Wind Instruments

Ancient Egyptian wind instruments included flutes and trumpets.

Egyptian flutes were very advanced, touching upon principles that woodwind instrument builders still utilize to this day. The flutes were created in both traditional and transverse style. A transverse flute is much like a modern-day instrument, where the instrument is held parallel to the ground. Traditional flutes were built to be played perpendicular to the ground, looking like a modern-day clarinet (only technically more similar to a recorder).

Flutes in the Ancient World were created with single and double resonating cavities. A single-cavity flute is the design of the modern-day flute. The player blows into one resonating body and plays it with both hands. A double-cavity flute is essentially two flutes coming together at a singular mouthpiece. The player then plays one flute in each hand. Unlike the single-cavity flute, the double-cavity version fell out of favor with musicians and modern-day relatives of this instrument are scarce. A double-cavity flute is depicted on this clay jar from 4th century BCE, Italy.

Egyptian flutes also came with reeds. While historians still classify these wind instruments as flutes, they actual bear little resemblance to the modern flute. In fact, ancient reed-flutes are more similar in construction to the clarinet, which also has a vibrating reed in the mouthpiece to produce sound.

Reed flutes are not the only ancient instruments with decieving names. The trumpets played in Ancient Egypt are more like baroque french horns. The trumpets had no valves, and were essentially long metal tubes with a bell on one end and a mouthpiece on the other. Just like early-baroque instruments, these instruments could only play notes in the overtone series above the lowest fundamental tone the instrument could produce. This limited the instrument (depending on the virtuosity of the performer) to anywhere from five to ten playable tones.

Below are images of wind instruments and inscriptions featuring wind instruments


This Greek image depicts a woman playing a double-aulos. She appears to be fingering the same notes on both pipes.


Wooden Flutes - Roman Period (2nd-4th centuries CE), from Karanis, Egypt


Funerary Limestone Stele Depicting Flautist - Late 2nd ­ early 3rd centuries CE, from Terenouthis, Egypt


Inscription Depicting Flautist



Aulos, Bronze Flute with a Reed Core - Roman Period (1st-3rd centuries CE), from Karanis Egypt

Aulos, Wooden Flute with a Reed Core - Roman Period (2nd-4th centuries CE), from Karanis, Egypt


Bone Whistle - Roman Period (2nd-4th centuries CE), from Karanis, Egypt


Terracotta Model Horn - Roman Period (2nd-4th centuries CE), from Karanis, Egypt


A Detail of the Arch of Titus Depicting Ancient Trumpets


These ancient coins depict instruments. Notice the top coin in the center row, depicting two valve-less trumpets.


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