Having recently had the pleasure of seeing the famous Mosaics at Paphos in Cyprus,(dating from the between the 2nd - 4th centuries CE) I was fascinated to see in the mosaics, a rare lyre-playing technique which until then, I thought was unique to ancient Mesopotamia!


In illustrations of lyre players from ancient Mesopotamia, (Details of a relief from SW Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, ca. 701 BC), instead of a plectrum to pluck the strings, the lyre players use a wooden baton to hit the strings - similar to how the hammered dulcimer is played today:








In several of the depictions of lyre players in the beautiful 2nd - 4th century CE Paphos Mosaics, almost exactly the same unusual, percussive lyre-playing technique, almost 1000 years later, can clearly be seen:










The illustrations above, clearly show  Kithara players, with a wooden baton, not a plectrum, in the right hand! Yet more intriguing evidence of ancient cross-cultural musical exchange of ideas between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean?


As these beautiful Mosaics were found in the ruins of Roman Villa's at Paphos, is this possible evidence that this ancient Mesopotamian lyre-playing technique may actually have migrated to ancient Rome?


Whether the lyre players depicted on the Paphos Mosaics represent either native Cypriot or Roman lyre players is virtually impossible to tell, but I think the pictorial evidence suggests that this unusual ancient lyre-playing technique may have migrated from Ancient Mesopotamia to both Ancient Rome & Ancient Cyprus - and by implication, the Mosaics may be just one crucial strand of evidence, to also infer that the musical culture of ancient Mesopotamia may to have radiated throughout almost the entire Ancient Mediterranean? Another fascinating possibility!





Indeed, this same hammered lyre playing technique appears to have migrated to Israel as well, as can be seen in this famous mosaic from a synagogue in Gaza dating to the 6th century CE. The lyre player is clearly named in Hebrew as representing King David:




In the Gaza mosaic, the small wooden baton, almost identical to the baton depicted in the Paphos Mosaics in Cyprus, can clearly be seen - yet more evidence of this almost completely forgotten percussive style of lyre playing, which seems to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia... 


Here is a video featuring short clips from my tracks "Lyres of Nineveh" & "Shadow of the Zigurrat" from my album, "Ancient Visions - New Compositions For An Ancient Lyre", which both feature experimental performances of this 2700 year old Assyrian percussive lyre playing technique:




Below are 2 "live" videos of my experimentation with this rare, lost lyre playing technique:





Further circumstantial evidence in support of this unique percussive lyre playing technique can actually be found in the existence of the same technique still practiced today on the lyre-like "chicotén", or "tambor de cuerdas"(drum of strings) used in several places in the Iberian Peninsula - whose playing position and general appearance certainly suggests an original lyre-like ancestor of this fascinating instrument:


The ultimate origin of this hammered lyre-playing technique actually seems to have its roots in the deepest depths of antiquity. The same percussive style of hitting a string with a wooden baton can be seen today in the Neolithic ancestor of both the harp & lyre - the archaic Africa Musical Bow, played continually in Africa, for over 30,000 years:





Erica February 02, 2017 @05:55 pm

Wow what a wonderful and informative website! I am so fascinated my music in ancient times...what did they sing about? Even to fathom "songs" back then is quite difficult but you have managed to make us feel like we couldve been there! Thank you!

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