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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
A Description of the Trajan Column
by John Hungerford Pollen

printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode,
printers to Queen Victoria
London, 1874

Text and engravings are in the public domain.
Any color photographs are © William P. Thayer 1997-

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Musical instruments

It is right before discussing the march and encampments to describe the instruments of military music in use in Roman armies. Drums were unknown. Three kinds of brass wind instruments were in use. The tuba was a straight trumpet. The cornu was a long curved horn describing more than half a circle, and connected by an ornamental bar to preserve it from the risk of being bent or broken. The buccina or lituus was a long ornaments, straight, but with a curved end. The sounds of the calls given on those instruments differed, and the signals intended could be distinguished accordingly. The day and night were each divided into four watches vigiliae, measured by the clepsydra or water clock. The tuba called the watches on and the cornu called them off. The buccina gave the signals for pitching and striking tents, loading the baggage &c. The tuba and buccina sounded together for signals for going into action. It is these two instruments that are seen in the most frequent use in the various warlike operations sculptured. In the time of Polybius there were three signals on striking the camp. At the sound of the first the tents were struck, beginning with those in the Praetorian or general staff quarters, in which were the tents of the emperor or consul and of the tribunes: at the second all baggage not borne on men's shoulders was loaded on the carts or sumpter beasts of the military train: and at the third the whole army marched. Woodcuts of these details will be seen further on.

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Page updated: 27 Nov 01