In ancient Greece and Rome, there were a plethora of different musical instruments: they could be plucked and strummed, blown, or hit. Simply put… string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. Despite the unifying factors of these families of instruments, each instrument within a family had its own unique flavour and qualities. For example, the lyre and the barbitos could, in some ways, be equated with the modern guitar and bass guitar respectively.

Not only that, but the performance context of an instrument greatly changed how it was received. For example, if someone played a classical sonata upon the guitar, this would be very different to them playing a popular four chord song. The same was true with ancient music making. A lyre could be played as part of a sacred religious procession, or it could be played among friends at the Greek dinner-party called the symposium (to name just two of its performance contexts).

To find out more about these ancient Greek instruments, select the family that you what to read more about from the above menu, and from there, the specific instrument.


Images of Instruments

Below are a selection of images that show some of (but by no means all!)  the performance contexts which depicted music. They include Athenian red and black-figure pottery, Cypriot sculpture, and even painted wood! Click on the links to find out more about them.

A female slave/ prositute-musician, plays the aulos at a symposium. BM 1843,1103.99.
Corinthian children accompany a religious sacrifice on aulos and lyre. Athens, NAM, 16464.
Aulos accompanies atheletics. NY Met, 56.49.1.
Cypriot aulos-player. Limestone statue. The phorbeia (the mouth-strap sometimes used by aulos-players), can be seen. NY Met, 74.51.2508.
Wine Cup with a Boy Dedicating the Mouth Strap of a Wind Instrum
A musician dedicates his phorbeia at an altar. The dedication of instruments to gods is well attested in the archaeology. Getty 86.AE.288.
A respectable woman (rather than a slave) plays her lyre at home. The object at left is a plain aulos-case (sybene). NY Met, 06.1129.