War elephant

A War Elaphant

Elephants are large land mammals of the family Elephantidae. It was the Special Weapon of Hannibal Barca.


  • Weight: 9000 lbs
  • Height: 9-11 feet
  • Origin: Africa


Although nobody is certain where or when elephant warfare began, the earliest evidence of the domestication of elephants is a Mesopotamian relief dating back to about 2500 BC. Elephant warfare likely spread from India to the Persian Empire. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great encountered Persian war elephants at the Battle of Gaugamela. Although the elephants saw little action in the battle, their presence on the battlefield encouraged Alexander to adopt the captured elephants into his own army. In the Mediterranean, the Egyptians and Carthaginians began acquiring African elephants for the same purpose.

The first major use of war elephants in Europe came at the Battle of Heraclea in 280 BC, when the Greek King Pyrrhus used 19 war elephants to attack the Romans, who were unprepared for such a formidable weapon and were promptly routed. This victory inspired Carthage to develop its own war elephants and deploy them extensively (though rather unsuccessfully) in the First Punic War.

By far the most well-known use of war elephants in the Western World came during the Second Punic War, when Hannibal Barca crossed the Alps and invaded the Roman Empire with 37 war elephants under his command. The last significant use of war elephants in the West came in 46 BC, during the Battle of Thapsus, where Julius Caesar armed his fifth legion with axes and commanded the legionaries to strike the elephants legs, which proved effective in halting their charges. The Battle of Thapsus was the last largescale use of war elephants within the Western World.

War elephants continued to be used in South and South East Asia throughout antiquity and until the Middle Ages, when the advent of gunpowder began to limit the effectiveness of the elephant as a combat unit. In India, Elephants were viewed religiously, especially with the god Ganesh having the head of an elephant. Killing an Indian Elephant was a crime punishable by death. The Mughal Empire conquered the Rajput Warriors in the late 1500s. The Battle of Haldighati was one of the most noticeable battles where both sides had elephants fighting each other's. The Mughal defeated the Rajput elephants by using arquebus volleys to shoot the elephants dead.

Some isolated Asian civilizations continued until the Age of Imperialism; where modern European armies overwhelmed Elephants with overwhelming firepower. Elephant-Hunting also became popular during this time; with Elephant-Guns being used to kill Elephants with their abnormally large calibers. During the Smithsonian–Roosevelt African Expedition: Theodore Roosevelt and his hunters had 11 confirmed Elephant kills.

Elephants were seen as luxurious due to how difficult it was to tame and maintain them. The Seleucid–Mauryan War ended with a peace treaty where Chandragupta Maurya gave the Macedonian emperor Seleucid 500 elephants. However this is also where the term 'White Elephant Gift' originated from; when European powers conquered Africa and Asia in the 1800s, they were given Elephants by the local kings. The Europeans saw no use for these Elephants and considered them more of a burden than a gift.

Tactical UseEdit

In battle, Elephants were often deployed near the center of the line to prevent a charge or launch one of their own. A charging elephant could reach 20 mph (30 km/h) and, unlike horse cavalry, was not easily stopped by a line of infantry setting spears. The Elephants thick hide gave them considerable protection, while their height and mass protected the rider. Although not mandatory: armor plating specifically designed for Elephants can give them additional protection: with the Elephant's face being the most commonly protected.

Their height also made gave archers a safe and steady platform with an unparalleled view of the battlefield. In Ancient India: two archers protected the sides and a third archer guards the rear while a 4th man as the driver. Indian Elephants could have at most 6 warriors on it at a time.

Elephants could inspire terror in an enemy not used to fighting them, and could cause them to break ranks and flee in fear. Horses unaccustomed to the sight or smell of elephants also panicked easily.

The use of the elephant's tusks varied depending on the army. Raising an elephant was dangerous, so it was common for some armies to trim the tusks so that the tamers do not get harmed. However, Elephant tusks were still useful in combat; even though the weight of the elephant alone was capable of killing enemy soldiers. The Elephant Sword was a dagger that could be attached to a trimmed elephant tusk in order to arm them just before a battle. Indian elephants, including those outside of warfare, would have their tusks decorated in metals (especially gold) and jewelry; as Hindus consider the elephant to be holy.


