Heads up: Top comment and controversy

5 ways elephants changed history: A brief history of stomping victories and disastrous reversals

It was the arrival of the cannon in the 19th century that finally heralded the end of elephants being used as an instrument of war. Until that time, from as early as 1000BC, they trampled across battlefields around the globe, through wars in places as far flung as Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Battle of Guagamela, 331 BC

The use of elephants in battle spread from India to Persia, and the first encounter between European forces and pachyderms took place in what is now Northern Iraq, with Alexander the Great winning a decisive victory against Darius III of Persia.

Evidently, the fifteen elephants deployed by the Persian forces were not enough to secure victory – Alexander left the battlefield having conquered Babylon and most of Persia.

The impact of the giant beasts of war did not go unnoticed by the legendary Macedonian king, who took them into his own army. The terror that the unfamiliar smell and sight of the elephants had on the cavalry proved to be a useful tool for Alexander in further battles, and he went on to control as many as 100 war elephants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battle of Asculum, 289 BC

War elephants were introduced to the Mediterranean by King Pyrrhus of Epirus. He brought twenty to attack the Romans at the battle of Heraclea in 280BC and won decisively because the Roman’s were unprepared for the war elephants.

However, in the Battle of Asculum, the Epirots attempted the same tactic again. This time, the Romans were prepared with flammable weapons and other devices to terrify the elephants. These included ox-drawn wagons equipped with long spikes, pots of fire, and troops who would throw javelins at the elephants to drive them away.

Ultimately, however, it was the elephants that saved the day. A final charge by the Epirot animals meant that King Pyrrhus won the battle – but he had incurred heavy casualties, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

An elephant walks in the swamp at the Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hannibal's defeat, 202 BC

No history of elephants in battle would be complete without the tale of Hannibal, famed for travelling across the Alps with his arms – and a pack of elephants – in tow, just before the second Punic war.

Sadly, most of Hannibal’s elephants died in the harsh conditions of the freezing mountains, and only a few elephants survived to take part in the battles that would follow.

History has proven that the Romans grew wise to Hannibal’s elephant tactics, however. In the final battle of the Second Punic War they brought trumpets to terrify the elephants into trampling back into the Carthage lines, ultimately bringing about Hannibal’s defeat in the Battle of Zama in 202BC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The Sui Dynasty, 602 AD

In the China, during the Sui dynasty, Emperor Yang sought to expand his empire by pushing south into the Hanoi area in Vietnam in 602AD.

Several years later, the Sui army tried to push even further south, but they were attacked by troops on war elephants from Champa in southern Vietnam.

The Sui army feigned retreat, and dug pits designed to trap the elephants. They lured the Champan troops into battle and then, using crossbows, fired on the elephants which caused them to turn around and trample their own soldiers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Capture of Delhi, 1398 AD

So far, it seems as though the elephants’ easily panicked nature meant that they weren’t useful companions for battle. Certainly, the Turko-Mongol ruler Timur found a way to use that to his advantage when he was confronted by the war beasts.

With his men bitterly afraid of the creatures, Timur devised a plan to make the most of their flighty nature. He loaded his camels with as much wood and hay as they could possibly carry, and when the war elephants charged, he set the hay on fire and prodded them with iron sticks, causing them to run at the elephants, howling in pain.

Confronted with the bizarre spectacle of flaming camels, the elephants panicked and stampeded back towards their own lines. Timur used the chaos and disruption in his enemies’ forces to secure an easy victory, and sacked Delhi, leaving it in ruins.

You can read more about our Christmas campaign to stop elephant poaching here

React Now

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker