What Type Of Music Did The Ancient Rome

The Ancient Rome had a unique musical culture associated with weddings, funerals, outdoor activities and religious services. Music was also performed at banquets and symposiums, in the homes of influential Roman patrons and at palaces.

Ancient Roman music was mostly choral and was composed and performed in Latin. Instruments used included the flute and lyre, the aulos, tibia and tympanum. Chords and accompaniments were played on the sambuca and the scabellum. These instruments, most of which originated in Greece, were played in ensemble with the voice, and sought to establish emotional and emotive connections between performers and listeners.

Not surprisingly then, music was present in Roman literature and medicine. Musical symbols were employed extensively in the healing arts and were often attributed to the influence of the Muses, the nine goddesses of literature, music and art (Urania, Melpomene, Erato and Polyhymnia).

Ancient Roman music served as an important source of entertainment for everyday life. It was used for military marches and in processions and was held in high esteem by the general populace. Music was performed in outdoor settings, at religious ceremonies and at athletic competitions. Some Roman musical instruments, such as tambourines, drums and horns, were used for processional and military marching bands.

In addition to the aulos, lyre, tibia and tympanum, ancient Roman music also employed flutes and horns. Talents for playing the flute, often bought and developed, were highly sought after. Music also featured in theatre, where it was used to convey emotion and inspired actors’ performance. Music was not only employed in the Christian religion, but also in Mithraism, in pagan ceremonies and in the rituals of the priestess of Vesta.

Much of the Roman music of the day was preserved in temples, on reliefs and in ancient monuments. One example can be found in the archaeological site of Pompeii, where music and dance were popular among its inhabitants. The Latin inscriptions found on the walls of the city’s houses and streets offer a unique insight into the popular music and dance of the time.

Although much of Ancient Roman music remains a mystery, research has indicated that its influence was extensive, particularly in terms of melody and rhythm. The sonorous quality of its vocal lines and unusual melodic progressions have influenced sacred and secular works for centuries. The beauty and complexity of its harmonies and its extraordinary rhythmic patterns also stand as testament to its significance.

Instrumental Music

Instrumental music was a major component of Ancient Roman music. Instruments used included the aulos, tibia and tympanum, as well as flutes and horns. Many of these instruments, such as the lyre, had been acquired from the Greeks and were used in ensemble with the voice to help establish a connection between performers and their audiences. They were also utilized to help generate dynamic musical effects and musical intensity.

Instrumental music was typically performed in processional bands and military marches, inside homes and in the early days of Roman theatre. Horns and trumpets were often heard in military marches and processions, while drums and tambourines were prevalent in some processions as well. Both percussion and wind instruments could also be easily heard in the Roman amphitheaters of the time.

Instrumental music was also present in religious ceremonies, in the early days of Christian music, and in ritualistic ceremonies involving the priestess of Vesta. Ancient Roman instruments such as the aulos, tympanum and tibia were believed to have miraculous powers and were lauded as gifts from the gods. In addition to being used in processional bands, many of these instruments were also used in orchestras and for accompanying vocal compositions.

Vocal Music

Vocal music was a prevalent part of Ancient Roman music. Roman vocal music was largely composed in Latin, and featured solo melodies as well as choral works. Many of the vocal works performed utilized the accompaniment of instruments, with the aulos, lyre and tibia being the most common instrumental accompaniments.

Vocal music was mainly used in performances at banquets and other hall events, in religious ceremonies, and at home. Roman wedding receptions, in particular, included a great amount of singing, and many of the chants and verses sung during such occasions have been preserved through archaeological findings. Vocal music was also heard in the early days of Christian music, and later in these early days of the opera.

Vocal music contributed significantly to the development of Roman culture, and Roman composers such as Cicero and Virgil drew heavily on Greek and Roman models for their works. Ancient Roman vocal music featured melodic lines, energetic rhythm patterns and unusual harmonic progressions, all of which contributed to the distinctiveness of Roman music.


Ancient Roman music was composed primarily by non-professional musicians and amateurs. These composers often adapted the works of the Greeks, employing their techniques and utilizing their instruments in their compositions. Wealthy Roman families would often hire professional musicians who, in turn, composed and performed their own music. Some of the better-known Ancient Roman composers include Virgil, Cicero and Horace.

Despite the lack of large-scale musical production during that time, Ancient Roman music continues to have an influence in the world of music today. Its complicated rhythms and chord progressions, as well as its wide variety of vocal techniques, have all been avidly studied. Through examination of its historical influence, researchers are able to gain insight into how music has changed since the Ancient Rome period.

In addition to its influence in today’s music, ancient Roman music has provided a platform for continued exploration and expression of the human emotions and experiences. Its rich tonality and varied chord progressions have provided a foundation for centuries of innovative music production.


Although not all of the Ancient Roman music that existed is known, what has been recorded demonstrates a complex, multi-faceted culture with a deep appreciation for and exploration of music. The presence of music in every area of Roman life gave it tremendous power, and its composers and performers have left a lasting legacy of innovative works.

Ancient Roman music continues to have an impact on modern times. Its complex arrangements, unorthodox chord progressions and extensive use of instruments have added a richness to modern music production. The works of classical composers such as Virgil, Cicero and Horace remain as powerful today as the day they were created.

Today, the influence of Ancient Roman music is still heard in many genres, including classical, jazz and blues. In addition, many popular songs contain borrowed rhythmic motifs and chord progressions from ancient Roman music. Its influence can also be heard in theatrical productions and in religious ceremonies, both in Eastern and Western music.


Ancient Roman music was an integral part of Roman culture and has left a lasting legacy. Its melodies, rhythms and harmonic progressions are still heard today in many musical styles, and its influence can be seen in theatrical performances and religious ceremonies around the world. Instrumental and vocal music both featured prominently in Roman society, with composers such as Virgil, Cicero and Horace being some of the most renowned in Roman history.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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