Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Close encounter with an ancient Water-Organ

Several years ago, I was browsing through the Archaeological Museum of Dion after having explored the nearby Macedonian sanctuary and Roman city. It is a lovely little museum but what truly impressed me was the water-organ that stood on the first floor and was visited by only a handful of tourists. It was so recognizable as an organ that I even suspected that this reconstruction could be too far away from reality.

It was during excavations outside the beautiful Villa of Dionysus at Dion in 1992 that archaeologists discovered a row of pipes together with large copper slabs bearing the imprints of pipes. After further examination in the on-site laboratory, they were able to establish that these pipes belonged to a water-organ. It turns out to be the oldest surviving musical instrument of its kind and it has been dated to the 1st century BC, making it 2,200 years old!

The ancient Greeks called it a ‘hydraulis’ which made its first appearance in Alexandria. The first ‘hydraulis’ was built by Ctesibius and operated by compressed air that was channeled through a container of water to equalize the pressure. A row of pipes of different length produced the sound and by adding more pipes a polyphonic effect could be obtained. What an invention!

The arrival of the water-organ was received with great success because of the powerful and pleasant sound it produced, making it a favorite instrument in theaters, hippodromes, and at other public gatherings. Eventually, it entered into the Roman Imperial court. The Byzantines improved the organ and managed to make it function without using water. The amazing fact is that this ‘hydraulis’ is the ancestor of our church organ since the Middle-Ages.

Ancient music and more specifically Greek music is an intriguing subject which I tackled in earlier blogs (see: Reconstructing ancient music, an impossible task? and An insight into Ancient Greek Music). The history of this ‘hydraulis’ as another interesting contribution to this chapter.

The good news is that we will be able to listen to ancient Greek water-organ music at a live event - that is, if you have the opportunity to travel to Athens this summer. The Acropolis Museum is organizing a free concert with quite an interesting program that looks as follows:


An introduction to the history of the ‘hydraulis’ and the discovery of the elements in Dion will be given by Professor Pandermalis. After that, the audience will be treated to a virtuoso recital on the ‘hydraulis” by the famous Greek organist, Ourania Gassiou. The concert will end with a special harp recital by harpist Thodoris Matoulas.

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