The tubular drum or tabor, in 14th century battle

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Many people associate the first use of military drums with the late 15th, perhaps only the 16th and 17th century. In texts from this era they are often mentioned in association with the use of pike blocks. This stands to reason since when maneuvering in a tightly packed formation, each individual carrying a 4,5 to 5 meter long spear, it is really useful to have a drum to dictate a uniform marching rhythm, lest the pikes get entangled and the line or column breaks up.
This got me thinking. We know they used pikes in the 14th century, then why not a drum as well? If so, were they used by city militia? The answer is yes and yes, they did! Here you can read what sources we have for this and what this early military drum looked like.

Earliest use in warfare

The literature on the subject of the tubular drum in the middle ages states that this instrument was only introduced into Western Europe through the knights returning from their crusades in the Middle East. But there seem to be no sources that support the immediate adaptation of their use in western high medieval warfare. The earliest depiction known to me is in a French manuscript (the so-called 'Maciejowski Bible') of c. 1244-1254, where two drums are held by their rim. But can we be sure that this is proof? Perhaps not.

On the left we see the biblical army of Joshua defending the 'promised land' against an invasion force of king Amalek on the right. Amalek's army is wearing odd or old fashioned armour and shields. The illustrator probably did this to signify their foreignness. It is quite possible that the drums served the same purpose, as there seems to be a lack of contemporary textual sources linking the use of the drum to western military warfare at that time. Instead we do know that Islamic forces already used drums in battle. This suggest that the image that the illustrator wanted to appeal to was one of a Christian crusader army fighting off the infidel Muslims in Outremer, since in the 13th century the Kingdom of Jerusalem was crumbling under the pressure of the followers of Muhammad.

The first time that drums solidly feature in a martial context in Western Europe is in texts written in the early 14th century. For example, in the 1306-1307 verse Branche des royaux lignages the story is told of the battle of Mons-en-Pévèle (Pevelenberg) in French-Flanders in 1304, by eyewitness Guillaume Guiart. (Contamine, 1997) He describes 'Drums beating, horns blowing, pipes piping and trumpets braying':
Tabours croistre, cors bondonner, flagieux piper et trompes braire

Somewhat later, shortly after 1346, Johannes de Beke finished his chronicle of the county of Holland. In his description of the battle of Ane in 1227 he tells how the lord of Goor had 'The trumpets blown and the drums beaten and then advanced with his armed men':
Alterna vero die cum emicantibus radiis aurore iubar accresceret, dominus de Gore beati Martini vexillifer in clangore tubarum et stridore tympanorum cum electis antecessit armigeris

The Middle Dutch version of De Bekes chronicle, translated around 1393, states it like this:
Des anderen daghes, alse die dagheraet opghinc ende die sonne begonste te schinen, die here van Gore, die sunte Martijns banier droech, dede die basunen blasen ende die bonghen slaen ende toech voren mit uutghecoren wapentuers.

Interestingly the 'Quedam Narracio' manuscript, written before the end of 1233, gives a detailed account of the battle of Ane of 1227 as well, but does not mention any such drums! (thanks for looking that up Henk 't Jong). This suggests that De Beke must have made up their presence at Ane, based on his own knowledge of the drums being used in contemporary warfare in the first half of the fourteenth century.

The piper / the drummer

The drum was not only used in actual warfare but also with mock warfare. In the lawbook of the German town of Goslar of c. 1350 it is stated that whenever a drum was beaten at a tournament and someone rode down the piper (on foot or on horse) and hurt him, he was not to be brought to court if he would apologize (and compensate the victim) and state that it happened by accident.
The fact that the text is about drums being beaten but a piper being run down may seem strange. This can be explained by the fact that a piper would often not only play the flute but also beat a snare drum at the same time, they were more all round musicians. When in 1372 the ensemble of three pipers of lord Jan van Blois is described, the first and third are called pipers but the second one is named a bongenaer, a drummer. Inversely, in 1362 a drummer 'piped' at a feast for Jan as well. There is a good contemporary depiction of a piper (or drummer) combining the flute and drum on one of the statues in the Beverly Minster in England (c. 1330-1350).  The drum would have a rope or leather belt with which it could be fastened around the neck, shoulder or to the upper or lower arm, so that the musician retained the use of both his hands.

When only playing the drum, the drummer could be using one stick or two sticks to beat his instrument. This we find depicted for example in the 'Gravenkapel' in Kortrijk (1370-1374), on the choir-stalls of the Dom of Erfurt (c. 1330-1350) and on a console from the city hall of Bruges (1376-1379). As you can see here (and on all other effigies of 14th century drums), this drum was tubular, had a snare and was rather flat (as opposed to the smaller kettle-shaped naker drums). In 1364 Jan van Blois' drummer received a 'white oxen hide' to use as drum skin. The really deep drum, which we nowadays regard as the typical marching drum, seems to have been a Swiss / Italian development of the period 1470-1500, so a hundred years later.

Civic pipers @ war

While we know noble folk employed their own musicians, what about cities? The piper of Goslar of c. 1350 may very well have been one that was also hired by the town magistrate. In fact, from the mid 14th century onward, civic ensembles of musicians ('Stadspijpers' / 'Stadtpfeifer') blossomed in many  towns in the Holy Roman Empire. For example Hamburg and Dortmund had ensembles of three players in 1350 and 1363. While Osnabrück had a two player ensemble in 1358, just like Wesel and Munich in 1360 and Frankfurt in 1361. (Polk, 1987)

In Deventer in 1368 Roelviken den Piper was paid to travel to Dordrecht and The Hague in the county of Holland to deliver letters to two noblemen and receive one from the count. In 1369 the same Roelve den Piper seems to have been given a more permanent position on the city's payroll because he was given 4 ells of broadcloth (for clothing), while a year later a piper is called the town's herald (probably Roelve) and he and his men are given broadcloth again. In 1372 we find that the piper  swore his service to the city's aldermen. In 1380 the Deventer magistrate not only issued broadcloth to its two pipers but also to a drummer, a 'bongenaar'.

Roelve den Piper 4 ellen ghewaendes

Eynen piper der stad gheralde 2 elle roet menghedes ende 2 elle blawes
Sinen ghesellen 3 ellen des selven ghewaendes

Des sonnendage daerna den zelven piper do hi der stad sinen dyenst ghelovet hadde: sinen ghesellen ende hem to drincghelde bi der scepen ghehiete

Onser stad tween pipers ende enen bunghener 9 ellen ghewandes

While the pipers in Deventer may only have been institutionalized as a civic ensemble in 1369, they were already sporadically employed earlier by the city, to deliver messages to foreign lords, play at feasts but also to accompany military campaigns. In 1344 in a list of expenses for a campaign to Ommen, Rutger Menre is paid for the horses he had procured for the pipers to ride there. In the 1361 city accountbook Ludiken the piper was paid for his presence at the siege of the castle Voorst near Zwolle. And in 1368 two pipers traveled with the city militia to attack a local lord. Interestingly we are told the army they accompanied consisted of 300 people. When from 1369 onward the pipers are on the fixed payroll of the city, we find they are no longer separately compensated for their serving on campaigns. This stands to reason since this would have been part of their job description.

Item Rotghero Menre pro conductione equi quem equitavit fistulator Ummen

Item Ludiken den piper die mitter stad vor Voerst lach

Tween pipeners die mit onser stad uyt ghetrect waren

Like Deventer also other cities employed pipers to go on campaign. For example Hamburg sent four pipers to the Hanseatic war with the Danish king in 1362, Wesel had them at an expedition in 1365 and Basel hired pipers in 1374 for an attack on Belfort.

We even have visual evidence of the practice of pipers going on campaign with their city militia. In the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena a mural painting by Lippo Vanni of 1364 depicts the victory of the Sienese troops at Val di Chiana in 1363. In front of the crossbow troops walk three pipers, playing their flutes and beating their drums. They are marching straight into battle behind their cavalry and trumpetters. In the early fifteenth century chronicle of Giovanni Sercambi an army is depicted with a drummer up front, holding his drum in a very similar way. Sadly we only have a modern drawing of this miniature. Both these groups of pipers do not seem to be wearing armour, but in other instances they might have. For example when nobleman Jan van Blois went on a crusade in the Baltic area in 1369 he had two sets of armour rented for his piper and his drummer. Likewise did the duke Albrecht of Bavaria have his trumpetters wear armour at the battle of Kuinre in 1396.


The drum is going to the battle of Wisby!

With the above sources in mind, we decided to buy a replica 14th century snare drum to use for our portrayal of the Deventer city militia of c. 1370. Naturally we need to make the future drummer also the city's herald at some point. ;-) In February we had a big training with our new pike shafts and drum, to prepare for our participation in the Battle of Wisby event in August 2016. It will be a blast.

Some of the general literature I used

J. I. van Doorninck, J. de Hullu en J. Acquoy, ed. (1885-1914), De cameraarsrekeningen van Deventer, 1337-1393, 7 volumes.
Contamine, P. (1997), La musique militaire dans le fonctionnement des armées: l'exemple français (v.1330-v.1550).
Polk, K. (1987), Instrumental Music in the Urban Centres of Renaissance Germany.

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