Monday, January 14, 2019


Varda Sussman, Late Roman to Late Byzantine/Early Islamic Period Lamps in the Holy Land: The Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2016. Pp. iv, 635. ISBN 9781784915704. £65.00.

Reviewed by Daniel Schindler, Elon University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present volume is the fourth in a series authored by Sussman cataloguing oil lamps in the Israel Antiquities Authorities' comprehensive collection, from numerous excavations and some acquisitions, spanning the Chalcolithic to Early Islamic periods.1 This fourth volume discusses the Late Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods, presenting in-depth, systematic research and morphological analysis. It is a welcome addition to current publications and ongoing excavations exploring such an important, transitional period in the southern Levant. The book consists of an introduction (pp. 1-8), a typological discussion divided into eight sections/chapters based on the provenance of the oil lamps (Southern region, Judean Shephelah [pp. 9-72]; Yavne region [pp. 73-80]; Jerusalem workshops [pp. 81-120]; Negev, Southern region [pp. 121-127]; Samaria region [pp. 128-190]; Phoenician coast including the Northern part of the country [pp. 191-264; Bet She'an boundary, eastern part of the Decapolis [pp. 265-297]; and Imported Oil Lamps [pp. 298-308]), bibliography (pp. 309-320), concordance table of sites (pp. 321-342), catalogue (pp. 343-551), and plates (pp. 552-634).

Sussman argues in the introduction that the local and political development of Palestine following the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE) was characterized by increasing regional cultural divisions (e.g., the shifting of the Jewish population from Judea northward), and that this regionalism can be seen in the material culture of the subsequent centuries: burial customs, architecture, mosaic floor designs, and in the morphological and decorative evolution of oil lamps: "Just like earlier Roman lamps served as a mirror of pagan and Jewish cultures, the small artifacts serve as a very handy medium to convey cultural changes among Samaritans, Christians, and Muslims" (p. 1). The increase of regional types from the Roman to Late Roman and Byzantine periods, some with a small radius of consumption, likely stem from ethnic, cultural, religious, and/or economic divisions. Sussman illustrates the hyper-regionalism of the period by elucidating the different developments and treatments of lamp handles and shape of the body common to each region, each having its own unique variation of both.

The typological discussion of the oil lamps takes up the majority of the book. Each regional division is designated by a Roman numeral (e.g., I. Southern region, Judean Shephelah), effectively dividing the discussion into chapters, and generally begins by defining the geographic parameters of the region and the most common types that will be discussed. The lamps are catalogued according mostly to shape and, in some cases, decoration. Each typological entry is assigned a historical period ('LR' for Late Roman, 'B' for Byzantine), an Arabic number, descriptive title, date, and references to relevant figures within the regional discussion and catalogue entries. Wheel-made lamps are marked with a 'W'. The types of lamps within each region are described in quite a bit of detail, often with references to multiple illustrations that visually define their characteristics, including the base, nozzle, wick-hole, and handle. Decorative motifs that adorn many of the lamps are also well elucidated with black and white photographs and line drawings. Color coded distribution maps, indicating the range of each type, accompany each regional discussion. The abundant use of photo plates, line drawings, and maps aids the reader in understanding the morphological, decorative, and regional nuances of the collection.

The second half of the book contains the bibliography, site concordance, and catalogue. The concordance table of sites lists the names of each site referenced in the present volume and the previous catalogue of Roman period oil lamps, with the justification that several Roman types continue into the Late Roman period. Oil lamps from the site are listed in a table with the serial number and Sussman's catalogue number more or less in typological order. A brief description of the provenance of the oil lamp (e.g., burial, stratum) is given, if possible. This is not particularly useful since many of the entries are devoid of contextual information.

Each catalogue entry gives the site provenance, a brief physical description, and a plate reference. Unfortunately, Munsell numbers were not included with the fabric descriptions. Also, the descriptions and plates are not together, making the process of referencing, searching, or comparing different types difficult. However, this arrangement is understandable given the large number of oil lamps included in this volume. The addition of a page reference to the typological discussion of each catalogue entry would have been useful for readers trying to fine parallel examples for their own research or during pottery reading while on excavation. The black and white photo plates of each catalogue entry are generally of good quality and occasionally accompanied by profile and section drawings.

In addition to the rather minor issues noted above, the volume would have benefitted from more careful editing. For example, the heading for the typological discussion for region IV ('Negev, Southern region, wheel-made oil lamps') is mistakenly given as 'VI. The Phoenician coast including the Northern part of the country.' Along with grammatical and typographical errors, some figures are erroneously labeled.2 These errors are not the fault of the author and do not detract from the overall quality and importance of the work.

This book has much to offer as a reference to the oil lamps of the Late Roman and Byzantine periods and for developing research questions with regard to regionalism and small finds. Sussman has produced a volume that will be a basis for further research; it is an indispensable addition for scholars studying the material culture of the Late Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods in ancient Palestine as there is no other oil lamp catalogue for these periods that is as comprehensive.


1.   Sussman, V. 2007. Oil-Lamps in the Holy Land: Saucer Lamps: From the Beginning to the Hellenistic Period: Collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Oxford: Archaeopress; Sussman, V. 2009. Greek and Hellenistic Wheel- and Mould-Made Closed Oil Lamps in the Holy Land: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports; Sussman, V. 2012. Roman Period Oil Lamps in the Holy Land: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Oxford: Archaeopress.
2.   Figure 114.4 is labeled as "A lintel from the Golan Heights, with omega-shaped arch under a multiple gable decorated with egg and dart pattern…" (p. 148), when in fact it is an architectural fragment from the Nabratein synagogue in Upper Galilee. See Meyers E. M., and C. L. Meyers. 2009. Excavations at Ancient Nabratein: Synagogue and Environs. 84- 85, Photo 26. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

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