Genuine, Handsome, “Evil Eye” Decorated Ancient Terra Cotta Oil Lamp about 100 A.D. Roman Provincial Moesia (Bulgaria). Trademarked beneath with the Roman letter “N”.
CLASSIFICATION: Roman Provincial Moesia Decorated Terra Cotta Oil Lamp.
ATTRIBUTION: Roman Provincial Moesia, First Century A.D.
Length: 76 millimeters (3 inches).
Width: 67 millimeters (2 3/4 inches).
Height: 27 millimeters (1 1//8 inches).
CONDITION: Good integrity, all original with no repairs. Some very hard and stubborn alkaline soil deposits inside of bowl. Moderate wear around fill hole consistent with use in the ancient world.
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 which seems to have been a chain of alternating rectangles and concentric circles. As such, the concentric circles on the lamp would have served as protection for the household from the influences of the "evil eye". Ancient pagan beliefs encompassed the idea that a glance from a powerful and evil individual could bring about adverse consequences. Thus some sort of protection against such an event was considered by many imperative.
The concentric circle design, affording protection to the wearer from the "evil eye", was increasing adopted by and associated with those of the ancient Christian faith. So much so that even though the symbolism of the concentric circles arose from more ancient times, by the 3rd century A.D. concentric circles were increasingly associated with and regarded as being exclusively an expression of Christianity. It seems unlikely however that this oil lamp was intended to make any statement of Christianity, as this specific portrayal of the "evil eye" theme is quite pagan in character, and it would not be for a few centuries until this symbol eventually came to be thought of as a "Christian" symbol. Most Roman citizens still practiced a pagan form of religion, and it seems likely that the oil lamp would more properly be considered a pagan artifact than an ancient Christian relic.
There’s also a trademark of some sort on the underside surface of the pedestal. It too is a bit indistinct, but it seems fairly certain to be the Roman letter “N” (which looks like a contemporary “H”). 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 (including a small chip opposite the nozzle) 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 of the glory that was the Roman World.
HISTORY: 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.
HISTORY OF ANCIENT ROMAN MOESIA: This particular specimen came from the Roman Province of Moesia. The Roman Province of Moesia was founded around 44 B.C. in an area which is now Serbia and Bulgaria. Ethnically the Moesians were Thracian and Illyrian tribes who had settled in the country of Moesi. Roman history records little about them until during the reign of Augustus. In 75 BC C. Scribonius Curio, proconsul of Macedonia, had taken an army as far as the Danube and gained a victory over the inhabitants. Under Augustus, Marcus Licinius Crassus was sent to bring the native populations under control. He succeeded in conquering the peoples in 30 B.C. Moesia became a Roman Province in 6 A.D. The relationship between the Roman Empire and the Moesians was a symbiotic one. Rome stimulated agriculture and commerce, raised the standard of living, and encouraged city life. Roman peace provided for the transmission of Greek culture and art. In exchange, the Moesians provided a supply of grain for the Romans. The native inhabitants also supplied men for the defense of the Roman Empire.
In the reign of Domitian (85-86 A.D.) the province was split into Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior. The River Ciabrus (Tsibritsa) served as the boundary between the two. The east coast of Moesia was on the Black (Euxine) Sea. The Danube River, along with its tributaries, the Drinus (Drina) and the Margus (Morava) Rivers, ran through the province. Moesia was a Roman military stronghold because it lay on the Black Sea and the Danube ran through the province. Moesia's location was on the edge of the Roman Empire, connecting the Roman Procines of Thrace and Pannonia, which was why there existed a significant roman military presence. The Roman Legions posted to Moesia Superior had the main role defending Macedonia and the trade routes between Thrace and Pannonia. The Roman legions posted to Moesia Inferior had a similar role in defending Thrace and the imperial interests at the intersection of the Black Sea and the Danube River. The main threat to the Roman Legions defending these provinces were the Goths and Germanic tribes, as well as the Scythians and Sarmatians.
Moesia never was fully Romanized because there was constant movement of the native tribes. The objective of the Roman Empire was fully to exploit the natural resources that Moesia had to offer. Those natural resources included gold and other minerals. Along with the precious natural resources, Moesia was rich in farmlands. Ti. Plautius Silvanus Aelianus was the first governor (57-67 A.D.) to add to the grain supply of Rome a great quantity of Moesian wheat. In addition to the farmlands, there was a vast amount of pasture land and orchards. The chief towns of Upper Moesia were Singidunum (Belgrade), Viminacium (Kostolac), Remesiana (Bela Palanka), Bononia (Vidin) and Ratiaria (Archar). Of Lower Moesia: Ulpia (Gigen), Novae (Svishtov), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near the river Jantra), Odessus (Varna) and Tomi (Constanta). The poet Ovid was banished to Tomis in 9 A.D., and lived there until his death in 17 A.D.. Ovid was not fond of Tomis, or Moesia for that matter. He described the inhabitants as barbarians. Most of the disdain in letters was probably exaggerated but he was unhappy about being exiled so far from Rome. He complained that the farmers could not plow their fields without bringing their weapons into the fields with them such was the seriousness of the threat from the Goths and the Germanic tribes.
The ancient city of Tomis is still exists beneath the modern city of Constanza. Archaeological excavations had recovered include statuary (including the god of the Black Sea “Pontus”, and “Glycon” the sheep-headed snake-god), coins, the "Mosaic Building” (a three-story commercial complex which included warehouses filled with intact amphorae, and a large bath house. In 378 A.D. an army of Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and some non-Germanic Alans defeated the Roman Emperor Valens in a great battle near Adrianople around 378 A.D. setting the stage for the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Eventually Moesia passed out of Roman control around 395 A.D. when Emperor Theodosius died. Rome was no longer able to defend the frontier borders, and frequent attacks by the Goths led to the complete disintegration of the province. In the 7th century Slavs and Bulgars entered the country and founded the kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria.
HISTORY OF ANCIENT 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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Most of the items I offer come from the collection of a family friend who was active in the field of Archaeology for over forty years. However many of the items also come from purchases I make in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) from various institutions and dealers. Though I have always had an interest in archaeology, my own academic background was in sociology and cultural anthropology. After my retirement however, I found myself drawn to archaeology as well. Aside from my own personal collection, I have made extensive and frequent additions of my own via purchases on Ebay (of course), as well as many purchases from both dealers and institutions throughout the world – but especially in the Near East and in Eastern Europe. I spend over half of my year out of the United States, and have spent much of my life either in India or Eastern Europe. In fact much of what we generate on Yahoo, Amazon and Ebay goes to support The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe connected with Anthropology and Archaeology.
I acquire some small but interesting collections overseas from time-to-time, and have as well some duplicate items within my own collection which I occasionally decide to part with. Though I have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, my primary interest is in ancient jewelry. My wife also is an active participant in the “business” of antique and ancient jewelry, and is from Russia. I would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from me. There is a $2 fee for mailing under separate cover. Whenever I am overseas I have made arrangements for purchases to be shipped out via domestic mail. If I am in the field, you may have to wait for a week or two for a COA to arrive via international air mail. But you can be sure your purchase will arrive properly packaged and promptly – even if I am absent. And when I am in a remote field location with merely a notebook computer, at times I am not able to access my email for a day or two, so be patient, I will always respond to every email. Please see our "ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SALE."