There is reason to believe that the origin of the bag-pipe must be sought in remote antiquity. No instrument in any degree similar to it is represented on any of the monuments of Egypt or Assyria known at the present day; we are, nevertheless, able to trace it in ancient Persia and by inference in Egypt, in Chaldaea and in ancient Greece. The most characteristic feature of the bag-pipe is not the obvious bag or air-reservoir from which the instrument derives its name in most languages, but the fixed harmony of the buzzing drones. The principle of the drone, i.e. the beating-reed sunk some three inches down the pipe, was known to the ancient Egyptians. In a pipe discovered in a mummy-case and now in the museum at Turin, was found a straw beating-reed in position. The arghoul (q.v.), a modern Egyptian instrument, possesses the characteristic feature of drone and chaunter without the bag. The same instrument occurs once in the hieroglyphs, being sounded as-it, and once on a mural painting preserved in the Musée Guimet and reproduced by Victor Loret.[24] During Jacques de Morgan's excavations in Persia some terracotta figures of musicians, dating from the 8th century B.C., were discovered in a tell (mound) at Susa,[25] two of which appear to be playing bag-pipes; the chaunter, curved in the shape of a hook from the stock, is clearly visible, the bag under the arm is indicated, and the lips are pursed as if in the act of blowing, but the insufflation tube is absent; a round hole in one of the figures suggests its presence formerly.

Among the names of musical instruments in Daniel iii. 5 and 15, the sixth, generally but wrongly rendered "dulcimer," is thought by many scholars to signify a kind of bag-pipe (see commentaries on Daniel and the theological encyc.). This belief is based on the supposition that the Aramaic sumpōnyā is a loan-word from the Greek, being a mispronunciation of συμφονία. The argument is, however, exceedingly weak. In the first place, the date of the book of Daniel is matter of controversy, hingeing partly on precisely such questions as the true significance and derivation of sumpōnyā. Second, it is possible that the word sumpōnyā is a late interpolation. Third, its exact form is uncertain; in verse 10, sippōnyā is used of the same instrument, suggesting a derivation from the Gr. σίφον (tube or pipe). Fourth, even if συμφονία is the source of the word, there is very little evidence that it was used for any particular instrument.

The original natural sense of συμφονία is "concord of sound," "a concordant interval," and the evidence of its use for a particular instrument is of the 2nd century B.C., and, even so, very slight. Only one passage (Polyb. xxvi. 10. 5) really bears on the question, and there the translation of the word depends on a context the reading of which is uncertain (see Symphonia). It is, however, curious that the bag-pipe was known in Italy and Spain during the middle ages, the two countries through which Eastern culture was introduced into Europe, by the name of zampogna or sampogna, which strongly recall the Chaldaean sumpōnyā; and further that in the same countries the word sinfonia should be coexistent with zampogna and have the original meaning attached to the classical συμφονία, "a concord of sound." A single passage only in Dion Chrysostom (see Askaules) is enough to prove that the instrument was known in Greece in A.D. 100.[26] The Greeks had undoubtedly received some kind of bag-pipe from Egypt (in the form of the as-it), or from Chaldaea, but it remained a rustic instrument used only by shepherds and peasants.

This conclusion is supported by allusions in Aristophanes and in Plato's Crito, which undoubtedly refer to the drone: "This, dear Crito, is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears like the sound of the flute (aulos) in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming in my ears."[27] Aristophanes, in his play The Acharnians, indulges in a flight of satire at the expense of the musical Boeotians, by making a band of Theban pipers play a Boeotian merchant and his slave into town. The musicians are dubbed "bumblebee pipers" (βομβαύλιοι, l. 866) by the exasperated inhabitants. The verb used here for "blowing" is φυσᾶν, the very word applied to blowing or inflating the bellows (φῦσα), and not the usual verb αὐλεῖν, to play the aulos. Another instrument, mentioned by Aristophanes in Lysistrata (ll. 1242 and 1245), which was probably a kind of bag-pipe, is also derived from φῦσα, i.e. physallis, the "concrete,"[28] and physateria[29] the "collective"[28] form of the instrument.

We leave the realm of inference for that of certainty when we reach the reign of Nero, who had a passion for the Hydraulus (see Organ: History) and the tibia utricularis.[30] That the bag-pipe was introduced by the Romans into the British Isles is a conclusion supported by the discovery in the foundations of the praetorian camp at Richborough of a small bronze figure of a Roman soldier playing the tibia utricularis. The Rev. Stephen Weston, who made a communication on the subject to Archaeologia,[31] points out further the interesting fact in connexion with the instrument, that the Romans had instituted colleges for training pipers on the bag-pipe, a practice followed in the Highlands in the 18th century and notably in Skye. Gruterus[32] mentions among the fraternities a Corpus et Collegium Utriculariorum, and Spon[33] also quotes the Collegio Utricular. The bag-pipe in question appears to have two drones in front pointing towards the right shoulder, and although no chaunter is shown in the design, both hands are held in correct positions over the spot where it ought to be; it may have been broken off.