Reconstructing the Kithara of Ancient Greece

Reconstructing the Kithara of Ancient Greece

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A 'live' performance of my composition, "The Golden Age of Pericles" on the wonderfully recreated Kithara of the Golden Age of Classical Greece - hand-made in modern Greece by Lutherios:

This piece is actually on track 1 of my album, "The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre" - given a whole new timbre on the evocative tone of the replica ancient Greek kithara.

Since late 2014, I have been collaborating with Lutherios in their inspirational "Lyre 2.0 Project" - dedicated to reintroducing the wonderful lyres of antiquity back into the modern world, to make these beautiful instruments accessible to each and every modern musician:

This video hopefully demonstrate why the kithara was so venerated in antiquity, as the instrument of the professional musician.

In particular, I attempt to demonstrate the wonderfully reconstructed 2500 year old vibrato mechanism, for which there is an almost overwhelming body of visual evidence to support this theory. All original illustrations of the ancient Greek kithara clearly show what appear to be curved springs beneath the yoke to which the strings are attached, with the top of the arms carved almost wafer thin, which almost certainly was to allow for lateral movement of the yoke and the attached strings, creating an eerie vocal vibrato effect - some 2500 years before the invention of the 'whammy bar' of the Fender electric guitar!

The vibrato mechanism can be operated either by light lateral movement of either of the vertical wooden levers at each end of the yoke, or a more subtle vibrato can be achieved by pushing the discs either side of the yoke.

For full details on all my research into the kithara of ancient Greece and Rome, please also see my blog:

Many thanks for watching!

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The cithara or kithara (Greek: κιθάρα , romanized: kithāra, Latin: cithara) was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the yoke lutes family. In modern Greek the word kithara has come to mean "guitar", a word which etymologically stems from kithara. [1]

The kithara was a seven-stringed professional version of the lyre, which was regarded as a rustic, or folk instrument, appropriate for teaching music to beginners. As opposed to the simpler lyre, the kithara was primarily used by professional musicians, called kitharodes. The kithara's origins are likely Anatolian. [2] ( p185 ) [3] popular in the eastern Aegean and ancient Anatolia.

Reconstructing the Ancient Daily Life

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are one of the examples of literary sources that can be used to reconstruct ancient daily life. (Image: Artform/Shutterstock)

Role of Literary Sources to Understand the Ancient World

We face some real challenges in reconstructing the other side of history. There’s no getting away from it. First, we need to remember that, both in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, history was mainly written by upper-class males. In almost all the narratives that have come down to us, women feature only incidentally while slaves and children and many other marginalized groups such as the poor and the elderly appear only very rarely, if at all.

It’s also the case that although Greece, for instance, has left us a wealth of literature we have no private documents. We’ve no letters, no bills, no shopping lists, no accounts until the Hellenistic period, the period following the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.

Until the Middle Ages, we have no autobiographies from anyone who might remotely be described as ordinary. So to get to the other side of history we have to turn history upside down.

We are not, however, limited to literary evidence in our investigation—we also have archeology. And we must give the archeology a particular emphasis. It’s not the great works of art but humble artifacts that speak to us about mundane activities like cooking or about features of everyday existence like heating and sanitation.

There is another thing to keep in mind as we imagine our way into the past. Whether we are talking about being an Egyptian worker or being a Greek soldier or being a medieval woman, we need to bear in mind that the world, or rather worlds, of Egyptian workers were extremely heterogeneous, as were the worlds of Greek soldiers and medieval women. We should never forget that every generalized class of human beings is actually composed of specific individuals. And of course, no two individuals in any class or age are ever exactly alike.

This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, Wondrium.

The Role of New Archaeological Discoveries

Let’s remember, too, that history is anything but a static discipline. Discoveries are being made all the time—sometimes momentous ones—that are radically altering our picture of the past. Let’s take three important discoveries that were made in July 2010 since I started researching on this topic.

First, a haul of 78 razor-sharp flint tools was discovered on a beach in Norfolk in the east of England, revealing that Britain was occupied by humans at least 840,000 years ago. That’s to say, a cool quarter of a million years earlier than scientists had previously believed.

Discovery of ancient archaeological evidence, such as a collection of ancient Roman coins, can help us reconstruct ancient daily life. (Bukhta Yurii/Shutterstock)

Second, the largest single hoard of Roman coins ever found in Britain came to light in a field in Somerset—52,500 bronze and silver coins dating to the 3 rd century A.D. Fifty-two thousand five hundred, and it’s just one hoard. This then was a society almost as monetary-based as our own.

Third, a new analysis of bones found in a cave in the south of England forced us to accept the fact that our British ancestors were cannibals. Using new technologies, scientists have confirmed that the hunter-gatherers who migrated from Spain and France about 14,700 years ago and settled in England’s Cheddar Gorge practiced cannibalism as a way of obtaining food.

Chris Stringer, the head of human origins at the National History Museum in London, said, “These people were processing the flesh of humans with exactly the same expertise that they used to process the flesh of animals.”

That’s three major discoveries in England alone and in the course of only one month. History is on the move all the time. And it’s not just our knowledge of what happened in the past that changes. The very discipline of history itself changes, too. New methods of analysis emerge, our paradigms shift, and historians find fresh topics.

New Interest in Daily Life History

The past 20 years have seen a huge increase in interest in daily life history. In fact, it has become a veritable industry. It doesn’t just mean that there’s been a lot of interest in questions like what did the Romans eat for breakfast? Fascinating though that question is, it means the interest in what it meant to be, say, a Mesopotamian slave, an Egyptian mother, an Anglo-Saxon warrior, a medieval child, and so on. But historians don’t just focus on the physical conditions of, say, slavery, they also try to delve into the worldview of slaves.

They’ve begun to ask questions such as what was the relationship between slaves and their owners? What image did slaves have of themselves? How did they interact with other slaves? And so on.

Imagine yourself as someone else, as a Roman slave or a Greek refugee or a medieval monk. It’s like looking up at the stars. It helps us to put our own lives into some sort of perspective. Trying to be another is an attempt to cross space and time. It also helps us to empathize with other human beings, even human beings with whom we might think we have nothing at all in common. It helps us to realize our human interconnectedness.

Let’s imagine this by talking about a scene in the Iliad. The Iliad is sometimes regarded as a celebration of war. It isn’t. It focuses upon the terrible, ruinous cost of war—and of anger. And, yes, it’s about the other side of history, too.

Iliad VIII 245-253 in codex F205, late 5th or early 6th century A.D., an example of a literary source that could be used in reconstructing the ancient daily life of Greece. (Unknown author/Public domain)

At the end of the Iliad the Trojan king, Priam, comes to beg the corpse of his son Hector from the Greek warrior Achilles, his killer. Priam’s action, his courage, his love, and his humanity are an example to us all. Achilles has been desecrating his son’s corpse by attaching it to the wheels of his chariot and dragging it around the walls of Troy. And yet Priam is driven by something greater than either fear or anger.

It is one of the most extraordinary passages in all literature. After Priam has managed to slip unseen into Achilles’ tent, evading all the guards, the two enemies gaze into each other’s eyes and marvel and then weep. Achilles is reminded of his father, Peleus, back in Greece. His father whom he will never see again. Priam and Achilles at this moment are no longer Trojan and Greek, they are simply human.

They are elevated to the level of their common humanity. Achilles sees Priam as a father. It shows how far he has traveled psychologically. This is the kind of journey we’re trying to seek.

The famous biologist and historian Jacob Bronowski ended his lecture on the Nazi concentration camps in his acclaimed BBC series The Ascent of Man by walking unscripted into the ankle-deep mud of Auschwitz. Kneeling down, he picked up a handful of that mud and said, “We have to touch people.” We have to touch them so that the dead in turn can speak to us all.

Common Questions about Reconstructing the Ancient Daily Life

There are primarily two main sources from which history is written. These sources are literary or written sources and archaeological sources . We can use these sources in reconstructing ancient daily life and history.

The three main literary sources of ancient history are religious, secular, and foreign accounts. We can use these sources in reconstructing ancient daily life and history.

History is capable of providing us an insight into our future. History also helps us analyze our present better by providing a reference point to our past.

Michael Levy - Composer for Lyre

In this section, I will examine the growing body of circumstantial evidence, in the form of almost countless ancient illustrations, which suggest that both the ancient Greek and Roman versions of the kithara (the larger wooden lyres favoured by the professional musicians of Classical antiquity and from which word we actually derive the word "guitar") had an incredibly advanced vibrato mechanism - some 2500 years before the advent of the 'whammy bar' of the modern electric guitar!

Also, I will examine evidence to suggest that the Roman version of the kithara (known in Latin as the cetra) may have had the first metal musical strings, the first 'true' friction pegs, double courses of strings like a mandolin and the first tuning lever mechanism, some 1700 years before tuning levers were 'reinvented' during the development of the modern concert harp.

The general result of my investigations, reveals that since these instruments are so far away from our present experience, even with all the evidence presented, in order to try and actually interpret this evidence, all we really have, are good old fashioned argument and counterargument!


A fascinating potential new musical discovery from a detailed painting of a Roman kithara found in Herculaneum, which initially, seems to amazingly show the 1st century CE equivalent of a pitch-bending 'whammy bar' of our modern Fender Stratocaster Guitar.

Firstly, some background. I have recently become interested in the little-discussed topic of the various shapes of lyre bridges that were used in antiquity, as the shape of the bridge has profound implications on the tone the lyre - many ancient illustrations of lyre bridges seem to depict a flat, bench-like bridge, rather than the "A" shaped bridge which is generally used on most attempts at making replica lyres in modern times.

The most important implications on the tone a bench-shaped bridge would make, is that the vibration of the strings on the wider bridge top would buzz, unlike the clean, harp/guitar-like tone an "A" shaped bridge produces. The most intriguing evidence that at least the Biblical Kinnor may have had such a bridge is the Hebrew word for melody, "ZMR" (pronounced"Zemer") - this could well be an onomatopoeic word, sounding itself, like the buzz created by the strings of the Biblical lyres?

This characteristic buzzing timbre can still be heard to day in the sound of the Indian sitar - there is indeed, an actual specific Indian term to describe this unique timbre, which is known as “jivari”, as described below in Wikipedia:

"Javārī, (also: 'joārī', 'juvārī', 'jvārī' (alternately transcribed 'jawārī', 'jowārī', 'joyārī', 'juwārī', and 'jwārī')) in Indian classical music refers to the overtone-rich "buzzing" sound characteristic of classical Indian string instruments such as the tanpura, sitar, surbahar, rudra veena and Sarasvati veena. Javari can refer to the acoustic phenomenon itself and to the meticulously carved bone, ivory or wooden bridges that support the strings on the sounding board and produce this particular effect. A similar sort of bridge is used on traditional Ethiopian lyres, as well as on the ancient Greek kithara, and the "bray pins" of some early European harps operated on the same principle. A similar sound effect, called in Japanese sawari, is used on some traditional Japanese instruments as well."

Note the clear reference above, to the shape of the bridge depicted on the ancient Greek kithara and the Ethiopian lyres (specifically, the begena), still played in Ethiopia to the present day!

Recently, a fascinated replica of the Silver Lyre of Ur was made by the specialist luthier of ancient musical instruments, Peter Pringle, with a more authentic bench-shaped bridge, and the resulting subtle buzzing sound was rather more like the timbre of an Indian Sitar than the clean timbre of a modern harp with which we are more familiar with:

This buzzing effect can today be heard on the Ethiopian Begena - a bass register 10-string lyre, which according to the Ethopian tradition of Menelik I (Son of King Solomon and the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba), may itself have roots in the Biblical 10-string Nevel Asor:


This amazingly exotic tone inspired me to research in more depth about any ancient illustrations of lyre bridges, and I soon found this incredibly detailed painting of a very unique lyre bridge, from an illustration found at Herculaneum, of Cupids playing a Roman kithara:

On this lyre too, the bridge certainly appears to be quite flat and bench-like, but not only this - when I posted this illustration to the skilled modern-day lyre luthiers on the Facebook Group "The Lyre", Peter Pringle made a truly remarkable observation:

"The really ASTONISHING thing about this wonderful fresco from Herculaneum is the obvious presence of what could only be described as a "whammy bar" on the lyre! Not only are we looking at a whammy bar, but the left hand of the child (possibly a cupid) who is playing the instrument is actually pressing down on it as he actively strums the strings with the plectrum.

The lyre has 14 strings that lie over a flat bridge, and wrap onto what appears to be a spring mechanism. The artist is showing us a good deal of detail and you can see that the whammy ensemble consists of two parts: a ' ] ' shaped upper bar to which the strings are attached with two slightly raised arms, and a lower part that acts as the spring. The action would be similar to two pairs of tweezers lying on a table, with their open ends joined with a pencil. Push downward on the pencil and the "tweezers" close. Release the pressure and they open up again pushing the pencil back up to its original position.

The artist, obviously a master painter, has even given us enough perspective to see the upward curve of the feet of the lower part of the spring (i.e. the tweezers) in the open position. By depressing either one of the two upper whammy arms, the pitch of the strings would sharpen, possibly by as much as a semitone. This would facilitate all sorts of interesting ornaments and effects, including vibrato.

Another interesting detail the artist has given us is the color of the whammy device. In contrast to the rest of the instrument, it is quite evidently made of a white, shiny metal - possibly silver.

This is a fascinating discovery and I have no doubt whatsoever that what we are looking at is what I have described above. Here is my own sketch, based on the fresco, showing the mechanism. The Romans used this type of spring for all sorts of other things: box lids, tongs, hair pins, latches, locks, tweezers, forceps, medical devices, even other musical instruments, but this is the first time I have heard of its being used on a lyre"


The most compelling argument in favour of this hypothesis, is the evidence of a similar complex spring-based vibrato mechanism that was in use on the ancient Greek kithara, several centuries earlier from about 500 BCE, as explained in this fascinating video presentation of the ancient Greek kithara is by Peter Pringle, featuring a replica ancient Greek kithara made in modern Greece by Luthieros:

Regarding any artifacts which could possibly be interpreted as visual evidence for the vibrato mechanism of the ancient Greek kithara, here is a fascinating illustration of an actual ancient Greek kithara player, who actually appears to be displacing the crossbar of the lyre to either achieve this vibrato or pitch shifting effect - the crossbar has clearly been displaced by the player, so that it is lower in the left than it is on the right:

There is a detailed PDF of a paper by Pavel Kurfurst, "The Ancient Greek Kithara (1992)", which explains more evidence for this concept of this spring-loaded vibrato mechanism on the ancient Greek Kithara in more detail - this article can be viewed here.

