DETAIL: This is a well preserved terracotta oil lamp dated to the first century A.D. Its origin is Roman Provincial Moseia, present-day Bulgaria. The top surface of the oil lamp portrays an impressed braided pattern around the rim of the fill hole, a little indistinct, but basically a geometric pattern of a chain of small rectangles. There’s also a trademark of some sort on the underside surface of the pedestal. It too is a bit indistinct, but it seems to be a circle with a two characters inside the circle. It’s not possible really to determine whether they might have been letters or merely figures. But clearly the pedestal contains a trademark. It was not uncommon for the artisans who produced these pieces to leave some sort of “trade mark” on the underside of the pedestal so as to identify it as their produce. The style is very characteristic of the lamps manufactured for domestic use in the Roman Provinces.
As can be seen the design elements of the vessel are even after the passage of almost 2,000 years, by and large intact intact. Though by no means rare, it is uncommon to find such a nice design in such a well-preserved state – whole and relatively intact with no major breakage or repairs. The vessel was of course buried for somewhere around two thousand years in the soil. As a consequence of this prolonged burial there are some pretty stubborn soil deposits adhering to the inside of vessel, as you can see. They are removable if you are patient and can work with your fingernail or a plastic toothpick, etc. The adhesions are almost like hard plaster – but it is a thin layer, and so can be lifted away from the surface of the lamp.
Such lamps were mold-produced in two parts, then assembled by hand and then fired. Such oil lamps were produced in huge quantities both for local consumption as well as export throughout the Roman Empire. Oil was filled into the center hole, and a wick placed in the front hole. The lamp is in very good condition, without breakage, cracking, or repairs notwithstanding the adhesions and chipped handle already described. There is a bit of wear around the fill hole where there would have been constant contact as the oil lamp was refilled from an earthenware oil pitcher. There is the slight wear and heat chipping one would expect around the nozzle. The integrity of the vessel is unimpeached, it is truly in very good condition, a remarkable, poignant, and evocative relic not only of the glory that was the Roman World, but of early Judaism and Christianity – not to mention the ancient Phoenician Empire.
HISTORY OF POTTERY: Pottery is amongst the most abundant artifacts unearthed during excavations of Roman, Byzantine, and ancient Judaean and Hebrew sites. Abundant throughout the empire, specimens such as this were even routinely and systematically exported by the Romans and their Byzantine successors. Manufactured throughout the empire the product was widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean world and even beyond into Britain, Spain and Germany. Oil lamps like this were utilitarian implements both for the kitchen, dining table, and for general household lighting. Think of them not only as a table lamp, but also as a flashlight. Most terra cotta pieces such as this were functional items, and tended to be rather plain – but oil lamps were oftentimes an exception, and could be ornately decorated. The most widely used pottery in the ancient world were oil lamps, bottles, unguentariums, pitchers, bowls and plates. Their basic shapes remained unchanged for over a thousand years. The bottles and pitchers were used to store wine, water, oil and other liquids.
This particular specimen came from the ancient city of Accho. Although Accho, present-day Acre is now part of Israel it was once part the Roman Province of Syria-Phoenice, adjacent to the Roman Province of Judaea. In fact, it is quite possible that this lamp was produced in Judaea and “exported” to Accho, less than 100 miles North of Jerusalem and present-day Tel Aviv. The ancient empire of Phoenicia, destined to become both part of the Hellenic and Roman Empires, was in its own right one of the more significant ancient cultures in the world's history. The area that ultimately became known as Phoenicia (derived from the Greek name Phoinikes) was at the western end of the Fertile Crescent, and was settled sometime around 3000 B.C. There anthropologists believe that the westward expansion of these peoples from Mesopotamia met the Mediterranean.
The earliest record of the Phoenicians is from about 1600 B.C. There they developed one of the earliest ancient and great seafaring Western cultures, using commerce as their principal motivation and source of influence. In fact, their name for themselves seems to have been Kena'ani (or Canaanites), a word which in Hebrew means "merchants." The prophet Ezekiel in his Biblical foretelling of the fall of one of Phoenicia's great cities, Tyre, reviews the extensive scope of Phoenician trade. It is believed that Byblos was the first city founded in Phoenicia, followed shortly thereafter by Tyre and Sidon. The later two cities gained prominence after about 1300 B.C., when Byblos was repeatedly sacked and razed by successive waves of raiders. The Phoenicians developed a vast commercial empire with settlements which stretched as far as North Africa and the coast of Spain.
