Opaiţele din Dacia lucrate la roată

Wheel made lamps form Dacia. Quantitative chart

Autor: Cristian-Aurel Roman


Our survey aims at cataloguing and discussing the wheelmade lamps of Roman Dacia as afforded by the items published so far as well as by those in display at the Museums of Cluj, Sarmizegetusa, Alba Iulia, Deva which have been partially available for direct scrutiny. The fragments that did not lend themselves to classification or were not relevant to our subject matter have been omitted from our presentation. Indeed, the lamps recovered outnumber the items catalogued in our survey, just as there is room left for further variants. We have limited our research to the geographic area of Roman Dacia for the sake of methodology, keeping in mind at all times the intense trade and travel between Dacia and the neighbouring provinces with a strong impact on the manufacture of the artifacts which can be substantiated for this area.

The analysis of the group surveyed here has been hindered by and has suffered from lack of chronological pointers to diagnose the items, largely due to the absence of a thorough depiction of their morphology and physical features, and, especially to the manner of publication. Only partially have these flaws been surmounted, therefore our survey is somewhat eclectic. Fully aware of this, we lay no claim on having made our presentation exhaustive, but rather on having made full use of whatever was available, and thus managed to point out some elements meant to clarify, partially, the issue of the wheelmade lamps of Dacia.

We have noted in our survey that form IA had been evolved as early as early to mid-second century, and that they were manufactured by a pottery workshop in the capital of Dacia, Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa. This manufacture paralleled an intense mouldmade Firmalampen production in the area. The mobile, addressees and duration of the production are, as yet, still uncertain, since excavations have been limited to the administrative and religious areas of the capital.

A possible sketch of their evolution or development could be made available by correlating the items of Sarmizegetuse, and not only, with those of Sucidava (fig. 17-19, 63-67) (dating from late fourth century to early fifth century AD).

Another workshop which was identified by the glazed lamps within form IE functioned at Gornea. The lack of chronological pointers for the workshop per se determined that its manufacture be assigned between the two pointers made available by the item of Zalalövő and Sucidava (from 124 AD to late fourth century AD- early fifth century AD). The analysis of the type II lamps certified the existence of a few workshops. One functioning at Romula between the second half of the second century AD and the first half of the third century AD also manufactured form IIC lamps. Another at Tibiscum, during the third century, also manufactured form IIB lamps, whilst still another, at Apulum, manufactured globular form IIE lamps, one of which was recovered with a coin from Claudius II. The aforementioned were not the sole workshops in Dacia. It is very likely that items of this type were manufactured across the entire province in workshops manufacturing ordinary pottery rather than in workshops specializing in lamps only. While the manufacture of these lamps alongside other pottery was only suspected or assumed for early Roman province Dacia, the same is certain for the end of the Roman rule and the abandon of the province.

A survey of the development of the morphology of lamp forms identifies the changes occurring within, and more obviously, between the two types. The pattern for the morphological development is uncertain, but our presentation has pursued a certain logic – from the items closer to the “classical” form of the Roman lamps to those which lack all elements linking them to the Roman lamps. The order in our presentation was not meant to be, and indeed is not, chronological. One is compelled to admit that several forms within the same type, or belonging to different types, circulated either concomitantly or successively.

On studying the two forms with chronological pointers (forms IA and IIC), let us note that they display major profile dissimilarities. This, however, does not entail, as one might feel inclined to believe, equally major differences on the time scale. The span between the emergence of form IA in Dacia (“classical”, as suggested above) and the development of form IIC, with major alterations, is hardly a matter of decades. This is a powerful argument in favour of our claim above and an equally powerful motive which urges one to be cautious with assigning some of the lamps, when dating is based solely on the item’s morphology.

The filling-hole of the lamps is the cause for many debates and assumptions. The lamps fashioned with less technology, from less refined, if gross, material, with wide filling-holes, apparently, and logically, belonged to a “late” epoch (third to fifth centuries AD for Dacia), as the results of an age responding to the impact of the economic crisis under which the Roman Empire was staggering, and to a gradual removal of the province from the empire’s economic circuit. Under the circumstances, the widening filling-hole indicated the employment of a less fluid combustible which replaced traditional olive oil, while the lack or shortage of imported oil in the province, was one among several indications of such complex phenomena as marginalization and economic decay. Resorting, under the circumstances, either completely or partially, to some locally available combustible (animal fat –grease) was a logical step, which must have been taken at some point in Dacia, but from what we can tell there is no direct linking between this event and the emergence of wheelmade lamps in Dacia. Our studies have shown that the two episodes are neither complementary nor implicit. Wheelmade lamps emerge at a time of economic thriving within the province, at a time when a more advanced technique (in mould) was widely and successfully employed across the province, at a time when one can hardly speak of a declining technology.

It is also noteworthy that one should not readily apply the “late Roman lamps” formula to wheelmade lamps, nor are there elements that might present this manufacture as a revival of techniques used in the Greek ambience. Moreover, it is very likely that they evolved not necessarily as the products of some workshop specializing in lamps, but as additional products of pottery manufacture. This, apparently, was the case for Sarmizegetusa in the first half of the second century AD, with an extensive, highly specialized, mouldmade lamp manufacture. Moreover, one should also note that these items call for extra attention, since they offer different images with every site, every area, every province. Strong morphological changes occur within a short time range and are mainly caused by very permissive execution techniques, and under inter-regional influences.

No answers have been as yet forwarded for the disappearance of these items. However, we are hopeful that future studies on the cessation of the “industrial” manufacture of lamps or other categories of pottery within the province will yield more data on the issue here. The disappearance of these lamps must have been a lengthy process, rather amplified in the more remote regions of the Empire. The area north of the Danube, then still under Roman influence, manufactured these lamps as late as the fifth century AD (e.g. Sucidava), perhaps even later. It remains for future studies to answer unsolved issues and yield as complete an image as possible of the development of lamps within Dacia, as correlated with the situation in the neighbouring regions and as compared to other types of artifacts.

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