In AD 228, Gaius Julius Viatorinus presented a portable organ to the collegium of textile-dealers. The instrument is known today as the Aquincum (water) organ.
In AD 228, Gaius Julius Viatorinus, a prominent official of the Aquincum Civil Town presented a portable organ to the collegium of textile-dealers. The craftsmen and merchants of the town joined such associations (collegia) based on their occupations. The collegia carried out public services (e.g. maintenance of the aqueduct or fire fighting). It was also their duty to provide burial assistance to their members and to maintain the cult of the deceased. These associations played a large role in the social life of these groups, the focus of which was the hall, where members would congregate for festivals and feasts. The hall of the association of textile-dealers (collegium centonariorum) was located within the town walls, next to the southern gate of the Aquincum Civil Town. The collegium had an important role not only in the social life of its members, but also in the public service assigned to it, namely fire detection and fire fighting in the town. The instrument donated by the Aquincum dignitary was kept there, and it could have been played during festivities. We have descriptions of organs from Antiquity by Vitruvius and Heron. Based on these, too, it is certain that the Aquincum organ was small and portable by hand. The organ was probably built using wood, leather and metals (bronze, copper); it had altogether 52 pipes in 4 rows, with 13 pipes in each row. The way the hydra was operated is still the subject of debate, since, although its name in Latin indicates an organ operated by water, according to some it was operated by air instead.
The history of the instrument and the name of the collegium is known from the dedicatory inscription attached to the organ.
G(aius) IVL(ius) VIATORINVS
DEC(urio) COL(oniae) AQ(uinci) AEDI
LICIVS PRAEF(ectus) COLL(egii)
CENT(onariorum) HYDRAM COLL(egio)
S(upra) S(cripto) DE SUO D(onum)
D(edit) MODESTO ET PROBO CO(n)S(ulibus)
Gaius Julius Viatorinus, councillor of the colonia of Aquincum, former aedile, the commander of the association of textile-dealers, gave this organ to the aforementioned association at his own expense in the consulship of Modestus and Probus (AD 228).
In the mid-3rd century a fire ravaged the Civil Town, destroying, among others, the headquarters of the firemen. The organ fell into the basement beneath its place of storage and was buried by the collapsing debris. During foundation work for the Electricity Company’s converter station, the ruins of the hall were found and within it the remains of the organ. In 1931, the excavating archaeologist, Lajos Nagy, found nearly 400 intact and fragmentary pieces of the organ. During the Second World War, unfortunately numerous pieces were lost, and so barely 300 pieces remain.
Bibliography for the organ:
Gegus Ernő: Micro-spectrochemical analysis methods of ancient copper alloys and the organ of Aquincum. In: International Symposium Organ of Classical Antiquity. The Aquincum Organ A.D. 228. Musikwissenschaftliche Verlag, Kleinblittersdorf, 1997, 92-98.
Gegus, Ernő – Szonntagh, Eugene L.: Roman copper alloys and the Aquincum organ. In: International Symposium Organ of Classical Antiquity. The Aquincum Organ A.D. 228. Musikwissenschaftliche Verlag, Kleinblittersdorf, 1997, 79-83.
Kaba Melinda: Az aquincumi orgona. Osiris – Budapesti Történeti Múzeum, Budapest, 2001. (angol és német nyelvű összefoglalóval)
Minárovics János: Az aquincumi orgona újabb rekonstrukciója. III.ker. Óbuda-Békásmegyer helytörténeti füzetek II/1 (1997)
Minárovics János: Miért volt az aquincumi tűzoltóság orgonája víziorgona? BudRég 28 (1991) 261.
Nagy Lajos: Az aquincumi orgona. Budapest, 1933.
Perjés, Judit: Geschichte der Restaurierung der römerzeitlichen Orgel von Aquincum. In: International Symposium Organ of Classical Antiquity. The Aquincum Organ A.D. 228. Musikwissenschaftliche Verlag, Kleinblittersdorf, 1997, 119.
Szigeti, Kilián: Die ungelösten Probleme der römischen Orgel von Aquincum. Studia Musicologia 13 (1971) 1-13.
Szonntagh Jenő: Újabb adatok az aquincumi orgona légnyomásszabályozó szerkezetéhez. BudRég 28 (1991) 283-
Szonntagh, Eugene L.: The Roman Organ of Aquincum. – A Literature Source List – The American Organist 27 (1993) 52-54.
Walcker-Mayer, Werner: Die römische Orgel von Aquincum. Stuttgart, 1970.
Downloadable content: The sounds of the organ