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Fragmentary flute featuring a bone mouthpiece and bronze lower section. - click to view larger image
Aulos (musical pipe)

PATRICIA KARVELAS: There were few sounds more ubiquitous in Ancient Greek lands than the buzzing, melodic sound of the Greek flute or aulos, as it was called. The flute was thought to be brought to Greek mainland and islands from central Anatolia, the region of modern-day Turkey. It proved instantly popular and there was a strong musical flute tradition from the 6th century BCE onwards.

Traditionally, a musician placed both flutes into their mouth and played them simultaneously. A similar technique is used in parts of Sardinia today. The flutes were often held in place by bands that went around the back of the head. This unusual aulos has a bone mouthpiece that would have allowed it to be played from the end or the side.

The flute could be heard on any number of occasions in the Greek world. It accompanied banquets and drinking parties and was an essential part of dramatic performances. When warriors marched into battle, they were accompanied by flute players, whose tunes helped keep the army in time and roused their spirits. Flute-playing competitions were also popular. Alongside athletic events, the Pythian Games held at Delphi, for example, included competitions for both single flute players and flute players accompanied by the lyre. The lyre may have been the most prestigious instrument, but it was impossible in Greece to escape the sound of the flute.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: There were few sounds more ubiquitous in Ancient Greek lands than the buzzing, melodic sound of the Greek flute or aulos, as it was called. The flute was thought to be brought to Greek mainland and islands from central Anatolia, the region of modern-day Turkey. It proved instantly popular and there was a strong musical flute tradition from the 6th century BCE onwards.

Traditionally, a musician placed both flutes into their mouth and played them simultaneously. A similar technique is used in parts of Sardinia today. The flutes were often held in place by bands that went around the back of the head. This unusual aulos has a bone mouthpiece that would have allowed it to be played from the end or the side.

The flute could be heard on any number of occasions in the Greek world. It accompanied banquets and drinking parties and was an essential part of dramatic performances. When warriors marched into battle, they were accompanied by flute players, whose tunes helped keep the army in time and roused their spirits. Flute-playing competitions were also popular. Alongside athletic events, the Pythian Games held at Delphi, for example, included competitions for both single flute players and flute players accompanied by the lyre. The lyre may have been the most prestigious instrument, but it was impossible in Greece to escape the sound of the flute.

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Date published: 17 December 2021

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