The Drummer Of Niklashausen, Hans Bohm

Painted Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicles by Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff. 1493.

The image above depicts the drummer and shepherd, Hans Bohm spreading his anti-clerical, communistic ideas from a window in 1476. The figure directly behind Hans is based on a suggestion by contemporary chroniclers that he had a friar to prompt him in his preaching, as they couldn't believe an illiterate herder of lower class status was capable of performing such effective oration. 

Brilliantly documented in Richard Wunderli's 'Peasant Fires: The Drummer Of Niklashausen', Hans Bohm's preaching began after he saw a vision of the Virgin Mary telling him to burn his drum in a bonfire of the vanities, and preach the virtues of poverty and devotion to God. After thousands of peasants from all over Germany came to hear the shepherd preach, Bohm's ideas became even more radical (all property to be held in common, abolition of forced labour, and priests' heads severed!). The authorities were alarmed by Bohm's popularity with the lower classes, after which he was burned at the stake in 1476. However, his execution became emblematic for future revolts, notably the 'Bundschuh' and the massive German Peasants' Revolt of 1524-25.

The drum in medieval and early modern Europe was considered low social status by the upper classes, because anybody could play the instrument, which was usually associated with carnival, mimes and minstrels, in taverns, and other lower class social spaces. To contrast the seriousness of upper-class life and official culture, laughing, dancing and whistling were of similar lowly status, and sometimes even banned by authorities.

Hans Bohm's exploits were reinterpreted to reflect the social and political upheaval of the late 60s by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his 1970 film 'The Niklashausen Journey.'

Peasant Fires: The Drummer Of Niklashausen by Richard Wunderli.


Illiterate Shepherd Drummer, Hans Bohm. Graphite on Fabriano Paper. 1 of a series of 'Revolutionaries from below', portraying the more under-documented and under-celebrated people from history and culture, who were radical and fought against authoritarian persecution, both religious and political, sometimes with their lives.