Saucer lamp

Accession Number
Current Location
In storage
Object Type
Implements and utensils, Lighting equipment and implements, Lamp
Graeco-Roman Period
Egypt, Abydos
Length: 54mm | Width: 50mm
Number of Elements

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Saucer lamp with pinched nozzle, dated by Margaret Murray to the Roman Period. Gift from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. The object was gifted to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth by John Bancroft Willans, a subscriber of the Egypt Exploration Fund/Society, who received the object in 1903. Subsequently gifted to the Egypt Centre in 1997. For similar items, see Smith (1964). Saucer lamps, some with lampstands, have been found in ritual contexts in the Bucheum at Armant (Mond & Myers 1934, pp. 89, 135). While animal fat could be used to light oil lamps, several vegetable oils were also available to the ancient Egyptians (Serpico & White 2000). Castor oil seems to have been the most common. The oil would presumably have seeped through the pores in the clay. This could be prevented by adding water to the lamp and indeed Petrie speaks of a demotic text where this appears to be suggested (Smith 1964, 8–9). Herodotus, writing in the fifth century BC, said that the Egyptians fed their lamps on a mixture of oil and salt (History 2.62). Smith (1964, 6) states that while a brighter flame may be obtained by putting salt on the wick, adding it to the oil does not seem to produce any effect. As well as being used to light the home, lamps were associated with religion.


Forbes, R. J. 1966. Studies in ancient technology: volume VI. Heat and heating. Refrigeration. Light, 2nd, revised ed. Leiden: E. J. Brill. [pp. 146ff]   Gause, E. 2012–13. "The Egyptian Lamp". In Behind the Roddick Gates Vol II, pp. 23–26. Mond, Robert and Oliver H. Myers 1934. The Bucheum, 3 vols. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 41. London: Egypt Exploration Society. Murray, Margaret A. 1949. The splendour that was Egypt: a general survey of Egyptian culture and civilisation. London: Sidgwick and Jackson. [p. 88]   Serpico, Margaret and Raymond White 2000. Oil, fat and wax. In Nicholson, Paul T. and Ian Shaw (eds), Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, 390-429. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [pp. 390–429] Smith, R. H. 1964, "The household lamps of Palestine in Old Testament times. In The Biblical Archaeologist, 27, 2–31.

Last modified: 20 Mar 2022

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