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What is Buccina?

Updated on April 6, 2015

What is Buccina?

Buccina is a musical instrument that has held great importance in ancient Roman music. There were a number of practical applications associated with the Buccina. It is a horn trumpet and the design and concept of the modern trumpet and trombone has been drawn from Buccina. Over the course of years, Buccina underwent considerable changes in terms of the materials and design.



Design and construction

When used in ancient Rome, a shell was the prime material for making Buccina. As the design and construction of Buccina evolved, other materials were used for its creation so as to imitate the shell. These materials include horn, wood and metal. The design of Buccina was created while keeping the convenience of the player in consideration, hence keeping the mouth wide. This also diffused and increased the sound from Buccina. The mouthpiece used for playing Buccina was cup-shaped. A brass tube with a length of about 11 to 12 ft. was used in a Buccina. The cylindrical bore of Buccina was narrow and the brass tube was bent around itself continuing from the mouthpiece towards the bell, hence forming a wide C.

In historic accounts, Buccina has been known to have a bend resembling a circle. The design of Buccina resembled that of the Cornu, but the only difference was that the bell opening of Buccina was more flared and its bore was relatively smaller than that of the Cornu. In terms of the acoustic properties and construction, many similarities can be found between Buccina and the trumpet and trombone.


Use of Buccina

In ancient Rome, there were numerous purposes that Buccina fulfilled. In ancient Roman camps, Buccina was widely used for signaling changes of watch, especially at night. Due to the loud sound, Buccina was also used for announcement of mealtimes and for waking up the soldiers. In case there were any intruders entering the soldier camps, Buccina was used to warn the inhibiting soldiers about it. The most prevalent use of Buccina was by the Roman military. They used it when starting the Calvary. The Roman military also used Buccina to scare elephants that were used during Punic wars.


Playing the Buccina

The use of Buccina was common in ancient Roman camps and the player carried it while playing. This was done in a manner that Buccina curved over the shoulder or head of the soldier who was mostly a low ranking soldier. The rank of the soldiers playing Buccina was mostly below that of the high-ranking soldiers playing the Cornu or trumpets. While having the responsibility of playing Buccina, the soldiers were also assigned the duties of cutting wood and digging graves. There was a particular sound of Buccina known as Classicum, which was played when the commander-in-chief of the army was present. To signify the authority of the commander, this sound of was also played while a soldier was being executed.

Buccina has applications in the military for delivering commands and orders. The Roman Buccina is also used for waking up people and as a musical instrument. One can also find Buccina being used at funerals and the person playing the instrument is called buccinators.


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