Greatest number of war elephants ever used?


Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
Another point on the Carthaginian elephants is that they didn't use Indian Elephants. They used African elephants (probably with African mahouts too).

The confusion arises from Hannibal's personal elephant, which was called "Surus", his biggest elephant, which has been interpreted as the elephant being "Syrian". Whether it was a native Syrian elephant or an Indian elephant imported via the Seleucids is not clear, but it seems to refer to a single elephant, not the entire elephant corps.

Carthaginians depicted their elephants on some of their coins, and they very clearly depict African elephants. They're also clearly smaller than African bush elephants, which lends credence to the idea that they used a separate subspecies of elephant, now extinct in North Africa, but which is similar in size to the African forest elephant, which is quite trainable.

"A Carthaginian shekel, dated 237–227 BC, depicting the Punic god Melqart (equivalent of Hercules/Heracles), most likely with the features of Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal Barca; on the reverse is a man riding a war elephant" Carthago Nova, Spain:
View attachment 24308

Forest elephants from North Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, not far from the border with South Sudan, trained for ranger duties:
View attachment 24309
But remember that Lododonta africana, African bush or savanna elephants are trainable. Asian elephants are considered endangered and internatinal trade in them is forbidden. Thus only African elephants, mostly Loxodonta africana, are legally exportable and so more and more zoo and circus elephants are Lododonta africana,
Jul 2019
But remember that Lododonta africana, African bush or savanna elephants are trainable.
Yes, but training bush or savannah elephants, although possible, is considerably harder than training forest elephants. It's possible, but they're not reliable, and they're dangerous even to their handlers. Polybius description of the battle of Raphia, states that the African elephants were smaller than the Asian one, which rules out the use of the larger bush elephants. The depictions of elephants from the Carthaginian coins show elephants that are noticeably smaller than bush elephants. Same goes for the Kushite examples.


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
I believe Thailand and Burma fought wars over the possesion of white elephants because a white elephant foretold the birth of Buddha. The king woild have earned great merit and honour for possesing the white colored elephants. The wars and cost associated with it resulted in the modern idiom the "white elephant" as meaning something big and expensive.
Not quite. The white elephant was used as a form of punishment. If someone displeased the King of Siam, he would award them a white elephant. As the animal was sacred, it had to be looked after at great expense, and that would inebitably result in the ruin of the recipient.
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