Published in Piping Times
By Frank J. Timoney
In Italy today, there is a most strange and staggering tradition among players of the Italian Bagpipe (a very small group indeed) that the Celtic
tribes in England worshipped the bagpipe! The legend says that Caesar, during the conquest of Britain, in an effort to keep the Roman casualties to a minimum, decided to
ambush the Celtic forces and frighten the forces of their mounted troops. He did this by gathering together all of the players of the UTRICULARIS and caused them to lay in
concealment, and at the pre-arranged signal, all of the pipers played at once. The Celtic horses bolted, threw their riders and the Roman Army rushed in and annihilated the
force. When the Britons understood the cause of their defeat, they immediately considered the bagpipe an instrument of divine nature with magical qualities. For this reason,
they were lured by its sound to the point of idolizing and worshipping it to conquer its magic. After some time, the British copied the Roman instrument. This traditional
tale was published in M. Gioiellis' "LE ZAMPOGNE DI GIULIO CASARE" in a magazine called "MONDO MOLISE".
I have been assured that all Italian pipers and pipe makers know this legend and have passed it down all through the centuries. Now before you laugh, as I did, keep in
mind that the Italian players are mainly shepherds, living in rural areas, some illiterate, without any piping societies, and probably not in contact with players of other
forms of bagpipes, especially the Great Highland Bagpipe. The ledge certainly predates the Gloster Altar find! So we can readily see that the bagpipe in England is certainly
the oldest in the British Isles.
I had come across the same legend some years ago in the journal of the Italian Bagpipers' Society of Rome. In the December 1970 issue of the Piping Times there was a reprint
of an article called "Syrinx and Bagpipe" by Francis Collinson, which he had published earlier in "Antiquity" magazine.
In the "Antiquity" article, Collinson mentions an archaeological find in Gloucester, England, of a small altar, ca. 2nd century AD depicting a figure playing an early
type of bagpipe. It's a clear indication that the Britons really did worship the instrument.
Collinson identified the figure with the Roman god Atys which hitherto was never depicted as a piper.
There was a recent article that reminded us of Collinson's statement in his book on the bagpipe, that there was no evidence of the instrument either in writings, carvings
or archaeological remains in Britain. Obviously, Collinson proved himself wrong in his later "Antiquity" article. England became quite the centre of the piping world after
the legions left in the fourth or fifth century AD. Indeed the bagpipe there flourished in Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire which produced noted pipers. Areas
such as Cornwall, Northumberland, Lancashire and Lincolnshire produced their own types of bagpipe.
Strong evidence seems to indicate that the Irish got the instrument from invading Anglo Norman armies. It is first mentioned in Ireland some fifty years afterwards. Among
the Normans, it has the same sort of development as in England. France produced at least seven varieties of bagpipe. In common use for dancing and all festive occasions,
and employed at church services and religious ceremonies, it became a fashionable instrument at the courts of both countries by the eleventh century.
The bagpipe in Scotland is probably as old as that found in England. Its playing must have been noted by those who tried breach Hadrian's Wall in all their blue finery.
It must have worked its way up by the time of the Normans who also had lands in Scotland. Certainly the bellows are to be of continental origin.
When I first heard the legend, I immediately got my copies of "Notices of Pipers," which was published in many issues of the Piping Times. The "Notices" were compiled
by Lieutenant John MacLennan and revised and added to by Major I.H. MacKay Scobie and Archibald Campbell of Kilberry. Scobie was a fanatic on anything Scottish. As curator
of the Scottish National Naval and Military Museum, he altered many old engravings by adding in items he thought the original artists had left out!
They mentioned all kinds of ancient people who supposedly wrote of the bagpipe in olden times. Prudentius, Seneca, Virgil, Martial, Aulus Gellius and, in particular, Quintilianus
Aristides who purportedly refers to the bagpipe in Scotland ca AD 100, and Procopius who supposedly refers to the pipe bands in Britain ca 6th century AD. I consulted the
Loeb Classical Library and after going through some 100 volumes found that Procopius never got to the British Isles, never mentioned the bagpipe and that Quintilianus Aristides
never mentioned Scotland or the bagpipe!
Knowing Kilberry's credentials to be spotless, I was stymied as to where the "Notices" drew its misinformation from.
