You are here

Terracotta Lamps II: 1967–2004

Terracotta Lamps II: 1967–2004

By Birgitta Lindros Wohl (Isthmia 10). Pp. xxii + 234. American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton 2017. $150. ISBN 978-0-87661-930-8 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The long-awaited new volume in the Isthmia series presents the second group of terracotta lamp finds from the American excavations at Isthmia, covering finds from almost four decades of fieldwork. The volume includes lamp finds from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), excavations led by Paul Clement conducted between 1967 and 1987, and from the later excavations of Ohio State University (OSU) directed by Timothy Gregory. These lamps have been found in the excavations of the Sanctuary of Poseidon, especially in the Roman baths located north of the sanctuary, and in fortification structures, graves, and a possible housing area. They include objects from the early sixth century B.C.E. to the 14th–15th centuries C.E., from the Howland types for Greek lamps to Broneer types from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The author, having participated in Clement’s excavations and cooperated with Gregory for years, has an excellent overview of the finds and their find contexts. The volume fills an important gap concerning lamp trade, distribution, and production in the Corinthia, providing a new set of finds that complete the selection in the previously published lamp volumes from Corinth, Isthmia, and Kenchreai.

The lamps published by Broneer in Isthmia 3 (Terracotta Lamps [Princeton 1977]) come from the University of Chicago excavations in the central areas of the sanctuary, but the present volume provides finds from several different contexts in the surrounding areas, giving a much more nuanced view of the activities in the Isthmian sanctuary and its vicinity. The earliest period of activities at Isthmia is represented by few items from the Archaic and Classical periods (ch. 1) compared with the Isthmia 3 volume, as the more recent excavations had emphasized post-classical contexts. One of the lamps is unique among Isthmian finds, a clay lamp imitating archaic marble lamps used for cult rituals. A group of four lamps belongs to a local variety of Broneer’s Type IV and provides criteria for a general evolution of Type IV from the late fifth to the early third century B.C.E. The author has dedicated chapter 2 to Late Hellenistic and Italian-type lamps to cover the finds from the period of about 300 B.C.E. until the first century C.E. No finds are attributed to the period from the destruction of Corinth by Lucius Mummius in 146 B.C.E. until the foundation of the Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E. The activities at the Isthmian sanctuary were presumably resumed in the first quarter of the first century C.E., as suggested by the Late Hellenistic lamps. The lamp finds dated from the Augustan to the Julio-Claudian periods are imports, most of them from Athens, showing the importance of trade contacts between the Corinthia and Athens in the Early Imperial period.

Broneer Type XVI lamps (ch. 3), with a loop handle and broad, blunt-edged nozzle, represent local products that were developed in the early Roman period and can be connected both to secular contexts and to activities in the hero cult of Palaimon, together with another group of wheelmade lamps, the so-called Palaimonion lamps. Broneer Type XVI lamps have also been found in three sacrificial pits near the temples of Palaimon. The combined evidence from Isthmia and Corinth suggests they were made at least until the middle of the second century C.E. A significant category of finds from the first to second century C.E. in the sanctuary, Palaimonion lamps, are also wheelmade, with open bowls and a central socket and used for ritual purposes (ch. 4). These mass-produced lamps are difficult to date in detail, as is their floruit. However, as the author confirms, the latest results from the excavations by the University of Chicago at the Isthmian sanctuary have shown that the Palaimonion lamps were in use at least until the early third century C.E. Can the disappearance of these lamps be connected to a change in the rituals in the sanctuary? Can we suppose that they were used in a specific context or setting?

The largest group of Corinthian lamps found in the UCLA/OSU excavations belongs to the so-called Broneer Type XXVII, high-quality lamps produced with plaster molds, which the author has further separated into unglazed Corinthian and Late Corinthian lamps. In 1930, Broneer published four categories belonging to the Type XXVII in his seminal Corinth 4.2 volume. In 1977, in his Isthmia 3 volume, Broneer classified the Type XXVII further into five subgroups: XXVIIA to XXVIIE. Wohl’s new Isthmia volume adds further details to these subgroups, including oversized lamps with mythological motifs (subgroup XXVIIE). The discussion concerning the origin of lamps of Type XXVII will continue, but as Wohl points out, there is no hard evidence the lamps were not produced in the Corinthia. She provides a helpful frame for the evolution of Type XXVII, a revised list of signatures and workshops, and a useful list of combinations of motifs and signatures of Type XXVII lamps, as well as a discussion of disk representations and rim decorations.

