Bronze oil lamp with a leaping ibex

From ancient South Arabia, probably 5th-4th centuries BC

It is not certain where this lamp originated, but with the lit wick floated in oil, it would have cast a beautiful light in a temple, palace or home. Furthermore, it is evidence to the existence of very skilled metallurgists in ancient South Arabia.

Several bronze oil lamps have been discovered that are decorated with an ibex, which was a popular decorative motif of the region. The animal on this example has a hole through the right foreleg which may have been used to suspend an object. A lamp from Shabwa now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, has a similar protome (animal bust) emerging from a handle in the form of a 'Herakles knot'. The protomes are derived from an Achaemenid type and 'Herakles knots' were a popular motif in Greek jewellery, particularly during the second half of the fourth century BC, so it is likely that these lamps date to the fifth or fourth centuries BC.

Examination within the Department of Scientific Research has revealed more details on how the lamp was made. The protome and the base were cast separately and joined with rivets, of which three are still extant; two of these are of almost pure copper alloy whereas the third appears to be of iron and probably represents a later repair. X-ray fluorescence analysis indicates that the lamp was made of a leaded bronze containing traces of arsenic and silver.

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Bronze oil lamp with a leaping ibex

Side view facing right

  • Side view facing left

    Side view facing left

  • ¾ view of front

    ¾ view of front

  • Detail of oil basin

    Detail of oil basin


More information



Height: 30.000 cm
Width: 10.300 cm
Length: 18.800 cm
Weight: 1709.700 g

Museum number

ME 139621



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