Ancient Musical Instruments of Rome II

From horns such as the trumpet to handheld drums, ancient Romans used a variety of musical instruments for their festivities, religious ceremonies, and other rituals, such as making sacrifices to the gods. In this article, you will learn about ancient music instruments, including horns, harps, and percussion.

Trumpets and Other Horns

During military processions, the trumpet and French horn was a popular musical instrument. When a group of musicians were called for events or parades took place, both of the instruments were significant. The buccina was a horn that resembled a trumpet and was originally made out of a shell. The horn was curved, which was convenient for whoever was playing it. A very wide mouth also allowed different sounds. The buccina was blown at funerals and used to alert the watches of the day and night. During festive get-togethers, the horn was blown before and after sitting down for a meal. Whoever played the buccina was referred to as a buccinator.

Another ancient Roman horn was the cornu , a wind instrument that was originally made out of animal horns, but was later constructed out of brass. The instrument was large and curved to the point that it looked like a ‘C’. A crosspiece was also used to steady the instrument so that it was easy for someone to play. There were no keys or holes that played a role in the instrument’s use. A player manipulated the sound by using their breath and lips.


The sweet sound of the harp dates before the ancient Greeks and Egyptians used the instrument. The ancient Romans used a large harp called the sambuca. A smaller harp shaped like a triangle was called the trigonum, which resembled the sambuca only that it was small enough to be held in your hand.


During ancient Roman times, percussion instruments were used when music that people danced to was played. One of the more popular choices was castanets, which typically came in the form of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by string. They were held in the hand and used to create rhythmic clicking sounds. Sometimes, they ripped or rattled when a series of rapid clicks were made. The sistrum was a bronze rattle that the ancient Romans adopted from the Egyptians. Sometimes, it was made out of silver and gold. The rattle was known for making a loud shrill sound.


Bells were called tintinnabulum in ancient Roman times. There were many different kinds of bells that produced varying sounds. Some were shaped like the bell we’re used to seeing, while others resembled a Chinese gong. The Romans used the bells during sacrifices and Bacchanalian processions. They also attached them to the collars of their horses for when they pulled chariots.


When the ancient Romans danced, a drum often accompanied their movements. The tympana was a small drum that could be transported by hand. Sometimes, this kind of drum actually looked like the present-day tambourine with bells. The Romans made the tympana by covering the instrument with the hides of oxen. The drum was then beaten with a stick or the hand (like a tambourine). The drum was often used during religious rites.