The term Tanbur, Tanbūr, Tanbura, Tambur, Tambura or Tanboor (Persian: تنبور) can refer to various long-necked, string instrument originating in the Southern or Central Asia (Mesopotamia and Persia/Iran). According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "terminology presents a complicated situation. Nowadays the term tanbur (or tambur) is applied to a variety of distinct and related long-necked string instruments used in art and folk traditions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikestan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. Similar or identical instruments are also known by other terms."
One study has identified the name "tanbūr" as being derived from pandur, a Sumerian term for long-necked lutes. Tanburs have been present in Mesopotamia since the Akkadian era, or the third millennium BCE.
Three figurines have been found in Susa that belong to 1500 BCE, and in hands of one of them is a tanbur-like instrument. Also an image on the rocks near Mosul that belong to about 1000 BCE shows tanbur players.
Playing tanbur was common at least in late Parthian era and all Sassanid period, because the word 'tanbur' is used in middle Persian and Parthian language texts for instinc in Drakht-i Asurig, Bundahishn, Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan, and Khosrow and Ridag.[note 1]
In the tenth century CE Al-Farabi described two types of tanburs found in Persia, a Baghdad tunbūr, distributed south and west of Baghdad, and a Khorasan tunbūr. This distinction may be the source of modern differentiation between Arabic instruments, derived from the Baghdad tunbūr, and those found in northern Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sindh and Turkey, from the Khorasan tunbūr.
The Persian name spread widely, eventually taking in Long-necked string instruments used in Central Asian music such as the Dombura and the classical Turkish tambur as well as the Kurdish tembûr. Until the early twentieth century, the names chambar and jumbush were applied to instruments in northern Iraq. In India the name was applied to the tanpura (tambura), a fretless drone lute. Tanbur traveled through Al-Hirah to the Arabian Peninsula and in the early Islam period went to the Europian countries. Tanbur was called 'tunbur' or 'tunbureh/tunbura' in Al-Hirah, and in Greek it was named tambouras, then went to albania as tampura, in Russia it was named domra, in Siberia and Mongolia as dombra, and in Byzantine Empire was named pandura/bandura. It travelled through Byzantine Empire to other Europian countries and was called pandura, mandura, bandura, etc.
Later the Iranian (Kurdish) tanbur became associated with the music of the Ahl-e Haqq, a primarily Kurdish ghulat religious movement similar to a Sufi order, in Kurdish areas and in the Lorestān and Sistan va Baluchestan provinces of Iran, where it is called the 'tembûr'.