BMCR 2022.06.18

Glass, lamps, and Jerash bowls. Final publications from the Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project III.

, , Glass, lamps, and Jerash bowls. Final publications from the Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project III. Jerash Papers, 8. Turnhout: Brepols, 2021. Pp. 380. ISBN 9782503589374 €85,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Three contributions in the book under review focus on three dominant categories of material culture: glass vessels and artifacts, clay oil lamps and painted Jerash bowls with animal and human figures. The first chapter by the editors of the volume and the directors of the excavation project, Achim Lichtenberger and Rubina Raja, is the brief overview of the targets and results, including an updated map of Gerasa and another locating the trenches excavated in the Northwest Quarter. The authors address issues of the finds’ context and chronology, covering the timespan from the late Hellenistic period to the mid-8th century (the earthquake in 749 CE). Finds from trenches are mostly secondary deposits; nevertheless, they provide significant evidence for everyday life, and editors and authors are to be congratulated for their endeavour to present a precise contextualization. The chapter concludes with a list of recent publications by the excavation team.

The glass finds (chapter 2) have been studied by one of the eminent scholars in the field, Ruth E. Jackson-Tal. The 105 items discussed have been chosen from around 5500 glass fragments, with only some 1740 diagnostic. They include sagged, free-blown and mould-blown bowls, bottles and jugs, wine glasses, lamp bowls, kohl tubes, and windowpanes. Few finds date to the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods (from the mid-2nd century BCE to the early 2nd century CE). The bulk dates to Gerasa’s main stages of occupation during the late Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods (from the 3rd to the 8th centuries CE). The chapter is divided into a typological section and a catalogue. The former includes detailed references to parallels from other sites in the southern Levant, and presents the reader with a comprehensive regional study. The catalogue provides technical details, line drawings and colour photos. In conclusion, the author points out that some types usually attributed to the Abbasid and Fatimid periods started to be produced earlier. Most vessels are probably local products, and evidence for glass-vessel production came to light in some trenches on the site. Chemical analysis of twenty-one artifacts indicated that during the 6th–7th centuries CE they were produced and shaped from raw glass made in the vicinity of Apollonia-Arsuf on the Mediterranean coast, some 15 km north of Tel Aviv. Hence, the glass finds from the Northwest Quarter contribute to the evaluation of primary and secondary production in the regional glass industry.

The research on the clay lamps (chapter 3) comprises the major contribution in the volume, written by Alexandra Uscatescu who participated in the site’s exploration over many years. In her introduction the author gives a brief overview of previous studies of clay lamps in the Mediterranean Levant, defines the chronological and geographical framework for the lamps of the Northwest Quarter, and discusses the evidence for Gerasa’s extensive lamp workshops documented by kilns, moulds, and wasters, at first located outside the city and from the 3rd century CE onwards within the city. The presentation of the lamp types comprises thorough descriptions of the shapes and a wide range of references to Gerasa and regional sites, illustrated by line drawings and accompanied by several distribution maps, and concludes with a summary of the results. The bulk of lamps complements the already known local products. In the late Byzantine and Ummayad periods several finds are notable: a Samaritan lamp (L-25) from the Samaria region or the Nysa-Scythopolis area, a northern ovoid or Phoenician lamp (L-29) and southern wheel-made lamps (L-31, see Map 3.10 for the regional distribution). The chapter’s major section is the catalogue of 432 lamps and lamp fragments, listed by their find-spots in the trenches; it was made by the project team during the excavation campaigns 2012–2016. Each item is described, dated, and when possible, given a reference. In a user-friendly manner the figures with the line drawings are imbedded in the text, followed by seventeen colour plates that illustrate mainly the complete or nearly complete lamps.

I will offer three comments on the contents and conclusions. In the discussion of the local lamp production in Roman times the author refers to a singular fragmentary boat-shaped lamp with images of the Toilet of Aphrodite and a Greek inscription (‘a gift of thanks to the gods’). Stating that the lamp came to light in the workshop of the Artemision (p. 64) is erroneous. It was found in the debris of a tomb in the southwest cemetery, and recent research has established that it was most likely produced in Knidian workshops.[1] The find is important for assessing the proportion of local and imported lamps, and while the author underlines the extensive local manufacture of lamps derived from imperial prototypes (Broneer Types XXI–XXIII),[2] it is noteworthy that imported Roman-type lamps with decorated discus from eastern Mediterranean and Italian workshops are absent. While the author concludes that all the documented imported lamps from the Northwest Quarter excavations, representing 7.12 per cent compared to 89.7 per cent of local lamps and 3.85 per cent of non-determined pieces, never came from long-distance trade connections but from neighbouring areas (pp. 119–120, Table 3.2, Graph 3.1–2), the Knidian import asks for a new look. In any case, the imitation of imperial prototypes requires some originals, and the non-documentation of their imports is most likely the result of the dominance of late Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad period remains all over the site.

Another issue refers to the so-called Herodian lamps, wheel-made lamps with a splayed nozzle (pp. 63–64, Type L-3). While the type is predominant in Judea among the Jewish population, it is also well-attested at coastal sites, in Samaria, and the Galilee, and less common in Transjordan and Nabatea. The author reflects on a possible connection of the lamps with a carved limestone vessel retrieved in the Northwest Quarter and generally linked to the Jewish population. Listing some of the previous studies on the chronology and the workshops of the lamps, two publications should have been included: the Masada excavation report by Dan Barag and Malka Hershkovitz, the most comprehensive study of the type, and the fabric tests by David Adan-Bayewitz et al.[3] The neutron activation and high precision X-ray fluorescence analyses of 176 lamps from five rural and urban sites documented that the lamps from Jerusalem workshops reached the predominantly Jewish settlements in the Galilee (Gamala, Jodefat, Sepphoris) and that the majority of the lamps from Dora and Nysa-Scythopolis were made from locally available raw materials, while the three analysed lamps from Nabatean Oboda were imports from Jerusalem.

