From Scotland to the world: the history of the mighty bagpipe

1 February, 2019
From Scotland to the world: the history of the mighty bagpipe

Picture this: it’s a warm summer afternoon. You find yourself walking down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s old town. Hundreds of tourists elbowing one another. At a distance, you hear a high nasal sound concurrent with a drone bass. What is it? You ask yourself. As you come closer, an impressively imponent gentleman wearing a plaid kilt proudly blows into one of the most remarkable instruments mankind has ever made. From Scotland to the world, the mighty bagpipe is arguably the most iconic instrument to represent a country and its culture.

Humble origins of a divine instrument

The very first mention of an archaic bagpipe is in the Bible. Genesis, as well as the third chapter of Daniel, call the bagpipe a ‘symphonia’. A sculpture of a primitive bagpipe dates back to 1,000 BC. Consequently, it is fair to say they have been around for at least 3,000 years.

And then came the Romans

‘Tibia utricularis’ was the Roman name for this delightful instrument. Roman coins depicted Nero playing bagpipes, not a fiddle as many believe. These pipes were a magnificent innovation to the old ones, especially for the addition of the reservoir.  From Rome, bagpipes spread all over Europe. They gained different features as each culture made adaptations to them.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has an extensive collection of these remarkable instruments.

Crossing the pond and making it into the UK

Many believe the Northumbrian region is sort of a holly ground for bagpipe evolution. Several different types of bagpipes emerged in this region. Shuttle pipes, small pipes, half-longs, and great war-gathering pipes are some of them. There are over 30 different kinds of bagpipes at moment.

Nevertheless, the mighty bagpipe was unquestionably popular throughout England. The great Chaucer mentions pipes in some of his works. Even the great bard makes reference to it in ‘Henry IV’. Carvings of pipes can be found in middle-age churches. In addition, there is evidence of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland making payments to English pipers.

Therefore, it was just a matter of time until this beautifully complex instrument made it into Scotland, the brave.

A wee leap over to the land of Scots

There are several ‘explanations’ as to how the mighty pipes made it to Scotland. The most conservative ones will say that they were an import from Rome. It makes a lot of sense, since Romans did have bagpipes and settled in the isles for quite a while. However, if you think of Hadrian’s wall and all the efforts the Scots made to keep Romans out, embracing their musical instruments might be a little unlikely.

Others might say the Irish brought the instrument during certain colonization periods. It makes a lot of sense too, since the Irish are also quite fond of bagpipes.

My favorite theory is that the Great Highland Bagpipe (piob mhor) was developed in Scotland…independently!

Dates are unclear, though. This instrument has been in the Great British Isles since at least the 14th century. In 1500s, they added the second drone to what were single-drone pipes. In 1623, records show that a piper from Perth was prosecuted for playing on a Sabbath. They added the third ‘great’ drone in 1700s.

Taking the world by storm

When the great era of colonization started, bagpipes were taken all over the world. Some cultures embraced them, some didn’t. But more importantly, they became known worldwide.

The unavoidable association with Scotland came from movies, parades, special events, funerals, wars, tourism, etc.

Second only to the Loch Ness monster, one cannot think of Scotland without bagpipes going off in the back of their minds.

person_outline Author

Dennis Tura
Dennis Tura

Dennis Tura is a language teacher, author, and proprietor of his own Startup since 2005. Shortly after endeavouring on the private language tutoring market, he realised social media would be key to reach customers far and wide, and therefore based most of his advertising on these outlets. In 2012, he took a step even further and began providing courses online, reaching customers worldwide and once again making using of social media as an optimal channel for advertising.

folder Categories