In a discussion with a friend, we came up with this topic. We know that Indians, Carthaginians and Persians were famous for their use of war elephants in ancient warfare. But the games like Age of Empires and Age of Mythology, which are fairly historically accurate (apart from mythological bits, of course), depict Egyptians with war elephants.

However, the Wikipedia page on the war elephant says that the Ptolemies started using war elephants. If this is true, then pre-Alexander era Egypt didn't use elephants in war, which kind of undermines the usage of elephants in the games (Egypt in those games mostly represents Pharaoh era).

So, tl;dr, my question is: What is the earliest recorded use of war elephants by Egyptians?


1 Answer 1


Elephants had gone extinct in Egypt by about 2600 B.C. or so, plus or minus a few centuries. So for a very long time there was no native elephants for Egyptians to use. It is theoretically possible that the Pharaohs might have imported some for military purposes, but I'm not really seeing any sign of this.

Regardless, by the time Ptolemy I established himself in Egypt, he had to start his own elephant force from scratch. He was motivated by his experiences under Alexander the Great, which taught him how potentially powerful elephants could be. And also because his rival Seleucus was building an army of war elephants.

The early Pharaohs' obsession with ivory, along with changing climatic conditions, had driven indigenous elephants completely otu of Egyptian territories. When Ptolemy I learned that the lands south of Egypt contained elephants, he began to preparations to collect and train his own indigenous elephant force ... [Ptolemy's son Philadelphus] took up the collection of war elephants.

- Kistler, John M. War Elephants. University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Alternatively, it is also possible that the Kushites used war elephants before this while they ruled Egypt. Though, I'm not sure if you want to consider this "use ... by Egyptians" per se.

The Kushites (Ethiopians) used war elephants long before Macedon, according to Arrian ... the Sufra Great Enclosure may have been a center for training war elephants, as there are ramps allowing them to move easily between buildings. Unfortunately, our understanding of the Kushites is sparse and few records exist. As to the time when Kush used war elephants, the evidence cannot prove a pre-Ptolemic tradition of the practice.

- Kistler, John M. War Elephants. University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

  • There is also evidence that the Ethiopians were using war elephants as late at 570 CE. So there at least, it wasn't just a fad.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 9, 2015 at 14:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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