Quoting from Kurfurst's paper:

“The ancient Greek kithara makers devised a number of systems for enabling the crossbar and weights to move in relation to the arms of the instrument. Judging from the dating of the iconograms in which type of kithara is shown, all of these systems seem to have been in use at the same time. But first let us turn to a description of how the instrument and its individual parts functioned. The crossbar and the weights, attached at the joints to the ends of the kithara arms, were able to rock out in both directions from the vertical axis of the instrument. Whenever this happened, the crossbar, which passed through the weights in such a way that it could move, shifted a few millimetres towards the body of the instrument. This resulted in a temporary shortening of the strings (or rather a decrease in their tension), and had the effect of lowering their pitch. Depending on how far the weights were rocked out, the pitch of the strings could be lowered smoothly by almost three tones, which meant that the player could employ endless number of tones ranging from the highest to the lowest pitched strings. The stability of the basic tuning of the kithara strings, i.e. when the weights were more or less perpendicular to the crossbar, was ensured by the continuous pull of the strings in the direction of the longer axis of the instrument as well as by the operation of the symmetrical spring mechanism linking the individual weights with their arms. The main function of the spring mechanism was to maintain this stability and to speed up the return of the weights to their original position after they had been rocked out”

This is how Kurfurst theorised how the vibrato mechanism could be set in motion:

“Basically there were two means of achieving this, each qualitatively different. In the first — the commoner, to judge by the iconograms — the player used his chin, nose or cheekbone to push against the disc fixed to the end of the crossbar, in this way moving it and the weights away from himself. At the same time, he kept the instrument in the same position relative to his body. At first the kinetic inertia of the relatively heavy weights would be too great for the force being exerted by the player, but once this had been overcome it would itself contribute to the smooth and relatively slow movement of the crossbar.

When playing the instrument in this way, the kitharistes hat two possibilities. He could either shift the crossbar to certain points, thus producing precise tones (within the compass of the THE ANCIENT GREEK KITHARA), or achieve a glissando effect by continuing to move the crossbar smoothly. At the same time, the spring mechanism and the continuous pull of the strings would act to return the crossbar to its position of rest. With the second method of playing the kithara, a tremolo could be created, with either very slight variations in pitch or larger vibrations covering a range up to approximately three tones. The speed of vibration of the tremolo would have been proportional to the range it covered: the less the variation of pitch, the more rapid the tremolo and vice versa. When using this method, the kitharistes would set the weights oscillating by moving the whole instrument at right angles to his body, in this way making use of the inertia of the weights, which would have a tendency to remain in their initial position.

After they had been set in motion, the weights and crossbar would be kept moving by impulses from the impact of the spring mechanism, as well as by occasional movements of the body of the kithara by the player. Of course it would also have been possible to play the instrument without making use of the movable mechanism in this case, it would have been played like the lyre, barbiton or phorminx (which, in terms of its construction, was the kithara's closest relative).”

In this section of his paper, Kurfurst theorised that the vibrato mechanism could be operated by the momentum of the player maybe throwing the kithara forward. I would tend to disagree, due to my own practical experience of actually playing one – due to the strong downward pull of the combined tension of the strings (even with low tension gut, this would still be well over 100 Lbs), in order to let inertia displace the yoke and set into operation the spring vibrato mechanism, the discs either side of the yoke would have to be very heavy and made of metal: speaking as a practical musician rather than a musicologist, this would render the beautiful light and resonant construction of the kithara so top-heavy that the instrument would be virtually unplayable!

Also, if metal discs were used, then these would have survived the ravages of time, and many such discs would have been found in ancient Greek grave goods, where it is likely that revered musical instruments such as the kithara may well have been placed (surviving examples of the fragments of ancient Greek tortoise shell lyres have been found as grave goods, for example the remains of the Elgin lyre preserved in the British Museum) – no such curious metallic discs have ever been found in any grave goods, in any ancient Greek tomb so far excavated.

Further circumstantial evidence in support of a vibrato mechanism on the ancient Greek kithara, is the ancient depictions of what appear to be hinges, allowing full articulation of the yoke at it's thinnest sections, whenever light lateral pressure is applied to either of the vertical beams extending from the yoke:

In the image above, in the far right corner, directly above the curved spring-like structure, is what certainly appears to be something which could be interpreted as being a hinge!

A similar hinge-like structure, in exactly the same place, at the thinnest portion of the arms, can also be seen here:


Although there is no explicit reference to the vibrato mechanism seen in virtually all illustrations of the ancient Greek kithara, there may indeed be subtle hints to its existence in some surviving examples of descriptive ancient Greek texts. Indeed, there is a passage in which the term καμπή (pronounced 'kampí') is used, which means literally ‘bend' (although in most translations, the word "modulate" is used)

This term was used by Aristophanes in "Clouds", (line 971) - describing boys, who in their singing lessons were introducing bends in the style of Phrynis a famous concert kitharode in the 440's BCE:

". And if any boy engaged in classroom buffoonery or attempted to torture the music by singing in the cacaphonic, newfangled style of that awful lyre player, Phrynis, (971: Phrynis introduced καμπή [bends] of harmony and rhythm into the traditional music of the kithara), he was given a damned good thrashing for deliberately perverting the Muses!"


Here is my own attempt to demonstrate the vibrato mechanism of the replica ancient Greek kithara made in modern Greece by Luthieros - whenever I apply light lateral pressure to either of the vertical beams (levers) above the yoke, lateral movement of the yoke and strings is possible due to the curved wooden springs beneath the yoke:



The phorminx is an earlier form of kithara, popular in the time of Homer. Almost every original, ancient illustration of the phorminx also appears to indicate that the arms of this lyre were articulated, allowing the necessary movement required for a vibrato effect. In the detailed illustration below, the arms almost appear to be hinged at the bottom:

Luthieros recently reconstructed their own replica of the ancient Greek phorminx, complete with articulated arms. In the video below, here is my attempt to illustrate how the vibrato on the phorminx was possible and the amazing sound which results:


In his own research into circumstantial evidence for articulated lyres in antiquity, Peter Pringle found the following fascinating images of ancient Minoan lyres, predating the ancient Greek kithara of the Golden Age by at least a thousand years.

"Below is a picture of a seven stringed lyre painted onto the famous limestone sarcophagus known as the "Hagia Triada", now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete. This instrument is Minoan, and is 1000 years older than the Golden Age kithara we are familiar with.

Notice the unusual construction of the two pillars of this instrument with their large ring-shaped, curiously jointed, configurations. Remind you of anything? To my eyes, this instrument is obviously articulated, just like the kithara of 500 B.C.

I have looked over the writings of archaeologists and musicologists who have examined this marvelous artifact, and not one of them has suggested that the ‘O’ rings have any purpose whatsoever beyond simple decoration.

Archaeologist C. R. Long, who wrote an extensive treatise on the sarcophagus in the 1970’s, says in regard to this lyre, 'Size is a matter of space available rather than proportion in Minoan/Mycenean art. We cannot tell how large the Minoan lyre was…..The player holds it in his left arm, assisted by a sling around his wrist and around the outer arms of the instrument so that his left hand fingers are free to pluck or damp'….”


The circumstantial body of evidence for articulated ancient Greek lyres is so extensive and whose prototypes dates back so far into the ancient Greek archaeological record, that to me, applying the philosophical method of Occam's Razor here, given the available overwhelming circumstantial archaeological evidence we have in the form of countless, detailed ancient illustrations, the simplest explanation for these complex structures seen on these ancient Greek lyres, is that the ancient Greeks had developed an intricate vibrato mechanism based upon the idea of articulating the arms of their lyres, refined over a period of at least a thousand years, before reaching its most advanced form, in the glorious kithara of the Golden Age of Classical Greece.

To say that these structures seen on all of these images of ancient Greek kitharas and proto-kitharas are 'purely decorative' is like imagining an archaeologist of the distant future, in a world where the common wheel had been replaced by an instant transport system of teleportation, arguing that the 'curious circular structures' seen in a pictures of late 19th century bicycles were for decoration.

From the point of view of epistemology (the philosophical theories on how we are able to gain knowledge), in order to gain knowledge about any facts, we must already have a certain amount of experience of similar facts in order to interpret the new facts - with no experience of hearing or seeing an ancient Greek or Roman kithara performed for over 2000 years, we are in a very similar position to our 'future archaeologist scenario' in his inability to interpret the fact that the 'curious circular structures' seen on late 19th century bicycles were, in fact, the things we currently call 'wheels'!


As with interpreting any ancient illustration of something which is no longer any part of our own every day lives anymore, there are always going to be alternative interpretations to any particular hypothesis, particularly in the field of archaeo-musicology!

Michael J King, another skilled lyre luthier who regularly contributes to the fascinating discussions in the Facebook Group "The Lyre" had the following to say, about his own interpretation of the "Whammy Bar" on the lyre from Herculaneum:

"I have to confess I am not yet convinced by the Whammy bar Hypothesis, it has been proposed before on Kitharas ,where support brackets get interpreted as springs and the end clasps on the string bar as knobs , In this example I can only really only see a metal tailpiece and its connections front and back to the soundboard both sides for strength(12 string lyre after all) Gut strings are not as amenable as steel strings to being stretched back and forth and are more finicky with their tuning."

In response, Peter Pringle had this to say:

"I have read many of the fanciful theories about the various types of ornamentation on kitharas, but there are two elements here (IMHO) that make this Roman lyre unique. First of all, the two upward pointing raised arms on the top bar that would serve no purpose if the bar were simply there to attach the strings. They are not attractive or ornamental in any way, and their position would not aid in stabilizing anything.

The second element that I find most striking is that the hand of the lyre player is clearly manipulating one of the raised arms. The artist's brushstrokes are masterful, and there is real, identifiable ACTION in the motion of the left hand of the player. If you were to run the painting as if it were a motion picture in your imagination, you can almost see the little fellow pushing down on the arm!

Yes. I guess the key word here is IMAGINATION. In the absence of an actual example of such a lyre, we can never know for sure."

Given the lack of any actual physical remains of a lyre such as this one depicted in the Herculaneum painting, a conclusive interpretation of the elusive "whammy bar" appendage to the bridge of this lyre is frustratingly, completely out of our grasp, as Michael J King responded:

"I think the cupid character is strumming or playing with a plectrum and supporting the lyre, (this mirrors the other character who is holding the lyre and playing too), rather than operating a device. Its compositional, but yes, to have some actual remains. sigh."


Intrigued by all the varying arguments for and against the vibrato mechanism of the kithara of ancient Greece and Rome, I sought to seek a more academically informed opinion and received just that, from Professor Stefan Hagel.

Regarding the vibrato mechanism of the ancient Greek kithara, Hagel kindly pointed out to me an academic paper which I knew nothing of, entitled "The Arm-Crossbar Junction of the Classical Hellenic Kithara" by Stelios Psaroudakes. In short, this fascinating paper refers to an actual 3D sculpture of an ancient Greek kithara, found as part of the Parthenon Frieze, in which "The intersection of the arm with the crossbar is carefully modelled, and so is the elaborate snake-like construction underneath it." This unique 3D ancient depiction of the kithara is unique, in that it clearly shows that instead of there being a moveable, 'floating' yoke necessary for a vibrato mechanism, "It is here shown clearly that the crossbar surrounds the arm, in other words the arm penetrates the crossbar. Therefore, the upper arm of the kithara would have undoubtedly been solid, a wooden plank, and not a deep, hollow resonator, as is unanimously believed."

Rather than the hypothetical function of the 'mechanism' of structures beneath the yoke being interpreted as a vibrato system, the actual function of these structures becomes apparent from the 3D sculpture:

"The right end of the base of the upper arm rests on the “bow”, which in turn is propped up by the elaborate system “capital-column-basehead-horseshoe buttress”, which leans against the inner wall of the lower arm. Undoubtedly, the function of this system is to provide reaction in the opposite direction to that of the tension in the strings."

In other words, according to this paper, the spring-like structures were simply used to reinforce the strength of the weak, inwardly curving arms of the kithara, by providing an equal and opposite recreation to counteract against the downward pull of the strings.


If, however, the circumstantial visual and literary evidence for some form of spring-based mechanism being designed into the body of the ancient Greek kithara is true, then from my own practical experience of actually performing with the imaginatively recreated mechanism on my Luthieros ancient Greek kithara, in my own opinion, I think that this mechanism would more likely have been used to create sliding 'portamento' effects to imitate precisely the same singing style descriped by Aristophanes in "Clouds", (line 971) as described earlier rather than to create vibrato effects - vibrato is much more effectively created on my replica kithara, by simply applying light fluctuating pressure with my left hand fingers on the non-vibrating portion of the low tension gut strings of my kithara directly above the bridge upon which the strings rest.

This is a far more effective means of creating vibrato on my kithara, than attempting the awkward proceedure of having to suddenly raise the entire righ arm and hand to the top of the arms of the kithara, in the middle of playing a tune, in order to operate the spring mechanism whilst finger plucking the strings with the left hand - which in itself, inevitably causes annoying noises of mechanical squeaks whenever the mechanism is operated! These mechanical squeaks are also far less noticeable when sliding portamento is created via the kithara spring mechanism.


However, thanks to the fascinating research of Oxford research fellow, Dr Tosca Lynch, the true meaning of the 'modulations' or 'bends' described in the passage by Aristophanes about the kithara playing of Prynis may more likely refer to an actual string sharpening mechanism - for which there is both pictorial & archaeological evidence for, in her 2018 paper "Without Timotheus, much of our melopoiía would not exist but without Phrynis, there wouldn’t have been Timotheus"

As Lynch described this to me:

"Kampai were related to modulations, and especially Phrynis’ innovations - not a generic vibrato, but a bending of one of the fixed notes of the kithara harmonia, which produced the so-called Chromatic tetrachord.

