The oil lamp is an old invention, the earliest date from between 15,000 to 12,000 BC. They have been found in Egypt, dating to around 4,000 BC. The Eygyptians used them not only to illuminate their houses, but also in death rituals and other religious ceremonies as a means of purification.
Historical records reveal that in ancient Greece a famous large oil lamp called Callimachos (Καλλίμαχος in Greek) “The golden lamp” was kept in Acropolis and burned daily with only one refill of oil per year. Adopted by the Romans, oil lamps spread across the Roman Empire and this is how they came to Europe. In Roman Britain lamp usage is strongly linked to military sites and large urban centres.
|Pottery oil lamp - BATRM1985.324.2|
The decoration could vary…deities, myths and legends, scenes from everyday life, animals, chariot racing etc. The maker was free to play with the design and create new patterns but would often place his or the workshop’s name on the underside of the lamp (this has proved to be very helpful for archaeologists when trying to identify the date or place of a lamp’s production).
|Metal oil lamp - BATRM1986.22.2|
I found a very interesting museum in Portugal dedicated to oil lamps. For more information: http://en.lifecooler.com/lifecooleren/oil-lamp-museum-museums-382661-1.html