Even More Music from Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since our inception, we have shared written articles, quotations, images and videos. About a month ago we did a RAE first and shared acoustic presentations (Music of Ancient Rome and More Music from Ancient Rome).

Let’s keep that trend going as today we bring you even more music of Ancient Rome!

Musicians in a detail from the Zliten mosaic (2nd Century AD), originally shown as accompanying gladiator combat and wild-animal events in the arena (from left: the tuba, hydraulis, and 2 cornua).

Roman-style instruments are found in parts of the Empire where they did not originate, and indicate that music was among the aspects of Roman culture that spread throughout the provinces.

The Roman tuba was a long, straight bronze trumpet with a detachable, conical mouthpiece like that of the modern French horn. Extant examples are about 4.3 feet long, and have a cylindrical bore from the mouthpiece to the point where the bell flares abruptly, similar to the modern straight trumpet seen in presentations of ‘period music’.

Since there were no valves, the tuba was capable only of a single overtone series that would probably sound familiar to the modern ear, given the limitations of musical acoustics for instruments of this construction. In the military it was used for bugle calls, while the tuba is also depicted in art such as mosaics accompanying games (ludi) and spectacle events.

The cornu (horn) was a long tubular metal wind instrument that curved around the musician’s body, shaped rather like an uppercase G. It had a conical bore (again like a French horn) and a conical mouthpiece.

It may be hard to distinguish from the buccina. The cornu was used for military signals and on parade.

The Cornicen was a military Signal Officer who translated orders into calls. Like the tuba, the cornu also appears as accompaniment for public events and spectacle entertainments.

The tibia, usually double, had 2 double-reed (as in a modern oboe) pipes, not joined but generally played with a mouth-band capistrum to hold both pipes steadily between the player’s lips. Modern changes indicate that they produced a low, clarinet-like sound.

There is some confusion about the exact nature of the instrument. Alternate descriptions, however, indicate each pipe having a single reed (like a modern clarinet) instead of a double reed.

We hope this struck a chord with you. Hopefully we shall be able to bring you more music, along with more information about the music of Ancient Rome.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!