Use of war elephants in Egypt

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?

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.

This 2,300-Year-Old Egyptian Fortress Had an Unusual Task: Guarding a Port That Sent Elephants to War

A 2,300-year-old fortress that protected an ancient port called "Berenike" has been discovered in Egypt on the coast of the Red Sea by a Polish-American archaeological team.

Constructed at a time when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies, a dynasty of pharaohs descended from one of Alexander the Great's generals, the fortifications are sizable.

"A double line of walls protected the western part of the fortress, while a single line sufficed farther to the east and north. Square towers were built at the corners and in strategic places where sections of the walls connected," wrote archaeologists Marek Woźniakand Joanna Rądkowska in an article recently published online in the journal Antiquity. [See Photos of the Red Sea Fortress in Egypt]

The western part of the fort, which consists of double walls, faces inland, suggesting that the defenders were particularly concerned about an attack coming from that direction, Woźniak, of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, told Live Science.

The biggest and the most fortified part of the Berenike fortress is a complex that is about 525 feet (160 meters) long and 262 feet (80 m) wide and consists "of three large courtyards and several associated structures, forming an enclosed fortified complex of workshops and stores," wrote Woźniak and Rądkowska, who is at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The most impressive aspect of the fortress is its architecture, said Woźniak, who told Live Science that its "well-made monumental architecture covered and protected by [the] sands is amazing."

Within the fortress gatehouse, archaeologists found a rock-cut well and a series of drains and pools that collected, stored and distributed both groundwater and rainwater. "The two largest pools may have had a total capacity of over 17,000 litres," Woźniak and Rądkowska wrote. The fact that rainwater was drained and collected suggests that Berenike had "a more humid climate than today," they noted.

On the south side of the north defensive wall, in an ancient trash dump, the archaeologists discovered terra-cotta figurines, coins and a piece of an elephant skull.

"Interestingly, it seems that the administrators of [Berenike] found the fortifications unnecessary. Some of them were dismantled after a very short period of existence," Woźniak told Live Science, noting that no evidence has been found of an attack on Berenike. The Ptolemies often built fortified cities and forts near the frontiers of their kingdom, said Woźniak, adding that the Ptolemies could not be sure how local people on the frontiers would react to their presence.

Use of war elephants in Egypt - History

Move over Hannibal. More over Carthage. This podcast is all about a much BIGGER elephant power in antiquity. A power that, at its height, stretched from modern day Bulgaria to the Hindu Kush: the Seleucid Empire. Existing for almost 250 years, throughout this Empire’s long history the Indian elephant remained right at its heart. On the battlefield these giant beasts of war became symbolic of Seleucid warfare, fighting in almost all (if not all) the major military encounters the Seleucids had with other powers: from Ipsus to Magnesia. But away from the battlefield too, these animals retained their importance, particularly for the Seleucid Kings.

The history of Seleucid elephant warfare is fascinating and it was a great pleasure to be joined by Dr Silvannen Gerrard to talk through this topic. Silvannen explained how these elephants were trained and used in war, but she also stressed their importance away from the battlefield - their prestige value, the logistics of looking after elephants and how they epitomised a vital trade link with ancient India. She also answered the all important question: did the Ancients send elephants into battle drunk?

Oh, and make sure you listen RIGHT to the end!

Eumenes, Antigonus, Ptolemy and Seleucus were all prominent players fighting after Alexander the Great’s death.

Ptolemy was the founder of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic Kingdom, centred in Egypt.

Sarrisas were very long pikes – roughly 6 metres long.

The Galatians: a conglomeration of Gallic tribes that settled in modern day central Anatolia.

We (I mainly) go back and forth between 'Seleucid' and 'Seleukid'. Same kingdom!


Elephants are the largest animals that have been domesticated by humans. David Montgomery wrote in the Washington Post, “For nearly all of human history, these highly intelligent, largest of land animals have been figures of fascination and function, drafted for service in transportation, warfare, construction, pageantry and entertainment. The first elephant imported to the United States arrived in the 1790s and was promptly put on exhibit. By the mid-1800s, they were popular circus performers.. [Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post, December 16, 2009]

Richard Lair, regarded as an expert domesticated Asian elephants, wrote: “Clearly, a domesticated elephants is simply a wild animal in chains---but a wild animal frequently gentle and intelligent enough to be totally trustworthy as baby-sitter to watch over human infants.”

