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IMAGE AND FUNCTION IN ‘CHRISTIAN’ AND ‘PAGAN’ LATE ANTIQUE TERRACOTTA LAMPS Edward M. Schoolman Among the various categories and types of clay-based domestic and mercantile objects, such as tableware, cooking vessels, and containers for storage and transport, terracotta lamps are some of the most common objects that survive in archaeological contexts from the Late Roman world. They appear in almost every type of site, from urban to rural, in every type of facility or structure, from domestic to commercial, with contexts that include specific ritual, religious, or funerary activities. In terms of their appearance, lamps varied greatly in size (and could include a number of nozzles for lighted wicks) and their designs and decorations were limited only by social convention and the imaginations of the lamp-makers who made them. Compared to other typical clay wares, their variety is astounding, as evidenced by the collection of more than 1,500 types of lamps published in Oscar Broneer’s 1930 catalogue for excavations at Corinth, which has served as an important catalogue of decorative schemes on late Roman lamps in the Eastern Mediterranean, although it covers less than a decade of the excavation and only a fraction of the lamps now uncovered at the on-going excavation.1 While the volume of excavated and now published lamps from excavations across the Mediterranean suggests the size of the corpus as a whole, those that remain unpublished make up a far greater portion and form the rest of the iceberg we do not see. The ubiquity of lamps from archaeological contexts stems from their essential function of supplying light in a world of limited other options, the widespread availability of material for their production, and their low cost, as well as the frequency with which they had to be replaced after use.2 The constant use, and the ease with which the 1  Oscar Broneer, “Terracotta Lamps,”Corinth 4 (1930). For the late antique period, more recent exactions have exposed sequences for lamps from the fifth through the seventh centuries from Corinth, some of which have been summarized in Katherine W. Slane and Guy D. R. Sanders, “Corinth: Late Roman Horizons,” Hesperia 74 (2005). 2 Although terracotta lamps are the most common by far, examples survive in other material, such as glass and the exceptionally durable bronze, the latter preserving both unique forms and those common to their terracotta siblings. i6 p&c 00 book.indb 165 2017.09.20. 16:22 EDWARD M. SCHOOLMAN 166 decorations could be altered or modified, make terracotta lamps efficient barometers of public interest and acceptance of elements within decorative schemes. Furthermore, because of the widespread use of lamps in the Roman world, they commonly appear in literary sources that underscore the use of lamps beyond their purpose for illumination, and in Late Antiquity pagans, Christians, and Jews could attach additional religious, cultic, or other social functions to them, visible also in some archaeological contexts. These contexts in which lamps become important beyond supplying light are almost as varied as the designs they bore. For example, outside of illuminating homes, shops, churches, and other public buildings, lamps often found alternative uses in funerary , devotional, and apotropaic contexts. This has made lamps a point for significant scholarship, with foci on their iconography, inscriptions, forms, and production, as well as their ritual functions. The objective of this chapter is to explore in a few examples the ritual contexts in which lamps appeared as well as the possibilities for religious images or symbols in their decorative schemes as the central foci of investigation. In tying together these diverse types of lamps and their various functions from across the Late Antique Mediterranean, the challenge becomes not an attempt to answer the questions of does the decoration of an everyday object give it (or its owner) a religious designation and what makes a lamp “pagan” or “Christian” in Late Antiquity, but rather an assessment of how new designs and decorations point to changing religious demographics and how everyday objects could take on ritual and religious meanings and functions in specific contexts in the changing social and cultural dynamics of the period.3 Lamps with “Pagan” and “Christian” Decoration Out of the entire corpus of published lamps, it is clear that very few served as vehicles for outwardly religious, apotropaic, and devotional imagery or symbols. Between the fourth and sixth centuries, lamps were decorated with a wide range of motifs and images, and even figural representations were displayed on the disc on the flattened top...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789633862568
Related ISBN
9789633862551
MARC Record
OCLC
1019979655
Pages
382
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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