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Roman Music:

From surviving records, we know less about the music of ancient Rome than we do about the music of ancient Greece. For example, much is known about the theories of Pythagoras and Aristoxenus, and there are about 40 deciphered examples of Greek musical notation. There is very little such material on the music of the ancient Romans.

The Romans are not considered especially creative or original when it came to music. However, the Romans admired and copied almost everything about Greek culture, and it is safe to say that Roman music was mostly monophonic (single melodies with no harmony) and that the melodies were based on an elaborate system of scales (called "modes"). The music of Rome was also influenced by the Etruscans, the Middle East, and Africa.

Music in ancient Rome was pervasive and multipurposed - military uses of the tuba, music for funerals, private gatherings, public performances on the stage, and hundreds of trumpeters and pipers playing at gladiatorial games and festivals. Music was also used in religious ceremonies. The Romans cultivated music as a sign of education. Music contests were quite common and attracted a wide range of competitors, including the emperor Nero himself.


* Bonanni, Filippo (1964). Antique Musical Instruments and their Players, Dover Publications reprint of the 1723 work, Gabinetto armonico with supplementary explanatory material. New York: Dover Pub.
* Boethius. De institutione musica. English: Fundamentals of music / Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius ; translated, with introduction and notes by Calvin M. Bower ; edited by Claude V. Palisca. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
* Grout, Donald J. and Calude V. Palisca (1996). A History of Western Music, New York: W.W. Norton.
* Pierce, John R (1983), The Science of Musical Sound, New York: Scientific American Books.
* Scott, J.E. (1957). "Roman Music" in The New Oxford History of Music, vol.1: Ancient and Oriental Music, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
* Smith, William (1874). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, New York: Harper.
* Suetonius, Nero, xli, liv.
* Ulrich, Homer and Paul Pisk (1963). A History of Music and Musical Style, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanoich.
* Walter, Don C (1969) Men and Music in Western Culture, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
* Williams, C.F. (1903). The Story of the Organ, New York: Charles Scribner & Sons.


Our members recommend their favorite collections of Roman music:

Music of Ancient Rome (Vol.1), by Synaulia
The first volume of this collection focuses on wind instruments, such as the tuba, tibiae, and reeds. While we can't be certain about what Roman music sounded like, this is the closest we have come with available evidence. Unusual, but very interesting to hear!


Music of Ancient Rome (Vol.2), by Synaulia
This second volume emphasizes the ancient stringed instruments, such as the lyre, cithara, and lute. Another unusual but very interesting collection.


Ancestral Instruments - very well done recreations of Ancient Roman Music; Hear samples and order directly from David Marshall (

You may also browse our complete list of recommendations.





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