Wicks & Fuel


Lamps were mainly fuelled by olive oil, though extracts from fish, nuts, and plants were also used.  The oil was poured into a central chamber through openings in the discus called pour holes.  A wick is inserted into the fuel chamber through the nozzle, which on occasion will show signs of burning. The majority of lamps have only one nozzle, due to the costly fuel consumption by those with multiple; a lamp with four wicks would produce four times the heat and light than a single nozzled lamp, but would also consume 4 times the fuel, and therefore incur four times the expense.  Generally made of linen, the wicks were a factor in flame longevity.  D. M. Bailey experimented with burning times for 1 fluid ounce of oil.  He found that a thin wick burned for 3 hours, as opposed to a wide wick that burned in only 90 minutes. Despite the width, there was little to no difference in the size of the flame.

Lit Oil Lamp

African Red Slip Lamps

Shows burning around nozzle

Both 5th - 7th centuries AD

Louvre, Paris