Koudhounia History

Morphology and manufacture of bells…

The name bells is attributed to a wide variety of directly struck idiophone (any musical instrument that creates sound primarily by the instrument as a whole vibrating) percussion musical instruments. The bell is a hollow metallic object that produces sound when it is struck by the clapper inside it. In the case of the sleigh bell the clapper is replaced by a small ball bearing. The most sound-producing part of the bell, which gives the sound with the greatest intensity and clarity when hit by the clapper, is the area around the lip.

The bells made in Greece and used mainly in livestock, depending on their way of manufacturing and their materials, can be divided into two categories, the hammered and the cast bells.

Hammered bells, also simply just called bells, are the most popular type of bell we encounter more than any other in Greece, with many variations and names. A distinct type of hammered bell is the tsokani, with the shape of an isosceles trapezium, which does not produce sound at a specific tonal height. In Crete, hammered bells are called leria or sklaveria and are used in sheep and goats respectively. The leri has a width less than its height while the sklaveri has a width greater than its height.

The cast bells in Greece are the Kypria, the diplokoudhouna, the kambanelia and the sleigh bells. The word Kypros or Kyprokoudhouno or Kypri (derived from the Latin cyprium that means copper)  is one of the basic materials of manufacture. It has a height greater than its width and is made in various sizes and weights. The Kypros may have another smaller Kypros (the parakypros or parakoudhouno) for a clapper, and then it is called a double-Kypros. There are also triple Kypria, that is, Kypria with two smaller ones for clappers. Variations of the Kypros are:


  • The Plakeros Kypros or plakoula has a thinner waist and on its two bases is more ellipsoid.
  • The single Kypros or Monokypros or monokypri, whose little top base protrudes.
  • The Kypros, curved on the top and slightly outward shaped lip. It is mainly found in Epirus. This type of Kypros is called Kantila in Kozani and rambaouni or rambaouna in the Dodecanese.
  • The Kambaneli, with a convex tip, outward shaped lip and with its lower base being circular and not ellipsoid like the other variants of Kypros. The Sarakatsani name it
    Kambanitsa or Vlagari.


The sleigh bell is made in small sizes and is found all over Greece with various names. The sleigh bell, is small, spherical shaped and has an opening in the lower part that usually ends in two round holes. The sound is not produced by a clapper but by a small ball bearing located in the empty inner part of the sphere. A variation of the sleigh bell is the bell whose half part is a lower part with an opening leading to two small holes, while the upper half is a truncated pyramid tip.

Hammered bells are made of copper or pleated sheet metal. First, the metal sheet is cut according to a shape that varies depending on the size and type of the bell. The cut sheet then burns in the fire and is hammered on the anvil until it is convex and the bell body is formed. Then the two sides of the sheet are joined and a metallic loop on the bell’s crown is placed in which the hanger and the clapper are hung from its outer side. After taking this form, the bell is coated to protect it from rust and the iron clapper is placed inside the bell. Finally, the bell is tuned by the craftsman to the desired tonal height by striking its lips.

Cast bells are made of bronze and copper. Firstly, a mold of wet clean soil is made in two brass frames, the male for the inner part of the bell and the female for the outside. A bracket is placed in the center where the clapper is to be hung. When it is ​​prepared, it is filled with the metal alloy and allowed to cool down. Finally, the bell is treated with a file, its lip or surfaceis polished to be given the desired sound.


The bell in Greek livestock farming

The bells have been used in animals since ancient times until the present day. They were hanging on animals because they warded off evil and provided protection. Nowadays the hanging of the bells in the flocks of goats, sheep and other animals aids practically the shepherd during the animals’ grazing. The sound makes all the animals go together. Animals are familiar with the sound of the herd and are not separated from it. The shepherd knows at all times where his animals are and at what distance thanks to the bell sounds. He understands by the sound if his animals are grazing, resting, and drinking water or if something happened to them. But he knows even if there is a strange herd near him because, apart from the sound of his own herd, he knows how to recognize the sound of neighboring flocks. And if the flocks get tangled up, they know by their sound and are distinguished from one another. Also the sound of the bells accompanies the shepherd in the loneliness of the countryside, and gives him bliss. In the past the shepherds made their flutes and tuned them accordingly to match the sound of their flock.

