The Frestel
by Douglas Bishop

   The pan flute form known in France as the frestel (Latin = fistula panis) was unique to that particular region of western Europe, in that it was apparently a well-known instrument, appearing in art and sculpture throughout medieval France, at a time when evidence of other pan flute forms in western Europe was relatively rare. The archaeological evidence suggests one of the likely predecessor to the frestel, the syrinx (known as the auenis to the Romans) was introduced into France by the Romans, who knew the region as Gaul. Initially, the frestel retained a syrinx-like appearance in southern France, due to the abundance of reeds in that region, and possibly due to the probable contact of the people of ancient southern France with the syrinx (likely first brought to the region Greek traders). However, evidence of a wood-block design in Roman-occupied territory began to appear as early as the 1st century C.E. A thousand years later, the Viking colonization of Normandy (northwestern France) in 911 C.E. brought the Vikings into contact with the wood-block design. Viking pan flutes from the 10th century C.E. bear a striking resemblance to the recently discovered 1st century C.E. artifact: