This is a development of the Persian santur that came to many European countries in the 11th century, becoming popular from the 17th to 19th centuries. It is a trapeze shaped soundboard with 20 to 35 courses of strings, which are struck with two wooden hammers. In English-speaking countries it is known as the dulcimer from dulce melos, Greek for sweet sound and in Germanic areas, it is called Hackbrett meaning chopping board or chopping block. In Romania it is know as ţambal, similar to the Hungarian cymbalom and Ukrainian tsymbaly
Records show the existence of the ţambal in 16th century in Romania, but it did not become popular until much later when it was taken up by the lăutari (gypsy musicians). During the late 19th century it was observed in several areas of Muntenia and by the end of the century was quite widespread, taking over from the cobza. The gypsy instrument, which can be played hung from the shoulders by straps, spread into the villages by the 20th century. The accompaniment formulae are relatively few and are generally rhythmical in Wallachia and Muntenia, and harmonic (arpeggios etc.) in Transylvania and Banat.
The tsambaly was probably introduced into the Ukraine by wandering Gypsy and Jewish musicians. The earliest mention of the Ukrainian tsymbaly dates back to the 17th century. The Romanian Gypsies introduced the instrument into Greece in the 20th century where it is known as the Santouri.
In Hungary, only a few peasant musicians were still playing the small cimbalom by the 20th century, although gypsy orchestras used the large concert cimbalom. This "Hungarian" concert cymbalom, was developed by Schunda in the 1870s. It stands on four legs and has many more strings providing an extra octave of range and a damping pedal like a piano. This has become essential in the Romanian town lăutari orchestras and is know as the ţambal mare with the older version now known as the ţambal mic.
Alexandru, T (1980), Romanian folk music, Musical publishing house, Bucharest