Erotic images first made an appearance on oil lamps of the Hellenistic Greek East during the 2nd centurey BC. These lamps were produced by numberous worshops throughout the Roman Empire and remained commonplace from Augustan times to the 5th and 6th centuries AD. As with Greek sculpture, the Romans also admired and imitated Greek pottery, including items with erotic scenes. Oil lamps were mass produced and used by people from all levels of society and in a variety of contexts from households to graves, shrines to military camps, a ubiquity which marks their iconographic popularity. Along with scenes from mythology and gladitorial contexts, sexual subjects were among the most popular images found on Roman oil lamps.
Pottery vessels, including oil lamps, present a wider range of sexual imagry than do wall paintings, a further testament to the role such sexual images played in popular culture. These images include couples in the act of lovemaking, theesomes and fellatio. The sexual positions displayed on lamps, some acrobatic in nature, may have served as conversational pieces, comic relif, or even as a "how-to" manual. Our lamp displays a commonly portrayed sexual position referred to in antiquity as the "lioness". As with the sexually-charged wall paintings from Roman houselhold, these lamps reflect aspects of Roman luxury and elite tastes.