Then I remembered Dr. Grattan Flood of Dublin. He produced a totally worthless "History" of the bagpipe around 1911 and he fanatically endeavoured to give Ireland a historical
claim to the premiership of the bagpipe, which it never had. Fortunately, Kilberry and Scobie saw through it and their "notices" on Flood reflect a warning that he was prejudiced
to the Highland pipe. However, Flood listed the same ancient world characters that are in the "Notices" and it at once becomes apparent that Kilberry and Scobie copied him,
never realizing that here too, Flood was fabricating. It is my guess that this part of the "Notices" was left to Scobie, as Kilberry was fully involved with the publication
of his book on piobaireachd at that point in time. This is why I feel that the "Notices" are not to be relied upon prior to 1800.
Flood's book gave an important push to the fledgling Irish pipe industry. This had only started around 1900 when Henry Starck, who had been a partner of William Ross,
piper to HM Queen Vistoria, went around to all the Irish infantry regiments and convinced the younger Anglo Irish officers to adopt the bagpipe which Irish regiments never
had. "Pipers" were easily obtained by draughts from the regimental flute bands, fingertips and all!
Starck even introduced the "Brien Boru War Pipe" to two regiments. The rest chose castrated Highland pipes. There was a great outcry from the older officers on the loss
of the old flute bands and an even greater outcry as the kilt began to be issued in these regiments. It was stated in many regiments that it was nothing more than aping the
Thankfully, Starck's abortion never came to much. Although invented by others, the pipers who had to play them never thought much of the sham. "The man who invented these
hated pipes" was the overall sentiment by all, except of course, the young officers.
But Grattan Flood lived on. The Irish clung to his absurdities with desperate tenacity. Until this day he is quoted by all remaining Irish regiments and sadly even in
Scotland. As time went on, others added to his misclaims. In 1923, "A Short History of the Bagpipes" was published in the "Faug a Ballagh," a regimental publication of the
Royal Irish Fusiliers. This was submitted by the sergeants' mess and was nothing more than a quoting of Grattan Flood, who supposedly helped with the article.
Concerning Martial, the Roman general, it was claimed, "he 'described' the bagpipe in his Epigrams, Book 10, as consisting of a blowpipe, bag, single drone and chanter"
but all Martial said was, "Et concupiscat esse Canus ascaules?" (And Canus longs to be a bagpipe-player?) But Flood will live on because rumour has it that someone with little
to do is about to reprint it. Perhaps it will also have a new preface by a World's Greatest Piper.
To Cicero we will leave the last words; "Ubiam suas Gentis?"
Published in Piping Times
In Response to Readers' Questions Regarding "Caesar's Bagpipes"
The book, "The Bagpipe," by Francis Collinson must be taken with a grain of salt (as well "The International Piper" magazine.) Collinson was correct in some things and
not correct in other things. He had cause to retract his statement that there was "no evidence of the bagpipe either I writings, carvings or archaeological remains in Britain."
This he did in an article called "Syrinx and Bagpipe" in the magazine "Antiquity" in early 1970. In 1961, during excavations in Gloster, England, a small Roman altar was
found, circa 2nd century AD which showed a figure playing what appears to be a bagpipe. It was identified as the Roman god ATYS holding in his right hand, individual pipes
and in the crook of his left arm, what appears to be a bag.
EARLY GREEK AND EGYPTIAN SOURCES
There is a striking resemblance in this carving to a Hellenistic figuring, circa 300-100 BC, from Alexandria Egypt, showing a street musician
with a bagpipe drone and bag under the left arm. This, Collinson said, "is basically accepted as the earliest unassailable representation of the application of the bag principle
to the blowing of a musical pipe." Subsequently, the Cairo Museum announced they had no less then three (3) similar figurines all playing a bagpipe, clothed in the same manner
and assigned them to the last century BC during the reigns of Ptolemy VII, Ptolemy IX, and Ptolemy X.
A Greek or Roman engraving, on a gem, of the same period, shows the bagpipe as a fully developed instrument in its own right with two chanters, a drone, a blowpipe and
a bag all hanging from a tree. (This formed the cover of the December 1970 issue of The Piping Times which also reprinted the entire "Antiquity" article.)
There is also a small bronze figure of a Roman soldier playing the Tibia Utricularis discovered in the foundations of the Praetorian camp at Richborough
(see figure 3).
The first to mention the bagpipe in literature was CHRYSOSTOMOS, a Greek classical writer who, in about 100 AD, refers to a mouth blown bagpipe when he writes of a man
who could play the pipe with his mouth on a bag placed under the armpit. This is very similar to the Hellinistic figurines mentioned previously.