Phoenicia was centered along the coast of what is now Lebanon, but as the centuries past it expanded along the coast north and south. Ugarit to the north was absorbed, and to the south substantial settlements grew into cities which survive in modern Israel; Accho (contemporary Acre), Joppa (Tel Aviv-Yafo) and Dor (Nasholim). However the Phoenicians were more of a trading empire, and never much of a political or military empire like the ancient Greeks and Romans who succeeded them. Consequentially Phoenicia was almost always under the dominion of another political-military empire. After about 1000 B.C. for instance, the Assyrians required regular tribute payments for their king. Before the Assyrians were the Egyptians, and following the Assyrians were the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander, and finally the Romans.
However regardless of what throne claimed the land and the cities of Phoenicia, they nonetheless maintained economic independence. To the ancient Phoenicians the first order of business was business, and political considerations were secondary. It was only a question of to which throne tribute was to be paid. Thus the ancient Phoenicians were compelled to pushed west in search of new resources and commodities, founding great cities like Utica, and Carthage, a center that grew to become the biggest city in the western Mediterranean and the principal maritime and commercial center. In the process, and formed long-lasting alliances with many other regional powers such as the Kingdom of Israel. Unfortunately, as with much of what was once Phoenicia, little remains of the great cities that stood at the center of this ancient maritime power. None of the original buildings they lived in and temples they built are still standing, and there is no great wealth of art depicting exactly how they lived.
Unfortunately the Roman Empire was not satisfied with anything less than complete subjugation. Conflict between Phoenicia and the Roman Empire in the 3rd century B.C. (the Punic Wars) led to the total destruction of Carthage in particular, and the Phoenician Empire in general. The end witnessed a dispersion of its forces and people, and, for all practical purposes, the end of the era of Phoenicia's part in the development of the Mediterranean. However the Phoenician people themselves continued to thrive, trade, and flourish, despite their incorporation into the Roman province of Syria. The Roman Empire had become the paramount player in the region, and would tolerate no political, economic, or ideological competitor. And so the great Phoenician Empire was crushed underneath the feet of the Roman Legions and disappeared. However the great legacy of the alphabet, higher learning, and the capital cities of Phoenicia's past - Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, Ugarit and Carthage, survive even to today as testaments to the vitality of that ancient empire.
HISTORY OF ROME: One of the greatest civilizations of recorded history was the ancient Roman Empire. In exchange for a very modest amount of contemporary currency, you can possess a small part of that great civilization in the form of a 2,000 year old piece of jewelry. The Roman civilization, in relative terms the greatest military power in the history of the world, was founded in the 8th century (B.C.). In the 4th Century (B.C.) the Romans were the dominant power on the Italian Peninsula, having defeated the Etruscans and Celts. In the 3rd Century (B.C.) the Romans conquered Sicily, and in the following century defeated Carthage, and controlled the Greece. Throughout the remainder of the 2nd Century (B.C.) the Roman Empire continued its gradual conquest of the Hellenistic (Greek Colonial) World by conquering Syria and Macedonia; and finally came to control Egypt in the 1st Century (B.C.).
The pinnacle of Roman power was achieved in the 1st Century (A.D.) as Rome conquered much of Britain and Western Europe. For a brief time, the era of “Pax Romana”, a time of peace and consolidation reigned. Civilian emperors were the rule, and the culture flourished with a great deal of liberty enjoyed by the average Roman Citizen.However within 200 years the Roman Empire was in a state of steady decay, attacked by Germans, Goths, and Persians. In the 4th Century (A.D.) the Roman Empire was split between East and West. The Great Emperor Constantine temporarily arrested the decay of the Empire, but within a hundred years after his death the Persians captured Mesopotamia, Vandals infiltrated Gaul and Spain, and the Goths even sacked Rome itself.
Most historians date the end of the Western Roman Empire to 476 (A.D.) when Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed. However the Eastern Roman Empire (The Byzantine Empire) survived until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. At its peak, the Roman Empire stretched from Britain in the West, throughout most of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, and into Asia Minor. Valuables such as coins and jewelry as well as more ordinary personal and household articles were commonly buried for safekeeping, and inevitably these ancient citizens would succumb to one of the many perils of the ancient world. Oftentimes the survivors of these individuals did not know where the valuables had been buried, and today, two thousand years later caches of coins and jewelry, as well as household and personal possessions are still commonly uncovered throughout Europe and Asia Minor.
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