Wohl has chosen to divide the so-called Broneer Type XXVIII of Late Roman Athenian lamps into three groups: pre-glazing, glazed, and post-glazing (47–62), which is an important definition for the products of this period and useful to field archaeologists who seek a more helpful means of categorization when they date their stratigraphic contexts. The Athenian lamps found at Isthmia provide important information concerning the trade contacts of the Corinthia as well as a more detailed view of the production of some important Athenian workshops, such as that of Stratolaos. The volume also presents in detail the famous deposit found in the northern part of the Roman bath, connected to the abandonment of the area, possibly after Alaric’s invasion of Corinth in C.E. 395. Although it was published previously by the author in 1981 (Wohl, “A Deposit of Lamps from the Roman Bath at Isthmia,” Hesperia 50 [1981] 112–140), she has added new information to the find context (cf. T. Gregory, “The Roman Bath at Isthmia: Preliminary Report 1972–1992,” Hesperia 64 [1995] 279–313) by comparing it to a published deposit from the Athenian Kerameikos (cf. A. Rügler, “Die Datierung der ‘Hallenstrasse’ und des ‘Festtores’ im Kerameikos und Alarics Besetzung Athens,” AM 105 [1990] 279–94), as evidence for a partial reuse of the Roman baths. She confirms that the north deposit of the Roman bath allows us to extend the use of glazing on Athenian lamps into the early fifth century and that the use of broad and backward-sloping handles, tear- or heart-shaped bases, and piriform-shaped lamps are late features of Athenian production.

The volume gives a more nuanced view of the lamp trade by adding new examples to the imported specimens from Athens, Asia Minor, and North Africa, especially during the Roman period and late antiquity, and by showing explicitly the extension of local lamp production during the heyday of the Isthmian sanctuary from the first to the fourth centuries C.E. and the activities in the Roman baths adjacent to the temple. Also, the author has revised ideas about production of local copies of Athenian and North African lamps in late antiquity. An early production of local copies of Athenian lamps using white clay was replaced by a new serialized production of local lamps from the mid fifth century through the sixth century, evidenced by the important deposit from the Fountain of the Lamps in Corinth (64, n. 7; cf. K.S. Garnett, “Late Roman Corinthian Lamps from the Fountain of the Lamps,” Hesperia 44 [1975] 173–206). Only a few original North African lamps have been found at Isthmia, but these were copied in large numbers by local workshops in the Corinthia. The clay of these local copies was dark red, and from the early sixth century the iconography of the local products was simplified to a branch motif on the shoulder and a bejeweled cross on the disk. Wohl discerns two versions of this new local product. She emphasizes the existence of another local feature in the later products: a raised cross within the base ring. Koutoussaki has identified sixth-century lamps with a bejeweled cross from Argos as independent Argive products, whereas Wohl suggests that the Argive products were possibly dependent on Corinthian models.

A group of round lamps from the later sixth century that were decorated with raised, stamped patterns and identified as possibly Sicilian by Broneer (type XXXII) has now been successfully identified by Wohl as a Peloponnesian type, with the help of finds from Corinth, Olympia, and Argos. The latest four lamps dated to the Byzantine period are wheelmade and of sturdier local fabric with medium to large inclusions. These belong to Broneer type XXXVI, with superimposed bowls and a handle on the side, and type XXXVII, a double suspension lamp with a high central stem, going back to a shape that had not been used at Isthmia since the Archaic and Early Classical periods.

The volume is well illustrated, with handsome black-and-white photographs in scale 1:1. Drawings include six plans, three figures with section drawings in scale 1:2, two figures with rim patterns in scale 1:1, and one figure illustrating cross disks and common rim patterns for the lamps of the fifth and sixth centuries, all very useful to field archaeologists trying to identify tiny lamp fragments.

Arja Karivieri
Institutum Romanum Finlandiae

Book Review of Terracotta Lamps II: 1967–2004, by Birgitta Lindros Wohl (Isthmia 10)

Reviewed by Arja Karivieri

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 4 (October 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1224.karivieri

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.