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Soul of the Warrior
Roman Bag Pipes

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ROMAN BAGPIPE (with carved & painted HEAD of BACCHUS) turned from hornbeam. Instrument at lower pitch of G.

ROMAN BAGPIPE(with carved & painted HEAD of BACCHUS) turned from hornbeam.

For more information on Roman Bagpipe (utriculus), please scroll down this page and also visit the ROMAN MUSIC PAGE to hear the pipe (here at higher pitch of C) along with other instruments. Click on the Sound Sample named LEGIO HISPANA.

Since developing my Roman Bagpipe, I have come across an image on a gemstone dating from the Hellenistic Period (4th. to 1st. century B.C.) This tiny image, unmistakably a bagpipe, clearly shows paired chanters (Aulos) and a large drone. As well as supporting my approach to re-creating a likely Roman Bagpipe, the image also adds credence to a later account of Nero's being able to play the Aulos also as a bagpipe.

All instruments on my website are individually made to order. Naturally, I have a waiting list, which means that you may not be able to get the instrument you want immediately. However, you WILL end up with an instrument especially made for you - even perhaps one you just can't get anywhere else, as I welcome the opportunity to develop new instruments for customers. Understandably, I won't be able to oblige every time but it's worth asking! The following pages show instruments I have made for people who all needed something out of the ordinary.


This pipe arose from a request to make an English Bagpipe with two drones for a Border Morris group based in Gloucestershire - PANDEMONIUM. With a name like that, the need for what is a loud and strident instrument becomes clear!

The pipe can play in D or G by stopping the appropriate drone bell with the bore plug supplied. Alternatively, BOTH accompanying drones can be used together for tunes in either key as the G drone, (the longer - nearest the ear) can easily be adjusted to also sound an A.

Using this arrangement, tunes in D (6 finger keynote) and G (3 finger keynote) can be had from the powerful high d chanter. The chanter accurately plays all the necessary sharps and flats to make the pipe a useful and effective tool.

The instrument shown has been turned from English yew.

Goatherd's Bagpipe


Goatherds Bagpipe

This is a variation on my Goatherd's and my Shepherd's Bagpipe. It incorporates design features from both these instruments which can be seen on the HISTORICAL BAGPIPES PAGES on this website. Could this be the world's first GENETICALLY-MODIFIED bagpipe? In which case, perhaps it should be called the SHOATHERD'S BAGPIPE? The instrument here is turned in holly and uses single reeds in both chanter and the drone. Click here to download a short sample played by the customer for whom I made it.


This again, is an all-single-reed bagpipe and is turned in box and walnut. The scarlet cowhide bag has been fitted shiny-side-out and the bells are ramshorns. The customer requested a special scale for the chanter.


This was also commissioned by PANDEMONIUM, who thought it apt to add a carved and painted head of the ubiquitous Green Man to one of my shawms!

The reed is encased in the carved head and a pirouette-type blowpipe has been added to the top of the instrument for good lip support. Needless to say, this is to be used as a loud but also visually striking mascot for the group!


I note from my dictionary that the definition of Pandemonium is - uproar and confusion! It seems to me that the group is now fully set up to deliver the required havoc!

addition of a carved ewe chanter stock.

shephers bagpipe


tulip belled bagpipe
BAGPIPE to play in G or A with "tulip" bells for chanter and drone


This picture arose as part of a series of programmes about the Romans in Britain which was broadcast by the BBC in Autumn, 2000.

Roman Bagpipe Britannia

I have recently completed a special commission - a Roman Bagpipe for BRITANNIA - winner of Military Illustrated's "Best Battle Re-enactment Society". BRITANNIA was formed with the intention of researching and re-enacting one of the most exciting and turbulent periods of British history - the end of Roman rule and the foundation of the Saxon Kingdoms, which many refer to as the "Arthurian" era. The Society specialises in portraying  Romano-British military and civil life from 4th. to 6th. centuries, when the Western Roman Empire fell and the ancient world gave way to the new mediaeval system and the beginning of Britain's Dark Ages.

Literary evidence:

The Ancient Greek text strongly suggests that the bagpipe was, at the very least, not unknown to Greeks and Romans alike. Exactly what it looked like, remains a matter of speculation, since there are no known illustrations of the bagpipe from this time.

