early 3rd Century Roman gilt silver plate featuring a central image of Dionysus and his associated animal, a panther. This example was found by chance during construction work in Gansu Province, China.

dionysus_silver_plate_from_gansu_china_2nd-3rd_centuries_ad_640x480

Roman silver gilt Dionysiac plate, 2nd – early 3rd Century AD, found in Gansu Province, China.

The diffusion of blown and cast glass across what is now southern Russia and Northern China , which was highly valued by the semi-nomadic cultures of the Central Asian steppe and by far eastern cultures that had not yet adopted glass blowing,  helps explain the presence of Roman glass vessels in the Silla Dynasty royal tombs of Korea. Excavated in the early 1970s, Silla royal tomb number 98 held the remains of King Nae-Mool and his Queen. The Silla Kingdom was focused on the Southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula yet the tomb goods originated in the Roman and Sassanian Empires and parts of Central Asia. Among these was a glass ewer and several glass cups, all of typically Late Roman type. Their rarity and value to the Silla royalty may be judged by the fact that the damaged handle on the ewer, pictured below, had been repaired using gold wire. This finding was not unique. Several other examples of Roman and Sassanian glass, including an early Roman Millefiori glass cup now in the National Museum of Korea, have been found in Gyeongju tombs.

ps01001002007-003321-000-0001

Late Roman glass ewer, Circa 4th Century AD, found in a Silla Dynasty  royal tomb in Korea.

This article began with a report on Roman coins found on Okinawa and we end it with impressive finds of Roman period glass in Japan. Having spanned the entire Asian Continent with a breadcrumb trail of Roman and related antiquities, the journey ends facing the Pacific Ocean. In 2012, researchers excavating a 5th Century tomb near Kyoto found three Roman glass beads among the burial accessories. Chemical analysis confirmed their origin as Roman, with traces of natron in their makeup. More spectacularly, in November, 2014, Japanese archaeologists announced the recover of two ancient glass vessels, essentially intact, from a high status 5th Century tomb in Nara Prefecture. Chemical and stylistic analysis made clear that the elegant blue glass dish was from the Roman Empire, while the painted glass bowl originated in the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival. Unlike the puzzling coin find on Okinawa, these objects seem to have been interred with their owner’s remains within decades of their manufacture. At the time, Japanese glass making technology was limited to small, opaque, bean shaped glass beads, so large colored and clear glass vessels of this type would have been highly prized, just as they were in China and Korea.

roman-glass

Roman glass dish found in a 5th Century royal tomb in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Photo: Tokyo National Museum.

 

roman-glass-in-japan

Sassanian (Persian) Empire, painted glass bowl, 5th Century. Found in the same tomb as the Roman glass dish above. Photo: Tokyo National Museum.

No doubt, rapid improvement in bioarchaeological techniques will soon permit the identification of human remains in seemingly unlikely places, such as the possible Asian remains in Roman London. Combined with continuing finds of material culture such as those listed here, it may be possible in the future to dispel the old notions of a lack of mobility and communications in the ancient world.

Apart from the news stories mentioned here, which are easily found via web search, here are links to Kristine Killgrove’s thoughtful, cautionary article in Forbeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2016/09/23/chinese-skeletons-in-roman-britain-not-so-fast/#1c9329b9ef9b

And to the Roman glass vessels in the National Museum of Korea – https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/relic/search/view?relicId=4452

 

NEWS ITEM: Romano-British Goddess Sculpture Uncovered During Dig at Roman Fort

During a dig at Arbeia Roman Fort, in the north of England, not far from Hadrian’s Wall, a small but well preserved stone head of a Romano-British goddess was uncovered by a volunteer. Here’s the link to the local newspaper, including a photo gallery – http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/roman-goddess-stone-found-during-7897902