Musical Instruments

Various instruments were used by the Romans to make music in many situations: during dining, at public festivals, in musical performances, and on the military field. The table below lists some of the instruments they used:

Instrument Name

Description

Comments

Horns

Bucina

A horn, similar in size to the cornu, with a narrow cylindrical bore which flares out toward its end

Used by the legions to announce the watch.

Cornu

A horn, approximately 11 feet long, shaped like the letter G, gently tapered out along its full length with a crossbar brace that supported its weight on the player's shoulder.

Used by a military field commander to indicate his endorsement of orders which followed.

Lituus

A slender bronze tube, approximately 5 feet long, which curves upward at its end to form a bell.

Used mainly by cavalry to signal orders

Tuba

A bronze horn about 4 feet long with a slightly conical shape along its entire length

Sometimes was fitted with a horn mouthpiece. Used to sound the charge or retreat. When not preceeded by the sounding of the cornu, sounded mainly to signify more routine duties.

Percussion

Crotala

Instrument consisting of two small metal plates or clappers struck together.

Clappers or "rattles" varied in size, shape, number and arrangement of striking pieces. Varieties include spoons, bones, boards, and small finger cymbals. Boards were approximately 10 centimeters long.

Cymbalum

Small bronze cymbals 

 

Scabellum (also Scabillum)

Castanet or wooden sandal used for keeping time

 

Sistrum

Consisted of little metal bars tied up to two wooden arms.

 

Tympanum

Tambourine-like drum or a small drum

Always played by women. Kettle drums did not exist during the Roman Republic, the Principate, or the Empire.

Strings

Cithara

Stringed musical instrument (3 to 12 strings, which had a wooden soundboard and a box-shaped body, or resonator, from which extended two hollow arms connected by a crossbar.

Had a wooden soundbox. Forerunner of the Guitar

Lyra

Stringed musical instrument having a yoke (a crossbar and two arms); a lyre

Had a sound box made out of a turtle shell

Woodwinds

Auenis (I'm having a problem finding a reference that verifies this Latin term. Can anyone help?}

a syrinx (or panflute)-- made from a single piece of wood with holes of varying length bored into it

 

Fistula

Whistle flute

 

Fistula Obliqua

Transverse flute

 

Fistulae

Pipes of different lengths in a row tied or held together by wax and generally closed at the bottom. Panpipes or panflutes

Usually made out of metal, clay, or wood.

Tibia

Double reedpipe

Forerunner of the clarinet; usually made out of reed, bone, ivory, or metal

Other

Hydraulus

A water organ

Mentioned by Cicero in his writings

Notes:

This table isn't totally complete yet, and I'm not yet sure whether all these instruments existed at the end of the Late Roman Republic. All instruments, however, did exist later in the Empire.

If you have any corrections or additional information, please contact me.

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Last Updated:

Sunday, January 20, 2008