That’s what I argued in the paper linked above - but the nature of the mechanism is very different from Pringle’s, as you can see in the plates posted below.
Unlike Pringle’s, this version has archaeological support as well as iconographic support, and is also consistent with the available evidence in technical treatises—not to mention that it does precisely what a ‘strobilos’ is supposed to do given its name and independent testimony on papyrus"

In short, Lynch argues that the 'bends' or 'modulations' described by Aristophanes in regard to the kithara playing of Phrynis, actually referred to a mechansim which Prynis introduced for modulating the pitch of the strings, in order to produce the desired chromatic changes necessary to play the appropriate chromatic tetrachord. Here are the illustrations from her paper in which this '‘strobilos’' (στρόβιλος) or twisting mechanism, can clearly be seen:

Here is a more detailed illustration of this ‘strobilos’ 'twister' mechansim, as seen in the ancient illustrations above:

Actual archaeological examples of what are almost certainly the same strobilos mechanism, have actually been discovered, from the excavation of two "Hellenistic tuning pegs" of the 5th century BCE discovered in a necropolis in Leucas, in 2003 :

More details of these, the only archaeological remains ever discovered from an actual classical kithara, can be found in a paper by Egert Pöhlmann, "TWELVE CHORDAI AND THE STROBILOS OF PHRYNIS IN THE "CHIRON" OF PHERECRATES"

The Canadian singer and fellow ancient music enthusiast, Peter Pringle, actually replicated the stobilos mechanism, as can be seen in these faqscinating illustrations, which clearly show how the mechanism acted as moveable fret on the kithara strings to modulate the resulting pitch of the string:

Here are the technical details of the modulations around the ancient Greek chromatic tetrachord, which this ‘strobilos’ twister mechanism was created to facilitate:

Regarding the tangle of technicalities of ancient Greek musical theory, in very brief terms, of each of the 7 modes, there were 3 distinct 'genera': diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic - a good starting place to grasp the basics, is the article on Wikipedia:

"Genus (Greek: γένος [genos], pl. γένη [genē], Latin: genus, pl. genera "type, kind") is a term used in the Ancient Greek and Roman theory of music to describe certain classes of intonations of the two movable notes within a tetrachord."

The ‘strobilos’ twister mechanism which Lynch desribes, in short, acted like a sharpening device, to modulate to the various moveable semitones within the tetrachords of the chromatic genus of its corresponding mode.


Another incidental observation, regarding the 'rock star' status of the kithara player in ancient Greece, is a possible explanation to account for the curious vertical sash seen in almost all illustrations of ancient Greek kithara players, which hangs below the player's left hand and is often quite ornate in decoration:

I have my own theory regarding the vertical sash. As mentioned by Franklin, the ancient Greek kithara player was exalted just the way rock guitarists are in our own times, so much so, that actual kithara contests were common, in which the virtuosity of the kithara player was judged, as can be seen in this actual illustration of a kithara contest on an ancient Greek vase, clearly showing the two judges sitting either side of the performer:

The same vertical sash is also clearly present in the image above. I think that instead of playing any practical role, (unlike the cord known as the 'telamon' which was used as a hand-strap to hold the instrument), the fact that the sash was often also quite ornate, may imply that it actually was an indication of the kithara player's status as a professional musician. in much the same way that a Judo belt indicates the proficiency of a Judo athlete?

If there are any Classics scholars out there who could verify my theory regarding the sash, from any snippet of ancient literature which mentions it, do please let me know!


Another fascinating observation about the incredibly detailed illustration of a Roman kithara on the Herculaneum fresco which I mentioned to Peter, are the 4 pointed structures, 2 of each being depicted either side of the strings - could these be adjustable sound hole covers?

If so, there is the possibility that the Roman cetra player could also create something like a "wah wah" effect, by adjusting the position of the covers over the sound holes, rather like the sound of this rather unique design of lyre:

As well as inventing the world's first whammy bar, it also might just be possible that the Romans also invented the first 'wah wah' pedal!

Maybe a more likely an explanation for these pointed structures inserted into the sound holes of the Herculaneum cetra, could be that they are mutes, similar to the mutes inserted into modern brass instruments?

Either way, these structures prove that there was certainly nothing 'primitive' about the musical instruments of ancient Rome during the 1st century CE!


In addition to this astonishing representation of what really does appear to be an actual 1st century "whammy bar", there are other really fascinating features about this really unique Roman cetra, as Peter also pointed out, which suggest the use of metal strings:

"Notice that the strings, which seem to consist of 7 double courses (a total of 14 strings) are curled in tight spirals just below the bridge:

This squiggly curl is not typical of gut strings, but it is typical of metal strings (in this case, probably bronze or silver) that have been forced through the tiny holes of some kind of drawing/shaping device in order to make them round and of consistent gauge.

I believe it is likely that this instrument was strung with metal. If it was, it would make double courses more probable because there is more tension in metal strings and two strings vibrating in close proximity have less chance of interfering with one another. I believe this instrument was a seven note lyre with double courses totalling 14 strings.

It is quite possible that the instrument was strung with brass since the Romans possessed wire-making technology. This would have permitted a louder sound, a narrower amplitude of string vibration, and would have facilitated the technique we associate today with the “tremolando” of a mandolin"

The possibility that this unique instrument may have had double courses of metal strings, suggests that one of the likely playing techniques for this kithara, would have been to produce the tremolo effect, so suited to double course string instruments such as the mandolin. Indeed, the renaissance Italian cittern, a mandolin-like instrument which also had 7 double courses of strings, was called the "cetra", directly after the original name for the Roman kithara, quite possibly for this very same reason, regarding the tremolando technique featured on both of these instruments?

This tremolo style of lyre playing is still practiced today by the Egyptian and Bedouin Simsimiyya lyre players, which also has metal strings - the tremolo lyre playing technique I often use myself, was directly inspired by the sound of the Simsimiyya, as can be heard here, in this video by the amazing band from Port Said, "El Tanboura":


Another unique and advanced feature about the 1st century Roman cetra illustrated in the Herculaneum fresco, is what appears to be the first recorded instance in history, of a musical instrument with 'true' friction tuning pegs - just like on a modern violin:

All other depictions of lyres from antiquity show the more primitive system of either just leather wraps or leather wraps over which the strings were wound and sometimes with the addition of tuning sticks inserted into the string spool, which were used to adjust the tension of the strings.

This archaic means of tuning the lyre is still a feature of the lyres still played in Africa today, as can be seen in this picture of an Ethiopian Begena:

Although the 4600 year old Silver Lyre of Ur did have a form of friction peg, this was still based on the ancient string wrapping system - due to the slippy quality of the silver out of which this beautiful harp-sized lyre was fashioned, instead of the traditional archaic adjustable leather wraps, there were permanently lashed vertical rods of silver over which the strings were wound, which could be turned with a separate tuning key:

In contrast, the Roman cetra had the first 'true' friction pegs with which we are familiar with today in string instruments such as the violin - rather than the tuning pegs merely being lashed to the instrument, a hole was bored into the body of the instrument, into which the 'true' friction tuning pegs were permanently inserted.

The pictorial evidence of what appears to be the possible use of metal strings (as mentioned earlier), rather than the usual gut, silk or other natural fibre musical strings commonly used at this time in antiquity, certainly gains added weight by the use of friction pegs on this instrument - only true friction pegs could hold and maintain the much higher tension of metal strings.

Also, any vibrato mechanism similar to the electric guitar's 'whammy bar', would only really function properly on higher tension metal strings - lower tension gut or natural fiber strings do not have the necessary tension to return properly to their original pitch after the use of such a vibrato mechanism on them.


When I questioned Peter further about whether all bench-shaped lyre bridges would buzz, he kindly clarified the issue further, with reference to an illustration of another Roman kithara found at Pompeii:

As Peter goes on to describe about this other ancient illustration of a lyre with a bench-shaped bridge:

"Just because a lyre or lute has a bench shaped bridge does not mean that it was constructed that way in order to produce a buzzing sound. On the other hand, it is impossible to produce the buzz without a bench shaped bridge.

The design and type of bridge used on a lyre is going to be a major factor in determining the tone of the instrument. There are no existing examples of bridges for ancient Sumerian lyres but what we do have are artists' depictions of these lyres in action.

One such illustration is on the large, gold, bull-headed lyre of Ur. This instrument was discovered along side the silver lyre in the great death pit excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in 1929. Like the silver lyre, the front of the gold lyre has an intricate decoration of carved and etched shell inlay, and one of its four panels shows a donkey playing a bull-headed lyre. While a certain amount of license has to be given to the artist, the instrument the donkey is playing clearly has a wide, flat bridge, similar to the kind of thing we see on the modern Ethiopian begena. Another depiction of a similar lyre can be found on the Standard Of Ur, and it also shows a wide, flat, bench-shaped bridge.

There are also literary accounts of the sound of the large lyres of Sumer, comparing the effect to the lowing of bulls (clearly suggesting that the strings of the 'algar' buzzed).

The artist who painted the second fresco above (Pompeii - Woman With Lyre) was not a master painter like the artist who did the fresco in Herculaneum. Notice how "wooden" and stiff the figures look in comparison. The entire work lacks detail and it is impossible to tell much about the musical instrument. Off hand, I would say we are not looking at a buzzing bridge (and I doubt the lyre in the fresco at Herculaneum buzzed either). The bridge was probably made the way it was in order to stabilize it because of the pressure of that Roman whammy bar."

Referring to the first more detailed illustration of the other lyre from Herculaneum, lyre luthier Michael J King had this to say, on the subject of whether this lyre may have buzzed or not:

"Great to see detail of the Roman period lyres! This a 14 string lyre with pegs, metal tail-piece/bridge with what looks like something like a piece of cloth or leather damping the strings at the top of the lyre too, The darker section on the lyre is hard to work out but the strings are seen tied and the ends dangling loose, very nice detail, the strumming area could be suggesting a boxed area I can see a shadow in front of the tailpiece that could be the actual bridge. I know it was Hundreds of years before this but The Greek writings say their Kithara bridge was rectangular and shaped to an apex, which doesn't preclude a buzzing bridge and there are later accounts of players making their lyres sound like aulos"


Another really fascinating observation about the various highly advanced kitharas depicted in Roman frescos found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, is the two types of curious tubular structures, extending at a 45 degree angle from the yolk of the lyre.

In this famous depiction of Nero as Apollo, Nero's lyre can clearly be seen to have these curious golden coloured tubular structures slanting down from the top of the cross bar:

The same tubular structure extending at a 45 degree angle from the yolk of the lyre can also be seen in this detailed illustration of another 1st century Roman kithara from a fresco in the House of Vetti in Pompeii, (which also had exactly the same 'whammy bar' structure at the bridge as the Herculaneum kithara!):

In these particular illustrations, it just might be possible, that these tubular structures could be either a row of permanently fixed tuning levers operated by a tuning key, much like on a modern harp, or even more remarkably, the parallel tubes bear a striking resemblance to a modern harp's sharpening levers - which would enable these kitharas to played in any of the ancient musical modes, without the need to re-tune the whole instrument!

These curious tubular structures are more likely to be some form of tuning lever, for the reasons Peter Pringle mentions, regarding the illustrations that exist of them:

"The number of barrels always corresponds to the number of strings on the instrument which strongly suggests that each of them is connected in some way to string function. They are often seen separate from tuning pegs, which implies that their purpose was something other than adjusting the tension in the strings."

All the evidence suggests, then, that rather than the modern harp's tuning levers being invented some time during the 17th century, they were in fact, re-invented - Roman musicians were happily using them almost 2000 years earlier!


A distinctive 'apron' structure can be seen in this other famous fresco of a lyre lesson from Pompeii - instead of being comprised of separate vertical 'tubes' as in the illustration of Nero's lyre, this apron appears to be a single piece of wood, descending vertically down from the cross bar:

Exactly the same type of 'apron' can also be seen on the kithara from the Herculaneum fresco:

Rather than some sort of sharpening lever, like the tubular structures, this 'apron' structure looks very much like some form of shortened fingerboard, which would also enable the seamless playing of accidentals within whatever ancient musical mode the lyre was tuned to!

So, how was this 'apron' on these fascinating Roman kitharas actually practically used as a fret during a performance in Roman times? In my opinion, the actual edge of the 'apron' acted as a fret, whenever the string was pushed against it. If, instead, the string was pressed by the finger of the player onto the flat portion of the 'apron', the resulting tone of the plucked string would simply be a muffled-sounding 'thunk'!

Here is yet another feasible interpretation of the possible function of this particular 'apron' put forward by Peter Pringle:

". could it be a kind of fixed 'capo' that raises the pitch of the instrument by a tone, and that is engaged by turning the entire yoke by means of one of the handles at either end of it. Would this be feasible? Could the apron have had a duel purpose, functioning as both fingerboard AND capo?"

Another slightly later version of the ancient Roman kithara from the 3rd century CE can be seen in this mosaic from Antioch of Orpheus playing to the animals:

Immediately noticeable, is exactly the same sort of tubular structures descending from the yoke of his lyre, just like the earlier depiction of Nero as Apollo from the fresco at Pompeii. Regarding this structure, Peter Pringle had this to say:

"Notice the 6 tube-like shapes that appear to be attached to the yoke, and that protrude forward (in front of the strings) sloping downward at an angle of about 45 degrees. This is exactly the same thing we see on earlier Roman frescoes from Italy we have been discussing above. Entirely separate from these devices, whatever they are, you can see a neat row of tuning pegs on top of the yoke, so we can assume these tubes are not friction pegs. They are something else that we don’t really understand. But the more I study them, the more I think we are looking at sharping levers.

Notice also the box that seems to protrude outward at a strange angle to the soundbox. We see this on other artworks as well, but here it appears to be distorted (probably because of the difficulty of adding perspective and fine detail when working with mosaics).

It is also worth noting that the yoke is a square dowel, not a round dowel like the kind of thing we see on earlier Greek lyres. The round dowel is only necessary if your tuning system consists of wraps & kollops. Since this lyre clearly has friction pegs, the square shape is far more stable and easier to work with from a luthier’s point of view.

Here’s the long and the short of it, IMNSHO. Both the “apron” and the protruding tube devices serve the same purpose: they allow the musician to play sharps. The “apron” is a fretboard system, while the tubes are a sharping lever system. The advantage of the levers, as folk harpists know, is that they change the tuning of the instrument while allowing the player to continue playing with both hands. A fretboard requires one hand to play it, while the other hand strums or plucks the strings."

The same type of tubular structures can also be found in the beautiful Paphos Mosaics (2nd - 4th centuries CE), in the ruins of the Roman villas at Paphos in Cyprus:

In my opinion, the evidence of this other type of 'tubular structure' (presumably some sort of sharpening levers) on the lyres in the Roman villas in Cyprus, seems to prove that this very specific aspect of lyre design was therefore well established throughout entire the realms of the Roman empire by the 3rd - 4th centuries CE.

Not only this, but also from the Paphos Mosaics in the House of Aion, is a mosaic of Apollo playing a lyre which had both the tubular structures and the apron descending from the yoke of his lyre:

The 'apron' can clearly be seen just behind the strings on the far right. Presumably, the mechanism worked by pushing one of the tubular structures against the edge of the apron, which would then act as a fret on the string, increasing the pitch of the vibrating string by the required tone, semitone or micro-tone - clever people, those ancient Romans!


Peter Pringle has embarked on an amazing project to reconstruct an actual working model of the Herculaneum cetra, featuring the 'whammy bar', double course of 14 metal strings and the sharpening lever mechanism evident in the 'apron' at the yoke:

In a recent correspondence with Peter, he informed me about the following facts he learned during the construction process, regarding the pointed structures in the sound holes and the 'apron' at the yoke:

"Michael, as you can see, I did not put four of the pointy structures on the lyre - I only put two - because they tend to get in the way. As far as function is concerned, the only possibility is that they are caps for sound-holes and are used to mute the volume output of the instrument.

