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Joshua and the walls of Jericho. (Archivist / Adobe Stock)

Beat The Drum, Sound The Bugle, Play The Bagpipe: Music In Warfare


Since prehistoric times when hunters tapped along to the rhythm of drips in caves and carved the first bone flutes and skin drums, music has always been an integral part of the hunt and warfare, where it serves a two-fold function. Not only was different music developed to communicate military commands and strategic frontline messages between distant battalions, but the rumble of drums and the ghostly chants of pipes also served as a very effective tool of psychological warfare.

The oldest musical instrument in the world is a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal hunter’s bone flute that was discovered in Divje babe cave near Cerkno. (Public Domain)

Biblical References To War Music

The earliest written accounts of war music are mostly mythological and allegorical. According to the 2000 book  Conquest: Biblical narrative the oldest Biblical reference to music being used as a weapon appears in  Joshua 6:1–27 recounting the Battle of Jericho. Here, during the first battle of the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan, at one the oldest fortified human sites of occupation known to archaeology, the good book says the walls of Jericho fell after the Israelites marched the Ark of the Covenant around the city walls, “ once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, and then blew their trumpets.

The Ark of the Covenant carried around the walls of Jericho to the sound of trumpets. (Fifth century) Scott Nevins Memorial. (Public Domain)

The Ark of the Covenant carried around the walls of Jericho to the sound of trumpets. (Fifth century) Scott Nevins Memorial. (Public Domain)

What kind of magical sound or vibration did the Ark of the Covenant and the trumpets create to collapse a city? According to writer Paul Jacob’s 2000 book  Jericho, excavations at Tell es-Sultan, the biblical city of Jericho, have all failed to substantiate this musical story. The researcher is more of the belief that the story uses music as a literary device. The specific application of music used to conquer a city suited a “ nationalist propaganda of much later kings of Judah and their claims to the territory of the Kingdom of Israel.” However, many climatologists believe the answer is much simpler still, and have suggested the sound of the rams’ horns was allegorical for the timely earthquake that shook the foundations of Jericho to pieces at that time. But if this dry geological solution for the rams’ horns event at Jericho is ever proved, to believers it would still be God who had sent that specific earthquake, no doubt.


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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history.

Top ImageJoshua and the walls of Jericho. (Archivist / Adobe Stock)

By Ashley Cowie

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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