How Ancient Romans Lit Their Homes Without Electricity

The ancient Romans lived in a time before electricity, yet they developed ingenious methods to light up their homes and cities. Here's an in-depth look at how they created artificial light without electricity:

Lighting Methods Used in Ancient Roman Homes

Oil Lamps

One of the most common lighting methods was the oil lamp, also known as a lucerna. These were small terracotta or bronze vessels that held olive oil and a wick. The wick soaked up the oil and provided a flame when lit. Oil lamps were relatively cheap and easy to produce. They could be carried around and placed wherever light was needed. However, oil lamps did not provide very bright light.


Candles were also used by the ancient Romans. These provided more light than oil lamps, but were more expensive. Candles were made by dipping a wick into melted tallow or beeswax repeatedly to build up layers. Only the rich could afford large candles for lighting their homes.


Torches offered a portable source of bright light. These consisted of a flammable material such as straw or cloth wrapped around a stick. Torches had to be carried by hand, so they were mainly used for lighting streets and passageways rather than homes. The smoke and soot from torches made them unsuitable for indoor use.

Lighting Fixtures in Roman Homes

The Romans used various fixtures to hold their oil lamps and candles:


Lanterns such as the horn-pan lantern protected the flame while allowing light to shine out. They could be hung up on walls or ceilings.


Ornate multi-branched candelabras held candles for decorative lighting. These could be placed on tables or mounted on walls. The wealthiest Romans had candelabras made of bronze, silver, and gold.


Sconces or brackets projected from walls to hold lights. Simple sconces just had ledges for oil lamps and candles, while fancy ones incorporated mirrors and other embellishments.


The Romans also had early versions of chandeliers - hanging light fixtures with multiple branches. These displayed an array of oil lamps or candles to brightly illuminate rooms.

Lighting Public Spaces

Romans lit up their cities in creative ways:

So while the ancient Romans didn't have modern electric lights, they successfully harnessed older technologies to brighten their world when the sun went down. Clever fixtures helped spread the light where needed, from homes to public spaces.