Humans and elephants have other bonds, Elephants suffer from indigestion, respiratory problems and even have colds like human beings. Zoo elephants have died from herpes and been cured with anti-vital medicines that have cured humans. Wild elephants have also died of elephant herpes. Tetanus is an often fatal disease for elephants.

If an elephant comes chasing after you the best thing to do is run behind a tree or solid, stationary object. If there are trees or solid, stationary objects around. I don't know, run like hell.

Scientists can identify individual elephants by the different shapes of their ears and other makings.They sometimes track elephant from sound of stomach.

Book: Gone Astray by Richard Lair is regarded as the definitive book on domestic Asian elephants. Lair is known as “Professor Elephant.” He trained elephants for the Disney film, Operation Dumbo Drop.


Ganesh Ganesh is the Hindu elephant-headed god of prosperity, wisdom, success, intelligence and good luck. Very popular, particularly in Bombay and southern and western India, he is known as the creator and remover of obstacles, bestower of happiness and the eliminator of sorrow. Hindus pray and make offerings to him before beginning a journey, buying a house, starting a performance or launching a business venture. Even other gods pay tribute to him before they engage in any kind of activity so he can remove obstacles.

Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Believed to have evolved from a fertility god, he is often depicted with a huge pot belly, slightly dwarfish, sitting like a Buddha or riding on a five -headed cobra or a rat. He has two or four arms. In one hand he carries rice balls, or sweetmeats (he is fond of eating and especially loves sweets). In another he holds broken pieces of his tusks, with which it said he inscribed the Mahabharata as the sages dictated it to him. Sometimes his trunk rests in a bowl that he hold in one of his hands. Sometimes he carries a trident to indicate his link to Shiva. Other times he carries a noose or an elephant goad. Ganesh’s association with rats comes from the ability of rats to gnaw through anything and remove obstacles.

Ganesh is often the god that people pray for help with their everyday problems. National Geographic nature photographer Frans Lanting wrote that in India: “Statues of Ganesha re everywhere---on car dashboards and in homes. Because of their connections to Ganesh, some people even treat wild elephants that raid their crops with respect. Farmers have even prostrated themselves before a rouge elephant instead of running it off.”

Stories About Ganesh

The are several stories explaining how Ganesh obtained his elephant head. According to one he attempted to block Shiva from entering a room where Parvati was bathing. Shiva was angered by this and chopped off Ganesh’s human head. After Parvati made a fuss, Shiva replaced the head with the head of the next animal he saw, which happened to be an elephant.

A popular Ganesh story that Indian parents like to tell their children goes: Ganesh and his brother were challenged to a foot race three times around the world by their mother. Ganesh’s brother took off around the world with lightning speed but Ganesh won by simply circling his parents three times, saying "you are my world."

In September 1995, there were reports of Ganesh drinking milk in Calcutta and Jersey City within hours of each other. Not long after that there reports of Virgin Mary statutes drinking milk in Cheshire, England and Kuala Lumpur.

Elephants and History

Elephants have been "caught, broken, trained and put to work” in Asia for more than 4,000 years. The first elephant species to be tamed was the Asian Elephant, for use in agriculture. The oldest evidence of elephant taming - not full domestication, as they were still captured in the wild---comes from the Indus Valley Civilization, around roughly 4500 B.C.

Harappan stamp from around 2000 BC

There is suggestion that elephants were tamed in ancient Egypt 5,500 years ago. Elephants buried in elaborate tombs, dated to 3500 B.C., were found in cemetery in Hierakonpolisin ancient Egypt. One of the elephant was ten to eleven years old. That is the age when young males are expelled from the herd. Young and inexperienced, they can be captured and trained at that age.

The elephant is a symbol of Buddha and has appeared again and again in many Hindu stories. The Burmese and Thais and other Southeast Asian people believe that at one time all elephants were white creatures that flew through the air. One such elephant, according to legend, flew into the side of Queen Sirimahamaya while she lay dreaming one day, producing the immaculate conception of the Lord Buddha. Hindus greatly revere elephants because of their association with elephant-headed Ganesh, one of the most important Hindu Gods

The number of elephants living in captivity is thought to have been around 130,000 during the era of the Mogul kings in 16th and 17th century. From the 16th to the 19th centuries elephants were used in logging, war and religious ceremonies and were traded throughout Asia by Britain’s East India Company.

