Finds tray – a Roman cornu

This is the mouthpiece of a Roman instrument, called a cornu (plural, cornua), which was found during an excavation at Vindolanda this past May. It was recovered deep under the remains of a schola – an officers’ mess and club where middle-ranked soldiers would dine and socialise – along with debris from a Hadrianic-era workshop. Dated to AD 120-128 and made from copper alloy, it is the first to be found at the famous Roman fort despite cornua frequently being used by the Roman army to give orders to troops in battle.

Image: The Vindolanda Trust

While only the mouthpiece was recovered, based on depictions of cornua – such as those found on Trajan’s Column in Rome – the full instrument would have been approximately 3m long and curved into the shape of a letter ‘G’. The horn may have been supported by a wooden pole that the player rested on his shoulder.

Image: The Vindolanda Trust

Commenting on the discovery, Vindolanda Trust’s Curator Barbara Birley said: ‘We know that instruments like the cornu existed in the ancient world, but when you find part of a musical instrument it helps us to build a better picture of not just what the army looked like but also how they sounded.’

Conservation of the object is now complete, but research is ongoing. It is hoped that the cornu will go on display in the Vindolanda Museum next spring.

To learn more about the cornu, about continuing work at Vindolanda, or about visiting the site, please visit:

TEXT: Kathryn Krakowka