Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Does anyone know of any battles where war elephants played either a major or decisive part in the victory of whoever had them? As far as I know, they were mostly used for the fear factor and were generally a liability rather than a benefit.

share|improve this question
    
They usually backfired on the Carthaginians/Hannibal's army, due to superior Roman tactics and the unreliability of the creatures in many case. However, perhaps en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Rhone_Crossing ? –  Noldorin Oct 15 '11 at 11:15
    
Damn, I was thinking of Hannibal's army, too. Perhaps the Mughal empire? –  Edwin Oct 15 '11 at 13:42
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There is some evidence that among the reasons for Alexander's army not wanting to march (and their subsequent widthdrawl) post their victory against King Porus was strong battalion of elephants (6000 as per one Plutarch's records) which Nandas could deploy. See Plutarch for example.

Elephants were also an important factor in military conquests of the Mauryan empire against local and foreign rulers. See here for example.

share|improve this answer
    
All historical sources I have read suggest Alexander could have subdued the rest of the kingdom after defeating King Porus. However, his tactic had always been to create 'client states'. Much easier, less bloodshed, and he's still the high king. :-) –  Noldorin Oct 15 '11 at 17:53
add comment

Both of the following accounts are from Polybius.

At the Battle of Tunis, Xanthippus used his elephants to charge the Roman line. While some of the Romans avoided the elephants to charge the Carthaginian right and the formation held due to its depth, those at the front were trampled. The Romans were later flanked by cavalry and the elephants also accounted for the bulk of the casualties from then on.

During the period before the Second Punic War when Carthage was consolidating power in Spain, Hannibal defeated a combined force of the Carpetani and other neighbouring tribes in a battle in which the majority of the killing was done by elephants. However, the Carpetani had to cross a river to attack the Carthaginians, so it's quite possible that the battle could have ended the same way without the elephants.

share|improve this answer
1  
One interesting note is that Hanibal's elephants were of a now extinct North African variety. Supposedly they were smaller than the Indian variety Alexander would have come up against. –  T.E.D. Apr 4 '12 at 22:32
add comment

Overall, I tend to concur with your estimate that the elephants usually proved to be more of a liability than an asset. However, they did have some successes. Two examples are: the Battle of Ipsus which was decided by a judicious deployment of an elephant reserve and the "Elephant Battle" in which Antiochus I routed the Galatians - I couldn't find a full-length description of it now on the web, but it's mentioned here.

An archaeology book somewhat unexpectedly has a very nice overview on elephant warfare in antiquity.

share|improve this answer
add comment

War elephants were constantly used in south Asia for over 2000 years. the last use was by Thai and Vietnamese forces in the late 1800s. Use of elephants for logistics continued into the 20th century.

Some rulers had thousands of war elephants.

Either elephants made important contributions to victory for thousands of years or every southern Asian ruler was a fool for thousands of years.

share|improve this answer
2  
This does not answer the question. Could you provide a battle (or several) where elephants were a major part of victory. It could be thanks to a support train (something I did not think of) but you must show that the elephants did turn the tide. I hope this helps. –  Sardathrion Mar 19 '13 at 7:55
add comment

According to Legend I think it is in Josephus Simon the last survivor of the five sons of Mattathias of the Maccabees falls in battle by thrusting a spear into the belly of war elephant on which he thought the king was riding, the elephant fell on him crushing him death.

share|improve this answer
1  
Do you have a reference for this? –  Shog9 Oct 31 '11 at 14:59
    
This fact is true but rather irrelevant. The elephants contributed little or nothing to that battle. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 5 '12 at 0:13
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.