Roman Reed Instruments

roman reeds

double aulosTHE (DOUBLE) AULOS

The Double Aulos is an ancient reed instrument using double (oboe-type) reeds within a conical bore. As a result, it is quite loud and strident with excellent carrying power.

The Double Aulos was known to Ancient Greeks and Romans alike and seems to have been one of double aulostheir most popular reed instruments - it appears time and time again in carvings and paintings, etc. There is even reference to the Emperor Nero playing it both as a reed instrument directly from the mouth as well as connected to "the leather" as a double-chantered bagpipe!

There was also a "single pipe" Aulos as well as the more common "doubled-piped" version.

It is not possible to know precisely the nature of the music played on the Aulos. There is little doubt though, that there were considerable variations between instruments as some sources show the Aulos being played with the hands occupying the same positions on both pipes - others where one hand is set lower. Clearly, there were different Auloi (plural of the word) offering a range of tunings and with them, a variety of musical textures and options.

It has to be said that almost nothing is known about Roman Music but the scale provided does bring a "likely tonality" to the instrument. If you go along with its "in-built" tuning, the sound is compulsively ancient and striking!

Download Sound Sample - Double Aulos with 2 Tubae and Tympana playing part of a Pompa (processional piece) - (252K - file name "PompaBritannia.mp3")



This uses a "single" reed (forerunner of the type used on the clarinet) for sound generation. At the pitch here, the sound is warm and "buzzy" - even exotic to some ears! The animal horn at the lower end amplifies the sound and as such, the instrument is very close to the later Hornpipe - except that there is no open-ended mouthpiece through which to blow the reed.

Images of this Phrygian version of the Tibia with its curved end bell have been found amongst the carving on Roman sarcophagus lids.

As already mentioned, there is no mouthpiece or windcap, so the protruding section of the reed at the very top has to be encapsulated within the mouth cavity. The lips are pressed against the top rim for support when blowing. There is no direct contact with the reed during playing.

Download Sound Sample of Phrygian Tibia - Phrygian Tibia Sound Sample - Click Here - (475K - file name "copa.mp3")

The sound sample uses a melody based around the 4th finger (E flat) but music using other keynote-based tunes also works well - in particular, those on 5 fingers.

Valerie Marshall

Tudor Lodge, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor, Ely, Cambridgeshire. CB6 2EE. England.

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