Thursday, November 26, 2015

Medieval Field Drums - Request for Comments

A reader emailed the below.  If you can add anything to this conversation, please email us at


Dear Field

My name is Harry and I'm a medieval reenactor in England. My period of interest is the 12th Century in England and Britain as a whole and, although I'm aware that our periods of interest don't overlap much, I have come across an image recently that piqued my interest and I'm hoping that you might be able to help me in my enquiries.

Please find attached fol 9v from the Morgan Bible, a 13th century bible currently in the Morgan collection.

As you can see in the lower right panel of the manuscript, two of the infantry depicted are carrying what appear to be frame drums.

I've done a little bit of reading into the subject and it would appear that when western knights went on crusade, they encountered Saracen armies that used Timpani to scare their horses. They then brought these drums back with them and used them during warfare, presumably for coordinating their infantry. However, the drums depicted in this panel from the Morgan Bible don't look much like Timpani to me, they look more like Tabor, the ancestor of the modern snare drum.

Basically, I was wondering if you had any knowledge or ideas either related to my search for information or where to continue looking.


P.s. the colour of the drum shells matching the colour of the drummer's helmet looks to me to be a very early version of regimental markings on drum shells, which is *so cool*.


  1. The early kettle drums used in Europe were Nakers., derived from the Arabic naqqara, which are still found in parts of the Middle East and India. They were small drums with bowls made of clay, wood, metal or leather and were generally carried and used in pairs. Judging from the beaters used in the picture, my guess is that is what they were carrying.
    Some of the best books on the subject are: Percussion Instruments and their History by James Blades, Early Percussion Instruments from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, by Blades And Jeremy Montagu and Timpani & Percussion by Montagu. Also Making Early Percussion Instruments by Montague. The Blades books may be hard to come by but well worth it.

  2. I agree these depicted drums are probably nakers which, according to scholars, arrived in Europe from the Middle East in the 13th century.
    The ones pictured could be a bit stylized, being held sideways and by virtue of that requiring a shallow configuration, and indeed they may have had snares.
    I will be continuing my research this summer at Oxford on the history of military music and perhaps can discover additional details for you.
    Meanwhile, I suggest you contact Andy Lamb at the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments at the Faculty of Music, Oxford. He may have some information, also.


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P.R. Winn, Drummaker

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