1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sistrum

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SISTRUM (Gr. σεῖστρον, Ger. Rappel), an ancient Egyptian instrument of percussion of indefinite musical pitch, a kind of metal rattle. The sistrum consists of a metal frame in the shape of an egg, fastened to a handle, frequently surmounted by a grotesque head or by a figure of the sacred lioness Sekhet. The frame is crossed by four metal horizontal rods passing through holes large enough to allow them to rattle when the sistrum is shaken, the rods being prevented from slipping out altogether by little metal stops in the shape of a leaf; sometimes metal rings are threaded over the rods to increase the jingling. The sistrum is played also by beating it with a metal stick. This ancient instrument was extensively used by the priests in the temple of Isis to attract the attention of worshippers to different parts of the ritual. The Egyptians attributed to it, as well as to the tambourine, the power of dispersing and terrifying evil spirits and more especially the Typhon. Queen Cleopatra[1] made use of a large number of sistra at the battle of Actium (31 B.C.), and accordingly the instrument was satirically called Queen Cleopatra's war trumpet.

(K. S.)

  1. Virgil, Aen. viii. 696; Lucan x. 63; Ovid, Am. ii. 13. 11; Mart xiv. 54.