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E02830: Clay lamps with Greek inscriptions with names of saints: *Elijah (Old Testament prophet, S00217) and *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033). Found at Jerusalem (Roman province of Palaestina I). Probably late 5th - early 8th c.

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posted on 2017-05-20, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
In his publications on Byzantine pottery lamps, Stanislao Loffreda discusses a number of lamps with inscriptions, some of them referring to saints. The lamps are usually of 'slipper' or 'channel-nozzle' type and the inscriptions are on the top surface, around the hole. Almost all of these lamps were found during excavations and can be dated to the late 5th - early 8th centuries. Di Segni suggested that they could have been distributed by churches as eulogiae ('blessings'), or at some special feasts. Traces of burning indicate that they were used by their owners.

A new re-assessment of the formulas put onto those lamps is offered by Leah Di Segni in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae Palaestinae (2012), while the classic reference works is "The Greek inscriptions on the Byzantine lamps from the Holy Land" by Loffreda (1990). Some of the recorded inscriptions are completely unintelligible and require extensive editorial interventions (so some of the interpretations offered by Loffreda must be treated with caution).

In contrast with clay lamps from Upper Egypt (see $EXXXX), which mention many obscure saints with names that rarely occur in the epigraphic record, those from Jerusalem bear only the names of Elijah (presumably the Old Testament Prophet) and Mary, Mother of Christ:

1) τοῦ ἁγίου Ἠλία/'Of Saint Elijah' (CIIP 1/2, no. App. 54*[h])

2) τῆς Θεοτόκου/'Of the God-Bearer' (CIIP 1/2, no. App. 54*[i])

3) εὐλογία τῆς Θεοτόκου μεθ' ἡμῶν/'Blessing of the God-Bearer is with us' (CIIP 1/2, no. App. 54*[j])

This phrase seems to be a variation of the saying ὁ θεὸς μεθ' ἡμῶν/'God is with us', which is a literal translation of ἐμμανουήλ/emmanouel.

For a lamp bearing this formula, see Loffreda 2010, no. 4 (L2008.2). Acquired from a dealer in antiquities in the old city of Jerusalem by the Museum of the Franciscan Biblical Institute (SBF) in 2008. Unlike other lamps, this one is round (in Loffreda 2001, 41 round lamps with eulogiae of Mary are tagged as 'most probably of Syrian origin'). Diameter 7.15 cm. H. 3.56 cm. The handle is lost. The inscription runs in two concentric circles around the hole. The outer circle contains an invocation of the blessing of Mary, literally: ΕΥΟΛΑ ΤΗΣ ΟΕΟΤΟΚ ΛΝΕΘΗΗΩΝ. The inner band bears probably a reference to the potter who made the object. The text reads ΕΤΟΥΑΜΝ ΩΑΝΝΟΩ which is somewhat implausibly interpreted by Loffreda as ἐ(πίγραμμα) τοῦ ἀμν(άμου) Ἰωάννου/'inscription of the descendant of Ioannes'.

For another lamp with this formula, see Loffreda 2010, no. 5 (L2008.3), also acquired by the Museum in 2008, from the same dealer in antiquities. Very slightly elongated. Dimensions 7.72 cm x 7.48 cm. H. 4.69 cm. Small conical handle. Perfectly preserved. Inscription on the outer band: Η ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΘΕΟΤΟΚ<Ο>Υ ΜΕΟ ΗΜΩΝ. Inscription on the inner band: ΕΠΙΓΡΑΜ<Μ>Α ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ.

For lamps from the same workshop, found in Syria, see: E01657.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Elijah, Old Testament prophet : S00217

Saint Name in Source

Ἠλίας Θεοτόκος, Οεοτόκ(ος)

Image Caption 1

Lamp with Formula 3 (L2008.2). From: Loffreda 2010, 368, Lamp no.4.

Image Caption 2

Lamp with Formula 3 (L2008.3). From: Loffreda 2010, 370, Lamp no.5.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Inscribed objects Images and objects - Lamps, ampullae and tokens


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Jerusalem Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Production and selling of eulogiai, tokens

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Relics

Ampullae, eulogiai, tokens Contact relic - other

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Oil lamps/candles


Edition: Loffreda, S., "Nuovi acquisti di lucerne bizantine", Liber Annuus 60 (2010), 363-376. Loffreda, S., Lucerne bizantine in Terra Santa con iscrizioni in greco (SBF, Coll. Major 35, Jerusalem 1989). Thomsen, P., "Die lateinischen und griechischen Inschriften der Stadt Jerusalem und ihrer nächsten Umgebung. 1. Nachtrag", Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins 64 (1941), nos. 227A-D. Thomsen, P., Die lateinischen und griechischen Inschriften der Stadt Jerusalem und ihrer nächsten Umgebung (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1922), nos. 223-233. For an overview of formulas, see: Cotton, H.M., Di Segni, L., Eck, W., Isaac, B., Kushnir-Stein, A., Misgav, H., Price, J.J., Yardeni, A. and others (eds.), Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: A Multi-Lingual Corpus of the Inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad, vol. 1, part 2: Jerusalem, nos. 705-1120 (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), no. App. 54*. Loffreda, S., "The Greek inscriptions on the Byzantine lamps from the Holy Land", [in:] G.C.Bottini, L.Di Segni, E.Alliata (eds.), Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land. New discoveries. Archaeological essays in honour of Virgilio C. Corbo ofm (SBF Col-lectio Maior 36; Jerusalem, 1990), 475-500. Loffreda, S., Light and Life: Ancient Christian Oil Lamps of the Holy Land (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 2001).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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