De Musicae Romae

(hope the title’s correct, my dog latinist days are long past…)

So I’m finally getting around to watching HBO’s Rome (brilliant show, BTW), and it got me thinking about the sounds of old Rome.

The show strives to be, if not precisely historical, at least as authentic to -40 BC as they could make it on the budget - but do we have any idea whatsoever about the kind of music they produced or enjoyed ? IIRC formal musical notation wouldn’t come about until the 10th century or so, so I doubt we have accurate renditions of the works of Justinus Biberorum or Civis Mixalotis. Did chroniclers describe their Top of the Pops in any way ? Or is the show’s vaguely North African themes just conjecture and/or Wild Arse Pull ?

Smartassing about the Latin first: If you want to speak “about the music of Rome”, it’d be de musica Romae. De takes the ablative. Or you could put it with an adjective, which, I guess, would have been the preferred way of putting it in classical Latin: De musica romana.

Getting to the question at hand: We do have a decent picture of the musical instruments that were in use in Rome, both from descriptions in ancient texts and from archaeological excavations. This does, of course, not mean we know the tunes that would have been played on the instruments, but I guess the principles which determine which sounds are perceived as pleasant and which not were the same for Romans as they are for modern folk, so some reasoning should be possible.

Hip-hop, feat. the lyre.

The Greeks had a system of musical notation, although not one that compares to ours. Here is a song recreated from it, accompanied by what sounds like a cow bell. There’s a player next to the lyrics.