Priest of Isis with Silver Candle Holders (photo courtesy of VRoma)

The Romans made candles by surrounding a thin cord or rope with wax or tallow. These were either held or placed in holders which were eventually elaborated into candlesticks of varying heights called candelabra.

Varro notes that candles were the earliest form of artificial light used by the Romans before they discovered the oil lamp (De Lingua Latina V.25) and that the word candela is the root of candelabrum (see also Martial's Epigrammata 14.43: candelabrum Corinthium, which echoes both of Varro's comments cleverly).

Umbricius' distinction between the lights used by the wealthy aristocrat and his own meager candela is seen as evidence for the continued use of candles by the poor, who cannot afford the more expensive lamp. Martial in Epigrammata 14.40 celebrates the candle (which he nicknames cicindela or glowworm) as the ancillam lucernae, the handmaid of the lamp, which drives away the darkness throughout the night. In Epigrammata 14.42 Martial describes cereus, the wax taper, as the reliable standby for the lamp stolen from the slaveboy.