The real surprise with the instrument was the so-called “apron” that lies just below the yoke. I believe this was a simple rack for a series of sharping levers. When engaged, each lever raises its corresponding string by one semitone. This creates all sorts of possibilities because they are so easy to use IN PERFORMANCE and are comparable to the keys on a keyboard instrument. While a sharping mechanism is only hinted at in the Herculaneum fresco, there are many other Roman mosaics and paintings in which the existence of such a device is far more obvious."

Peter will be soon putting together a video of his first performance on this wonderful replica Roman cetra to demonstrate all of these features - watch this space!


As with the arguments and counterarguments encountered in the interpretations of the function of structures seen on the ancient Greek kithara, it is really important to know all the available facts before jumping to ill-informed conclusions. Professor Stefan Hagel was also able to shed some much needed light on the various interpretations described, of the structures seen on the Herculaneum kithara:

Double course of strings ? - "No double-course intended"

Do tuning pegs imply the use of metal strings? - "Tuning pegs because it's the only way of accommodating so many strings in a close space (triangular arrangement, discussed by Maurice Byrne in the 90's)"

Four tubular structures on soundboard? - "Resonators (ekheîa), yes, perhaps. The celebrated ekheîa were metal resonators built into kitharai."

The 'whammy bar' on the bridge? - "Two levers that press the bridge against the soundboard by means of string tension. Definitely not being manipulated by the Cupid - his left arm is situated towards the viewer, far away from the instrument behind. Look at the whole picture, not only the hand! Finally, note how the supposed "mechanism" of the classical Greek kithara is still there, by and large, but here clearly as mere decoration. Which, I have little doubts, it had been at all times."

Regarding the 1st century Roman kithara, even though no certain conclusion can be reached in interpreting what these detailed paintings of curious metal 'whammy bars' and 'apron' structures actually are, which are so clearly illustrated on the various Romans kitharas from Herculaneum and Pompeii, I think we can say with some certainty, that these incredibly detailed fresco's shed yet more light on the fact that both the music and musical instruments of the ancient world were far more developed, intricate and complex than the proponents of the "Urban Myth of the Monotony of Monophony in the Ancient World" would have us believe!

The same can be said of the hypothetical spring vibrato/portamento mechanism theory to explain the intricate curved structures seen on all the countless illustrations which have survived of the kithara of Classical Greece - although there is as yet no definitive proof discovered of a vibrato technique described in an actual ancient Greek text, it is clearly evident that these structures must have been so carefully designed with a specific function in mind. It is just interpreting this function which is the problem!

The most frustrating aspect of interpreting ancient musical artifacts, is that because these wonderful instruments are at least 2000 years away in time from our own present experience of modern musical instruments and have not been played for at least 2000 years, even with all or most of the artifacts present, on some points, all we really have in the way of actually being able to interpret these artifacts, are good old fashioned philosophical argument and counter-arguments - it is rather like expecting an ancient Roman soldier from the 1st century CE to interpret the function of one of our 21st century 'smart phones'!

Closing in philosophical reflection, it is this particularly knotty epistemological issue of how we interpret specific sets of facts into something safe enough to be called true 'knowledge' of these facts, which will always lead to all the debates, opinions and counter-opinions within ancient music research!

Kithara of the Golden Age (7 or 9 strings)

This is a replica of an ancient Kithara, an advanced musical instrument of Classical Greece used mainly by professional musicians. Kithara (Latin: cithara) was used in competitions and public performances, including recitations of epic poetry, rhapsodies, odes, lyric songs, etc.

It bears an advanced spring mechanism that enables the kithara to produce vibrato/tremolo and portamento, giving to ancient and modern kithara players the ability to add expression to their music, to use sharps and flats, to allow every version of the diatonic scale to start at any point on the chromatic scale, etc.

LUTHIEROS Kithara of the Golden Age has 7 strings, and it is ideal for anyone willing to awe his audience and demonstrate how advanced ancient musical instrument could be. Whatsmore, it is perfect for anyone willing to learn how to play it, as many top-players and instructors use 7-strings instruments for their courses.

A 9-strings version is also available, giving a chromatic range of a full octave. With the use of harmonics and other advanced playing techniques, a kithara can produce three to four full octaves, including sharps and flats!


Theocritus (xvi. 45), the Sicilian poet, calls the barbitos an instrument of many strings, i.e. more than seven, which was by the Hellenes considered to be a perfect number, and matched the number of strings customary in the kithara. [1]

Anacreon [2] (a native of Teos in Asia Minor) sings that his barbitos "only gives out erotic tones" [1] – a remark which could have been metaphorical, but could also be a literal reference to the instrument's tuning in the Greek Iastian harmonia. [3]

Pollux (Onomasticon iv. chap. 8, § 59) calls the instrument barbiton or barymite (from βάρυς, heavy and μίτος, a string), an instrument producing very deep sounds which comes out of the soundbox. The strings were twice as long as those of the pectis and sounded an octave lower. [1]

Pindar (in Athen. xiv. p. 635), in the same line wherein he attributes the introduction of the instrument into Greece to Terpander, tells us one could magadize, i.e. play in two parts at an interval of an octave on the two instruments. [1]

Although in use in Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, and Greece, it is evident that the barbiton never won for itself a place in the affections of ancient Greeks it was regarded as a barbarian instrument affected by those only whose tastes in matters of art were unorthodox. It had fallen into disuse in the days of Aristotle, but reappeared under the Romans. [4] [5] Aristotle said that this string instrument was not for educational purposes but for pleasure only. [ citation needed ] [ dubious – discuss ]

Often Sappho is also depicted playing the barbitos, which has longer strings and a lower pitch. It is closely associated with the poet Alcaeus and the island of Lesbos, the birthplace of Sappho, where it is called a barmos. [6] The music from this instrument was said to be the lyre for drinking parties and is considered an invention of Terpander. The word barbiton was frequently used for the kithara or lyre. [3]

Barbitos Edit

In spite of the few meagre shreds of authentic information extant concerning this somewhat elusive instrument, it is possible nevertheless to identify the barbiton as it was known among the Greeks and Romans. From the Greek writers we know that it was a deep toned instrument, with pitch range of at least two octaves, that had enough features in common with the lyra and kithara, to warrant their classification as a family of related instruments. [1]

Barbat Edit

The later, unrelated instrument, is described by the Persians and Arabs as a kind of rebab or lute, or a chelys-lyre, [7] It was first introduced into Europe through Asia Minor by way of Greece, and centuries later into Spain by the Moors, amongst whom it was in the 14th century known as al-barbet. [8]

Third, unnamed, mixed lyre / rebab Edit

Musicologist Kathleen Schlesinger identified a stringed instrument of unknown name that combines the characteristics of both lyre and rebab It is represented in least four different ancient sculptures: [9] She writes:

It has the vaulted back and gradual narrowing to form a neck which are typical of the rebab and the stringing of the lyre. In outline it resembles a large lute with a wide neck, and the seven strings of the lyre of the best period, or sometimes nine, following the “decadent lyre”. Most authors in reproducing these sculptures showing it represent the instrument as boat-shaped and without a neck, as, for instance, Carl Engel. This is because the part of the instrument where neck joins body is in deep shadow, so that the correct outline can hardly be distinguished, being almost hidden by hand on one side and drapery on the other. [1]

The barbat (also called “barbiton”) is unlike the instrument depicted on Greek vase paintings. The Greek barbiton, however, although it underwent many changes, retained until the end the characteristics of the instruments of the Greek kithara whose strings were strummed and plucked, whereas the rebab was sounded by means of the bow at the time of its introduction into Europe. [1] At some period not yet determined, which we can but conjecture, the barbat approximated to the form of the large lute. An instrument called barbiton was known in the early part of the 16th century [10] and during the 17th century. It was a kind of theorbo or bass-lute, but with one neck only, bent back at right angles to form the head. Robert Fludd [11] gives a detailed description of it with an illustration:

Inter quas instrumenta non nulla barbito simillima effinxerunt cujus modi sunt illa quae vulgo appellantur theorba, quae sonos graviores reddunt chordasque nervosas habent. [1]

The people called it theorbo, but the scholar having identified it with the instrument of classic Greece and Rome called it barbiton. The barbiton had nine pairs of gut strings, each pair being in unison. Dictionaries of the 18th century support Fludd's use of the name "barbiton". G. B. Doni [12] mentions the barbiton, defining it in his index as Barbitos seu major chelys italice tiorba, and deriving it from lyre and cithara in common with testudines, tiorbas and all tortoiseshell instruments. Claude Perrault, [13] writing in the 18th century, states that "les modernes appellent notre luth barbiton" (the moderns call our lute barbiton). Constantijn Huygens [14] declares that he learnt to play the barbiton in a few weeks, but took two years to learn the cittern. [1]

The barbat was a variety of rebab, a bass instrument, differing only in size and number of strings. This is quite in accordance with what we know of the nomenclature of musical instruments among Persians and Arabs, with whom a slight deviation in the construction of an instrument called for a new name. [15] The word barbud applied to the barbiton is said to be derived [16] from a famous musician living at the time of Chosroes II (590-628 CE), who excelled in playing upon the instrument. From a later translation of part of the same author into German [17] we obtain the following reference to Persian musical instruments:

"Die Sänger stehen bei seinem Gastmahl in ihrer Hand Barbiton (i) und Leyer (ii) und Laute (iii) und Flöte (iv) und Deff (Handpauke)". Mr. Ellis, of the Oriental Department of the British Museum, has kindly supplied the original Persian names translated above, i.e. (i) barbut, (ii) chang, (iii) rubāb, (iv) nei.

The barbut and rubab thus were different instruments as late as the 19th century in Persia. There were but slight differences if any between the archetypes of the pear-shaped rebab and of the lute before the application of the bow to the former – both had vaulted backs, body and neck in one, and gut strings plucked by the fingers. [1]

The barbitos is part of the Lost Sounds Orchestra, [18] alongside other ancient instruments which Ancient Instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application (ASTRA) have recreated the sounds of, including the epigonion, the salpinx, the aulos, and the syrinx.

The sounds of the barbitos are being digitally recreated by the ASTRA project, which uses Physical modeling synthesis to simulate the barbitos sounds. [19] Due to the complexity of this process the ASTRA project uses grid computing, [20] to model sounds on hundreds of computers throughout Europe simultaneously.

In What Ways are the Accounts of the Graeco Romans and the Chinese Helpful in Reconstructing the Social History of India?

Get the answer of : In what ways are the accounts of the Graeco Romans and the Chinese helpful in reconstructing the social history of India?

Most stunning accounts of ancient India have been provided by the visiting foreigners. The Greeks who accompanied Alexander the Great in his Indian campaign recorded their encounters of this mystical, magical land.

Image Courtesy :

Although much of these works are now lost, the details have percolated into subsequent Greek literature. Special reference can be made of the Indica by Megasthenes who lived in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, of Periplus of the Erythrean Sea by an unknown businessman (second half of 1st century A.D) and The Geography of India by Ptolemy (about 130 A.D.).

After the spread of Buddhism, Chinese travelers came to India in big numbers to collect religious books and to visit the holy places of Buddhism. Works of Fa-Hien (5th century A.D), Hewn-Tsang (7th century A.D.) and I-Tsing (7th century A.D.) are important historical accounts. The foreign accounts, while lacking native understanding of the complex culture of ancient Indians, do provide valuable objective documentation as also confirm some of the glories claimed in Indian inscriptions.

The Smritis and accounts of Fa-Hien are the chief sources of knowledge about the social life of the Guptas. Fa-Hien had stayed in India for a long period of 9 years, from 401 to 410 A.D. and visited various places of north India, including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. He had spent several years in Pataliputra and Tamralipta. Therefore he could have had a firsthand knowledge of the social life of the Guptas.

According to his accounts, people were very happy during the period of the Guptas and were free to move anywhere. Since public morality was very high during that time, therefore criminal law was lenient. People were mainly vegetarian and did not even eat onion or garlic. The habit of drinking wine among people was rare. Only the Chandalas and the sweepers drank wine and ate meat. However, they lived outside the towns and villages.

The representation of society as described by Fa-Hien depicts that town-dwellers lived a comfortable life and enjoyed a good standard of living. People living in the outskirts, like the Chandalas, were not so well of. Villagers lived on the production of their own cultivations and products manufactured by their artisans. “Kamasutra” indicates the comfortable life of the well-to-do citizens of towns.

“Kamasutra” depicts the refinement and leisure of city life. It is presumed by historians that the city people beguiled themselves with poetry, writing and painting. Gatherings were held where poetry was recited and dancing performances were held. Youth of upper classes played the lute and practiced singing and even received training in the art of love, as Kamasutra testifies. Joint-family system was actually the general rule of family life. The head of the family governed the family unit. But Smritis also dictates the partition of family and familial properties.

The male members dominated the family and society. Though women were subordinate to men in society, yet their position was no less significant.

Women in Gupta society were idealized in literature. Basham has pointed out that ancient literature presented contradictory attitude towards women. While women were respected as anchors of the family, at the same time were mother of children and the friend of husband, a living goddess.

Dandin in “Dashakumara-charita” had proposed disparaging remarks about women in a class. He had described them as quarrelsome and disgusting. Education was permitted in a limited way to the upper class women in Gupta civilization. They not only participated in public life, but there is also reference to women teachers. There are instances also that those women used to take part in governmental and administrative’ functions.

Much of the foreign sources on India, namely the travelogues of explorers have been assembled through second hand information and it is difficult to differentiate realities from hearsay. Megatons talks about seven classes in the Indian society. He also mentions that there was no slave system in India.

But actually being a foreigner he could not understand the social structure and stratification of Indian society. During that time slave system was prevalent in India but it was completely different from that of Europe. In fact slaves in India had rather more freedom in comparison to their counterparts in Greece.

Wind instruments

  • Tubawas long, straight, a trumpet made from bronze, which had a removable conical mouthpiece. Survived examples are approx. 1, 3 meters long. In the army, this instrument was used to play curfews. Tuba was also used during theatre performances and games (ludi).
  • Cornu (“horn”) was long metal, tubular wind instrument, which wrapped around musician’s body and formed a letter G. It had conical mouthpiece and hole. It’s difficult to distinguish cornu from buccina. Cornu was used to military signalling and during parades. In the army person played on cornu was called cornicen, who converted oral commands into sound. This instrument was also used during games and performances.
  • Tibia (Greekaulos) was a kind of flute with two pipes..
  • Askaules were bagpipes.
  • Flutes and Pan’s flutes.

