Do they just run into a phalanx, breaking it up? Do they lift their front foot and then crush enemies below?

What do elephants do?

Or do the fighters on top of it just shoot arrows?

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    -1: This is explained in depth in Wikipedia. Nov 22, 2011 at 9:39
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    wikipedia doesn't specify how. What is trample damage? Does the elephant actually step on soldiers or just push push push
    – user4951
    Nov 22, 2011 at 10:17
  • Elephants can do a lot of very nasty things with their heads, trunks and tusks - and even with their ears and their tails. An elephant that was armored and trained to attack would be a rather terrifying foe to face. (Although elephants are very intelligent and perhaps they are smart enough not to take to such training...)
    – user2590
    Oct 1, 2013 at 8:25
  • What research have you done so far? - most SE sites prefer that you document your efforts to solve the problem before posting the question
    – MCW
    Mar 2, 2020 at 14:50

1 Answer 1


Generally they were used as as shock and awe (read: point and charge) cavalry would have been. Of course, (horse) cavalry is much more versatile but did not have the same fear factor as elephants. They would sit on one flank and move to attack the side of the enemy's phalanx where they would do the most damage. Clearly, this was a dangerous tactic since elephants were prone to panic and run amok. Another formation, like at Zama, they were used in the initial phase of the battle to try to shatter the formations of the enemy's army.

Mostly, they were fear factors against the enemy army and not that useful in the battle -- although, there are a few battles where they were decisive in winning.

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    Horses tended to really dislike being around elephants, so they were pretty effective against cavalry. Nov 25, 2011 at 2:56
  • Elephants are slow. Also why Hannibal send Elephant early? He should have let the infantry fight and then use the elephant to screw enemies formation.
    – user4951
    Oct 1, 2013 at 9:05
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    @JimThio: As I said: to try to shatter the formations of the enemy's army. Oct 1, 2013 at 9:19
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    @Sardathrion Cavalry can be point and charge but it's also capable of flanking, baiting, skirmishing, withdrawing, and a host of other complicated maneuvers. Cavalry was also a common element in most armies, war elephants were always a novelty, that was part of their power. The answer is pretty solid but given that "War Elephants == Big Cavalry" is an extremely common misconception I think more emphasis needs to be put on their unique role and varying utilization rather than conflating them with cavalry.
    – Odysseus
    Dec 5, 2013 at 18:57
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    @jwenting: If you were to add some source to your comment, it would make for a good answer. ^_~ Dec 9, 2013 at 9:34

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