The carnyx was a wind instrument of the Iron Age Celts, used between c. 200 BC and c. AD 200. It was a type of bronze trumpet with an elongated S shape, held so that the long straight central portion was vertical and the short mouthpiece end section and the much wider bell were horizontal in opposed directions. The bell was styled in the shape of an open-mouthed boar's, or other animal's, head. It was used in warfare, probably to incite troops to battle and intimidate opponents, as Polybius recounts. The instrument's upright carriage allowed it to be heard over the heads of the participants in battles or ceremonies. The carnyx was not used by Celts exclusively; its use is attested for Dacia, and it was probably common all over Iron Age Europe.
Until 2004, fragments of only five carnyces had been preserved, from modern Scotland, France, Germany, Romania and Switzerland, but in November 2004 archaeologists discovered a first-century-BC deposit of five far more complete and well preserved, though deconstructed, carnyxes under a Gallo-Roman fanum at Tintignac in Corrèze, France. Four had boar's heads, the fifth appears to be a serpent-like monster; they appear to represent a ritual deposit dating to soon after the Roman conquest of Gaul. The Tintignac finds enabled some fragments found in northern Italy decades before to be identified in 2012 as coming from a carnyx.
The only example from the British Isles is the Deskford Carnyx, found at the farm of Leitchestown, Deskford, Banffshire, Scotland in 1816. Only the boar's head bell survives, also apparently placed as a ritual deposit. It was donated to Banff Museum, and is now on loan from Aberdeenshire Museums Service to the Museum of Scotland. The location and age of the Deskford Carnyx suggests the instrument had a peaceful, ceremonial use and was not only used in warfare. Before 2004 this was the best surviving example, and generally copied in earlier reconstructions. It should be noted, however, that the Deskford find was made almost entirely of brass, a metal used almost exclusively by the Romans, and strictly controlled by them. Further, the basic size and shape of the Deskford find suggests it may in fact have been a Roman military draco standard.
Depiction in sculpture
The name is known from textual sources, carnyces are reported from the Celtic attack on the Delphi in 279 BC, as well as from Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul and Claudius' invasion of Britain. Diodorus Siculus around 60-30 BC said (Histories, 5.30):
- "Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war"
Carnyx of Tintignac, discovered in Corrèze, France.
The Leichestown Deskford carnyx & reconstruction, Museum of Scotland
The reconstruction of the Deskford Carnyx was initiated by Dr. John Purser, and commenced in 1991 funded jointly by the Glenfiddich Living Scotland award and the National Museums of Scotland. In addition to John Purser as musicologist, the team comprised the archaeologist Fraser Hunter, silversmith John Creed, and trombonist John Kenny. After 2,000 years of silence the reconstructed Deskford Carnyx was unveiled at the National Museum of Scotland in April 1993.
In 1993 John Kenny became the first person to play the carnyx in 2,000 years, and has since lectured and performed on the instrument internationally, in the concert hall, on radio, television, and film. There are numerous compositions for the carnyx and it is featured on 7 CDs. On March 15, 2003 he performed solo to an audience of 65,000 in the Stade De France, Paris.
Gallery of reconstructions and reenactors
The Deskford reconstruction at the Museum of Scotland