I have to admit that I'm a bit of a Simon Scarrow addict, and I admire the books dedication to historical accuracy (within the confines of fiction).

Something that's mentioned in the books is music. We know that the Romans had musical instruments and that musicians are portrayed in art and literature.

However, I have no real inkling of what the music actually sounded like. Are there any transcriptions of music that we can use to replicate what was actually played, or do we simply infer the style of music from the range of instruments that we've found?

  • Under Calligula, there was only one song. He ordered it be played at all times. Anyone found not playing it would be cruxified. youtube.com/watch?v=U-xsosv6uM0 Aug 10, 2018 at 15:00
  • 3
    And Nero played the fiddle to the tune of "London town is burning now", yes, I know... :D
    – user22859
    Aug 10, 2018 at 15:02
  • 8
    It appears the Romans had a Greek Musical Notation System that they used, and some pieces written in it survive. That being said, I really don't know nearly as much music theory as my choir director would like, so most of what is written behind that link is, well, all Greek to me. Perhaps someone who knows what they are going on about can analyze it and write a proper answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 10, 2018 at 15:07
  • Not about Roman, but contemporary Jewish music. The ideas come from a rabbi writing at the First Things website years ago: Pope Gregory I was a musician priest before being pope. His Gregorian Chant was not a total novelty, it was a reunion of the more traditional church musicians and works that he could find, compiled in order to safeguard music already traditional at his time, and was thought to be related to sinagogue music. Thus, although it comes centuries after Christ, old plain Gregorian Chant is the closest we have to the jewish music that the Lord Himself sang.
    – Luiz
    Aug 10, 2018 at 20:28
  • 1
    Related (but sadly, not very informative): music.stackexchange.com/questions/281/… Aug 11, 2018 at 13:07

1 Answer 1


Not really.

Although there are suggestions that the Romans borrowed the Greek notation system we don't have any complete pieces of music written in that from Rome to work with (that I know of anyway) and I think there's only one from Greece!

However there is a group of musicians/archaeologists called "Synaulia" that have spent a large amount of time attempting to research this very question and having used iconography, literary references and various forms of cultural study whose names my brain is refusing to divulge right now first managed to replicate a variety of instruments that would have been in use during Roman times (including those borrowed from the Greeks) and used them to record what they term "a hypothetical reconstruction of the music of ancient Imperial Rome".

So being generous this falls under the heading of "a best guess" but they have released two albums of their recordings titled "La musica dell'antica Roma" (literally "The Music of Ancient Rome") vol. I and vol. II

The first volume focuses on the Roman-era wind instruments and the second is strings.

In the absence of any concrete archaeological finds of transcribed music this is probably the closest we'll get I'm afraid.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.