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:
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!
of Ancient Rome (Vol.2), by Synaulia
volume emphasizes the ancient stringed instruments, such
as the lyre, cithara, and lute. Another unusual but very
You may also browse
our complete list of recommendations.