African Elephants in the Ancient Mediterranean Armies

Jun 2011
1,812
São Tomé de Meliapore
I was reading the Carthage page in Wikipedia. I came across an interesting fact. The Carthage used North African Elephants in its war against Rome. Did any other Mediterranean army recruited the African Elephants in their army. Were ancient Egyptian aware about the African elephants presence in Nubia and beyond?

Carthage - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_African_elephant]North African elephant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
 
Jan 2014
1,281
France
Lagids used some elephants. [ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Raphia]Battle of Raphia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]


African elephants were too big. They used north-african elephants, smaller.
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,398
India
The African Elephant is very difficult to tame. In contrast the northern African elephant much like the Asian/Indian elephant clearly wasn't so difficult to tame. I don't recall the source of the literature but the African Elephant is known to be quite vicious and violent
 

funakison

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,381
Between a rock and a hard place
The African Elephant is very difficult to tame. In contrast the northern African elephant much like the Asian/Indian elephant clearly wasn't so difficult to tame. I don't recall the source of the literature but the African Elephant is known to be quite vicious and violent
Agreed African elephants are very hard to train and they are hardly ever ridden or used as beasts of burden anywhere in the world
 

Ancientgeezer

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
8,904
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
It is a long-standing myth that African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana) are impossible or hard to train and tame compared to Asian (Indian) Elephants (Elephas maximus).
The most logical reason is that in Asia elephant were trapped in the wild as calves and trained (with horrific cruelty to our modern minds) while still very young. The species exists in very small family groups in the wild--typically three or four adult cows with perhaps double that number of juveniles and no bulls around except at mating time *, whereas the African savannah variety lived in simply enormous groups (as recently as the 1930s herds of a hundred or more were commonplace in East Africa) with at least one Patriarchal Bull and several male "teenagers" in close proximity and thus it was no doubt extremely difficult to "cut out" young calves before the introduction of firearms: in order to catch a young calf it would be essential to kill all the adults,
A short-lived experiment was performed in the Belgian Congo with Imported Indian trainers and Mahouts and a fairly large number of beasts were trained successfully by the "Indian Method" for log haulage.
In recent years "rescue" Elephant in Southern Africa in close contact with friendly humans have proved quite docile and trainable--although no one has tried putting them to any military tests to my knowledge.


"untameable" African Elephant


*interestingly Asian Elephant confined in National Parks congregate in larger groups than is recorded in the wild.
 

Lowell2

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,541
California
The problem with assigning the current African elephant to Carthage is not the domestication issue. (as Ancient Geezer points out, they can be tamed although it is not common)
African Elephants of the Kruger Lowveld interactions and rides

the problem is the size. Consistently the war elephants of Carthage and others are portrayed as smaller, not larger, than the Indian elephant. There is no reason for the accounts/portrayals to be false, since several times in ancient accounts there is mention of preferring the Indian elephants as larger and more likely to not be frightened during battle. Apparently it was easier to intimidate the African ones than the Indian ones. The current theory is that the Carthaginian and other African Elephants used in war were a smaller subspecies than the existing Savannah types. They were not, however, forest elephants. https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/wild-things/after-2000-years-ptolemy%E2%80%99s-war-elephants-are-revealed
"There’s only one known case, though, of an African elephant-Asian elephant matchup, at the Battle of Raphia near Gaza on June 22, 217 B.C. The battle, over the sovereignty of Syria, matched the forces of Ptolemy IV, pharaoh of Egypt, against those of Antiochus III, a Greek king whose reign stretched into western Asia.

Ptolemy won the battle — but not because his elephants were any help, at least according to Greek historian Polybius, who described the encounter in his work The Histories:

A few only of Ptolemy's elephants ventured to close with those of the enemy, and now the men in the towers on the back of these beasts made a gallant fight of it, striking with their pikes at close quarters and wounding each other, while the elephants themselves fought still better, putting forth their whole strength and meeting forehead to forehead. The way in which these animals fight is as follows. With their tusks firmly interlocked they shove with all their might, each trying to force the other to give ground, until the one who proves strongest pushes aside the other's trunk, and then, when he has once made him turn and has him in the flank, he gores him with his tusks as a bull does with his horns. Most of Ptolemy's elephants, however, declined the combat, as is the habit of African elephants; for unable to stand the smell and the trumpeting of the Indian elephants, and terrified, I suppose, also by their great size and strength, they at once turn tail and take to flight before they get near them."
"The natural range for African elephants does not stretch into present-day Egypt. To get elephants, Ptolemy’s army looked to what is now Eritrea. Today, elephants in Eritrea are rare, numbering only 100 to 120. The population lives near the border with Ethiopia, sometimes migrating into that country. When Adam Brandt of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and colleagues conducted a genetic study of those elephants — by sequencing DNA in elephant poo — they found that Eritrea’s elephants are not forest elephants; they’re savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) with no genetic ties to either the forest or Asian species." -- but this assumes the elephants used were from Eritrea. If they were a now extinct North African variety, the study is invalid.
[ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_elephant]War elephant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_African_elephant"]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_African_elephant[/ame]
 
Last edited:
Aug 2014
171
Montana
Though Hannibal mostly used the African variety of elephants Lazenby in Hannibal's War mentions an argument drawn from Pliny that Hannibal had at least one Indian elephant which was believed to have been the sole surviving elephant following the winter of 218/17. Lazenby doesn't offer much in detail as to why he believes this (or even if he does) and only offers Pliny as a source. Also I have not read Pliny's take on it but I thought it was an interesting tidbit.
 
Last edited:

Lowell2

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,541
California
Though Hannibal mostly used the African variety of elephants Lazenby in Hannibal's War mentions an argument drawn from Pliny that Hannibal had at least one Indian elephant which was believed to have been the sole surviving elephant following the winter of 218/17. Lazenby doesn't offer much in detail as to why he believes this and only offers Pliny as a source. Also I have not read Pliny's take on it but I thought it was an interesting tidbit.
Indian elephants seem to be able to tolerate cold better than African elephants, so it could be so.
 
Aug 2014
171
Montana
Indian elephants seem to be able to tolerate cold better than African elephants, so it could be so.
Perhaps that is why Lazenby mentions the African elephants being too small to wear the Howdah? I see where he was going with that now.
 
Aug 2014
171
Montana
While this thread is here, has any read this and can you recommend it?

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0803260040/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=1ICYYY4I2RM9Q&coliid=IZY4HNYVH6OP0"]War Elephants: John M. Kistler, Richard Lair: 9780803260047: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61fJh%2BQxopL.@@AMEPARAM@@61fJh%2BQxopL[/ame]