This text, generally agreed as referring to The Emperor Nero, describes his many talents - not least his ability to "...and play the Aulos in the mouth and with the leather slung under the arm..." (The relevant section starts at word eight in the fourth line and concludes with the first word in the following line). Clearly, the Aulos could ALSO be played connected up to a reservoir of air in the form of a leather bag!

From what we hear of Nero, "glowing reports" were a necessity for survival and probably contained enough invention to delight the best of storytellers!  However, it seems unlikely that the writer would have been able to invent a musical instrument which was not already familiar to him to some degree. Indeed, the Roman word for bagpiper is UTRICULARIUS!

Roman Pipe in actionRoman AulosThis makes it clear that the Aulos (a twin-bored reed instrument using loud, double reeds of the oboe type) could be, and was indeed, connected up to a windbag for playing (by squeezing the bag) under the arm as a BAG-AULOS or BAG-PIPE. The Aulos itself, appears with unfailing regularity on many a vase and wall painting et cetera and must have ranked amongst the most popular reed instruments of its day!

It's generally agreed that the bagpipe arose from the desire to make reed instruments easier to play, especially for lengthy spells. Connect your local reed instrument to a bag, add a blowpipe for putting in air, inflate fully and squeeze and you solve the problem! Perhaps Nero was not prepared to suffer DISFIGUREMENT (a red face and bulging eyes)? The necessary pressure to sound the reeds is now provided by ARM POWER. Just don't forget to put MORE air into the bag as you play... Failure to do so ends in disaster!

TENERE LUPUM AURIBUS (Holding the wolf by the ears)

Having found a basis for the existence of a Roman Bagpipe, I decided to "take the bull by the horns!" It was now necessary to come to reasonable conclusions as to what it might have looked like. In the absence of any drawings or carvings (however poor or indistinct) of a Roman Bagpipe as such, I resolved not to allow my imagination to take over. At this point, it would have been all too easy to have arrived at an instrument of "pure fiction"...

processionI examined original drawings of other wind instruments, the object being to note commonly-used shapes given to these instruments by Roman turners. At least then, I would be picking up on familiar shapes to Roman eyes rather than conjuring up something alien. Some of the most frequently used shapes were therefore taken to give substance to the turning and to profile the double chanters and drone.

Not surprisingly, some of them were those that would have been familiar in other areas of life - columns and amphorae! Rounded and beaded forms also featured strongly, bringing a somewhat "chunky" look to the turning.  The paired chanters on my Roman Bagpipe therefore, are reminiscent of classical columns and the single drone uses a series of amphora-like shapes along much of its length.


A single note accompaniment (drone) for melody is an ancient but effective form of harmony. It seems logical that players would have been quick to make use of other advantages offered by a newly-acquired bag for the instrument by connecting up extra pipework! I have therefore included a single drone to support the chanters and enrich the overall sound.


From what is known of ancient scales, Roman music would certainly have sounded "foreign" to modern ears and I have given the instrument a tuning which makes it hard for the pipe to sound anything other than ancient.

The chanters use a SPLIT SCALE to give - G A Bflt. C D E F(or F shp) g - played throughout on the simple "open" fingering system(a necessity when handing two chanters!) The bagpipe works on a 5 finger keynote, the drone being tuned to A. The chanters may (1) be fingered in parallel or (2) one or either hand used in support of the other to produce harmonies, etc. The chanters use "double" reeds and the drone, the "single" reed type.

This arrangement brings a distinctive and exciting texture to the playing. A certain amount of experimentation is required to realise the full potential of the tuning but it is not too difficult for a moderately competent piper to swiftly get good music from the instrument!


The choice of keynote determines the texture of sound produced as heard in partnership with the rest of the pipe - a 5 finger keynote delivered the tonality I wanted. Because one chanter has all the holes necessary for a full scale, an ADDITIONAL TEXTURE may be obtained by playing solely on this particular chanter, thereby opening up the opportunity of using the other one (left hand chanter) as an extra drone note (a) to augment the main drone (A). This is achieved by wax-plugging the upper two holes of the three.


