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I often hear stories about enemies defeating elephant riders by axing the legs of the elephants.

Does this mean that the commander of the elephant army did not put enough armor on the elephants' legs?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

An elephant is a very large animal. Putting the whole animal in armor would cost more in armor than the whole unit would be worth in warfare. (The same armor could be used to protect a large number of men.)

Therefore armor was used, if at all, to protect only the most vital parts of the animal, e.g., the temples. Most of the animal was unprotected. Of course, having men try to cut off their legs subjected the MEN to great risks.

Elephants proved not to be terribly effective in combat because they weren't as easy to control as horses, and would often "rebound" against the attackers. At the battle of zama, for instance, Hannibal relied on elephants to break through the Roman lines, without success.

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not even the front and the face of the elephant? – Jim Thio Nov 22 '11 at 10:19
@JimThio: Up to you. Decide for yourself whether you want to put armor on the face of an elephant or use the same amount of armor for several of your men. Most commanders would choose the men. And if you choose the elephant, I wouldn't want to fight in your army. – Tom Au Nov 22 '11 at 18:30



Elephants were mostly used in war in South Asia. Use of elephants in the Mediterranean and Europe was much rarer and more amateurish.

It was written that when King of Kings of Iran Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanid Empire, fought the Romans he had 700 armored elephants. South Asian war elephant used in battle (instead of for transportation) before cannons became very dangerous were often highly armored. They also often had sword like blades attached to their tusks and swung large swords or chains with their trunks.

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While you link to simple image search results, you don't provide any supporting references to show how typical these styles of armor were. The problem with many museum specimens is that they were often elaborate showpieces that were either never intended for the battlefield at all or were only used by an elite few and, consequently, are not representative of what was actually commonly used in battle. – Steve Bird May 24 at 6:28

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