The second to mention the bagpipe was the Roman General MARTIAL, in about 93 AD, in his "EPIGRAMS #10," wherein her refers to his friend Canus who desired to be a bagpipe
player. Also another Roman, by the name of Suetonius, who in the 2nd century AD reminded us that the Emperor Nero played the TIBA UTRICULARIS.
The word "sumphonia" is not Hebrew, but Greek. There is no ancient Hebrew word for bagpipe. The Old Testament references musical instruments, that are today translated
as "piper," "piped," "pipes," meaning any kind of reed instrument. The Book of Daniel was in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Francis Collinson reminds us that the Hebrew word a pipe
was "chalil" (the one who praises God). This was a pipe without bag and our words hail and hallelujah come from it. The Chalosan Sculptures do not show as bag pipe. They
show a simple reed pipe and these are the type of reeds that are found in Egyptian mummy cases.
THE APPEARANCE OF DRONES
The statement that the drone did not make an appearance until circa 1200 AD is indeed bewildering. All ancient music had a drone accompaniment. At first as a divergent
mouth blown pipe and then spreading to choral music. The ancient Greek chant is an effort to copy this sound. Indeed it is felt that the desire for a drone or better drone
accompaniment led to the adoption of a bag in the first place. The previously mentioned Hellenistic figurines confirm this development.
Further, the statement that the "bagpipe was virtually unknown in Europe in the tenth century" is confusing and contradictory to known facts. What Doctor Cannon meant
was that the felt somewhere along the line, the bagpipe was forgotten about and "re-invented about 1100 AD". He gave no source for his statement and personally I don't agree
BAGPIPES IN THE MIDDLE AGES IN BRITAIN AND FRANCE
Getting back to England, the Roman legions were re-called in approximately the fourth century AD. The legionaries had began long prior to take British wives and actively
recruit native Britons in areas where they were stationed. Once of the prerequisites was the complete adoption of Roman ways by these wild Britons (Army Orders). Ere long,
these legions became all British in makeup, often times father and sons serving together. The bagpipe flourished and areas like Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire
began to produce noted pipers while areas such as Cornwall, Northumberland, Lancashire and Lincolnshire produced their own types of bagpipes.
In Gaul, it was more or less the same story. By the time that William the Bastard (1066) invaded England, both England and France were well familiar with the mouth blown
bagpipe. France produced at least seven variations of the bagpipe. It was in common use for dancing and all festive occasions. Employed at church services and religious ceremonies,
it became a fashionable instrument at the courts of both countries.
In England, where it seemed to remain a loud and penetrating instrument, it was used in the field to lighten the labours of road building and sheep sheering with definite
and separate tunes for each function. There is an 11th century Anglo Saxon riddle for which the bagpipe seems to be the only answer. There is also a gravestone carving of
the 12th or 13th century in Northumberland at Ford Church which is known as the "piper's stone." The oldest existing fragments of a bagpipe in the British Isles were discovered
in Weoley Castle in Warwickshire and are dated from the late 13th century. Chaucer shows his miller playing a bagpipe with a drone approximately the size of today's Highland
The MURTHLY HOURS MS. (ca 1310) has an illustration of the English Bagpipe. The Exchequer Rolls from 1362 and 1377 AD mentions payment made
to English pipers by the Treasury of the Realm. Another illustration is in the Gorleston Psalter of 1306 showing a large base drone.
The first pictorial representation of the Irish pipe is in 1578, where "The Image of Ireland" shows a two-drone mouth blown pipe, with the bell
shaped terminals which are exactly like the English and French pipes. The bag of this pipe was held more in the front of the body as evidenced in Flemish and French paintings
of the same period. The very long chanter is interesting in that it seems to be a double chanter, the very image of one found carved on a 16th century bench-end at a church
in Altarnun, Cornwall which depicted a Cornish piper.
Concerning the woodcutting of 1514, "Der Dudelsackpfeifer," by Albrecht Durer, the only person who claimed this to be an Irish Piper was C.A. Malcolm in "The Piper in
Peace and War." However, he never gave his source of information and so this is regarded as a spirited guess on his part. The subject seems to be dressed in a Flemish or
Germanic costume. At any rate, Henry's Irish Kerne arrived in France in 1544, some years after Durer's work.
There are strange similarities which exist today in Irish music with an older type of English music. For instance, tunes in the double tonic (made in two sections of similar
shape but placed one tone apart so that they give the flavour of two different keys) are common in Irish and Scottish music and also in older, Northern English tunes. Jigs
in 9/8th time, called "slip jigs" in Ireland today, were much older hornpipes in England. They also have a long history as bagpipe tunes in England where it is noticeable
that many of them seem to be versions of the same basic tune and many of them are also connected with songs about weddings, usually of a baudy nature. One can unfortunately
only wonder if Roman music had this double tonic or something similar to it.
Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald de Barrie) visited Ireland in 1185 and never mentioned the bagpipe in use by the Irish or its construction. "Ireland uses and takes delight
in two instruments, the Cythara and the Tympanum." It is likely that the Cythara was meant to be a Harp, almost certainly the triangular framed harp which the Irish had brought
back from their incursions into Pictland. The Tympanum meant the Tiompain or Lyre. To Scotland, which he never visited, Cambrensis attributes the Cythara, Tympanum and Chorus.
To Wales (he was of mixed Norman and Welsh descent) he attributes the Cythara, Tibia and Chorus.
The high medieval name for the bagpipe, on the continent, was chorus, or chevrette and since Cambrensis was educated in France, we may assume that he alludes to a simple
softer bagpipe of chanter and blowpipe as shown in a ninth century manuscript at St. Blaise Cathedral, in France.
The Roman legions had left France some seven centuries prior to this time, and it is indeed interesting to see their name of the instrument, Tibia, still in use. It probably
alludes to a much louder droned bagpipe, the kind used in England to lighten the burdens of field and road gangs. The term for a whistle or flute was Tibiae.
EARLY SCOTTISH SOURCES
The bagpipe in Scotland is probably as old as that found in England, since the Normans also had lands in Scotland. It was obviously studied by those who tried to breach
Hadrian's Wall in all of their blue finery. The Melrose Abbey carvings seem to collaborate the Cambrensis claim. The trouble with the Melrose Abbey source is that the bagpipes
depicted show Flemish and French influence, no doubt carved by the many Flemish and French artisans who labored on the church. The big question is when did the bagpipe appear
in the Highlands of Scotland and what kind of music did it supplant. We know that the Highland people also played the mouth blown bag-less divergent pipes, brought into Pictland
by invading Irish forces. It's shown on St. Martin's Cross in Skye, ca 1750. There was clearly a form of "pipe music" existing prior to the introduction of the bagpipe into
the Gaelic speaking area of Scotland.
Some feel that Cambrensis' use of the word Scots was a clear reference to the Gaelic speaking inhabitants of the country. However, since he never visited Scotland and
relied on third party information, we shall never know. The entirety of Scotland in the 12th century was Scots or Gaelic everywhere but for Lothian and the areas under Norse
control. Or did Cambrensis mean Scots as a geographic location as opposed to one of an ethnic background?
The earliest representation of the triple pipe is on St. Martin's Cross at Iona, circa 750 and is represented as two chanters and a drone similar to the Launeddas of Sardinia.
The earliest reference to a piper in a Scottish Gaelic source is in the book of the Dean of Lismore, ca 1513. The Campbell writs for Craignish of 1528 provide the next
reference. Interestingly, a piper is listed as a witness to this document, which indicates some degree of status in the social hierarchy at this point. The next reference
is in 1541 again listing the piper as a witness to William MacLeod of Dunvegan. There is an ever increasing number of references to Highland pipers from the middle of the
16th century. It has often been deviously and derisively remarked by "pundits" that the Highland Scots got the bagpipe last of all. However, it is with the reference of 1548
to a "John m'Convil that was Ye Lord Kintailes Piper," that we have the rest of the pack, for the Highland Piper had what no other piper had by 1548, PATRONAGE!
SCOTTISH MODERN DEVELOPMENT
Piping became to be patronized by the Highland chiefs. The art was subsidized not by any bureaucracy but by the individual with the most power and wealth to do so. It
was in this era that piping flourished, not in Scotland but Alba, an entirely separate country until 1746. From this flourishing, another unique development arose only in
this area: The tradition of piping families who would develop the music and the instrument. These families and their pupils in turn gave a final unique development in a unified
Scotland, the class of professional piper. The Great Pipe of the remote Highland Clansman became destined to be known the world over for its high degree of music, vastly
superior to all other forms of bagpipe music.
Piobaireachd, the highest form of pipe music, became the classical music of Scotland and her highest contribution to the music world, is entirely a Highland development.
The late arrival of bagpipers in Gaelic society (both Ireland and Scotland) points out that pipers did not belong to the three important professions in those societies,
harpers, scribes and poets, but that it was only in the Highlands, when the old order collapsed, that pipers attained the high status they eventually held.