Greeks vs. Romans: Music as Art

In my last blog post I talked about the Roman’s conception of music and how it affected their daily lives. In this post, I want to delve a little deeper into the difference between how the Roman’s viewed music and how the Greeks viewed music. In this regard, although I love the Romans, the Greeks seem to win out, at least in terms of viewing music as an actual art form.


To the Greeks, music was actually an art form in and of itself. Musical papyri (scraps of papyrus) have been dug up from the sands of Egypt that contain ancient musical notation of the Greeks. These were actually intended for vocal music (apparently the Greeks had a separate notation for voice than they did for instruments). The mere fact that we have these documents reveals that the Greeks took music quite seriously—as seriously as mathematics or philosophy. Music theory, a field completely aligned with mathematics, actually originated from the Greeks. It strikes me as odd that the Romans, with their habit of “borrowing” from the Greeks, did not take much of an interest in the theory of music. It’s surprising that the love of poetry as an art formed survived the transition to Rome, yet the love of music as an art form in and of itself did not.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Romans basically thought of music as an add-on for religious ceremonies, military procedures and theater. The fact that actors were considered “on par or below the status of sex workers” (Dr. Sir Rev. Nefarious) leads me to believe that the Romans didn’t think too highly of musicians either. According to my sources, events with music were also typically reserved for the elite.


In conclusion, I’m gonna have to say that the Greeks take the cake on this one. I definitely think that the Romans should have given the art of music a lot more respect. Seems like they were too sidetracked with their gladiators and chariot races…


 -Arbiter Bibendi


One thought on “Greeks vs. Romans: Music as Art

  1. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    I’m curious, what are your thoughts about music being strictly an add on to other things in ancient times. Were there concerts or recitals that were specifically for the music?


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