previous next


SISTRUM (σεῖστρον), a mystical instrument of music, used by the ancient Egyptians in their ceremonies, and especially in the worship of Isis (Ovid, Ov. Met. 9.784; Amor. 2.13, 11, 3.9, 34; de Ponto, 1.1, 38). It was held in the right hand (see woodcut), and shaken, from which circumstance it derived its name (aera repulsa manu, Tib. 1.3, 24). Its most common form is seen in the right-hand figure of the annexed woodcut, which represents an ancient sistrum (cf. Micali, Mon. ined. tav. xvii.; Plut. de Is. et Osir. pp. 670, 671). Apuleius (Met. xi. pp. 119, 121,


ed. Aldi) describes the sistrum as a bronze rattle (aereum crepitaculum), consisting of a narrow plate curved like a sword-belt (balteus), through which passed a few rods, that rendered a loud shrill sound. He says that these instruments were sometimes made of silver or even of gold.

The introduction of the worship of Isis into Italy shortly before the commencement of the Christian era made the Romans familiar with this instrument. The “linigeri calvi, sistrataque turba” (Mart. 12.29), are most exactly depicted in two paintings found at Portici (Ant. d'Ercolano, vol. ii. pp. 309-320), and containing the two figures of a priest of Isis and a woman kneeling at her altar, which are introduced into the preceding woodcut. The use of the sistrum in Egypt as a military instrument to collect the troops is probably a fiction (Verg. A. 8.696; Propert. 3.11, 43).

Sistrum is sometimes used for a child's rattle (Martial, 14.54; Pollux, 9.127).


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 9.784
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.696
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.29
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.54
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: