Take a trip back in History with Sherman and Peabody in the WayBack Machine for the Improbable (but Plausible) History of the Bagpipe. . .

The Bagpipe Origins in Ancient History

The origin of the bagpipe?

The Egyptian Arghul

While there are many theories about the origin of the bagpipe, each country, it seems, has its own claim to a variation, and hence the origin of the bagpipe.  The history of bagpipes goes way back before the days of Christ and much of written history.

Some form of  bagpipes have been important parts of many cultures throughout history.  As seen in the Ancient Egyptian art and in the Celtic and other ethnic history,  reeded pipes are known to have been used for over 3000 years prior to the arrival of the bagpipe.   They most likely originated in the Middle East in the form of the Egyptian Arghul. (The somewhat modern name of what may have been the Ma, Zammora in Ancient Egypt.)

The Arghul typically has a  chanter like device and a single drone that are aligned side by side, each topped with a reed that are placed completely into the mouth to play.  To play the instrument the musician uses Circular breathing but because of the size and volume of air required for some of these
instruments they must be a strain on the musician’s lung power. This instrument is still made and played in Egypt today.

In India they have the Pungi or Bin.  This is an instrument that has a double reed inserted into a Gourd with a flute (chanter) and blowpipe attached to it. (You probably have seen pictures of snake charmers play these).

The Pungi

The Indian Pungi

The Ancient Greeks probably adapted the double reeded pipes from the Egyptians. Early references to the Greek aulos or the Roman tibia were almost universally mis-translated as flute. The actual meaning of the words is reeded pipe. Early Greeks improved upon the design, replacing the straw reeds with cane and using wood for the pipes to replace the original cane.  This made for louder pipes.  They also improved upon the sound by including a vent or speaker hole and experimented with the number of finger holes, increasing them to as many as eleven.   These increased hole were covered by movable stops so that the pipes could be played in different keys and modes.  The Greeks are also known to have invented the bag about 150 t0 100 years BC.  This was probably to prevent the bulging cheeks that one normally associates with circular breathing(1) and to make them less tiresome to play.  By inflating the bag the musician could produce the desired constant notes without the bulging cheeks and the lung power needed before the introduction of the bag. T

The Greek Aulos

The first military use of the bagpipes is also attributed to the Greek Spartans. They used bands consisting of massed pipers, playing the same tune, and drums, beating in syncopation to march their soldiers into battle. The soldiers would form into ranks and then march, silent, in lock step to the music forward into battle. This must have been terrifying to the opposing force. Aristotle wrote that the soldiers, advancing on their opponents, in complete silence to the sound of the pipes and drums bolstered the confidence and courage of the Spartans and demoralize their foes.

Romans acknowledge the Greeks as the original source of the bagpipe and routinely used them as a marshal instrument.    There is evidence that Nero did not play the fiddle as Rome burned but the bagpipes.

Was it possibly a captured Roman piper that first taught the Scots to play the pipes. Or, may be it was the Irish, or maybe . . . . .  stay tuned for part 2 of the Improbable (but Plausible) history of the bagpipe

(1)Circular breathing is a technique used by players of some wind instruments to produce a continuous tone without interruption. This is accomplished by breathing in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth using air stored in the cheeks. To see if you can do this, blow though a straw into a glass of water and see if you can keep a constant stream of bubbles going. I caution that It takes some practice to perfect this.  Don’t expect to do it perfect the first time.  After you have begun to master this technique, try it playing the practice chanter.

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