A few years ago I came across the notion of a carnyx, a bronze wind instrument of the Iron Age Celts. According to Fraser Hunter, it flourished between c. 300 BC and c. 200 CE. It’s a stretched S shape, held vertically so the long, upright bit towered over the heads of the players and so, presumably, those in their company. According to Polybius (the Greek who gave us the idea of separation of church and state—or at least of various parts of government) it was used in warfare.
Here’s an assortment of carnyx images. And here’s one of my favourites.
It’s a photo of plate E of the Gundesrup Cauldron, showing, according to Wikipedia, “a line of warriors bearing spears and shields march to the left accompanied by carnyx players.”
If you want to hear what they might have sounded like, watch this amazing video of a Pictish carnyx being played by John Kenny.
I love the idea of the Northumbrians hearing that noise for the first time, the consequent triggering of atavistic fears. At least, I’m guessing anyone who’s just woken on the uplands at dawn would freeze with fear, flood with adrenalin at the boom and shrill skirling from the mist. Closer and closer… As always, though, I don’t want to sacrifice verisimilitude for a good image. So my question: When did the Picts stop using carnices? And why?
If Pictish brooches are anything to go by, the resources and the skills of the metal workers of the time were easily up to the task. Perhaps if they’d abandoned the carnyx by Hild’s time it was because it was weighty and cumbersome. There again, many tools of war were cumbersome. Take, for example, siege ladders—though, hmm, perhaps not a good example because I’m guessing they could often be built on site from materials to hand. (And I’m not even sure Anglo-Saxons used siege ladders in the seventh century. Eh, something to come back to another time.) So another question: If the Picts did stop using carnices, was it perhaps down to some cultural change, such as religion?
All thoughts appreciated!