Date: 200–500

Geography: Made in Egypt

Culture: Roman/Byzantine

Medium: Wood with traces of paint

Dimensions: Overall: 4 3/4 x 1 7/16 x 28 13/16 in. (12 x 3.7 x 73.2 cm)

Classification: Woodwork-Miscellany

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1912

Accession Number: 12.182.44


As an instrument type, the lute is thought to have originated among the West Semites of Syria and was introduced to Egypt as a result of Hyksos influence. Only four examples of the extraordinary type of lute shown here are known to exist. The genre is defined by a long, narrow neck and a sound box shaped by symmetrical indentations, or a "waist," along the sides. Judging from the four surviving examples, dating from the third to eighth centuries, the instrument enjoyed a long life span, appearing in different variants and sizes characteristic of Egypt in the Roman and Byzantine periods. Because of its waisted design and its place in music history, this member of the lute family may be considered a possible predecessor to the guitar, in particular the guitarra morisca.

The slightly rounded back of this lute is covered by a soundboard of thin wood perforated by five ornamentally placed clusters of minuscule sound holes. Four large, slanted holes on the front of the upper neck once held pegs for four strings that reached to the end of the sound box; a bridge (now lost), would have braced the strings above the soundboard. The lower portion of the neck served as a fingerboard for the left hand, while the right hand most likely held a plectrum to pluck the strings.