The use of wind instruments in the army is described by Vegetius:

The music of the legion consists of trumpets, cornets and buccinae. The trumpet sounds the charge and the retreat. The cornets are used only to regulate the motions of the colors the trumpets serve when the soldiers are ordered out to any work without the colors but in time of action, the trumpets and cornets sound together. The classicum, which is a particular sound of the buccina or horn, is appropriated to the commander-in-chief and is used in the presence of the general, or at the execution of a soldier, as a mark of its being done by his authority. The ordinary guards and outposts are always mounted and relieved by the sound of trumpet, which also directs the motions of the soldiers on working parties and on field days. The cornets sound whenever the colors are to be struck or planted. These rules must be punctually observed in all exercises and reviews so that the soldiers may be ready to obey them in action without hesitation according to the general’s orders either to charge or halt, to pursue the enemy or to retire. F or reason will convince us that what is necessary to be performed in the heat of action should constantly be practiced in the leisure of peace.

Vegetius, Epitoma rei militaris


Discovery Edit

Captain Dimitrios Kontos ( Δημήτριος Κοντός ) and a crew of sponge divers from Symi island discovered the Antikythera shipwreck during the spring of 1900, and recovered artefacts during the first expedition with the Hellenic Royal Navy, in 1900–01. [33] This wreck of a Roman cargo ship was found at a depth of 45 metres (148 ft) off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. The team retrieved numerous large artefacts, including bronze and marble statues, pottery, unique glassware, jewellery, coins, and the mechanism. The mechanism was retrieved from the wreckage in 1901, most probably in July of that year. [34] It is not known how the mechanism came to be on the cargo ship, but it has been suggested that it was being taken from Rhodes to Rome, together with other looted treasure, to support a triumphal parade being staged by Julius Caesar. [35]

All of the items retrieved from the wreckage were transferred to the National Museum of Archaeology in Athens for storage and analysis. The mechanism appeared at the time to be little more than a lump of corroded bronze and wood it went unnoticed for two years, while museum staff worked on piecing together more obvious treasures, such as the statues. [29]

On 17 May 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais found that one of the pieces of rock had a gear wheel embedded in it. He initially believed that it was an astronomical clock, but most scholars considered the device to be prochronistic, too complex to have been constructed during the same period as the other pieces that had been discovered. Investigations into the object were dropped until British science historian and Yale University professor Derek J. de Solla Price became interested in it in 1951. [36] In 1971, Price and Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos made X-ray and gamma-ray images of the 82 fragments. Price published an extensive 70-page paper on their findings in 1974. [18]

Two other searches for items at the Antikythera wreck site in 2012 and 2015 have yielded a number of fascinating art objects and a second ship which may or may not be connected with the treasure ship on which the Mechanism was found. [37] Also found was a bronze disc, embellished with the image of a bull. The disc has four "ears" which have holes in them, and it was thought by some that it may have been part of the Antikythera Mechanism itself, as a "cog wheel". However, there appears to be little evidence that it was part of the Mechanism it is more likely that the disc was a bronze decoration on a piece of furniture. [38]

Origin Edit

The Antikythera mechanism is generally referred to as the first known analogue computer. [39] The quality and complexity of the mechanism's manufacture suggests that it must have had undiscovered predecessors made during the Hellenistic period. [40] Its construction relied on theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by Greek astronomers during the second century BC, and it is estimated to have been built in the late second century BC [11] or the early first century BC. [41] [12]

In 2008, continued research by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project suggested that the concept for the mechanism may have originated in the colonies of Corinth, since they identified the calendar on the Metonic Spiral as coming from Corinth or one of its colonies in northwest Greece or Sicily. [14] Syracuse was a colony of Corinth and the home of Archimedes, and the Antikythera Mechanism Research project argued in 2008 that it might imply a connection with the school of Archimedes. [14] However, it was demonstrated in 2017 that the calendar on the Metonic Spiral is indeed of the Corinthian type but cannot be that of Syracuse. [42] Another theory suggests that coins found by Jacques Cousteau at the wreck site in the 1970s date to the time of the device's construction, and posits that its origin may have been from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, [43] home of the Library of Pergamum. With its many scrolls of art and science, it was second in importance only to the Library of Alexandria during the Hellenistic period. [44]

The ship carrying the device also contained vases in the Rhodian style, leading to a hypothesis that it was constructed at an academy founded by Stoic philosopher Posidonius on that Greek island. [45] Rhodes was a busy trading port in antiquity and a centre of astronomy and mechanical engineering, home to astronomer Hipparchus, who was active from about 140 BC to 120 BC. The mechanism uses Hipparchus' theory for the motion of the Moon, which suggests the possibility that he may have designed it or at least worked on it. [29] In addition, it has recently been argued that the astronomical events on the Parapegma of the Antikythera mechanism work best for latitudes in the range of 33.3–37.0 degrees north [46] the island of Rhodes is located between the latitudes of 35.85 and 36.50 degrees north.

In 2014, a study by Carman and Evans argued for a new dating of approximately 200 BC based on identifying the start-up date on the Saros Dial as the astronomical lunar month that began shortly after the new moon of 28 April 205 BC. [25] [26] Moreover, according to Carman and Evans, the Babylonian arithmetic style of prediction fits much better with the device's predictive models than the traditional Greek trigonometric style. [25] A study by Paul Iversen published in 2017 reasons that the prototype for the device was indeed from Rhodes, but that this particular model was modified for a client from Epirus in northwestern Greece Iversen argues that it was probably constructed no earlier than a generation before the shipwreck, a date supported also by Jones. [47]

Further dives were undertaken in 2014, with plans to continue in 2015, in the hope of discovering more of the mechanism. [26] A five-year programme of investigations began in 2014 and ended in October 2019, with a new five-year session starting in May 2020. [48] [49]

The original mechanism apparently came out of the Mediterranean as a single encrusted piece. Soon afterward it fractured into three major pieces. Other small pieces have broken off in the interim from cleaning and handling, [50] and still others were found on the sea floor by the Cousteau expedition. Other fragments may still be in storage, undiscovered since their initial recovery Fragment F was discovered in that way in 2005. Of the 82 known fragments, seven are mechanically significant and contain the majority of the mechanism and inscriptions. There are also 16 smaller parts that contain fractional and incomplete inscriptions. [11] [14] [51]

Major fragments Edit

Fragment Size [mm] Weight [g] Gears Inscriptions Notes
A 180 × 150 369.1 27 Yes The main fragment contains the majority of the known mechanism. Clearly visible on the front is the large b1 gear, and under closer inspection further gears behind said gear (parts of the l, m, c, and d trains are clearly visible as gears to the naked eye). The crank mechanism socket and the side-mounted gear that meshes with b1 is on Fragment A. The back of the fragment contains the rearmost e and k gears for synthesis of the moon anomaly, noticeable also is the pin and slot mechanism of the k train. It is noticed from detailed scans of the fragment that all gears are very closely packed and have sustained damage and displacement due to their years in the sea. The fragment is approximately 30 mm thick at its thickest point.

Fragment A also contains divisions of the upper left quarter of the Saros spiral and 14 inscriptions from said spiral. The fragment also contains inscriptions for the Exeligmos dial and visible on the back surface the remnants of the dial face. Finally, this fragment contains some back door inscriptions.

Minor fragments Edit

Many of the smaller fragments that have been found contain nothing of apparent value however, a few have some inscriptions on them. Fragment 19 contains significant back door inscriptions including one reading ". 76 years . " which refers to the Callippic cycle. Other inscriptions seem to describe the function of the back dials. In addition to this important minor fragment, 15 further minor fragments have remnants of inscriptions on them. [22] : 7

Information on the specific data gleaned from the ruins by the latest inquiries is detailed in the supplement to Freeth's 2006 Nature article. [11]

Operation Edit

On the front face of the mechanism there is a fixed ring dial representing the ecliptic, the twelve zodiacal signs marked off with equal 30-degree sectors. This matched with the Babylonian custom of assigning one twelfth of the ecliptic to each zodiac sign equally, even though the constellation boundaries were variable. Outside that dial is another ring which is rotatable, marked off with the months and days of the Sothic Egyptian calendar, twelve months of 30 days plus five intercalary days. The months are marked with the Egyptian names for the months transcribed into the Greek alphabet. The first task, then, is to rotate the Egyptian calendar ring to match the current zodiac points. The Egyptian calendar ignored leap days, so it advanced through a full zodiac sign in about 120 years. [12]

The mechanism was operated by turning a small hand crank (now lost) which was linked via a crown gear to the largest gear, the four-spoked gear visible on the front of fragment A, the gear named b1. This moved the date pointer on the front dial, which would be set to the correct Egyptian calendar day. The year is not selectable, so it is necessary to know the year currently set, or by looking up the cycles indicated by the various calendar cycle indicators on the back in the Babylonian ephemeris tables for the day of the year currently set, since most of the calendar cycles are not synchronous with the year. The crank moves the date pointer about 78 days per full rotation, so hitting a particular day on the dial would be easily possible if the mechanism were in good working condition. The action of turning the hand crank would also cause all interlocked gears within the mechanism to rotate, resulting in the simultaneous calculation of the position of the Sun and Moon, the moon phase, eclipse, and calendar cycles, and perhaps the locations of planets. [53]

The operator also had to be aware of the position of the spiral dial pointers on the two large dials on the back. The pointer had a "follower" that tracked the spiral incisions in the metal as the dials incorporated four and five full rotations of the pointers. When a pointer reached the terminal month location at either end of the spiral, the pointer's follower had to be manually moved to the other end of the spiral before proceeding further. [11] : 10

Faces Edit

Front face Edit

The front dial has two concentric circular scales. The inner scale marks the Greek signs of the Zodiac, with division in degrees. The outer scale, which is a moveable ring that sits flush with the surface and runs in a channel, is marked off with what appear to be days and has a series of corresponding holes beneath the ring in the channel.

Since the discovery of the Mechanism, this outer ring has been presumed to represent the 365-day Egyptian civil calendar. However, recent research challenges this presumption and gives evidence it is most likely divided into 354 intervals. [54]

If one subscribes to the 365-day presumption, it is recognized the Mechanism predates the Julian calendar reform, but the Sothic and Callippic cycles had already pointed to a 365 1⁄4-day solar year, as seen in Ptolemy III's abortive calendrical reform of 238 BC. The dials are not believed to reflect his proposed leap day (Epag. 6), but the outer calendar dial may be moved against the inner dial to compensate for the effect of the extra quarter-day in the solar year by turning the scale backward one day every four years.

However, if one subscribes to the 354-day evidence, then the most likely interpretation is that the ring is a manifestation of a 354-day lunar calendar. Given the era of the Mechanism's presumed construction and the presence of Egyptian month names, it is possibly the first example of the Egyptian civil-based lunar calendar proposed by Richard Anthony Parker in 1950. [55] The lunar calendar’s purpose was to serve as a day-to-day indicator of successive lunations, and would also have assisted with the interpretation of the Lunar phase pointer, and the Metonic and Saros dials. Undiscovered gearing, synchronous with the rest of the Metonic gearing of the mechanism, is implied to drive a pointer around this scale. Movement and registration of the ring relative to the underlying holes served to facilitate both a one-in-76-year Callippic cycle correction, as well as convenient lunisolar intercalation.

The dial also marks the position of the Sun on the ecliptic corresponds to the current date in the year. The orbits of the Moon and the five planets known to the Greeks are close enough to the ecliptic to make it a convenient reference for defining their positions as well.

The following three Egyptian months are inscribed in Greek letters on the surviving pieces of the outer ring: [56]

The other months have been reconstructed, although some reconstructions of the mechanism omit the five days of the Egyptian intercalary month. The Zodiac dial contains Greek inscriptions of the members of the zodiac, which is believed to be adapted to the tropical month version rather than the sidereal: [22] : 8 [ failed verification ]

  • ΚΡΙΟΣ (Krios [Ram], Aries)
  • ΤΑΥΡΟΣ (Tauros [Bull], Taurus)
  • ΔΙΔΥΜΟΙ (Didymoi [Twins], Gemini)
  • ΚΑΡΚΙΝΟΣ (Karkinos [Crab], Cancer)
  • ΛΕΩΝ (Leon [Lion], Leo)
  • ΠΑΡΘΕΝΟΣ (Parthenos [Maiden], Virgo)
  • ΧΗΛΑΙ (Chelai [Scorpio's Claw or Zygos], Libra)
  • ΣΚΟΡΠΙΟΣ (Skorpios [Scorpion], Scorpio)
  • ΤΟΞΟΤΗΣ (Toxotes [Archer], Sagittarius)
  • ΑΙΓΟΚΕΡΩΣ (Aigokeros [Goat-horned], Capricorn)
  • ΥΔΡΟΧΟΟΣ (Hydrokhoos [Water carrier], Aquarius)
  • ΙΧΘΥΕΣ (Ichthyes [Fish], Pisces)

Also on the zodiac dial are a number of single characters at specific points (see reconstruction here: [57] ). They are keyed to a parapegma, a precursor of the modern day almanac inscribed on the front face above and beneath the dials. They mark the locations of longitudes on the ecliptic for specific stars. The parapegma above the dials reads (square brackets indicate inferred text):

Α ΑΙΓΟΚΕΡΩΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ ΑΝΑΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Capricorn begins to rise Ι ΚΡΙΟΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Aries begins to rise
ΤΡΟΠΑΙ ΧΕΙΜΕΡΙΝΑΙ [. ] Α Winter solstice ΙΣΗΜΕΡΙΑ ΕΑΡΙΝΗ [. ] Α Vernal equinox
Β [. ] ΕΙ ΕΣΠΕΡΙ . evening Κ [. ] ΕΣΠΕΡΙΑ [. ] ΙΑ . evening
Γ [. ] ΙΕΣΠΕΡΙ . evening Λ ΥΑΔΕΣ ΔΥΝΟΥΣΙΝ ΕΣΠΕΡΙΑΙ [. ] ΚΑ The Hyades set in the evening
Δ [. ] ΥΔΡΟΧΟΟΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝΑ Aquarius begins to rise Μ ΤΑΥΡΟΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ Ε<π>ΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝΑ Taurus begins to rise
Ε [. ] ΕΣΠΕΡΙΟΣ [. ] Ι . evening Ν ΛΥΡΑ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΣΠΕΡΙΛ [. ] Δ Lyra rises in the evening
Ζ [. ] ΡΙΑΙ [. ] Κ . Ξ ΠΛΕΙΑΣ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΩΙΑ [. ] Ι The Pleiades rise in the morning
Η ΙΧΘΥΕΣ ΑΡΧΟΝΤΑΙ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Pisces begins to rise Ο ΥΑΣ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΩΙΑ [. ] Δ The Hyades rise in the morning
Θ [. ] <ι>Α Π ΔΙΔΥΜΟΙ ΑΡΧΟΝΤΑ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Gemini begins to rise
Ρ ΑΕΤΟΣ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΣΠΕΡΙΟΣ Altair rises in the evening
Σ ΑΡΚΤΟΥΡΟΣ ΔΥΝΕΙ Ε<ω><ι>ΟΣ Arcturus sets in the morning

