Further back, around 15,000 - 8,000 BC, single stringed instruments have been
seen in cave paintings. They were bowed, struck and plucked.
From these, the families of instruments developed. Single strings were long and gave a single melody line. To shorten the scale length. other strings were added with a different tension so one string took over
where another left off. In turn, this led to diads and chords.
The bowed family became the rabob, rebec and then the fiddle becoming the violin and modern family by 1520 (incidentally also in Naples).
The plucked family led to lute-like instruments in 2000 BC Mesopotamia, and developed into the Oud or Ud before appearing in Spain in 711 courtesy of the Moors.
Over the next centuries, frets were added and the strings doubled to courses
leading to the first Lute appearing in the 13th Century.
The history of the Lute and the Mandolin are intertwined from this point.
The Lute gained a 5th course by the 15th century, a 6th a century later and up to 13 courses in its heyday. As early as the 14th century a miniature Lute or Mandora appeared.
Similar to the mandola, it had counterparts in Arab countries (Dambura) and Assyria (Pandura).
From this, the Mandolino (a small gut strung Mandola with 6 strings tuned g b e' a' d'' g'' sometimes called the Baroque Mandolin and played with a quill, wooden plectrum or finger-style) was developed in several places in Italy but seems to have became known as the Mandolin in early 18th century (around 1735) Naples.
The 'modern' often termed Neapolitan mandolin (bowl-back, 4 course paired metal strings) appeared about 100 years later in around 1830.
The style was adopted and developed by others, notably in Rome giving two distinct but similar types of mandolin - Neapolitan and Roman. many of the best players chose the Roman made mandolins. The development of the Mandolino in Rome seems to have followed a slightly different course from that in Naples with many innovations of the Mandolina and later the Mandolin.
Classic 'modern' mandolins were made by the Vinaccia family (mid-1700s
onwards) in direct continuance from their mandolinos and Calace (1863 - onwards)
in Naples and Luigi Embergher (1856 - 1943), Ferrari family (1716 - onwards also
originally mandolino makers) and De Santi (1834 - 1916) in Rome.
It is widely accepted that the evolution of the mandolin to the modern style is attributed to the Vinaccia family.
Mandolins became very popular and many lower grades were produced so that
tourists (on the Grand Tour) could take home a mandolin.
Often these were only fit to hang on walls as souvenirs and were brought back in their thousands.
Some are playable but none match the workmanship and playability of the great makers.