1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buccina

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BUCCINA (more correctly Būcĭna, Gr. Βυκάνη, connected with bucca, cheek, and Gr. Βύζω, a brass wind instrument extensively used in the ancient Roman army. The Roman instrument consisted of a brass tube measuring some 11 to 12 ft. in length, of narrow cylindrical bore, and played by means of a cup-shaped mouthpiece. The tube is bent round upon itself from the mouthpiece to the bell in the shape of a broad C and is strengthened by means of a bar across the curve, which the performer grasps while playing, in order to steady the instrument; the bell curves over his head or shoulder as in the modern helicon. Three Roman buccinas were found among the ruins of Pompeii and are now deposited in the museum at Naples. V. C. Mahillon, of Brussels[1] has made a facsimile of one of these instruments; it is in G and has almost the same harmonic series as the French horn and the trumpet. The buccina, the cornu (see Horn), and the tuba were used as signal instruments in the Roman army and camp to sound the four night watches (hence known as buccina prima, secunda, &c.), to summon them by means of the special signal known as classicum, and to give orders.[2]

FIG. 1.—Buccina in the National Museum, Naples. From a photo by Brogi.
Frontinus relates[3] that a Roman general, who had been surrounded by the enemy, escaped during the night by means of the stratagem of leaving behind him a buccinator (trumpeter), who sounded the watches throughout the night.[4] Vegetius gives brief descriptions of the three instruments, which suffice to establish their identity; the tuba, he says, is straight; the buccina is of bronze bent in the form of a circle.[5]


FIG. 2.—Busine, 14th century. (From MS. R. 10 E. IV. Brit. Mus.)
FIG. 3.—Busine, 14th century. (From MS. R. 10 E. IV. Brit. Mus.)

The buccina, in respect of its technical construction and acoustic properties, was the ancestor of both trumpet and trombone; the connexion is further established by the derivation of the words Sackbut and Posaune (the German for trombone) from buccina. The relation was fully recognized in Germany during the 15th and 16th centuries, as two translations of Vegetius, published at Ulm in 1470, and at Augsburg in 1534, clearly demonstrate: "Bucina das ist die trumet oder pusan"[6] ("the bucina is the trumpet or trombone") and ("Bucina ist die trummet die wirt ausz und eingezogen"[7] ("the bucina is the trumpet which is drawn out and in"). A French translation by Jean de Meung (Paris, 1488),[8] renders the passage (chap. iii. 5) thus: "Trompe est longue et droite; buisine est courte et reflechist en li meisme si comme partie de cercle." On Trajan's column[9] the tuba, the cornu and the buccina are distinguishable. Other illustrations of the buccina may be seen in François Mazois' Les Ruines de Pompéi (Paris, 1824-1838), pt. iv, pl. xlviii. fig. 1, and in J.N. von Wilmowsky's Eine römische Villa zu Nennig (Bonn, 1865), pl. xii. (mosaics), where the buccinator is accompanied on the hydraulus. The military buccina described is a much more advanced instrument than its prototype the buccina marina, a primitive trumpet in the shape of a conical shell, often having a spiral twist, which in poetry is often called concha. The buccina marina is frequently depicted in the hands of Tritons (Macrobius i. 8), or of sailors, as for instance on terra-cotta lamp shown by G.P. Bellori (Lucernae veterum sepulcrales iconicae, 1702, iii. 12). The highly imaginative writer of the apocryphal letter of St Jerome to Dardanus also has a word to say concerning the buccina among the Semitic races: "Bucca vocatur tuba apud Hebreos: deinde per diminutionem buccina dicitur." After the fall of the Roman empire the art of bending metal tubes was gradually lost, and although the buccina survived in Europe both in name and in principle of construction during the middle ages, it lost for ever the characteristic curve like a "C" which it possessed in common with the cornu, an instrument having a conical bore of wider calibre. Although we regard the buccina as essentially Roman, an instrument of the same type, but probably straight and of kindred name, was widely known and used in the East, in Persia, Arabia and among the Semitic races. After a lapse of years during which records are almost wanting, the buccina reappeared all over Europe as the busine, buisine, pusin, busaun, pusun, posaun, busna (Slav), &c.; whether it was a Roman survival or a re-introduction through the Moors of Spain in the West and the Byzantine empire in the East, we have no records to show. An 11th-century mural painting representing the Last Judgment in the cathedral of S. Angelo in Formis (near Capua), shows the angels blowing the last trump on busines.[10]

There are two distinct forms of the busine which may be traced during the middle ages:—(i) a long straight tube (fig. 2) consisting of 3 to 5 joints of narrow cylindrical bore, the last joint alone being conical and ending in a pommel-shaped bell, precisely as in the curved buccina (fig. 1); (2) a long straight cylindrical tube of somewhat wider bore than the busine, ending in a wide bell curving out abruptly from the cylindrical tube (fig. 3).

The history of the development of the trumpet, the sackbut and the trombone from the buccina will be found more fully treated under those headings; for the part played by the buccina in the evolution of the French horn see Horn.

(K. S.)


Endnotes[edit]

  1. See Catalogue descriptif (Ghent, 1880), p. 330, and illustration, vol. ii. (1896), p. 30.
  2. Livy vii. 35, xxvi. 15; Prop. v. 4, 63; Tac. Ann. xv. 30; Vegetius, De re militari, ii. 22, iii. 5; Polyb. vi. 365, xiv. 3, 7.
  3. Stratagematicon, i. 5, § 17.
  4. For another instance see Caesar, Comm. Bell. Civ. ii. 35.
  5. Vegetius, op. cit. iii. 5.
  6. Idem, ii. 7.
  7. Idem, iii. 5.
  8. A reprint edited by Ulysse Robert has been published by the Soc. des Anciens Textes Français (Paris, 1897).
  9. See Conrad Cichorius, Die Reliefs der Traiansaule, 3 vols. of text and 2 portfolios of heliogravures (Berlin, 1896, &c.), Bd. i. pl. x. buccina and tubae; pl. viii. buccina; pl. lxxvi. buccina and two cornua; pl. xx. cornu, &c.; or W. Froehner, La Colonne de Trajan (Paris, 1872), vol. i. pl. xxxii., xxxvi., li., tome ii. pl. lxvi., tome iii. pl. cxxxiv., &c.
  10. See F.X. Kraus, "Die Wandgemälde von San Angelo in Formis," in Jahrbuch der kgl. preuss. Kunstsamml. (1893), pl. i.