In ancient Rome, candles played an essential role in lighting homes, especially for the lower classes and slaves who could not afford expensive oil lamps. Beeswax candles coupled with linen wicks offered a cheaper and more convenient source of lighting in a time before electricity. This article will explore how and why beeswax and linen were used for candles in ancient Rome, the candlemaking process, and the impact these simple candles had on daily life for slaves and commoners.

Beeswax and Linen as Ideal Candle Materials

Beeswax was plentiful and easy to acquire in the Roman Empire, making it an affordable and accessible candle material for all classes. Beeswax is secreted by honey bees to build their honeycombs. This wax is quite malleable when warm, hardens when cool, and has a low melting point, making it perfect for candlemaking.

Linen also was readily available in ancient Rome. As a fabric made from the flax plant, linen was used for everything from clothing to sails to wicks. Linen wicks were favored over other materials because they stayed rigid when saturated with melted wax. This allowed the wick to remain upright and continue burning. The linen also burned slowly and evenly.

Together, beeswax and linen created inexpensive, high-quality candles that effectively lit Roman homes. Oil lamps were a luxury item, as olive oil was expensive. Beeswax candles provided an affordable alternative.

The Candlemaking Process

Candlemaking was primarily done by slaves and commoners in ancient Rome, using a simple process perfected over centuries.

Beeswax was gathered from local beekeepers or even collected from feral bee colonies. The wax then needed to be cleaned and filtered to remove impurities like honey, propolis, and dead bees. Next, the wax was melted and bleached using sunlight to make it brighter and whiter.

Linen wicks were made by tightly rolling and twisting flax fibers together to form a stiff cord. These wicks were centered in open molds while the melted, bleached wax was poured around them. Once cool and hardened, the finished candles were pulled from the molds, trimmed to size, and ready for use.

This simple process allowed nearly any Roman household to make their own candles at home. Candlemaking was likely one of the many menial household tasks delegated to slaves.

The Importance of Beeswax Candles for Slaves

For the lower classes and slaves, beeswax candles offered a reliable source of artificial light in their modest homes and tenements. Oil lamps were a luxury, and houses lacked electricity of course. Candles allowed slaves to safely move about and work during the nighttime hours.

In more wealthy homes, slaves used candles to light their quarters and work areas. Candlelight facilitated tasks like food preparation, spinning wool, weaving textiles, and other household chores done by lamplight.

Slave women likely made candles as it fell under domestic duties expected of female slaves. Having a ready supply of candles gave slaves some autonomy and the ability to be productive after sunset.

Impact on Daily Life and Culture

The simple beeswax candle drastically impacted daily life and culture in ancient Rome for all classes.

From enriching social lives to increasing productivity, the simple beeswax candle had a profound impact on ancient Roman culture and economics across all classes.


In ancient Rome, candles lit with beeswax and linen wicks allowed the lower classes and slaves to safely illuminate their homes and workareas at night. Beeswax was plentiful, and linen made ideal wicks. The simple candlemaking process was done by slaves, and candles gave them more autonomy. Most importantly, beeswax candles changed daily life and culture by extending work hours, enabling nighttime activities, facilitating religious practices, and allowing for reading. This practical light source had a tremendous influence on ancient Roman society.