Ancient War Elephants

Loxodonta africana oxyotis, the African plains elephant

The African plains elephants, loxodonta africana oxyotis, is the largest living elephant, it measures 3.5 to 4 m at the shoulder. The African plains elephant is easy to differentiate from other elephants, it has very large ears, four hooves at each front foot, and its front legs are noticeably longer than the hind legs. The 1:48 scale toy elephant shown here is available from Simba Toys, it stands 3.55 m tall and it is sculpted almost without a fault. The bulges above the eyes are obviously incorrect, they are a unique feature of Asian elephants. The African elephant has a flat forehead. Another inaccuracy is that the ears are folded back against the shoulders. When elephants are excited about anything, they spread their ears and bring them in line with their forehead. In order to increase the effect of this threatening posture, ancient war elephants were occasionally deployed with their heads and ears painted red, white or yellow.

Elephas maximus – The Asian Elephant

Elephas maximus, the Asian elephant

The Asian elephant was used in battle as early as 1100 B.C., but it was not until 326 B.C., at the Battle of Hydaspes, that the first European commander encountered elephants in battle. Alexander the Great defeated an army commanded by Poros at Hydaspes, in modern Pundjab, and of the 200 Indian war elephants deployed there Alexander captured 80 animals which he later incorporated into his own army. In the course of his campaigns, Alexander was able to gather as many as 200 elephants in his army. King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Romans at the battle of Heraclea (280 B.C.), on the Gulf of Tarent, primarly because of the 26 Indian elephants in his command.

Details of the Asian Elephant

  • Shoulder height: 2,5 to 3 m
  • Body length: 5,5 to 6,5 m
  • Weight: up to 5 t
  • Typical features:
    1. Noticeable bulges on the forehead
    2. Front and hind legs of nearly equal length
    3. Five hooves on each front foot, four on each hind foot
    4. Medium-sized ears, with the upper and inner edges folded over
    5. Only one finger on the tip of the trunk
    6. Females carry underdeveloped tusks or none at all. Many males are without tusks as well. Male Ceylon elephants are generally tusk-less.
    7. Pale gray skin, changing to reddish pink flesh along the trunk, throat, chest and belly.

Miniatures

  • Indian Maharadja mounted on elephant, 6 mm Irregular Miniatures IND1
  • Indian parasol-bearer mounted on elephant, 6 mm Irregular Miniatures IND2
  • Greek war elephants, 1:300 Heroics & Ros MAG4
  • Sassanid war elephants, 1:300 Heroics & Ros MAS6

Loxodonta africana oxyotis – The African Plains Elephant

After the Indian elephant had proven its worth in battle, the Egytians and Carthaginians deployed African plains elephants in the same role. The animals were tamed and prepared for battle in eastern Sudan and Tunisia. The plains elephant is much larger and heavier than the Indian elephant. Properly armed and armoured, the plains elephant became a formidable enemy for infantry and cavalry. The crew of a Carthaginian war elephant typically consisted of four men, the Numidian Mahout who controlled the animal, and three Carthaginian soldiers in the tower: officer, archer, and infantryman armed with the Sarissa, a lance 5–6 m long.

Details of the African Plains Elephant

  • Shoulder height: 3,5 bis 4 m
  • Body length: 6,5 bis 7,5 m
  • Weight: bis 6 t
  • Typical features:
    1. Flat forehead
    2. Front legs noticeably longer than hind legs
    3. Four hooves on each front foot, three on each hind foot
    4. Very large ears
    5. Two opposite fingers on the trunk
    6. Females and males carry large tusks. In rare cases, males may have tusks up to 3.5 m long.
    7. Slate blue grey skin, coloured pale brown by dirt and dust.

Miniatures

  • Carthaginian war elephant, 1:32 Andrea Miniatures
  • African plains elephant, 1:50 Simba Toys
  • War elephants, 1:72 HYTTY 2006
  • Arabian war elephant, 15 mm Irregular Miniatures
  • Carthaginian war elephants, 1:300 Heroics & Ros MAC8

Loxodonta africana cyclotis – The African Forest Elephant

The Numidians used African forest elephants in battle. Many of these animals were captured in the woods of the Atlas mountains. These relatively small animals could not carry a tower, they were ridden by a crew of two or three men. The Mahout controlled the animal, and the other two men were armed with bow and arrows, or javelins.

Details of the African Forest Elephant

  • Shoulder height: up to 2.35 m
  • Typical features:
    1. Flat forehead
    2. Front legs noticeably longer than hind legs
    3. Four hooves on each front foot, three on each hind foot
    4. Small round ears
    5. Two opposite fingers on the trunk
    6. Females and males carry large tusks.
    7. Slate blue grey skin, coloured pale brown by dirt and dust.

Miniatures

Loxodonta africana africana – The African Cape Elephant

The Southafrican cape elephant forms the third subgroup of the African elephants. The cape elephant is similar in size and appearance to the African plains elephant.

Bibliography

Frequently Asked Questions

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Ancient Miniatures