According to a famous fable, three blind men came upon an elephant and couldn't figure out what it was. The first man felt an elephant's leg and thought it was a tree the second garbs its tail and thought it was rope and third touched the trunk and thought it was a snake.

Among those that avidly hunted African elephants were Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. Roosevelt once killed four elephants in less than five minutes while on safari in British East Africa. You can see two animals in the Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

Battle Elephants

Elephants served as armor in ancient battles in Asia. Some regard them as the prototype of tanks. To the sound of drums, warrior with spears advanced on the backs of the elephants while soldiers with swords guarded the animals legs. War elephants sometimes wore heavy armor. They could be force in fighting and take out large numbers of enemy troops by simply crushing them under their feet but they also could become unmanageable if wounded.

There were many military purposes for which elephants could be used. In battle, war elephants were usually deployed in the centre of the line, where they could be useful to prevent a charge or to conduct one of their own. Their sheer size and their terrifying appearance made them valued heavy cavalry. Off the battlefield, they could carry heavy materiel and provided a useful means of transport. [Source: Wikipedia]

An elephant charge could reach about 30 km/h (20 mph), and unlike horse cavalry, could not be easily stopped by an infantry line setting spears. Such a charge was based on pure force: elephants crashing into an enemy line, trampling and swinging their tusks. Those men who were not crushed were at least knocked aside or forced back. Moreover, elephants could inspire terror in an enemy unused to fighting them - even the very disciplined Romans - and could cause the enemy to break and flee. Horses unaccustomed to the smell of elephants also panicked easily. The elephants' thick hide gave them considerable protection, while their height and mass offered considerable protection for their riders. Many generals preferred to base themselves atop elephants so as to get a better view of the battlefield. [Ibid]

In addition to charging, the elephants could provide a safe and stable platform for archers to fire arrows in the middle of the battlefield, from which more targets could be seen and engaged. The archery evolved into more advanced weapons, and several Khmer and Indian kings used giant crossbow platforms (similar to the ballista) to fire long armor-piercing shafts to kill other enemy war elephants and cavalry. The late 16th century AD also saw the use of culverin and jingals on elephants, an adaptation to the gunpowder age that ultimately drove elephants from the battlefield. [Ibid]

In Asia large numbers of men were carried, with the senior commander either utilising the howdah or leading from his seat on the elephant's neck. The driver, called a mahout, was responsible for controlling the animal. In many armies, the mahout also carried a chisel-blade and a hammer to cut through the spinal cord and kill the animal if the elephant went berserk.

Battle between Thai and Burmese

Elephants were further enhanced with their own weaponry and armour. In India and Sri Lanka, heavy iron chains with steel balls at the end were tied to the trunks of war elephants, which the animals were trained to swirl menacingly and with great skill. Numerous cultures designed elephant Armour, aiming to protect the body and legs of the animal while leaving his trunk free to attack the enemy. Larger animals could also carry a protective tower on their backs, called a howdah. [Ibid]

War elephants had tactical weaknesses, however, that enemy forces often learnt to exploit. Elephants had a tendency to panic themselves: after sustaining painful wounds or when their driver was killed they would run amok, indiscriminately causing casualties as they sought escape. Their panicked retreat could inflict heavy losses on either side. One famous historical method for disrupting elephant units was the war pig. Ancient writers believed that "elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of a pig", and the vulnerability was exploited. At the Megara siege during the Diadochi wars, for example, the Megarians reportedly poured oil on a herd of pigs, set them alight, and drove them towards the enemy's massed war elephants. The elephants bolted in terror from the flaming squealing pigs. [Ibid]

Alexander the Great Battles Elephants in India

The last great battle of Alexander's campaign took place at Jhelum on the Indus River (110 kilometers southeast of present-day Islamabad, Pakistan) against King Porus, a massive leader who it is said to have stood nearly seven feet tall and presided over a kingdom that covered much of the Punjab in present-day India and Pakistan.

