Type: Chordophone > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Great Britain.
Region: Western Europe.
Description: The citole was a stringed musical instrument, closely associated with medieval fiddles [viols, vielle & gigue] it was commonly used from 1200–1350. It was known by other names in various languages: cedra, cetera, cetola, cetula, cistola, citola, citula, citera, chytara, cistole, cithar, cuitole, cythera, cythol, cytiole, cytolys, gytolle, sitole, sytholle, sytole and zitol.
History: Analogous to the modern guitar the citole had wooden or tied friends on the neck to achieve different notes arranged to a scale from nut to bridge. The citole was picked by a plectrum likely made from ivory or wood. Although it was largely out of use by the late 14th century, the Italians “re-introduced it in modified form” in the 16th century as the cetra [cittern in English], and it may have influenced the development of the guitar as well.
It was also a pioneering stringed instrument in England, introducing the populace to necked, plucked instruments, giving people the concepts needed to quickly switch to the newly arriving lutes and gitterns. Two possible descendant instrument are the Portuguese guitar and the Corsican Cetera, both types of cittern. It is known today mainly from art and literary sources.
Early examples include Provençal poetry [there called the citola] from the 12th Century; however it was more widely displayed in medieval artwork during the 13th and 14th Centuries in manuscript miniatures and in sculpture. The art did not show uniformly shaped instrument, but instead an instrument with numerous variations.
The variety shown in art has led the instrument to be called “ambiguous”. From the artwork, scholars know that it was generally a four-string instrument, and could have anything from a “holly-leaf” to a rounded guitar shaped body [that can be called a “T-shaped” body]. While paintings and sculpture exist, only one instrument has survived the centuries.