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8.5.3 Samian candlestick

A different mode of lighting in the Roman era was via candles. Candlelight may have been considered appropriate for particular activities and circumstances, possibly different from those where lamps were used. Candle holders of various types are known from across the empire, particularly in metal and pottery. York has produced a number of pottery candlesticks, in Ebor ware and other coarse wares (Monaghan 1998, 1022-3, fig. 411) which are of mid to late Roman date. A single candlestick in samian ware is known to this author from Britain. This item was recovered at Bignor, West Sussex, below Room 48 during the 1956-62 excavations (Hartley 1982, fig. 33, no. 1). Unfortunately, this 'unique form ... was stolen from the site museum' (Hartley 1982, 184); it is thought likely that this item was from Central Gaul and of 2nd century date.

8.5.4 Discussion

Monaghan observes that the comparative rarity of lamps and candlesticks at York, and by inference elsewhere, shows that they were not part of everyday domestic lighting equipment (1998, 859). Eckardt (2000) has explored the cultural context of lamp usage in Britain during the Roman era, demonstrating that the incidence of different lamp types (lead, iron, ceramic) is highly structured, seemingly relating to differing preferences and practices within different social groups. Clearly, lamps and candlesticks in samian ware form a tiny proportion of what are, anyway, generally infrequent artefact classes. Nonetheless, the evidence gathered here within this small sample of samian items relating to artificial lighting (cf. Appendix 8.2), indicates a potential trend.

It is curious that three of the four sites in Britain where the small number of these unusual vessel types (that is lamps and candlestick) have been found, are sites, lower down the settlement hierarchy, which tend to yield relatively very small proportions of samian ware only (cf. Section 7). One might have expected, perhaps, these unusual, specialised, forms to occur at military sites and major civil centres which consumed the most samian ware by far, and where it was conspicuous. This is, however, not the case in terms of recorded items (surely such forms will have been present at such sites however rare they might be). With the exception perhaps of the lamp with the stylised African head design, the samian lamps from London, as with the Central Gaulish black-slipped ware lamps, come from the river frontage and seemingly relate to losses at the point of import (or, conceivably, may include votive offerings); they do not come from deposits within the city. London apart, the other lamps and candlestick come from rural sites and a 'Small Town'. Significantly, perhaps, also, the apparent lamps improvised from samian vessels show an association with rural sites (cf. 8.5.2). The one samian candlestick comes from Bignor, but evidently dates to the initial settled occupation of the site, prior to the era of grandeur. Of the samian lamps, as noted, one comes from the earlier occupation at Latimer villa, a site which otherwise, like Bignor, seems not to have, a prominent or rich samian repertoire. An elaborate figured samian lamp comes from the 'Small Town' of Alcester. While pottery assemblages from rural sites and smaller centres consistently have comparatively low proportions of samian present (cf. Section 7), such sites often have high proportions of samian within associated graves (cf. Section 9), while structured deposits at such sites often feature unusual samian vessels. Hence the occurrence of these extraordinary samian items from Alcester, Bignor and Latimer might be taken to be consistent with this broad pattern of a rarity of samian in settlement deposits at such sites, combined with a cultural awareness of the ware by the inhabitants of such sites, their acquisition of unusual types and in turn the employment of these unusual forms in sensitive depositional actions (burial and structured deposits).

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