In the spring of 326 B.C., Alexander's army engaged King Porus' force of 35,000 infantrymen, 10,000 cavalry and 200 battle-trained elephants. Curtius wrote, “Porus himself rode an elephant which towered above the other beasts. His armor, with its gold and silver inlay, lent distinction to his unusually large physique."

The two forces were opposite each other on different sides of the river and Alexander lead his attack in the night during a thunderstorm so the Indian army wouldn't hear or see him coming. Alexander then concealed part of his cavalry and released the remainder of his army in an attack. Porus committed most army to the Alexander's charging force and left himself vulnerable to an attack from the concealed cavalry.

In the battle the elephants "kept colliding with friends and foes alike," according to Arrian. And after several hours the Indians retreated in wild confusion and Porus was captured. Alexander admired Porus's courage and let him keep his kingdom on the condition he remained loyal to Alexander. Alexander the Great was said to have been rescued from certain death from a charging elephant by a greyhound.

Hannibal crosses the Rhone by Henri Motte 1878

Hannibal and His Elephants Cross the Alps

From his base in Spain Hannibal led a force of mercenaries with elephants through the south of Gaul (France) and across the Alps in the winter of 218 B.C. This marked the beginning of the Second Punic War. The elephants had little impact on the fight but they scored a psychological blow for the Carthaginians giving them an aura of power and invincibility.

In the Second Punic War, 218-201 B.C., Carthage was anxious to get revenge after the first Punic War. But in the end Rome supplanted Carthage as the predominate power in the Mediterranean. The war was a major milestone in evolution of Rome from a republic into an imperial power.

Hannibal led 59,000 troops and 27 elephants across the Alps. His army crossed the bridge-less Rhone and likely endured snow storms and snow drifts when it crossed the Alps. In some accounts all but one of the elephants and half of Hannibal's soldiers were killed in the Alps.

No one is sure what route Hannibal took. Much of what has been written about the elephants and Alps is speculation. On the subject of Hannibal's route, Mark Twain once wrote: "The researches of many antiquarians have already thrown much darkness on the subject, and it is probable, if they continue, that we shall soon know nothing at all." Much of the imagery of Hannibal and his elephants comes from Flaubert’s Salammbo .

Elephants in Carthage and Rome

Elephants were native to North Africa in Phoenician times. There were elephant farms to produce animals for work and ivory for craftsman. Elephants were introduced into warfare after Alexander the Great and his men encountered them in India. They were part of Carthage’s armies from the third century B.C. onwards.

In the Punic wars a crew of three men were used in battle: archers and potentially men armed with sarissas (six metre long pikes). Experienced Roman infantry often tried to sever their trunks, causing an instant panic, and hopefully causing the elephant to flee back into its own lines. Fast skirmishers armed with javelins were also used to drive them away, as javelins and similar weapons could madden an elephant. Elephants were often unarmoured and vulnerable to blows to their flanks, so Roman infantry armed some sort of flaming object or with a stout line of pikes, such as Triarii would often attempt to make the elephant turn to expose its flank to the infantry, making the elephant susceptible to a pike thrust or a Skirmisher's javelin. [Source: Wikipedia]

Hannibal crosses the Alps

Rome brought back many elephants at the end of the Punic Wars, and used them in its campaigns for many years afterwards. The conquest of Greece saw many battles in which the Romans deployed war elephants, including the invasion of Macedonia in 199 BC, the battle of Cynoscelphalae 197 BC, the battle of Thermopylae, and the battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, during which Antiochus III's fifty-four elephants took on the Roman force of sixteen. In later years the Romans deployed twenty-two elephants at Pydna in 168 BC. They also featured throughout the Roman campaign against the Celtiberians in Hispania and against the Gauls. Famously, the Romans used a war elephant in the invasion of Britain, one ancient writer recording that 'Caesar had one large elephant, which was equipped with armor and carried archers and slingers in its tower. When this unknown creature entered the river, the Britons and their horses fled and the Roman army crossed over.” [Ibid]

African elephants were used by Hannibal of Carthage. It had long been thought that Asian but north African elephants could be tamed. Experiments in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana have showed that African elephants can be tamed. The tame elephants are trained when they are young. They are orphans whose mother was skilled by poachers. They are often very attached t their human caretakers. Park rangers in Zimbabwe ride elephants on anti-poaching patrols. They have plans to use the animals to plow rocky, hard fields that other animals can't tackle.

