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What’s in a name: Lituus?

by | Mar 12, 2020 | Ancient, Lituus


The term ‘lituus’ is one applied to a ‘J’-shaped instrument used by the Romans. Its overall form was very similar to an implement used by the augur, an important person who foretold the future from the flights of birds or the entrails of a sacrificed animal. The instrument has the form of an animal horn attached to a long straight tube. Although we can be fairly certain that the Romans inherited their lituus from the Etruscans, we have no idea what the Etruscans might have called it as they left very few written records behind.

This form of instrument is also seen on a frieze which appears to depict native European brass instruments but it seems very likely that its origins lie in the hands of the Etruscans as the earliest of the Etruscan instruments, one dating from around 670 BCE, has a cast bell while all other instruments from this area have wrought (made from sheet metal) bells. This change from cast instruments to wrought ones was a general change seen throughout Europe over the period spanning the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age.

We are told by the Romans that the Etruscans were master craftspeople and that their exports were very valued so it is not a surprising conclusion that the Etruscans were key people in this development.

Picture: A Copy of the Pian di Civita (Etruscan) Lituus made by the Author