TWO contrasting textures are available from the bagpipe.
(1) Using the split scale with hands on both chanters
(2) Using both hands on the right hand chanter only.

Please consult the photographs to help you see this more clearly. Please note that LEFT and RIGHT apply to the chanters when viewed from the front (i.e. person watching you play)

N.B. When using the alternative playing position, the lower notes of the fully-scaled chanter can easily be reached by the average size of hand. Just angle the right hand chanter a little to give you the easiest reach. Likewise angle the holes of the other chanter inwards a little, so as to avoid the possibility of shading them with the hand. Alternatively, for people with smaller hands, these lower notes can be reached from the space BETWEEN the chanters.

PRAECONES PROVINCIAE BRITANNIAE Most of the pictures you see were taken in Boulogne (Old Town) France this April for an event at which (it was agreed) Britannia's Bagpipe should make its first appearance. As a member of the society has yet to learn how to play it, Ancestral Instruments went along to work it on their behalf and to help out with more appropriate "noises" for the day's activities!

Anyone wishing to enquire about Britannia should contact DAN SHADRAKE. His e-mail is :


David Marshall, Spring 2001
Tudor Lodge, Pymoor Lane, Pymoor, Ely, Cambridgeshire. CB6 2EE. England.

To send me an E-Mail message :

Telephone: +44 (0) 1353 698084

Or send a fax : +44 (0) 1353 662489 (please mark for the attention of Lee Gillett - Gillett Multimedia)

The Roman Bagpipes were a simple single chanter system.  Below is a history of the pipes, with numerous mention of the Romans and their taking the pipes to the Scotii who lived in the northern regions of Brittannia, now known as Scotland!

These are available as custom orders from some overseas pipemakers, at no prices listed, but this is a shoe in to get you included at the next Scottish Highland Games!  Also check here:

A Brief history of the Bagpipes, Courtesy Seton Hall University

Bagpipes date back thousands of years to ancient times. However, little is known of their earliest history. Some historians believe a Sumerian shepherd in the East around 5000 B.C., invented the bagpipes using animal skin and bones. However, others believe their origin may have occurred independently in Greece, since the Greek playwright Aristophanes referred to bagpipes in his plays Lysistrata and The Acharnians. The first historical record of bagpipes, however, is found in the Roman works of Suetonius, Martial and Dio Chrysostom during the first century A.D. Emperor Nero is the earliest known player.

In the early Christian era the instruments usage extended eastward into India and west and north into Eastern Europe. In the Middle Ages, it extended into Western Europe where it was used by kings and peasants. Although unproven, it is assumed likely that the Romans introduced the bagpipes to Britain, where they are referred to in the literature of Chaucer and Shakespeare. King Henry VIII owned at least one set of bagpipes and many English pipers attended public functions. The bagpipes popularity spread to Ireland and Scotland. Although the bagpipes became popular in Scotland, the country most closely associated with them, in the 15th century, there is no record as to when they were first introduced in Scotland. In the 17th century bagpipes were endorsed as an acceptable musical instrument for official meetings and events by European courts.

Different forms of bagpipes evolved in various places. In Medieval Europe the simple breath-blown type with two or three pipes producing a penetrating melody was popular. The bellows, a substitute for the breath-blown pipes, was developed in 17th century Ireland and in France. Many different designs of bagpipes evolved among the folk population in Europe during the 17th century. Today, there are more than 40 varieties of bagpipes played in diverse cultures.

The basic components of bagpipes are the bag, made from lamb or goat skin which supplies air to the chanter, a pipe with fingerholes to produce the melody; and drones, reed pipes exiting the bag, furnished by either a blowpipe or bellows.

There is no traceable bagpipe culture in the Americas, Australia, Africa, or the Far East. However, there are musicians in almost every part of the world using bagpipes of Scottish designs at ceremonial events, such as weddings and funerals. In America, the bagpipes are played annually in New York Citys Saint Patricks Day Parade and at all funerals of firefighters and police officers. And of course they are played for special events at academic institutions.

Bagpipes have the distinction of being the oldest musical instruments still in use.


 Carole L. Bruce
Seton Hall University Libraries



Pictures courtesy, with great thanks for the interesting information and hard work!