Some circus elephants are African elephants. In Botswana a guide has trained a former circus-elephants to take tourists on safari as Indian elephants in India and Nepal do. "Upon command," writes Gail Phares who went on a safari on an African elephant, "the elephants got down on the knees and a staff member provided his knee for us to step on as we climbed up on top of the elephant and into the howdah (box saddle). The mahout then alerted us when the elephant was about to get up. We hung on to the sides of the howdah as we tipped backward and then lurched forward. It is not dangerous or frightening as along as you are prepared when the mahout gives the order. During 3- to 4- morning and afternoon game drives we tried several positions to give our leg and muscles a change. We sat with legs in front of us or with one leg out on each side under the frame or with our legs crossed under us. There was a small compartment behind.”

War Elephants in Ancient and Medieval Asia

The Han Dynasty of the 2nd century BC fought against Yue kingdoms of South East Asia ( ancient Vietnamese) that did employ war elephants. Common tactics used to repel these elephants included massed crossbow or artillery fire, and digging pits or trenches filled with spikes. Sri Lankan history records indicate elephants were used as mounts for kings leading their men in the battle field, with individual mounts being recorded in history. The elephant Kandula was King Dutugamunu's mount and Maha Pambata, 'Big Rock', the mount of King Elara during their historic encounter on the battlefield in 200 BC, for example. In Southeast Asia, along the borders of in modern day Vietnam, the Champan army employed up to 602 war elephant against the Sui Chinese. The Sui troops led the elephants into a trap of falling into deep pits dug by them, also making extensive use of crossbows. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Mongols faced war-elephants in Khorazm, Burma, Vietnam and India throughout the 13th century. Despite their unsuccessful campaigns in Vietnam and India, the Mongols defeated the war elephants outside Samarkand by using catapults and mangonels, and in Burma by showering arrows from their famous composite bow. Genghis and Kublai both retained captured elephants as part of their entourage. Another central Asian invader, Timur faced similar challenges a century later. In 1398 Timur's army faced more than one hundred Indian elephants in battle and almost lost because of the fear they caused amongst his troops. Historical accounts say that the Timurids ultimately won by employing an ingenious strategy: Timur tied flaming straw to the back of his camels before the charge. The smoke made the camels run forward, scaring the elephants, who crushed their own troops in their efforts to retreat. Another account of the campaign reports that Timur used oversized caltrops to halt the elephants' charge. Later, the Timurid leader used the captured animals against the Ottoman Empire. [Ibid]

It is recorded that King Rajasinghe I, when he laid siege to the Portuguese fort at Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1558, had an army of 2200 elephants. The Sri Lankans had continued their proud traditions in capturing and training elephants from ancient times. The officer in charge of the royal stables, including the capture of elephants, was called the Gajanayake Nilame, while the post of Kuruve Lekham controlled the Kuruwe or elephant men---the training of war elephants was the duty of the Kuruwe clan who came under their own Muhandiram, a Sri Lankan administrative post. [Ibid]

In the Southeast Asia, the powerful Khmer Empire had come to regional dominance by the 9th century AD, drawing heavily on the use of war elephants. Uniquely, the Khmer military deployed double cross-bows on the top of their elephants. With the collapse of Khmer power in the 15th century, the successor region powers of Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand) also adopted the widespread use of war elephants. In many battles of the period it was the practice for leaders to fight each other personally on elephants. [Ibid]

One famous battle occurred when the Burmese army attacked Siam's Kingdom of Ayutthaya. The war was concluded when the Burmese crown prince Minchit Sra was killed by Siamese King Naresuan in personal combat on elephant in 1593. Farther north, the Chinese continued to reject the use of war elephants throughout the period. According to journalist Douglas Chadwick Thailand Burma "not only fought epic battles with elephants. it was once fought because of them. When word reached a Burmese king that seven white elephants had been found and sent to the Thai monarch, he was overcome with jealousy and mounted an invasion."←

White Elephants

Among the Thais and other peoples of Southeast Asia, white elephants are regarded as symbols of power and fertility. According to Buddhist lore the Buddha’s mother Queen Mahamaya dreamed of white baby elephant at the conception of Lord Buddha. The discovery of white elephants in the wild is a major event that causes a big stir in the countries of Southeast Asia. This is stark contrast to the West where the expression “white elephant” describes an expensive but useless thing.