The parapegma beneath the dials reads:

Α ΧΗΛΑΙ ΑΡΧΟΝΤΑ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Libra begins to rise Μ ΚΑΡΚΙΝΟΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ [. ] Α Cancer begins
ΣΗΜΕΡΙΑ ΦΟΙΝΟΠΩΡΙΝΗ [. ] Α Autumnal equinox ΤΡΟΠΑΙ ΘΕΡΙΝΑΙ [. ] Α Summer solstice
Β [. ] ΑΝΑΤΕΛΛΟΥΣΙΝ ΕΣΠΕΡΙΟΙΙΑ . rise in the evening Ν ΩΡΙΩΝ ΑΝΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΩΙΟΣ Orion precedes the morning
Γ [. ] ΑΝΑΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΣΠΕΡΙΑΙΔ . rise in the evening Ξ <κ>ΥΩΝ ΑΝΤΕΛΛΕΙ ΕΩΙΟΣ Canis Major precedes the morning
Δ [. ] ΤΕΛΛΕΙΙ . rise Ο ΑΕΤΟΣ ΔΥΝΕΙ ΕΩΙΟΣ Altair sets in the morning
Ε ΣΚΟΡΠΙΟΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ ΑΝΑΤΕΛΛΕΙΝΑ Scorpio begins to rise Π ΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Leo begins to rise
Ζ [. ] Ρ [. ]
Η [. ] Σ [. ]
Θ [. ] Τ [. ]
Ι ΤΟΞΟΤΗΣ ΑΡΧΕΤΑΙ ΕΠΙΤΕΛΛΕΙΝ [. ] Α Sagittarius begins to rise Υ [. ]
Κ [. ] Φ [. ]
Λ [. ] Χ [. ]

At least two pointers indicated positions of bodies upon the ecliptic. A lunar pointer indicated the position of the Moon, and a mean Sun pointer also was shown, perhaps doubling as the current date pointer. The Moon position was not a simple mean Moon indicator that would indicate movement uniformly around a circular orbit it approximated the acceleration and deceleration of the Moon's elliptical orbit, through the earliest extant use of epicyclic gearing.

It also tracked the precession of the elliptical orbit around the ecliptic in an 8.88-year cycle. The mean Sun position is, by definition, the current date. It is speculated that since such pains were taken to get the position of the Moon correct, [22] : 20, 24 then there also was likely to have been a "true sun" pointer in addition to the mean Sun pointer likewise, to track the elliptical anomaly of the Sun (the orbit of Earth around the Sun), but there is no evidence of it among the ruins of the mechanism found to date. [12] Similarly, neither is there the evidence of planetary orbit pointers for the five planets known to the Greeks among the ruins. See Proposed planet indication gearing schemes below.

Mechanical engineer Michael Wright demonstrated that there was a mechanism to supply the lunar phase in addition to the position. [58] The indicator was a small ball embedded in the lunar pointer, half-white and half-black, which rotated to show the phase (new, first quarter, half, third quarter, full, and back) graphically. The data to support this function is available given the Sun and Moon positions as angular rotations essentially, it is the angle between the two, translated into the rotation of the ball. It requires a differential gear, a gearing arrangement that sums or differences two angular inputs.

Rear face Edit

In July 2008, scientists reported new findings in the journal Nature showing that the mechanism not only tracked the Metonic calendar and predicted solar eclipses, but also calculated the timing of several panhellenic athletic games, including the Ancient Olympic Games. [14] Inscriptions on the instrument closely match the names of the months that are used on calendars from Epirus in northwestern Greece and with the island of Corfu, which in antiquity was known as Corcyra. [59] [60] [61]

On the back of the mechanism, there are five dials: the two large displays, the Metonic and the Saros, and three smaller indicators, the so-called Olympiad Dial, [14] which has recently been renamed the Games dial as it did not track Olympiad years (the four-year cycle it tracks most closely is the Halieiad), [16] the Callippic, and the Exeligmos. [11] : 11

The Metonic Dial is the main upper dial on the rear of the mechanism. The Metonic cycle, defined in several physical units, is 235 synodic months, which is very close (to within less than 13 one-millionths) to 19 tropical years. It is therefore a convenient interval over which to convert between lunar and solar calendars. The Metonic dial covers 235 months in five rotations of the dial, following a spiral track with a follower on the pointer that keeps track of the layer of the spiral. The pointer points to the synodic month, counted from new moon to new moon, and the cell contains the Corinthian month names. [14] [62] [63]

  1. ΦΟΙΝΙΚΑΙΟΣ (Phoinikaios)
  2. ΚΡΑΝΕΙΟΣ (Kraneios)
  3. ΛΑΝΟΤΡΟΠΙΟΣ (Lanotropios)
  4. ΜΑΧΑΝΕΥΣ (Machaneus, "mechanic", referring to Zeus the inventor)
  5. ΔΩΔΕΚΑΤΕΥΣ (Dodekateus)
  6. ΕΥΚΛΕΙΟΣ (Eukleios)
  7. ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣΙΟΣ (Artemisios)
  8. ΨΥΔΡΕΥΣ (Psydreus)
  9. ΓΑΜΕΙΛΙΟΣ (Gameilios)
  10. ΑΓΡΙΑΝΙΟΣ (Agrianios)
  11. ΠΑΝΑΜΟΣ (Panamos)
  12. ΑΠΕΛΛΑΙΟΣ (Apellaios)

Thus, setting the correct solar time (in days) on the front panel indicates the current lunar month on the back panel, with resolution to within a week or so.

Based on the fact that the calendar month names are consistent with all the evidence of the Epirote calendar and that the Games dial mentions the very minor Naa games of Dodona (in Epirus), it has recently been argued that the calendar on the Antikythera Mechanism is likely to be the Epirote calendar, and that this calendar was probably adopted from a Corinthian colony in Epirus, possibly Ambracia. [63] It has also been argued that the first month of the calendar, Phoinikaios, was ideally the month in which the autumn equinox fell, and that the start-up date of the calendar began shortly after the astronomical new moon of 23 August 205 BC. [64]

The Callippic dial is the left secondary upper dial, which follows a 76-year cycle. The Callippic cycle is four Metonic cycles, and so this dial indicates the current Metonic cycle in the overall Callippic cycle. [ citation needed ]

The Games dial is the right secondary upper dial it is the only pointer on the instrument that travels in a counter-clockwise direction as time advances. The dial is divided into four sectors, each of which is inscribed with a year indicator and the name of two Panhellenic Games: the "crown" games of Isthmia, Olympia, Nemea, and Pythia and two lesser games: Naa (held at Dodona), [65] and the sixth and final set of Games recently deciphered as the Halieia of Rhodes. [66] The inscriptions on each one of the four divisions are: [11] [14]

Olympic dial
Year of the cycle Inside the dial inscription Outside the dial inscription
1 ΙΣΘΜΙΑ (Isthmia)
ΟΛΥΜΠΙΑ (Olympia)
2 ΝΕΜΕΑ (Nemea)
NAA (Naa)
3 ΙΣΘΜΙΑ (Isthmia)
ΠΥΘΙΑ (Pythia)
4 ΝΕΜΕΑ (Nemea)
ΑΛΙΕΙΑ (Halieia)

The Saros dial is the main lower spiral dial on the rear of the mechanism. [11] : 4–5, 10 The Saros cycle is 18 years and 11 + 1 ⁄ 3 days long (6585.333. days), which is very close to 223 synodic months (6585.3211 days). It is defined as the cycle of repetition of the positions required to cause solar and lunar eclipses, and therefore, it could be used to predict them—not only the month, but the day and time of day. Note that the cycle is approximately 8 hours longer than an integer number of days. Translated into global spin, that means an eclipse occurs not only eight hours later, but one-third of a rotation farther to the west. Glyphs in 51 of the 223 synodic month cells of the dial specify the occurrence of 38 lunar and 27 solar eclipses. Some of the abbreviations in the glyphs read: [ citation needed ]

  • Σ = ΣΕΛΗΝΗ ("Selene", Moon)
  • Η = ΗΛΙΟΣ ("Helios", Sun)
  • HM = ΗΜΕΡΑΣ ("Hemeras", of the day)
  • ωρ = ωρα ("hora", hour)
  • NY = ΝΥΚΤΟΣ ("Nuktos", of the night)

The glyphs show whether the designated eclipse is solar or lunar, and give the day of the month and hour. Solar eclipses may not be visible at any given point, and lunar eclipses are visible only if the moon is above the horizon at the appointed hour. [22] : 6 In addition, the inner lines at the cardinal points of the Saros dial indicate the start of a new full moon cycle. Based on the distribution of the times of the eclipses, it has recently been argued that the start-up date of the Saros dial was shortly after the astronomical new moon of 28 April 205 BC. [25]

The Exeligmos Dial is the secondary lower dial on the rear of the mechanism. The Exeligmos cycle is a 54-year triple Saros cycle that is 19,756 days long. Since the length of the Saros cycle is to a third of a day (eight hours), so a full Exeligmos cycle returns counting to integer days, hence the inscriptions. The labels on its three divisions are: [11] : 10

  • Blank or o ? (representing the number zero, assumed, not yet observed)
  • H (number 8) means add 8 hours to the time mentioned in the display
  • Iϛ (number 16) means add 16 hours to the time mentioned in the display

Thus the dial pointer indicates how many hours must be added to the glyph times of the Saros dial in order to calculate the exact eclipse times. [ citation needed ]

Doors Edit

The mechanism has a wooden casing with a front and a back door, both containing inscriptions. [14] [22] The back door appears to be the "instruction manual". On one of its fragments is written "76 years, 19 years" representing the Callippic and Metonic cycles. Also written is "223" for the Saros cycle. On another one of its fragments, it is written "on the spiral subdivisions 235" referring to the Metonic dial.

Gearing Edit

The mechanism is remarkable for the level of miniaturisation and the complexity of its parts, which is comparable to that of fourteenth-century astronomical clocks. It has at least 30 gears, although mechanism expert Michael Wright has suggested that the Greeks of this period were capable of implementing a system with many more gears. [53]

There is much debate as to whether the mechanism had indicators for all five of the planets known to the ancient Greeks. No gearing for such a planetary display survives and all gears are accounted for—with the exception of one 63-toothed gear (r1) otherwise unaccounted for in fragment D. [12]

Fragment D is a small quasi-circular constriction that, according to Xenophon Moussas, has a gear inside a somewhat larger hollow gear. The inner gear moves inside the outer gear reproducing an epicyclical motion that, with a pointer, gives the position of planet Jupiter. [67] [68] The inner gear is numbered 45, "ME" in Greek and the same number is written on two surfaces of this small cylindrical box.

The purpose of the front face was to position astronomical bodies with respect to the celestial sphere along the ecliptic, in reference to the observer's position on the Earth. That is irrelevant to the question of whether that position was computed using a heliocentric or geocentric view of the Solar System either computational method should, and does, result in the same position (ignoring ellipticity), within the error factors of the mechanism.

The epicyclic Solar System of Ptolemy (c. AD 100–170)—still 300 years in the future from the apparent date of the mechanism—carried forward with more epicycles, and was more accurate predicting the positions of planets than the view of Copernicus (1473–1543), until Kepler (1571–1630) introduced the possibility that orbits are ellipses. [69]

Evans et al. suggest that to display the mean positions of the five classical planets would require only 17 further gears that could be positioned in front of the large driving gear and indicated using individual circular dials on the face. [70]

Tony Freeth and Alexander Jones have modelled and published details of a version using several gear trains mechanically-similar to the lunar anomaly system allowing for indication of the positions of the planets as well as synthesis of the Sun anomaly. Their system, they claim, is more authentic than Wright's model as it uses the known skill sets of the Greeks of that period and does not add excessive complexity or internal stresses to the machine. [12]

The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm. The teeth probably were created from a blank bronze round using hand tools this is evident because not all of them are even. [12] Due to advances in imaging and X-ray technology it is now possible to know the precise number of teeth and size of the gears within the located fragments. Thus the basic operation of the device is no longer a mystery and has been replicated accurately. The major unknown remains the question of the presence and nature of any planet indicators. [22] : 8

A table of the gears, their teeth, and the expected and computed rotations of various important gears follows. The gear functions come from Freeth et al. (2008) [14] and those for the lower half of the table from Freeth and Jones 2012. [12] The computed values start with 1 year/revolution for the b1 gear, and the remainder are computed directly from gear teeth ratios. The gears marked with an asterisk (*) are missing, or have predecessors missing, from the known mechanism these gears have been calculated with reasonable gear teeth counts. [14] [22]

The Antikythera Mechanism: known gears and accuracy of computation
Gear name [table 1] Function of the gear/pointer Expected simulated interval of a full circular revolution Mechanism formula [table 2] Computed interval Gear direction [table 3]
x Year gear 1 tropical year 1 (by definition) 1 year (presumed) cw [table 4]
b the Moon's orbit 1 sidereal month (27.321661 days) Time(b) = Time(x) * (c1 / b2) * (d1 / c2) * (e2 / d2) * (k1 / e5) * (e6 / k2) * (b3 / e1) 27.321 days [table 5] cw
r lunar phase display 1 synodic month (29.530589 days) Time(r) = 1 / (1 / Time(b2 [mean sun] or sun3 [true sun])) – (1 / Time(b))) 29.530 days [table 5]
n* Metonic pointer Metonic cycle () / 5 spirals around the dial = 1387.94 days Time(n) = Time(x) * (l1 / b2) * (m1 /l2) * (n1 / m2) 1387.9 days ccw [table 6]
o* Games dial pointer 4 years Time(o) = Time(n) * (o1 / n2) 4.00 years cw [table 6] [table 7]
q* Callippic pointer 27758.8 days Time(q) = Time(n) * (p1 / n3) * (q1 /p2) 27758 days ccw [table 6]
e* lunar orbit precession 8.85 years Time(e) = Time(x) * (l1 / b2) * (m1 / l2) * (e3 / m3) 8.8826 years ccw [table 8]
g* Saros cycle Saros time / 4 turns = 1646.33 days Time(g) = Time(e) * (f1 / e4) * (g1 / f2) 1646.3 days ccw [table 6]
i* Exeligmos pointer 19755.8 days Time(i) = Time(g) * (h1 / g2) * (i1 / h2) 19756 days ccw [table 6]
The following are proposed gearing from the 2012 Freeth and Jones reconstruction:
sun3* True sun pointer 1 mean year Time(sun3) = Time(x) * (sun3 / sun1) * (sun2 / sun3) 1 mean year [table 5] cw [table 9]
mer2* Mercury pointer 115.88 days (synodic period) Time(mer2) = Time(x) * (mer2 / mer1) 115.89 days [table 5] cw [table 9]
ven2* Venus pointer 583.93 days (synodic period) Time(ven2) = Time(x) * (ven1 / sun1) 584.39 days [table 5] cw [table 9]
mars4* Mars pointer 779.96 days (synodic period) Time(mars4) = Time(x) * (mars2 / mars1) * (mars4 / mars3) 779.84 days [table 5] cw [table 9]
jup4* Jupiter pointer 398.88 days (synodic period) Time(jup4) = Time(x) * (jup2 / jup1) * (jup4 / jup3) 398.88 days [table 5] cw [table 9]
sat4* Saturn pointer 378.09 days (synodic period) Time(sat4) = Time(x) * (sat2 / sat1) * (sat4 / sat3) 378.06 days [table 5] cw [table 9]

  1. ^ Change from traditional naming: X is the main year axis, turns once per year with gear B1. The B axis is the axis with gears B3 and B6, while the E axis is the axis with gears E3 and E4. Other axes on E (E1/E6 and E2/E5) are irrelevant to this table.
  2. ^ "Time" is the interval represented by one complete revolution of the gear.
  3. ^ As viewed from the front of the Mechanism. The "natural" view is viewing the side of the Mechanism the dial/pointer in question is actually displayed on.
  4. ^ The Greeks, being in the northern hemisphere, assumed proper daily motion of the stars was from east to west, ccw when the ecliptic and zodiac is viewed to the south. As viewed on the front of the Mechanism.
  5. ^ abcdefgh On average, due to epicyclic gearing causing accelerations and decelerations.
  6. ^ abcde Being on the reverse side of the box, the "natural" rotation is the opposite
  7. ^ This was the only visual pointer naturally travelling in the counter-clockwise direction.
  8. ^ Internal and not visible.
  9. ^ abcdef Prograde motion retrograde is obviously the opposite direction.

