The Concise History of the Bagpipe
The Concise History of the Bagpipe in Ireland
Rome and the Ancient World

Before opening even a small window on the ancient world, we must first appreciate some basic facts about the instruments of that world. To begin, let us look at the flute.

The flute does not appear in Grecian or Roman art until very late in recorded history. Pre Christian Greek and Roman artists show no usage of the flute; the presumption therefore is that it did not exist in the more ancient days of these cultures. It has been dated to no earlier than the second century B.C. The double pipes of antiquity have been mistranslated in editions of the Greek classics as "flutes" or "double flutes". For countless generations, classical scholars have given a completely false picture glaringly apparent in their translations of Thucydides, Aristotle and others. Every translator of the Latin and Greek classics has misleadingly translated the Greek word aulos and the Latin tibia as flutes. Both in fact mean musical pipes sounded by a reed.

Reeded pipes were in use for nearly three thousand years before the bag principle was applied and Proclus advises that at least three overtones could be produced from each hole of the mouth blown pipe. The art of playing these overtones had been mastered over a period of thousands of years. Aristoxenus stated that the compass of Greek and Roman pipes was two octaves and a fifth. The reproduction of the Lady Maket's pipes, ca.1160 B.C. produced an instrument capable of going into three octaves. The introduction of the bag too many traditional players trained to master harmonic overtones must have seemed a backward step. Once the bag was introduced, these overtones were incapable of being sounded. The bag drastically curtailed the compass of the double pipes and ended forever the art of ancient piping. The instrument lost its ancient art form and became available to anyone, even the humble peasant. The bag did not constitute a new instrument, merely an addition to an existing one although with its use, grace notes had to be invented to separate notes. However, these in turn gave birth to a new art form.

Perhaps the bag had to be invented to avoid cheek distortion, like the "reproach of Athena". Ancient religious devotion required continuous musical accompaniment and the ancients developed nasal inhalation to give a continuous sound. Dio Chrystom refers to the piper's avoidance of the "reproach of Athena", a distortion of the face by puffing out the cheeks so they could be used as an air reservoir, an age-old contortion. (Many older Scottish pipers used this technique when playing a practice chanter.) Detailed descriptions of the cheek distortion problem ensuing from nasal inhalation have come down to us from Greek and Roman literature. Some pipers felt that the distortion of the face was too unattractive and ugly, causing students to break their instruments giving up playing. Apparently, it caused permanent disfigurement which must have been an easily recognisable means of identifying a piper.

To support the cheeks, the Greeks invented the phorbeia, a device to ensure a steady pressure in the cheeks and alleviate strain.
Figure 1

To support the cheeks, the Greeks invented the phorbeia, a device to ensure a steady pressure in the cheeks and alleviate strain (see figure 1). A band of leather, which passed across the mouth and round the cheeks, was fastened at the back of the head it was pierced at the front with two holes to allow the mouthpieces of the two pipes to pass through, into the mouth of the piper. The Romans called their model the capistrum for use on their more powerful pipe. An additional purpose of the bag was to hold the pipes in place and prevent them from dropping from the mouth. We know from vase depictions that when all the fingers were raised, there was nothing to hold the pipes, which were resting on the thumb only.

If we think about the importance of the cheeks and the art of nasal inhalation, we may appreciate that the mouth was a bag after all. We know that the bag was implemented in Egypt during the first century B.C, a hundred and fifty years before appearing in Rome, during the mid first century A.D. and Egypt then belonged to Rome.

The Greeks introduced various improvements in the pipes that came to them from Egypt. Cane reeds replaced those of straw and wood replaced the cane pipes themselves. Their use of sycamore and boxwood pipes indicated stronger reeds and greater volume of sound. They introduced a vent or a speaker hole, which enabled the production of harmonic overtones. Finger holes were increased to as many as eleven, which were covered by moveable rings and stops. These enabled the same set of pipes to be played in different modes or keys. Vase decorations from 600 B.C. show that before the invention of the movable rings, it was customary to carry several sets of pipes for various keys, slung over the shoulder in a type of quiver. These vase decorations show how the pipes were held and how the fingers were placed. The Greeks added a second and third tube to their pipes which lengthening a pipe, provided a lower pitch. They even fitted a hollow pear shaped bulb or bell into the top end of a pipe which added further to the depth of the pitch.