White elephants are regarded as the most auspicious of all animals in Laos, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia as far back as anyone can remember. They have been sought after and the object of envy. Kings added possession of them to their titles. Great empires have gone to war over them.

The royal "white elephants" in Thailand are in fact are pinkish brown or with some whitish markings. They are often difficult to distinguish from normal elephants. Only one looks genuinely pale. The others look like normal elephants. Their proper name is chang samkan, meaning “important” or “significant” elephant. Most are not albinos, which are usually whitish beige.

In 2004, a beige-colored albino elephant was discovered in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. It was a female believed to be around 11 years old. It is extremely rare to find such an animal. There have been reported sightings of such elephants in Thailand and other places put this marked the first time ever that an the existence of a true albino elephant had been confirmed.

Thailand’s Royal White Elephants

Royal Coat of Arms for Laos

Thailand had 11 “white” elephants in the early 2000s. Symbols of the monarch’s power, all belonged to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The person with the most white elephants is considered the most powerful person in Thailand. The elephants existence and good health ensure prosperity for the Thai kingdom. They are regarded as the earthly manifestation of Erawan, the many-headed celestial elephant of the god Indra.

Only one royal elephant lives behind the royal moat in the royal palace in Bangkok. Others live at other facilities elsewhere in Thailand. Some royal elephants are kept at the elephant center in Lambang, where four attendants are assigned to each anima and the animals spend their day munching on leaves of replanted teak trees, are hand fed sugar cane and tamarind and have a reservoir where they can take their daily baths. At night they sleep in the their individual sleeping pavilions.

Chadwick found the animals in the darkness of a gilded pavilion, "surging back and forth at the end of a chain, his strange pale eyes blue one moment and green the next, alone, colossal, and very likely insane. Thrice this great mad elephant trumpeted wildly in alarm, I was told. Each time the king was threatened by danger, including an attempted coup.←

Determining Royal Thai Elephants

What exactly defines a white elephant is the subject of large body of literature. They are not white or albino. They are rare, light-toned animals that must have a particular set of characteristics to be labeled as white. The criteria to define a white in elephant in Thailand is secret and takes experts weeks to sort out.

The basic requirements for a white elephant are that it must have some “white” skin (pink splotches on the skin), white eyes, a white upper palate, white nails, white fur, white tail hair and a white scrotum. In Thailand white elephants are supposed to be treated with the same respect accord royal children.

By law every white elephant born in Thailand must be presented to the king. Prospective candidates are chosen not only on the basis of pink skin splotches but also on the shape of their trunk and tail, the quality of their vocalizations and even the smell of their dropping. The royal families in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia used to keep white elephants but the custom has largely died out there along with the power of the royal families.

"To an inexperienced man they may look like normal elephants," the overseer of ceremonies at the Royal Palace in Bangkok told National Geographic. "But I have studied them all my life to be able to tell you about their special qualities: a certain shape to their ankles and tail. A whiteness of the eyes, the hair tops, the white skin between folds, and the nails. The greatest of all elephants has two extra toe nails. He is of the same rank as a prince." The name of this cherished elephant has a name four lines long, proclaiming him to be a lotus-colored gift.

Royal Elephant Stories

Stories about white elephants describe them living like Roman emperors on the palace grounds where they were protected from the sun with silk umbrellas and fed fruit on jewel encrusted platters while court musicians entertained them. Young elephants were said to be suckled by human wet nurses.←

A jealous Burmese rulers declared war against Siam when a Thai king refused a request to give the Burmese ruler two of his seven white elephants. In the 17th century, a Dutch chronicler. Described a Thai monarch who staged an elaborate cremation ceremony for the elephant and ordered the execution of any keeper responsible for the death of a baby white elephant.

In the old days the elephants used to walk down the streets of Bangkok every morning on their way to the river for a bath. The only time this routine was changed, according to an old National Geographic article, was during rutting season when male and female elephants were separated. Bangkok's trolley drivers didn't like this because the male elephants often mistook trolleys for female elephants, often taking off after the trolleys and making a big racket and fuss as they did so. Most trolley drivers were skilled and experienced enough to outrun the run the elephants.