There are several gear ratios for each planet that result in close matches to the correct values for synodic periods of the planets and the Sun. The ones chosen above seem to provide good accuracy with reasonable tooth counts, but the specific gears that may have been used are, and probably will remain, unknown. [12]

Known gear scheme Edit

It is very probable that there were planetary dials, as the complicated motions and periodicities of all planets are mentioned in the manual of the mechanism. The exact position and mechanisms for the gears of the planets is not known. There is no coaxial system but only for the Moon. Fragment D that is an epicycloidal system is considered as a planetary gear for Jupiter (Moussas, 2011, 2012, 2014) or a gear for the motion of the Sun (University of Thessaloniki group). The Sun gear is operated from the hand-operated crank (connected to gear a1, driving the large four-spoked mean Sun gear, b1) and in turn drives the rest of the gear sets. The Sun gear is b1/b2 and b2 has 64 teeth. It directly drives the date/mean sun pointer (there may have been a second, "true sun" pointer that displayed the Sun's elliptical anomaly it is discussed below in the Freeth reconstruction). In this discussion, reference is to modelled rotational period of various pointers and indicators they all assume the input rotation of the b1 gear of 360 degrees, corresponding with one tropical year, and are computed solely on the basis of the gear ratios of the gears named. [11] [14] [72]

The Moon train starts with gear b1 and proceeds through c1, c2, d1, d2, e2, e5, k1, k2, e6, e1, and b3 to the Moon pointer on the front face. The gears k1 and k2 form an epicyclic gear system they are an identical pair of gears that don't mesh, but rather, they operate face-to-face, with a short pin on k1 inserted into a slot in k2. The two gears have different centres of rotation, so the pin must move back and forth in the slot. That increases and decreases the radius at which k2 is driven, also necessarily varying its angular velocity (presuming the velocity of k1 is even) faster in some parts of the rotation than others. Over an entire revolution the average velocities are the same, but the fast-slow variation models the effects of the elliptical orbit of the Moon, in consequence of Kepler's second and third laws. The modelled rotational period of the Moon pointer (averaged over a year) is 27.321 days, compared to the modern length of a lunar sidereal month of 27.321661 days. As mentioned, the pin/slot driving of the k1/k2 gears varies the displacement over a year's time, and the mounting of those two gears on the e3 gear supplies a precessional advancement to the ellipticity modelling with a period of 8.8826 years, compared with the current value of precession period of the moon of 8.85 years. [11] [14] [72]

The system also models the phases of the Moon. The Moon pointer holds a shaft along its length, on which is mounted a small gear named r, which meshes to the Sun pointer at B0 (the connection between B0 and the rest of B is not visible in the original mechanism, so whether b0 is the current date/mean Sun pointer or a hypothetical true Sun pointer is not known). The gear rides around the dial with the Moon, but is also geared to the Sun—the effect is to perform a differential gear operation, so the gear turns at the synodic month period, measuring in effect, the angle of the difference between the Sun and Moon pointers. The gear drives a small ball that appears through an opening in the Moon pointer's face, painted longitudinally half white and half black, displaying the phases pictorially. It turns with a modelled rotational period of 29.53 days the modern value for the synodic month is 29.530589 days. [11] [14] [72]

The Metonic train is driven by the drive train b1, b2, l1, l2, m1, m2, and n1, which is connected to the pointer. The modelled rotational period of the pointer is the length of the 6939.5 days (over the whole five-rotation spiral), while the modern value for the Metonic cycle is 6939.69 days. [11] [14] [72]

The Olympiad train is driven by b1, b2, l1, l2, m1, m2, n1, n2, and o1, which mounts the pointer. It has a computed modelled rotational period of exactly four years, as expected. Incidentally, it is the only pointer on the mechanism that rotates counter-clockwise all of the others rotate clockwise. [11] [14] [72]

The Callippic train is driven by b1, b2, l1, l2, m1, m2, n1, n3, p1, p2, and q1, which mounts the pointer. It has a computed modelled rotational period of 27758 days, while the modern value is 27758.8 days. [11] [14] [72]

The Saros train is driven by b1, b2, l1, l2, m1, m3, e3, e4, f1, f2, and g1, which mounts the pointer. The modelled rotational period of the Saros pointer is 1646.3 days (in four rotations along the spiral pointer track) the modern value is 1646.33 days. [11] [14] [72]

The Exeligmos train is driven by b1, b2, l1, l2, m1, m3, e3, e4, f1, f2, g1, g2, h1, h2, and i1, which mounts the pointer. The modelled rotational period of the Exeligmos pointer is 19,756 days the modern value is 19755.96 days. [11] [14] [72]

Apparently, gears m3, n1-3, p1-2, and q1 did not survive in the wreckage. The functions of the pointers were deduced from the remains of the dials on the back face, and reasonable, appropriate gearage to fulfill the functions was proposed, and is generally accepted. [11] [14] [72]

Proposed gear schemes Edit

Because of the large space between the mean Sun gear and the front of the case and the size of and mechanical features on the mean Sun gear it is very likely that the mechanism contained further gearing that either has been lost in or subsequent to the shipwreck or was removed before being loaded onto the ship. [12] This lack of evidence and nature of the front part of the mechanism has led to numerous attempts to emulate what the Greeks of the period would have done and, of course, because of the lack of evidence many solutions have been put forward.

Michael Levy - Composer for Lyre

In this section of the website, I will explore the unique lyres once played in Northern Europe, the incredibly preserved remains of which have been found at both Trossingen, Germany & Sutton Hoo, England, which both date to the Dark Ages.

I will also attempt explore the ultimate origin of these unique lyres, so different in style to the Classical Kithara of ancient Greece & Rome, and whose ancient history in Northern Europe has recently been proven to predate the Roman occupation of European lands by hundreds of years, thanks to the discovery of an incredibly preserved lyre bridge discovered on the Isle of Skye, dating to at least 300 BCE.

From my research, I will attempt to demonstrate that just maybe, the ultimate origin of the Northern European lyres may date back as far as the Bronze Age, to a unique exchange of musical ideas between the ancient Near East & Northern Europe, along the same ancient trade routes of copper, tin and iron, which once linked these far flung lands during antiquity.


The lyre was also popular amongst the Anglo Saxons & Southern Germanic Tribes in the Dark Ages. Examples of these lyres, include the Anglo Saxon Lyre found during the 1930s at Sutton Hoo in South East England, and the very well preserved Germanic lyre discovered during the excavation of a grave in Trossingen in 2001.

Below are all the details I could find about the Trossingen lyre on the German Wikipedia site, (translated here into English, for the first time on Web - courtesy of "Google Tanslate"):

"The Trossinger lyre is a stringed lyre from an Alemannic grave nobility of the 6th Century from the "Music City" Trossingen in Tuttlingen. This almost perfectly preserved lyre is considered the best preserved piece among the 15 previously known early medieval copies. It is in the permanent collection of the State Archaeological Museum in Constance issued. From Easter 2011 to be an accurate replica of the lyre, to be seen together with reproductions of furniture from the grave goods in the Auberlehaus Museum.

The lyre had an overall length of 803 mm, the maximum width was 195 mm on the yoke, at the base of the cross bar 160 mm on the yoke. The width of the instrument is only 11 to 20 mm thick. Resonating body, yoke and yoke arms were carved from one piece of maple. The, 6-1 mm thick, soundboard was made ​​of maple (this was glued and fixed in a subsequent repair) On the approaches to the yoke arms, and each one approximately centered on the soundboard, 8 sound holes are drilled. This is the first evidence of acoustic holes on a lyre. The 6 pegs for tightening and tuning the strings are made ​​of ash, four and two from hazel. The bridge consists of strings of willow wood. Leather scraps at the lower ends of the yoke arms to indicate a kind of strap. Scuff marks and sharpened edges at one of the yoke arms show that the instrument was recorded over a longer time. Probably remnants of the existing strings made ​​of gut have not survived.

Both sides of the lyre are rich, and filling the area with virtually carved ornaments. The front cover of the resonance also features a pictorial representation of humans, which has a rarity for this time. Soot particles in the incised decoration show that the carvings were dyed black.

Front: The resonance cover shows two groups of six armed soldiers, in side view, striding together. Cite each comprise of war with their hands a spear standing upright in front of them, hang from the spout two diamond-shaped streamers of ribbons. The warriors wear shoulder-length hair that is held by a headband. The decorated by a chin beard faces are individually designed. The men are dressed in ankle-length tunic-like garments under their skirts clean by two feet with a hint of heel rise. Each warrior keeps the viewer on the side facing away from the tip to the ground looking spear, and on the face side, two overlapping shields. Whether this represented a doubling or multiplication of the warrior should be indicated is unclear, as each warrior are only assigned to a head, a gun and a couple of feet. Is on the minds of a group, through a separate line, flame-like ornamentation. The yoke arms are decorated with a snake form.

Rear: The sound box is filling the area with a complex formed from 44 snakes. The yoke arms show in three different varieties of straw and ribbon ornaments.

The Alemannic grave field in the city of Trossingen has been known for many years, it has been repeatedly cut during construction work and examined. When creating an underground car park on the former site of the joinery Weiss, archaeologists found in 2001 on soil stains, which indicated a grave. The grave was marked with serial number 58, and excavated. Since the grave chamber had ideal conditions for wood and textile conservation, it was recovered in the block. This Notbergung place in winter 2001/2002 by staff of the Archaeological Heritage in Freiburg. In the Archaeological Institute of the University of Freiburg, for several years under laboratory conditions, exposed and documented. When exposure of the Merovingian nobility tomb of about 40 years, wealthy man with 1.78 meters, for its time very tall, [1] were many grave goods to light: bed, wooden box, bottle, plates, bowls, candlesticks, chairs, table, weapons as well as numerous textile and leather fragments. Sword and lance rider suggest a warrior. [1] The lyre was face-down in the arm height, on the left side of the Dead. It is not certain whether the lyre has been laid in the grave, or whether they later moved. Adhered to the wood of the instrument some textile remnants. Whether the lyre was wrapped in it, is still under investigation. The man died in the late summer of 580th The dendrochronological study of heavy oak planks of the grave, this chamber can be calculated exactly. In his grave the dead man lay in a turned-frame bed that had been transformed by a roof top in a closed coffin. For the right arm of the dead was a sword with his left arm he held the lyre. The man's clothes were good quality, leather Occupied gloves, a wool tunic, linen pants and jacket. Armament included a rider to the lance of a staggering 3.60 meters overall length, a round shield made of alder wood and a riding crop and the remains of a saddle. Even furniture was added to the grave. Beside the bed, the archaeologists found a candlestick, a representative three-legged stool and a table. There are also a turned wooden canteen, where there were remnants of beer, a stilted root shell and a carved basin. There are ingredients, like they were used at a banquet.

The dating of the lyre was carried out by dendrochronological investigations of five wood samples from the grave, a book cover board of the grave chamber, and the candlestick showed matching dates - the trees from which the wood was fashioned dated to around the years 578-580 AD. The lyre is also the latest from the year 580, because of the wear marks on the instrument is of an earlier production date assumed. An assessment of the instrument by the harp and lyre builders Rainer M. Thurau revealed that the lyre was fully playable. Precise and technically accurate replicas of the instrument is in the Museum in Trossingen Auberlehaus near the archaeological site, and the Archaeological Musem in Constance. More faithful to the original replicas are in the possession of the Viennese composer Eberhard grief, which she as a solo and accompanying instrument (eg on Horace Odes) is used and owned by the internationally renowned lyre artist Benjamin Bagby which the instrument with his' Beowulf' interpretation uses. Eberhard Kummer suggested that might have served with the use of the instrument, the snakes and Flechtornamente on the yoke arms, the musician to focus on playing the melody, because they display different scales. Due to the high musical and historical interest in the Fund, are there are now some more, but for the most part critical reconstructions of the instrument under consideration.

