Carnyx from the Tintignac group
Three carnyx players depicted on plate E of the Gundestrup cauldron

The ancient carnyx was a wind instrument used by the Celts during the Iron Age, between c. 200 BCE and c. CE 200. It was a type of trumpet made of bronze 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 the head of an open-mouthed boar or other animal.

It was used in warfare, probably to incite troops to battle and intimidate opponents, as Polybius recounts.[1] The instrument's significant height allowed it to be heard over the heads of the participants in battles or ceremonies.


The word carnyx is derived from the Gaulish root carn- or cern-, meaning 'antler' or 'horn,' and the same root of the name of the god Cernunnos.[2] It is cognate with the Welsh carn.[3]

Evocation of a Gallic ceremony in the sanctuary of Tintignac, La Tène culture



In Iron Age Britain, animal symbolism deliberately conveys aggressiveness and ferociousness, with examples including a boar on the Witham Shield, the snouted Deskford carnyx in Scotland and the dragon pair sword scabbard from the River Thames.[4]

There is evidence to suggest that the carnyx would be held by a chieftain, as shown by a potential Gaulish king Bituitos figure.[5]


In 2004, archaeologists discovered a first-century-BC Gallic pit at Tintignac in Corrèze, France. The deposit contained more than 500 fragments of metal objects, including seven carnyces, one of which was nearly complete. Prior to this discovery, fragments of only five carnyces had been found, in modern-day Scotland, France, Germany, Romania, and Switzerland.[6] Four of the carnyces 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.[7] The Tintignac finds enabled some fragments found in northern Italy decades before to be identified in 2012 as coming from a carnyx.[8]


Deskford carnyx reconstruction

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 used only in warfare. Before 2004 this was the best surviving example, and generally copied in earlier reconstructions.[9] The Deskford find was made almost entirely of brass, a metal used almost exclusively by the Romans, and strictly controlled by them, so just as with the vast majority of Iron Age and Roman-era Celtic brass found in Britain, the carnyx was made "with some care" from recycled Roman metal.[10] Based in part on the metallurgy, the Museum of Scotland give a date of 80 - 250 AD for its construction, noting that it was a locally-produced piece, "a specifically Scottish variant" distinct in design from known continental carnyces and that its "decoration is typical of metalwork in north-east Scotland at the time, where there was a flourishing tradition of fine bronze-working."[11]

Roman archaeology

Roman-struck coins suggest that a war trumpet was used by the Celts, which they called a carnyx. These celtic trumpets are dissimilar to Roman trumpets that are not described as having a "monster headed extremity".[12] The Celtic or Gaulic carnyx was used by the Celts in a similar way to how a standard functioned for the Romans and there is an example of a Dragon-headed carnyx in the base of Trajan's Column.[13] The carnyx has been described as identical to a Dacian trumpet. There is a clear similarity between Gaulish carnyx and the Dacian La Tene dragon standard and jewellery with dragons and serpents.[14] A dragon-headed carnyx also appears to be held by a Gaulic woman on the breastplate of Augustus.[15]



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, wrote:

Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war.[18]

Objects from Tintignac

Objects found at Tintignac were exhibited at the 2012 exhibition "Les Gaulois, une expo renversante" (The Gauls, a stunning exhibition).

Other objects

Modern reconstructions

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 consisted of 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.[19]

In 1993 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 seven CDs. On 15 March 2003 he performed solo to an audience of 65,000 in the Stade De France in Paris. [20]

On 15 June 2017 "The Music of the Forest", a specially commissioned work by Lakeland composer, Christopher Gibbs, featuring a reconstructed carnyx, received its world premiere at Slaidburn Village Hall. The four-part song cycle evoked the landscape and history of the Forest of Bowland and was performed by the Renaissance Singers of Blackburn Cathedral under the direction of Samuel Hudson. The carnyx was played by John Kenny.[21]

Gallery of reconstructions and reenactors

In popular culture

The carnyx is featured in the opening battle scene of Gladiator (2000); and is used as both a musical instrument and a fear-inducing weapon.[citation needed] It appears in several battle scenes of the French film, Druids (2001).[citation needed] A carnyx appears near the beginning of the 2012 Pixar computer-animated film Brave.[citation needed] The carnyx is used in the Gallic soundtrack in Sid Meier's Civilization VI.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Polybius. The Histories 2.29
  2. ^ Delmarre, 1987, pp. 106–107
  3. ^ "Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru".
  4. ^ Garrow, Duncan (1 October 2008). Rethinking Celtic Art. Oxbow Books. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-84217-318-3.
  5. ^ Megaw, J. V. S. (1970). Art of the European Iron Age: A Study of the Elusive Image. Adams & Dart. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-239-00019-4.
  6. ^ Administrator. "The Carnyx from Tintignac". Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  7. ^ "Press report". Archived from the original on 1 September 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  8. ^ Carnyx identified in Italy
  9. ^ Hunter
  10. ^ "Internet Archaeol 2. Dungworth. Home Page". April 1997.
  11. ^ History, Scottish; read, Archaeology 3 min. "Deskford carnyx". National Museums Scotland. Retrieved 8 December 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ The Numismatic Chronicle, and Journal of the Numismatic Society. Tayor & Walton. 1865. p. 11.
  13. ^ Kinnee, Lauren (12 March 2018). The Greek and Roman Trophy: From Battlefield Marker to Icon of Power. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-84657-8.
  14. ^ Pârvan, Vasile (1928). Dacia: An Outline of the Early Civilizations of the Carpatho-Danubian Countries. CUP Archive.
  15. ^ Penner, Todd C.; Stichele, Caroline Vander (2007). Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-15447-6.
  16. ^ Celtic Culture: A-Celti. ABC-CLIO. 2006. p. 345. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0.
  17. ^ "Rare Bardwell Iron Age trumpet sells for more than £4k". BBC News. 3 December 2021. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  18. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Histories: 5.30
  19. ^ "Details - Sound Scotland".
  20. ^ "Details - Sound Scotland".
  21. ^ "Details - Lancashire County Council".