The first to march to the reed pipes were the Lacedaemonians or Spartans. They were the first to use a drum with the pipes and the first to have massed pipers playing the same tune and it seems the first to match their pipes to reduce discordance. Thucydides advises that 'they advance slowly to the music of many pipe players which were stationed at regular intervals throughout the ranks, marching together rhythmically, that their ranks might not be broken.' Aristotle advises that 'it was their custom of entering battle to the music of pipe players which was adopted in order to make the fearlessness and ardour of the soldiers more evident'. This achieved a strict rhythmical advance. Plutarch advises that the 'Spartans marched when going into battle, the pipers playing the tune called 'The Hymn of Castor", marching on to the tune of their pipers without any disorder in their ranks, moving with the music'. Imagine a body of men, three thousand massed infantry advancing in step in utter silence. Silence must have been enforced, because otherwise, the tune would have been lost. A rhythmical advance would not have been possible. The pipers would need silence also to concentrate on the unison of playing that one tune. Matched tuning would also be necessary to reduce cacophony and eliminate every chance of disorder and broken ranks. Would it be wrong to conclude that the Greeks wrote the book regarding pipe bands? It is time to look at the real ancient world.

The history of the reed pipe goes back over a vast period in time to the third millennium B.C. Pipers played on reed sounded pipes and not flutes, and these stretch back unbroken for five thousand years. The earliest specimens of the reed sounded pipe have been found in Babylonia and ancient Egypt. Pipes excavated in the tombs of Egypt had actual reeds of straw, some with uncut straws beside them for their replacement. Straw reeds have been found in position in the pipes and protective cases also found with spare straws for cutting into reeds. Reeds found in the pipes have been identified as barley straw.

The earliest known specimens of reed pipes and the earliest depictions of them are all of the double pipe.
Figure 2

The earliest known specimens of reed pipes and the earliest depictions of them are all of the double pipe (see figure 2). These were two duplicate pipes of cylindrical bore, bound together, each sounding its own reed. Finger holes corresponding in position in each pipe indicate that each finger covered the same holes in both pipes and produced the same note. Both pipes were intended to play the melody simultaneously. These pipes obviously produce twice the volume of sound that a single pipe would. They have been identified on a relief as early as 2700 B.C. and some of these parallel pipes seem even to have been fitted with only a single reed.

A second type of pipe has been found, and it also illustrated in similar fashion to the parallel pipe. These were the divergent pipes. Two separate pipes, held in each hand, and not bound together which were fitted with separate reeds. Since each pipe was fingered separately, many of them have been found with four holes in one pipe, (probably the right hand pipe) and three holes in the other, probably the left. The oldest set of pipes ever found, those of Ur, are divergent pipes. These were made of silver, indicating a highly developed instrument. They were found in the royal cemetery of Ur, ca 2800 B.C. (Now in the university museum, Pennsylvania) unfortunately without reeds.

A common alteration to both types of pipes was found where one of the pipes had all its holes except one, altered by the application of resinous material, probably wax. This enabled one of the pipes to sound a different note from the other. This would result in a continuous drone sound or harmony against the melody pipe. In some cases, this drone note was varied when two of the holes of the drone pipe were left open. Thus, the drone sound could be lowered or raised at will to produce a greater harmony without difficulty. Some pipes have been found with a hook extended from a chain for the purpose of extracting the wax.

The status of the ancient world piper was held in great esteem as judged by the grave of the piper in the Royal Sumerian Cemetery at Ur and the ancient Greek statue erected to Phronomus, (the inventor of the ring stops.)Aside from his silver pipes, the Ur piper had the greatest number of offerings, more than any other burial in the cemetery. During the last thousand years B.C. double pipes were known and played all over the old world of the Near and Middle East. The divergent type was to prove more popular than the parallel type according to archeological finds which show them more numerous. From Ur in Sumeria, the divergent double pipes can be traced right up through Mesopotamia and Arabia, to the Eastern Mediterranean and the countries of Israel and Phoenicia, to Troy and the Hellespont, right to Greece and Rome. The divergent reed pipes were supreme in the ancient world. The literature of both Greece and Rome indicate that the pipes were one of the facets of everyday life in both countries. It becomes apparent that Jesus of Nazareth must have known the sound of pipes. The chain of development seems to have been Sumeria, Egypt, Phrygia, Lydia, Phoenicia, Greece, Rome and Rome's colonies.