In the early 2000s, plans were announced to clone the famous white elephant that belonged to King Rama III, who ruled from 1824 to 1851.

Elephant Polo

Claire Cozens of AFP wrote: Elephant polo is “a game that was dreamt up almost 30 years ago over drinks at a Swiss ski resort and now attracts adventure-seekers from all over the world to Nepal, where the world championships are held every year. The game, loosely based on horse polo, involves two teams of four players sitting astride elephants driven by mahouts, or trainers, who drive them on using oral commands and pressure from their feet. Players carry sticks up to 96 inches (2.5 metres) long to hit the ball towards the opposing goal, with each game comprising two 10-minute chukkas. The umpire sits on the biggest elephant, a huge, long-tusked bull, giving him a bird's-eye view of the game. [Source: Claire Cozens, AFP, December 5, 2010]

“The game can be surprisingly quick, with the smaller, more nimble elephants deployed in attack and the larger ones playing defence, using their bulk to block the goal. And it is taken very seriously by some players. Umpire Yadav Bantawa reports teams using the larger elephants to block his view of illegal moves such as hooking an opponent's stick to prevent him from hitting the ball. [Ibid]

“Dan Bahadur Tamang, who has worked with elephants since 1969, told AFP it wasn't hard to train them to play polo. "They love it. When you watch the game you can see how fast they run towards the ball," he says. "They really know what they're doing now, and they are very clever. They can be taught up to 1,000 oral commands." The elephants are fed at the end of each match and treated to molasses sandwiches to keep their strength up. A team of workers is kept busy throughout each match scurrying onto the pitch to scoop up dung. [Ibid]

“The sport attracts players of all ages and nationalities but like horse polo, this is an expensive sport---the entry fee alone runs into thousands of dollars---and the world championship attracts a wealthy and glamorous crowd.” At the game on Nepal in 2010, “Miss Nepal was joined in the audience by former crown prince Paras, who flew in with a large entourage on his private helicopter to watch a few chukkas. But local people also flock to attend the spectacle, most of them supporting the team put together every year by the park warden and his staff, who work with elephants every day on their patrols and are often among the top performers. "We are so lucky to have a world championship on our doorstep," local farmer Kul Narayan Shrestha told AFP. "It's a really fun day out." [Ibid]

History of Elephant Polo

Scotsman James Manclark, a keen horse polo player who was 71 in 2010, is credited with inventing elephant polo in the 1980s. Claire Cozens of AFP wrote: “He came up with the idea in St Moritz over a drink with Jim Edwards, a pioneer of eco-tourism in Nepal who ran a resort called Tiger Tops deep inside the jungle that used elephants to take guests on safari. Shortly after their encounter, Manclark sent his friend a telegram that read simply: "Arriving April 1 with long sticks. Have elephants ready." "He didn't know whether I was being serious or not. But I arrived, with the sticks and two small footballs, ready to play," Manclark told AFP[Source: Claire Cozens, AFP, December 5, 2010]

The experiment got off to a bad start when the elephants decided it was more fun to stamp on the footballs and burst them than to chase them around the pitch. Fortunately, regular polo balls proved more successful, and elephant polo was born. The World Cup, organised by Tiger Tops, is held every year at a grass airstrip on the edge of Nepal's Chitwan national park, 90 kilometres (56 miles) southwest of Kathmandu.

Official elephant polo games are played three times a year---in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal. In Thailand the games are played with three elephant on each team . In Nepal, which has a larger field, there are four on each team. . Each team member is accompanied by a mahout---or elephant driver -- who steers as the players focus on hitting the ball. The players come from all over the world while the elephants are provided in the place where the game is played. There were 12 national teams competing in 2006 the first year the Americans played. None of the teams has year-round access to elephants. The Germans practice atop Volkswagen vans and have several have internationally recognized horse polo players on their team. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, September 10, 2006]

Elephant Polo Game

Describing a game in Nepal, Claire Cozens of AFP wrote: “On a remote jungle airfield in southern Nepal, the tension is rising as the finals of one of the world's most eccentric sporting events goes into extra time at a nailbiting five-all. Within minutes, a giant elephant rumbles towards one end of the field and a cheer goes up from the crowd as a tiny white ball shoots between the goalposts, winning the game for the team from Switzerland. [Source: Claire Cozens, AFP, December 5, 2010]

