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Object of the month: Let There Be Light

Updated: May 16, 2023

Discover how the ancients lit their homes with our illuminating profile of the Benaki Museum’s Byzantine-era oil lamp, currently at the Hellenic Museum. This lamp tells a story that unites the Greek, Roman and Egyptian worlds around a single flame!

In the Gods, Myths, and Mortals exhibition of the Hellenic Museum, between a sacred cross and a toy horse, there is an oil lamp dating from the 4–5th centuries CE – over 1500 years ago!

This lamp comes to us from Egypt, at a time when the Roman empire was in control of the territory. Previously, however, a Greek family called the Ptolemies had ruled over Egypt. Even after the Romans took over, Greek culture had a very strong presence in Egypt for centuries afterward. The inscriptions on this lamp are a clue to the influence of Greek culture on Egypt at this time.

The lamp is inscribed with some Greek writing: “Η ΑΓΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΟΜΥΣΙΟΣ ΤΡΙΑΔΟΣ ΑΜΗΝ.” This means “The Holy and Unified Trinity, Amen,” referring to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in Christian religion. Greeks living in Egypt at this time were largely Christian, and this lamp reflects their beliefs.

Interestingly, the Greeks who owned this lamp would have called themselves Romans, as many Greek people continued to do until very recently.

Want to make your own oil lamp? Check out the "Discover and Create" section of this newsletter for instructions!

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