The Greeks could have acquired the reed pipe early on from Egypt and from Asia Minor (Lydia). The first mention of the pipes in Greek literature was in the Iliad of Homer and Greek tradition holds that reed pipes came to them from Asiatic neighbours. The Greeks used only divergent pipes and could change the pitch of one or two of their pipes while playing, by shortening the length of the reed held in the mouth (which the introduction of the bag would quickly end.)Greek pipes were intricate and sophisticated as was their method of blowing by nasal inhalation. Greece and Rome produced a golden age of piping which produced actual solo piping contests at Delphi and Pythia. A special pipe music known as the Pythian Nome, a musical form of five parts or movements was devised for these competitions.

The Romans claimed that their pipes had come to them from the Greeks. They liked their pipes bigger and louder. The sheer volume of Roman sound had increased immeasurably from the ancient Greek aulos. Here, a piper's guild was formed where the use of pipes was a recognised accompaniment to religious ceremony by law. The law also provided for the use of pipes at funerals, public games and the theatre. These pipers were employed by the state permeating life in the city of Rome. Even Gaius Julius Caesar recounted that the vision of a piper beckoned him to cross the Rubicon. In Rome, strong stiff reeds came into use and street bands of pipes, drums, and cymbals became a familiar sight where, according to Ovid, pipers dressed up in fanciful garb. A procession of two hundred pipers was organised in the Roman Circus by Carinus. It is with the Emperor Nero, in the first century A.D. that we have the first definite mention of the bag applied to reed pipes. His use of a bag is actually confirmed by Dio Chrysdstom who mentions Nero's use of the bagpipe in the second half of the first century A.D, as a means of avoiding 'the reproach of Athena' (distortion of the cheeks) caused by using the cheeks as an air reservoir. We know that the application of a bag was a new novelty during the first century A.D. because the Roman general Martial, not knowing what to call it, borrowed the Greek name for the pipes, aulos and added the Greek word for a bag, askos, to it. He thus invents the word askaules to describe a bagpiper. The tibia utricularis was simply an adaptation of the bag principle to the Roman tibia.

The divergent double pipes were also in ancient Britain before the Romans came for good in 43A.D. They are shown on ancient British coins long before the Roman invasion. The second century altar to the god Atys found at Gloster depicting a rudimentary bag blown drone would seem to indicate that the application of a bag was not too long in being adopted in Britain. In his book "The Bagpipe", Francis Collinson does not allow this conclusion, but this line of reasoning is not easy to understand. We know the instrument flourished in Gaul and Britain after the Romans left. Scottish lowland mercenaries served with the Roman Legions in the Danube campaign. The Roman occupation lasted for some three hundred and sixty years and we all know, all roads of culture led to Rome.

A Listing of the Ancient Names of Reeded Pipes

Sumeria: Na, Nabu, Sem, Malilu, Halhallatu, Sinnitu, Masroqita
Syria: Abuba, Imbubu
Egypt: Zummara, Mashourah, Ma, Mat
Israel: Halil
Phrygia: Tibiae, Impares
Greece: Aulos, Auloi, Elymoi
Rome: Tibia, Tibia Sarranae, Monaulos, Tibia Impares, Tibia Duae
Dextrae, Tibia Incentiva, Fistula

A Tibicen or Ascaules was a piper, a Tibiarius a pipe maker. The Lingula was the tongue of a reed and Zeugos the mouthpiece of the pipe. When a bag was added, Utricularis became the ubiquitous term for it and our word uterus comes from it.

The Collegium Tibicinum was the guild of piper's which, in 311 B.C. went on strike and brought the city of Rome to a standstill. State paid pipers refused to play! After all, all religious worship required a piper, by law.

Bagpipes by Anthony Baines, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
The Bagpipe by Francis Collinson. 1975 Routledge & Keegan Paul Ltd.

Published in Piping Times
February 1995

Caesar's Bagpipes

By Frank J. Timoney

Caesar's Bagpipes

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 Scot.

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.


Caesar's Bagpipes

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.
Figure 3

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 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 with it.


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 base drone.

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.


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!


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.

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