The shepherds hang their bells in the spring when they leave the protected areas and take the road to the mountains for the summer. This process, the selection and matching of the bells in the herd, is called armatoma. In the autumn, when returning to the protected areas, they remove the most bells from the herd, and leave only a few on leading animals.
Depending on the animal they hang the appropriate bell. On sheep they hang mainly hammered bells, the sound of which is distinctive and not brash as it is in the Kypri. The sheep is a calmer animal than the goat and grazes on low ground. On the contrary, the goats are usually packed with Kypria, their sound is brasher and longer. Because goats are animals that are wilder and agile, they climb on rocks, scatter and get easily lost. Also goats are mainly fed with leaves and branches, and the intense movement of their heads while grazing makes the Kypri sound loud. Sometimes herders also hang tsokania on goats. In Crete, they hang Leria on goats and Sklaveria on sheep, which are both types of hammered bells.

In addition to goats and sheep, the bells are also used in other animals. Tsokania are hang on cows. Kambanitses, Kambanelia and the Plakera hang on horses, mares, mules and donkeys. The sleigh bell is hung on hunting dogs, sheepdogs, horses and mules.

The selection of bells for the herd depends on the taste of the shepherd, as well as his economic situation. The bells, which with his taste will choose and match, will shape the unique sound of his flock.
Initially, four and more large and heavy bass voice bells are selected, which are hung on the rams or the goats that lead the flock. This is the basic gear.

The bells are then selected for the other animals that make up the lot of the herd. The number of other animals that will be geared up may be half the flock, a third or even less. This depends on the taste of the shepherd but also on the size of the herd, the soil and the flora that the pasture has. In areas with steep changes of the ground and dense flora, the shepherd is forced to gear up half of his animals in order to control and not lose them. The bells are usually chosen to sound the same as the basic bells but one or two or more octaves higher. Various types of bells are also often selected so that they give a distinctive character to the identity of the herd.


Bell and spirituality

The bell has been used since antiquity in China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and other ancient civilizations of the East. Probably its use was based on the metaphysical qualities that are still attributed to bells by various religions today.

In Greece since antiquity the bell was used for its preventive property. It was believed that its sound was driving the evil spirits away and protected the area. Initially bells were hung on animals to protect them from evil. In the old days, the shepherds hung outside their cabins bells to sound with the blow of the air. The sound in the cold nights of winter kept away the demons and the goblins and forebode the coming of spring.
The magical and preventive use of the bell has survived up to now, in practices of the Orthodox Church, as well as in popular worship rites.

In the censer of the Orthodox Eastern Church twelve spherical bells are hung, symbolizing the twelve Apostles. Spherical bells are also hung on another kind of censer with a handle, the katsi, still used in the monasteries of Meteora and Mount Athos. Silver or golden spherical bells also have the ecclesiastic pouches, the garments of the upper Orthodox priesthood, and other worshiping vessels. Little bells were hung over the past years to those who were on oath to a saint. This bell was hanging on them during the time the oath was in effect.

The use of bells also takes place in the Anastenaria of Saint Helen, a worship custom with ceremonial animal sacrifice, ecstasy of participants and walking on fire taking place in villages of Macedonia. The Anastenarides during their ecstatic dance on the fire, keep images on which small sleigh bells are hung with gold or silver offerings.

In the traditional Kalogeros fertility custom which takes place in Macedonian villages on the Monday of Tirinis, the protagonist Kalogeros hangs on his waist three or four bells (hammered bells or Kypria or more rarely Tsokania) and a series of spherical bells in his body. The bells on the waist of Kalogeros are matched at the tonal heights of the flock’s bells.

Similar to Kalogeros, ceremonial events take place in many places, mainly in northern Greece, and are called Carnivals. They take place during the Twelve Days of Christmas or during the last week of the carnival. It is the continuation of the ancient Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine festivals of the Kalandes that were held for a good year in general, fertility and well-being. A common in all variations of the custom are the animal disguises of the participants and the hanging of bells on the costumes. The custom of Carnival happens, among other places, in Monastiraki of Drama, Xiropotamos of Drama, Soho of Langadas, Kali Vrisi of Drama, Nikissiani of Pangeo of Kavala, Volaka of Drama, Xino Nero of Florina, NeaVolvi, Elassonas Forest, Agiasos of Mytilene, Mega Palama of Karditsa (Rogatsia), Gonoussa of Korinthia (Karagiozis Wedding), Agios Panteleimonas of Florinas, Variko of Florinas, Mavrohori of Kastoria, Ptolemaida Emporio.
In Skyros, the most impressive custom of the Carnival is distinguished by the quantity of bells hanging in the middle of the protagonist of the play, the Geros (Old Man). The bells are of various types, like hammered bells of various sizes and Kypria.Their number can be over fifty.

Finally, the bell as a bell of the church, calls the believers into mass, announces a natural disaster or death.