Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Signal musicians in the Roman Legions

The ancient Olympic Games in Greece included contests of trumpet playing in 396 B.C.E. These contests were judged not by musicality but by volume of sound. The instrument used by the Greek trumpeters was the Salpinx, a reported copy of which is preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This Salpinx measures 157 cm. and is made of thirteen cylindrical parts made of ivory with a bell made of bronze, as is the mouthpiece.

But, signal musicians used as an integral part of a military organization appear first in the Roman Legion. These musicians, called aenatores, utilized a wide variety of trumpets, and signals were sounded on these instruments which the Romans inherited from the Etruscans. The Etruscans were superb metallurgists and smiths, and must have been skilled in the making of bronze or silver trumpets. A collection of forty-three signals were used in the Roman Army.

Instruments in the Roman Legion included trumpets such as the Tuba which was conical shaped and about 117 cm. long. It was a straight horn that had a slightly flaring bell with no bends. The Cornu was a long curved instrument made of bronze, in the shape of a “G,” which was more of a modern french horn shape and was played with the bell placed over the shoulder. Another was the Buccina, which was in the shape of a “J” and was more like an animal’s horn. The Lituus was also shaped like the Buccina, in the shape of a “J.” - Jari Villanueva,

Vegetius described the use of these horns to give signals:

"The music of the legion consists of trumpets, cornua and buccinae. The trumpet sounds the charge and the retreat. The cornua 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 cornua 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 cornua 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. For 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."

My closeup of the Statuette of a Roman bugler, bronze, 100-200 CE, at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California. 

Statuette of a Roman bugler, bronze, 100-200 CE, at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California. The figure wears armor including a crested helmet and a cuirass with one row of pteryges. Over his cuirass is a cingulum, a ceremonial sash or military belt that is wrapped around the waist and tied at the front with a square knot to protect the bearer from evil. A cloak is wrapped around his left arm, which is extended to support a now-missing bugle. The figure’s right arm is bent to hold the instrument to his mouth as he moves to the right. Image courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Cornu depicted on the Grand Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus, 251-252 century CE, found in 1621 near the Tiburtina Gate in Rome courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

My image of the Cornu depicted on the Grand Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus, 251-252 century CE, found in 1621 near the Tiburtina Gate in Rome.

Greek Mural painting depicting a trumpeter at the Archaeological Museum of Delos. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Zde.

Musicians playing the salpinx (trumpet) and the hydraulis (water organ), Romano-Egyptian, 1st century BCE, from Alexandria, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Roman musicians on the Zilten Mosaic, 200 CE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Dulcem and

Relief with a scene of gladiator fight, perhaps part of a funerary monument, 1st century BC. Two trumpet players proclaim the victory of the duel. The winner raises his sword and awaits the verdict of the spectators, who decide life or death for the loser. Relief now in the collections of the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Bibi Saint-Pol.


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