Eberhard Kummer: "The Trossinger lyre: The carvings on the right arm (top view) of the lyre on the front (where the bar sits) are divided into a tetrachord (from top to bottom) and a hexachord The tetrachord is chromatic. (or quartertones), the hexachord (starting from the top sound hole, near the vertebrae) in the diatonic intervals T, T, ST, T, T. The carvings at the hexachord to the voices of the six strings (eg c up to a afford) a valuable service. On the left arm are the same engravings (snakes) is attached. the back side has carvings divided (in two tetrachords and come close to a seventh), the Indian Sruti, roughly enough to represent the two Vedic main keys. "

In Germany, this lyre is also known as the "Alemannische Leier" or "Alamannische Leier". Below is a photo of this amazing lyre, showing the remarkably good state of preservation:


Michael J. King manufactures luthier quality replicas of the Anglo Saxon Lyre, which date to the 7th century CE, as based upon the magnificent finds at Sutton Hoo, where the remains of the famous Anglo Saxon Lyre now preserved in the Bristish Museum (see below), were discovered:

Below are the remains of the actual Sutton Hoo Lyre, now preserved in the Bristish Museum:

Here is a quote from Michael's website, on the history of the Sutton Hoo Lyre:

"This the instrument of the Anglo Saxon Minstrels/Bards (in Anglo-Saxon times they were called scops, pronounced as shops)

The name used for this instrument in Germanic tongues is a Hearpe.
In the last Century in countries like Sweden a Harpa was still the word used as a generic term for any stringed musical instrument.

These instruments are mentioned in Beowulf the 10th century epic poem, and fragments have been found at many Anglo Saxon sites In England, including Sutton Hoo, Taplow, Abingdon, Bergh Apton, Morning Thorpe, Snape and more recently Prittlewell.

The Sutton Hoo Lyre in the British Museum is the most widely known model."


The striking similarity between the reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo Lyre & the Trossingen Lyre is quite striking! To me, this certainly seems to demonstrate the radiation of either the radiation of Germanic musical culture to the Anglo Saxon settlers of England in between the 6th & 7th centuries CE, or indeed, vice versa?

The similarity between these lyres is probably due to the fact that the German warrior's grave in which the Trossingen Lyre was found, belonged to the Almanni Tribe, closely related to the Anglo Saxons, as explained by the British lyre luther, Corwen Broch in his own fascinating website:

"The Alamanni were a Germanic tribe closely related to Anglo Saxons, and this instrument shows a striking similarity to Anglo Saxon lyres, though is of a plainer and more robust construction as it lacks the weak joint between the top peg holding arm and the body typical of Anglo Saxon lyres."


There are videos I have recently found, of both replica versions of both the Sutton Hoo Lyre & the Trossingen Lyres being played, which also illustrates both the similarity in sound & the playing techniques used on both replica instruments.


Below is one of Michael's many fascinating videos of his replica of the Sutton Hoo lyre being played:

For full details on the history of the Anglo Saxon lyre, and the amazing craftsmanship which has gone into its painstaking reconstruction, please visit Michael's J. King's fascinating website:


Below is a fascinating of a replica Trossingen Lyre being played:

Finally, one of the ancient lyre-playing techniques of "string-blocking" (as will be discussed in my other blog on ancient lyre playing techniques) is demonstrated on a replica Germanic lyre in this very interested video by Robert Evans:

For full details, visit Robert's own website:

For fascinating details on the reconstruction of the Trosslingen Lyre, please see the link to the following website:


How did the lyre, which as all the current evidence suggests, originated in ancient Mesopotamia, become established in the wilds of Northern Europe, and why do the examples of surviving Northern European lyres (as described in the previous section, about the Sutton Hoo & Trossingen Lyres) differ so greatly from the Classical Kithara of ancient Greece & Rome? I will attempt to explore some of these perplexing issues, in the light of new archaeological discoveries and some fascinating ancient texts which certainly seem to attest to the lyre being well established in Northern Europe, centuries before any Roman invasions may have introduced the instrument to these remote lands.


I was amazed to learn that the incredibly preserved bridge of a lyre has recently been discovered on the Isle of Skye. dating back to to at least 300 BCE!

This incredible find, completely re-writes the history of how the lyre ended up in Europe & could place the ultimate origin of the lyre back in time thousands more years than previously thought:

"Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the remains of the earliest stringed instrument to be found so far in western Europe. The small burnt and broken piece of carved piece of wood was found during an excavation in a cave on Skye.

Archaeologists said it was likely to be part of the bridge of a lyre dating to more than 2,300 years ago. Music archaeologist Dr Graeme Lawson said the discovery marked a "step change" in music history. The Cambridge-based expert said: "It pushes the history of complex music back more than a thousand years, into our darkest pre-history. And not only the history of music but more specifically of song and poetry, because that's what such instruments were very often used for.

The earliest known lyres date from about 5,000 years ago, in what is now Iraq, and these were already complicated and finely-made structures. But here in Europe even Roman traces proved hard to locate. Pictures, maybe, but no actual remains."

The remains, which were unveiled in Edinburgh, were found in High Pasture Cave, where Bronze and Iron Age finds have been made previously.

Cultural historian Dr Purser said: "What, for me, is so exciting about this find is that it confirms the continuity of a love of music amongst the Western Celts"

Archaeologists said the find marked a "step change" in music history:

"Stringed instruments, being usually made of wood, rarely survive in the archaeological record, but they are referred to in the very earliest literature, and, in various forms, were to feature on many stone carvings in Scotland and Ireland, and to become emblematic in both countries."

Steven Birch, an archaeologist involved in the excavation, said deeper sections of the cave were reached using a flight of stone steps. He said:

"Descending the steep and narrow steps, the transition from light to dark transports you out of one world into a completely different realm, where the human senses are accentuated.

Within the cave, sound forms a major component of this transformation, the noise of the underground stream in particular producing a calming environment."

Dr Fraser Hunter, principal curator of Iron Age and Roman Collections at National Museums Scotland, said the fragment of musical instrument put "sound into the silent past".

Culture and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop added:

"This is an incredible find and it clearly demonstrates how our ancestors were using music and ritual in their lives. The evidence shows that Skye was a gathering place over generations and that it obviously had an important role to play in the celebration and ritual of life more than 2,000 years ago."

AOC Archaeology in Edinburgh worked on conserving the bridge.

It was among several artefacts recovered from the cave in a project supported Highland Council, Historic Scotland and National Museums of Scotland" (BBC News Highlands & Islands)


Prior to this discovery, it was reasonable to assume that the first harp-sized lyres dated back to the famous Golden & Silver Bull Lyres discovered at Ur, c.2600 BCE, leading to the development of the the first Canaanite portable version of the lyre from c.1900 BCE.

This in turn lead to the introduction of the lyre into Egypt between around 1200 BCE & the Temple lyres in Judea/Israel during Biblical times, before the lyre was first introduced into Europe via Mesopotamian trade routes into Greece & Rome around 700 BCE and then into the rest of Europe, until the tragic demise of the lyre in Europe at the end of the Dark Ages.

Evidence of a fully developed portable lyre in the remote Scottish Isles from as early as 300 BCE completely overturns the chronology cited above! The lyre must have migrated along trade routes to Europe possibly thousands of years earlier, in order to be fully established in the wild, remote Scottish Isles, over 2300 years ago!

This new find verifies the fact in musical archaeology, that the date of the first archaeological evidence of the existence of any particular musical instrument is not the same, as the date which that particular instrument first appeared. Indeed, the Silver & Gold Bull Lyres found at Ur dating to circa 2600 BCE were incredibly ornate & fully evolved - the ultimate ancestor of the the harp-sized lyres discovered at Ur may pre-date the Bull Lyres of Ur by thousands of years.

Indeed, given the incredibly early date of the lyre found in the Scottish Isles, there is always the possibility that there may have been no "ultimate" geographical origin of the lyre - rather than the concept of an instrument which first evolved in ancient Mesopotamia before spreading to the rest of the ancient world via ancient trade routes, it is also a perfectly feasible hypothesis, that a European version of lyre may have evolved completely in isolation from the lyre which first developed in the ancient Near East? A fascinating possibility!

There are arguments against this hypothesis being likely, though, as John Wheeler recently explained:

"Possible but unlikely - there are too many common features even as there are striking differences. One would then have to explain why many cultures that could easily have done the same independent development, did not, but remain in a musically undeveloped state with regard to stringed instrument.

Aerophones give a standard of comparison - almost everyone has some variation of the two kinds of flutes and the panpipe, developed independently. But chordophones take a greater mental sophistication (I mean in style of thinking, not in degree of intelligence) to develop to a high state, or so it would seem. The South American Indians were very advanced in their aerophones, but until the Spanish came they didn't even have the musical bow to my knowledge. Again, the Polynesians achieved many things, but a native stringed instrument wasn't one of them"

If it is more unlikely that the European lyre did not develop independently in isolation, then, how & when was the portable lyre of the Near East introduced to Europe? Quite possibly the Celts, maybe via ancient trade routes to the Middle East via somewhere such as modern day Turkey? There were certainly well established ancient tin and copper trade routes between Northern Europe and the Middle East - imported from Northern Europe for the production of bronze.

The time of this musical cross-cultural connection must have been very early, given the fact that the lyre was established somewhere as remote as the wilds of the Scottish Isles by 300 BCE - this certainly excludes the possibility of the lyre being introduced into Britain by the Romans.


If my theory of how the lyre may have been introduced to Northern Europe, via an ancient cross-cultural exchange of musical ideas along the same ancient trade routes between the ancient Near East & Northern Europe is true, then the theory should predict that some of the same ancient musical modes heard throughout the ancient Near East may have survived in parts of Northern Europe - & I have recently found such evidence! Below is a video I stumbled upon, of a hauntingly beautiful Norwegian folk song, actually accompanied by small replica Northern European-style lyre, which is in the ancient Middle Eastern Chromatic Dorian Mode!

This song, and similar Northern European folk songs like it, could well be the very remnants of this same ancient cross-cultural exchange of musical ideas between the ancient Near East & Northern Europe, which prove my theory:

For more fascinating information about the ancient history of the lyre in Norway and Scandinavia, a highly informative paper entitled "The Early Lyre in Scandinavia. A Survey" by Gjermund Kollttveit (of the Department of Music and Theatre at the University of Olso), can be downloaded here


There is also tantalizing documented evidence of the lyre being established in the British Isles from an ancient Greek source from the 1st century BCE. There is the fascinating writings of Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 2. 47. 1 - 6 (trans. Oldfather), regarding the musical practices of the people from the island of "Hyperboria":

"the following legend is told concerning it: Leto was born on this island, and for that reason Apollon is honoured among them above all other gods and the inhabitants are looked upon as priests of Apollon, after a manner, since daily they praise this god continuously in song and honour him exceedingly. And there is also on the island both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollon and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape. Furthermore, a city is there which is sacred to this god, and the majority of its inhabitants are players on the cithara and these continually play on this instrument in the temple and sing hymns of praise to the god, glorifying his deeds."

Hyperborea was identified with Britain first by Hecataeus of Abdera in the 4th century BC. According to Wikipedia:

"Hecateaus of Abdera also wrote that the Hyperboreans had a 'circular temple' on their island, and some scholars have identified this with Stonehenge. This is further supported by the fact that Stonehenge has been known as Apollo's Temple since classical antiquity, and Hyperborea in Greek legend was related to Apollo"

Indeed in the document of by Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BCE, Siculus, besides reference to the musical practices of the Hyperboea, he also clearly states the following very telling details about the island of Hyperporea, which certainly seems to capture in writing, the very essence of the British Isles:

"In the regions beyond the land of the Celts there lies in the ocean an island no smaller than Sicily. This island, the account continues, is situated in the north and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, who are called by that name because their home is beyond the point whence the north wind (Boreas) blows and the island is both fertile and productive of every crop, and has an unusually temperate climate"

There is, however, there is evidence which can be inferred from the text to suggest, that the island of Hyperbora may be identified instead, not with the British Isles in general, but rather, in particular with Ireland.

From the text by Sicilus, rather than mentioning a circular temple (which could be indentified with Stone Henge) , he specifically mentions that is is this Temple is spherical :

"on the island both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollon and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape"

Could he be referring instead, to the distinctively spherical site of Newgrange?

" 'Spherical' suggests that the temple was covered, or mound-like, which Newgrange definitely is. Newgrange, if modern archaeologists are correct, is also older than Stonehenge by many centuries"

"I'm for Newgrange as the most likely candidate and for Ireland as the land of the Hyperboreans.

There is also a curious syllabic/linguistic correlation between the Greek word "Hyperboria" and the Latin word for Ireland, "Hibernia". Drop out a couple of letters and you have almost the same word: Hyboria = Hiberia ?"

The linguistic evidence for Hyperbora being identified with Ireland is for me, most compelling - "Hibernia" could certainly be an actual Latin transliteration of the original Greek word "Hyperboria".


Sadly, the only remant remaining in Nothern Europe of the lyres of the ancient world, which almost certainly has evolved from the ancient lyres of the Mediterranean & Middle East, is the bowed Welsh Crwth:

The modern form of this unique Welsh folk instrument is in essence, a lyre, in the sense that the strings pass over a bridge passing over a resonating body (which is very similar to the Anglo Saxon Lyre), but instead plucking open strings, the strings pass over a fretless fingerboard, and are bowed, just like on a violin:

Here is some interesting details on the historical background to this instrument, quoted from Wikipedia:

"Possible ancestors of the crwth are the lyre of the classical antiquity and the bowed Byzantine lyre of the 9th century. The modern crwth appears to date from only the late 15th or early 16th century and almost surely is not, as some romanticized accounts imply or declare, the same instrument that was played by the ancient and Medieval Welsh bards. In fact, its close ancestors became instruments of the folk culture of Wales and the West Country and West Midlands following the demise of minstrelsy in Britain at the close of the Middle Ages and in its final form (probably emerging ca 1485-1510), it seems to have been confined to Wales. Although the modern crwth bears something of a resemblance to the classical lyre, with the addition of a bow, it is more closely related to the various plucked and bowed square and round lyres that drawings, paintings, and sculptures show to have existed throughout northern Europe from as far back as the 8th century. While the Middle-Eastern origin of the early European chordophone bow seems beyond dispute, the connections between the European round and square lyres and Middle-Eastern and Classical prototypes are tenuous at best"

More fascinating details about the Welsh Crwyth, including the discovery of a second resonating chamber beneath the fingerboard in all of the surviving examples of this unique bowed lyre, can be found here


Unlike the unique continent of Africa, (as described in my other blog on this subject) where the incredible archaic lyres of antiquity are still being made & played, in the Western world, after the Dark Ages & early Medieval period, the wonderful lyres of the ancient world were gradually replaced, not by the harp - but by fretted string instruments, which required less strings & are much more versatile & portable.

This may have been a new dawn for instruments such as the lute, but with the loss of the lyre of antiquity in Northern Europe, one of the last threads linking us back to the ancient world was irrevocably broken and in that moment, thousands of years of ancient musical tradition was forever forgotten.

It is therefore my personal mission, to redress the balance - using my recordings and research as the catalyst, I yearn to see the day when the lost lyres of antiquity will be returned to their former place of musical glory, rising once more, like the legendary Phoenix, from the dark ashes of oblivion.

Watch the video: In unter 10 Minuten erklärt: Die Geschichte des Antiken Griechenland