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 Museum Explorer

Daily life in
Roman Britain

Oil lamp

Length: 9.700 cm

P&EE 1856.7-1.336


From: found in London
Date: 1st century AD

The Romans did not have electricity and light bulbs as we do today. Instead they used candles or oil lamps like this one. Can you see the hole in the top? Olive oil was poured into this and a wick was dipped into the oil. When it got dark the wick was lit. The lamp is a dark colour due to accidentally catching fire at some point. Fire from these lamps was a constant threat in Roman times.

This lamp only has room for one wick and so would not have been very bright. Wealthy Romans who could afford to burn a lot of oil would have had lamps with many wicks, or many lamps. Some lamps were plain and others were decorated. Look at the larger image to see the gladiators fighting on this one.