The Use of the Elephant in war by the Romans and Egyptians

M G Singh By M G Singh, 5th Jul 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

The Romans impressed with the use of elephants by Indian kings in war incorporated their own elephant corps. But they used the North African elephant which was not as hardy as the Indian elephant and was thus a relative failure in war

A Different Elephant

The war elephant used by the Egyptians, Romans and Carthagian was different from the Indian elephant. The Indian elephant is an intelligent beast and is more easily tamed. It also does not frighten easily. The Indian elephant also was conducive to wearing armor and could launch a charge against the enemy at almost 30 mph.

The North African Elephant and the Romans

The Romans and other armies in North Africa used the North African Elephant. This beast was smaller than the Indian elephant by at least a meter in height. It should not be confused with the African Bush elephant that was taller and bigger than the Indian elephant. The African Bush elephant was also difficult to tame and more ferocious and was never used as a weapon of war. The African Bush elephant was not used as a war machine.

The North African elephant is now extinct as over exploitation and no conservation efforts have had their effect. The North African elephant was used by Hannibal against the Romans. Unfortunately this elephant frightened easily in battle and despite his charge during the famous Battle of Zama (202BC), the Roman army could withstand the charge and defeated Hannibal.

The Romans were however suitably impressed with the elephant as a weapon of war. They also received reports of the use of the elephant by Indian kings and incorporated them in their army. But I am afraid the Roman experience was not a happy one as the North African elephant was found wanting in actual battle.

Last Word

The Romans therefore discarded the elephant as an instrument of war and relied more on their cavalry and infantry (foot soldiers). The Egyptians also used the war elephant, but again its use was not a military success. Most Generals and Kings wanted to emulate the Indian kings who had thousands of war elephants, but the Indian elephant was not available to them and they had to make do with the North African elephant which was nota match for the Indian elephant.


Elephant, North African Elephant, Romans, Romans And Elephants, War Machine

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author avatar M G Singh
A man who spent his early years in Air Force. An avid writer with over 6000 articles and 60 short stories published.Two novels on the anvil for publication.

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author avatar Trillionaire
5th Jul 2013 (#)

Thanks I enjoyed your article.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
8th Jul 2013 (#)

Interesting facts from history, thanks Madan. The skill to use elephants effectively matters - siva

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author avatar Carol
8th Jul 2013 (#)

very interesting,many thanks

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31st May 2018 (#)

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