A surprising weakness is that Elephants are not naturally aggressive (which is primarily why Elephants are easier to tame compared to other animals like bears or rhinos). In fact, they avoid fighting (except in must season: which is when they are violently aggressive, even to their tamers). Docile Elephants would be fed large quantities of wine or would have their legs stabbed by their driver or officer: the combined intoxication and pain would make them more aggressive and combative but also more unpredictable. Some Elephants are prone to ignoring orders entirely. In the Battle of Zama: Scipio Africanus studied Hannibal Barca's use of Elephant charges, and countered the charge by creating gaps in the Roman lines to allow the Elephants to harmlessly run through the gaps; the Elephants would simply leave the battle (from either disinterest or fear) or get surrounded by being so deep within the Roman line.

War elephants had a tendency to panic when they sustained a serious injury or when their driver was killed, causing them to run amok, indiscriminately causing casualties on both sides as they sought escape. In the Battle of Thapsus, Julius Caesar ordered his archers to strike the Elephants to create this panic. Elephants are intimidated by loud noises, as shown in the Battle of Zama: Scipio managed to scare some of Hannibal's Elephants with war-trumpets. The threat of the Elephant attacking its own army was so common that most Elephant riders carried a spike designed to stab the Elephant's skull and kill it before it did too much harm.

In the Battle of Thapsus, Julius Caesar managed to stop the advance of enemy Elephants by ordering his men to aim for the legs: making the Elephants unable to move. Due to their large size, they were also easy targets for projectile weapons. Cavemen have historically killed Elephants and Mammoths by trapping them in holes and pelting them with javelins or thrown rocks. Artificial rock-slides can also be deadly even against Elephants: with Hannibal being ambushed by Celts by these boulders during his march over the Alps. Siege weapons could also be used to attack Elehpants. In the Battle of Gaza (312 BC): Egyptian general Ptolemy I Soter used javelins to lure the Elephants of Macdonian general Demetrius I into a trap: the Egyptians created giant spike devices that they successfully deployed to stop and slaughter the Elephant charge. Despite their endurance, Elephants can still die if they suffer from enough damage.

The small populations of Elephants made it hard for an army to raise enough to affect a battle. The Second Punic War, despite being infamous for Hannibal's use of Elephants, only had 37 Elephants within the invading Carthaginian army: all of them dying before the end of the war.

Elephants thrive in hot climate. Hannibal's march over the Alps was impressive since Elephants are not designed to climb narrow and cold mountain paths. Hannibal did lose many of his Elephants from attrition and some did accidentally fall off the icy, narrow mountain paths.

Some armies raised pigs and would make the pigs charge at the Elephants, who were afraid of the smell and sounds that pigs and other animals made. Fire was also effective at scaring and harming Elephants. Romans used 'War Pigs', which were pigs covered in flammable oils and let loose into enemy Elephants while being lit ablaze.

Several South-Asian and South-East-Asian armies continued to use elephants as Pike-And-Shot and Napoleonic Warfare were being introduced. In Battle of Haldighati, Mughal musketeers were able to kill Rajput war elephants with musket fire. Cannons were also useful against Elephants; however the Elephants were also a good platform to put cannons on and so could be more mobile than a cannon using wheels.

With the invention of modern artillery and machine guns, most armies abandoned the elephant for combat use; but even today South Asian armies use elephants to carry heavy loads.


The War Elephant was tested against the Mongol Recurve Bow of Genghis Khan for special weapons. The elephant was egged on to stomp on a ballistics gel torso on top of a load cell. The torso was completely shattered and the load cell clocked the stomping force at 2,045 lbs. The Recurve Bow was shown to able to use special arrows to cause injuries to elephant skin, which would cause the elephant to panic and cause chaos. The edge was given to the war elephant due to it's massive intimidation and killing power.  


  • Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya owned at least 21,000 Elephants.