The incomplete discus scene on the lamp (p. 187, no. 381) can be reconstructed on the basis of comparanda (see the lamp from Dora). The preserved kneeling figure is correctly identified with a dwarf or pygmy, and the Egyptian motif is the depiction of two dwarfs as entertainers performing on a tight-rope.[4] From the late Ptolemaic period onwards, dwarfs and pygmies were popular images in Nilotic landscapes and waterscapes on mosaics and wall paintings. They were part of the Nile inundation rituals, illustrating and symbolizing the happy state of Egypt due to the Nile flood and the wealth and fertility of nature. Lamps with depictions of dwarfs occur in relatively small numbers, albeit with a wide geographical distribution, surely due to the popularity of Egyptian motifs in the Roman world.

Roman lamp from Dora
Roman lamp from Dora, Area G, L9231, Reg.-No. 92689, late 2nd-early 3rd c. CE (Drawing Vered Rozen). Rosenthal-Heginbottom 2017, p. 156, fig. 10.8A

The notes on the iconography of the Jerash Bowls by Pamela Bonnekoh (chapter 4) are a significant contribution following Pamela Watson’s initial research, the unpublished 1991 University of Sydney dissertation. The bowls from the Northwest Quarter date to the 6th–7th centuries CE. In the chapter, the focus is on the few pieces painted with animals and human figures, and the comparisons concentrate on mosaic floors in the adjacent regions, with some examples beyond. The animals depicted are roosters, fish, artiodactyls, and felids. Due to the fragmentary state of the bowls, it is difficult to define the composition precisely. The two antithetic artiodactyls (Figure 4.3) can flank a cross, a vessel, a basket, or a tree, and while animals framing one of those motifs are common in Late Antiquity, all possibilities are feasible for the Jerash bowl. Noteworthy is the best-preserved bowl with a human figure, defined as the ‘curly-haired boy’ (Figure 4.8). Holding a plate in his outstretched hands, he is considered a young servant, who belongs to a banquet. The interpretation is based on the assiduous research related to the person’s image, with the clothes, necklace, and hairstyle compared to depictions on mosaics and illuminated manuscripts, on a textile wall hanging, and on sculpture. No exact parallels appear to exist. The iconographic analysis of the fragmentary bowls did not provide definite interpretations, yet the author is to be complimented for her approach to define their iconography within the visual culture of Late Antiquity, opening possibilities for future research.

All told, it should be stated that the volume is a fine exemplar of contextualized evaluation of the glass, lamp and tableware finds from a local and regional perspective. It is user-friendly, well-organized, detailed, attractive, and with line drawings and colour photos. The authors should be heartily congratulated for this important publication, and the editors for enabling its appearance in such a short time after the completion of the excavation project. There is no question that it will serve as a valuable and indispensable research tool for future archaeological research in the Decapolis and beyond.

Authors and Titles

1. Achim Lichtenberger and Rubina Raja, Glass, Lamps, and Jerash Bowls: The Finds from the Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project’s Excavation Campaigns 2012–2016
2. Ruth E. Jackson-Tal, The Glass Finds from the Northwest Quarter of Jerash
3. Alexandra Uscatescu, Pottery Oil Lamps from the Northwest Quarter of Jerash
4. Pamela Bonnekoh, Some Notes on the Iconography of the Jerash Bowls from the Northwest Quarter of Jerash


[1] C. S. Fisher, The Southwest Cemetery, in C. H. Kraeling (ed.), Gerasa. City of the Decapolis, New Haven, CT 1938, 557, Pl. CXXVIIe; D. M. Bailey, A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum 3. Roman Provincial Lamps, London 1988, 340; D. Michaelides, A Boat-shaped Lamp from Nea Paphos and the Divine Protectors of Navigation in Cyprus, Cahiers du Centre d’Ètudes Chypriotes 39, 2009, 209; for the photo of the reconstructed lamp, now in the Jordan Archaeological Museum, Amman see F. Baratte, 294 No. 286, in Der Königsweg. 9000 Jahre Kunst und Kultur in Jordanien and Palästina, Cologne 187.  

[2] J. H. Iliffe, Imperial Art in Transjordan. Figurines and Lamps from a Potter’s Store at Jerash, Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities of Palestine 11, 1945, 1–26.

[3] D. Barag – M. Hershkovitz, Lamps from Masada, in Masada 4. The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963–1965. Final Reports, Jerusalem 1994, 1–147; D. Adan-Bayewitz, F. Asaro, M. Wieder and R. D. Giauque, Preferential Distribution of Lamps from the Jerusalem Area in the Late Second Temple Period (Late First Century B.C.E.–70 C.E.), Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 350, 2008, 37–85.

[4] R. Rosenthal-Heginbottom, Lamps from Tel Dor (Dora) – Local Production and Egyptian Iconographic Influence, in L. Chrzanovski (ed.), Le luminaire antique, Lychnological Acts 3, Actes du 3 e Congrès International d’études de l’ILA, Université d’Heidelberg, 21 – 26.IX.2009, Montagnac 2012, 312, 317 Fig. 2; id., (Presumable) Cultic Artefacts from Domestic Contexts at Dora, in O. Tal and Z. Weiss (eds.), Expressions of Cult in the Southern Levant in the Greco-Roman Period. Manifestations in Text and Material Culture, Contextualizing the Sacred 6, Turnhout 2017, 155–156, Fig. 10.8.