Tut Exhibit - King Tutankhamun Exhibit, Collection: Other Items - Trumpet

The Tutankhamun Exhibit

Other Items

Bronze trumpet partially overlaid with gold


This trumpet, made of bronze or copper with gold overlay, is one of three known examples of the instrument preserved from ancient Egypt, two of which were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun; the third is in the Louvre. The bell is decorated with incised figures of the king and of three gods, all standing under the hieroglyphic sign for heaven: Ra-Harakhty (falcon-headed), Amen-Ra, and Ptah (mummified within a shrine and holding three scepters). With the trumpet is a wooden stopper to fit the tube and bell, almost certainly either for use with a cloth as a cleaner or to prevent the instrument being damaged and thus losing its shape when not in use. A hole at the thinner end of the stopper was probably intended for a thong by which it could be suspended beneath the arm from the shoulder while the trumpet was being blown. The bell is painted to resemble a lotus flower.

In comparison with a modern trumpet, this instrument is short and has no valves. The mouthpiece is a cylindrical sleeve with a silver ring at the outer end fixed to the outside of the tube; it is not cup-shaped or detachable. Both this trumpet and its companion in the tomb, which is made of silver, have been played in recent times and the lowest notes that could be clearly sounded were D and C respectively. Plutarch remarked that the people of Busiris and Lycopolis did not use trumpets because they sounded like the braying of an ass, the ass being identified with the god Seth, the murderer of Osiris. It has been stated that the trumpet is the only ancient instrument of which the exact sound, as heard by the ancients, can be reproduced today.

Several scenes in tombs and temples illustrate the trumpet in use and in most instances it is associated with military activities - processions of soldiers, battle scenes, and so forth. A trumpeter and a standard bearer are shown among the first Egyptian soldiers to scale the walls of an Asiatic town in a famous battle scene in the temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu (western Thebes). Sometimes a pair of trumpeters is shown, but it is noticeable that they are never represented both playing at the same time. As a rule, when he accompanied soldiers the trumpeter marched outside the column, punctuating by staccato notes the step of the soldiers.

It is impossible to be certain whether Tutankhamun's trumpets were intended solely for military purposes. Nevertheless the figures of the gods on the bell would suggest such a use, for these three gods were the tutelary deities of three out of four divisions of the army of Ramesses II at the battle of Qadesh (about 1275 B.C.), only about seventy-five years after Tutankhamun's death. Their names and epithets are written in hieroglyphs above the figures. The king's name is also given. On his head he wears the blue crown (khepresh), while in his left hand he holds a heqat scepter and the Egyptian sign for "life" (ankh). In addition to the helmet he wears a bead collar, a shrine-shaped pectoral suspended from his neck, and a pleated kilt with an animal's tail at the back. His feet are bare. The god standing in front of him, Amen-Ra, holds the sign for "life" to the king's nostrils and places the other hand on the king' shoulder.

This trumpet was found in a long chest in the Antechamber. It may have been taken there by the robbers from the Burial Chamber. The other trumpet, wrapped in a reed cover, was left in the southeast corner of the Burial Chamber outside the outermost golden shrine; it was made of silver.