Candles versus Oil Lamps

This message board is dedicated to the ancient Roman Religion, the Cultus Deorum Romanorum. Here both historical practices and the living modern tradition is to be celebrated and discussed. The members of the Collegium Pontiificum and Collegium Augurum host this board as moderators and are happy to answer questions.

Candles versus Oil Lamps

Postby Procula Valeria Messalla » Wed Jan 04, 2017 9:02 pm

In many photos of impressive Lararia I see traditional oil lamps. I have used a combination of candles and oil lamps for many years.

What is more authentic to antiquity? Candles or lamps?

We know Romans had candles, they invented the modern wicked candle in the 500s BCE. We also know that oil lamps were used for everyday lighting over candles. This is assumed to be due to candles being considerably more expensive than olive oil. Yet during Saturnalia candles were common gifts. So what was used at the Lararium or temples in antiquity? Candles or oil lamps? What is best to use today?

Personally I am learning towards candles at the lararium. The more expensive candle, such as a high quality bees wax candle seems more appropriate than the messy and cheap oil. I would be curious to learn about your practice.
User avatar
Procula Valeria Messalla
Plebeian Tribune
Plebeian Tribune
 
Posts: 89
Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2016 6:59 am

Re: Candles versus Oil Lamps

Postby Tiberius Cilnius Maecenas » Mon Jan 30, 2017 9:05 pm

Candles were used. More common were tallow candles. Still more expensive than oil, but burned brighter and longer. The most expensive lighting source was bees wax candles. These would not be common in households due to cost.

There is compelling evidence from archeological sites that oil lamps were the main lighting source in everyday settings from the average home and public space. Even wealthy homes used oil lamps. The oil lamp was the lightbulb of antiquity.

Now candles were used. Wealthy homes show increasing use of tallow candles with some bees wax. In a wealthy home these candles seem to be used with increasing frequency about lararia.

Temples are large open structures. They used large braziers and large scale fires not infrequently for heat and light. Oil lamps and evidence of candles, such as candle holders are found not infrequently. Therefore, I think it is totally ok to use candles.

In fact, candles, the more expensive option, were likely preferentially used by those who could afford it. If we use this logic today, offering more expensive light sources at the lararium we get a different order of things. Cheap paraffin candles are very common today. These would be the modern equivalent of the oil lamp. Oil lamps are more expensive but not the most expensive lighting source, this would be closer to the tallow candles of antiquity in cost. Still the most expensive lighting source is bees wax. So yes, if you want to offer the most valuable source of light, I would go with bees wax.

Some things change, some things stay the same.
Tiberius Cilnius Maecenas
 

Re: Candles versus Oil Lamps

Postby Procula Valeria Messalla » Tue Jan 31, 2017 9:17 am

Tiberius Cilnius Maecenas wrote:Candles were used. More common were tallow candles. Still more expensive than oil, but burned brighter and longer. The most expensive lighting source was bees wax candles. These would not be common in households due to cost.

There is compelling evidence from archeological sites that oil lamps were the main lighting source in everyday settings from the average home and public space. Even wealthy homes used oil lamps. The oil lamp was the lightbulb of antiquity.

Now candles were used. Wealthy homes show increasing use of tallow candles with some bees wax. In a wealthy home these candles seem to be used with increasing frequency about lararia.

Temples are large open structures. They used large braziers and large scale fires not infrequently for heat and light. Oil lamps and evidence of candles, such as candle holders are found not infrequently. Therefore, I think it is totally ok to use candles.

In fact, candles, the more expensive option, were likely preferentially used by those who could afford it. If we use this logic today, offering more expensive light sources at the lararium we get a different order of things. Cheap paraffin candles are very common today. These would be the modern equivalent of the oil lamp. Oil lamps are more expensive but not the most expensive lighting source, this would be closer to the tallow candles of antiquity in cost. Still the most expensive lighting source is bees wax. So yes, if you want to offer the most valuable source of light, I would go with bees wax.

Some things change, some things stay the same.



Thank you my friend. I think I will go with the bees wax candles for my lararium. I love the scent and like the history you describe. May Venus and Vesta bless you.
User avatar
Procula Valeria Messalla
Plebeian Tribune
Plebeian Tribune
 
Posts: 89
Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2016 6:59 am


Return to Cultus Deorum Romanorum

cron