The oil lamps
The oil lamps were the main instruments to create light in the Roman world: the most common ones were in terracotta, the most precious in bronze or silver. They were constituted by a fuel chamber filled with oil from the central hole that stoked the wicked on the nozzle.
They could be found into each room of the house and they were often used as grave good, symbol
of the light that accompanied the deceased in the afterlife.
The collection of oil lamps of this museum contains only terracotta examples. The most
represented typology is the one “a volute” with an angled or round nozzle and the richly garnished
discus (showcase 16, n. 10-11). In the second half of the I century AC, a simpler type – the discus
one – is introduced (showcase 16, n. 14): in these cases, the handles disappear and the discus does
not show decorations. Another important type attested in Alba is the so-called “a firma” (showcase
16, n. 12-13) (FORTIS, COMVNI, ATIMETI, STROBILI), that were used also in other areas of the
northern Italy. Therefore, many laboratories produced this kind of object in the northern part of the peninsula.
Unguentaria and probes
Romans used to sprinkle scented oils on their bodies. In a first moment, the monopoly of the
production of essences belonged to the Eastern, but from the Early Imperial Age productive centres
grew in Italy. The oils, as the medicaments, were preserved in blown-glass balsam-containers: a
technique introduced in the Augustan Age.
The fusiform shape (showcase 15, n.21-34) is the widest spread, though the round, cone and date
ones are rare (showcase 15, n 6-7). The smallest examples could be useful in the retail trade or in
the individual exploitation; the biggest ones in the wholesales.
The probes – smooth or spiral-shaped glass rods – were needed to mix the ointments and to pull out them from the container (showcase 15, n. 13-19)
1) Oil lamp on a bronze candelabrum from Pompei (from Homo Faber, 1999)
2) Bronze oil lamp from Bene Vagienna
3) Glass artifacts from the different necropolis of Alba Pompeia