Describing a game in Thailand, Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post, “During America's debut in the extra-wide world of elephant polo, frustrated U.S. captain Kimberly Zenz nearly screamed herself hoarse. The prime pachyderms toting the rival Italians were dominating the opening match, while Thong Kao-- Zenz's languid charger -- seemed more interested in turning the grassy polo field into an afternoon snack. But as the ball skidded dangerously close to the Italian goal posts, something suddenly seemed to stir from deep inside Thong Kao. She hurled her three-ton bulk toward that ball like Barbaro on steroids. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, September 10, 2006]

From the sidelines, international playboys almost choked on their gin and tonics. British aristocrats looked up from their Rolexes, cocking eyebrows with bemusement. For a moment at the King's Cup Elephant Polo Championship -- one of the circuit's Big Three -- it seemed the upstart Yanks from the Washington area might finally charge onto the scoreboard. Then something really did stir from deep inside Thong Kao. She let rip a hail of dung that left the pursuing Italians dodging for cover.

And just as Zenz yanked back her mallet, Thong Kao accidentally stepped on the polo ball, squashing it into the ground and suspending play. It marked the first of many lessons for a team of rookie Americans who came to the emerald hills of the Golden Triangle this week for a crash course in one of the world's most surreal sports.

During one game in Sri Lanka one 2000-kilograms mount went berserk in mid-match and threw off his rider and charged off the field and attacked the Spanish team’s minibus. The vehicle was badly damaged. Fortunately nobody was in it.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Fearsome War Machines

Having defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars , the Romans too began using war elephants. As an example, the Roman emperor Claudius brought war elephants on his campaign against the Britons, which undoubtedly intimidated the native tribes.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, war elephants became a rarity in Europe and access to these beasts became much more difficult. The use of war elephants, however, continued in the east. As an example, Indian rulers continued employing these beasts, and so too did the Mughal, who invaded the subcontinent during the 16th century.

Battle at Lanka, Ramayana, by Sahib Din. Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of Lanka. Udaipur, 1649-1653. ( Public Domain )

The Kingdom of Kerma (2500-1500 BC)

The Kingdom of Kerma was an ancient civilization that existed between 2500 BC and 1500 BC, with its capital at the city of Kerma. It was located in the heart of Sudanese Nubia and is the first provable sub Saharan kingdom to have existed. The Kingdom of Kerma is thought to have existed without a writing system and so all information about this kingdom comes either from archeological proof or sources from Egypt.

Later the kingdom began to be referred as Kerma, and its inhabitants were renowned for being talented warriors and archers. The major occupations of the kingdom included trade, tending livestock, hunting, and fishing. The Kingdom of Kerma existed in three distinct phases – Ancient / Early Kerma (around 2500 BC – 2050 BC), Middle Kerma (around 2050 BC – 1750 BC) and Classic Kerma (around 1750 BC – 1500 BC). Classic Kerma was the golden age of the kingdom. It was during this period that its rulers successfully took control of Egyptian fortresses and gold mines in the Second cataract. The kingdom kept on attacking and capturing Egyptian territories until around 1500 BC Thutmose I attacked Kerma itself and annexed the kingdom into the Egyptian Empire.

The Nubian name for Kerma is Doki which means Red Hill. The city of Kerma itself has been inhabited for 9,500 years. Kerma was ruled by a mixture of a lineage-based elite and priests. The cultural ties between Kerma and Egypt is similar to two regional states within one people.

Origin and Rise to Power

The Kingdom of Kerma, was one of the earliest urban centers in the Nile region. This region had been inhabited from as far back as 5,000 BC, mainly by small fishing villages and trade centres. There is archaeological evidence of a unified culture and kingdom emerging from a conglomeration of these small villages and the proto-Kerma (pre-dynastic) A-Group Culture of 3,800-3,100 BC. This culture and its kingdom was known as the Naqada kingdom. Around the turn of the proto-dynastic period, Naqada, in its bid to conquer and unify the whole Nile valley, seems to have conquered Nubia.

This created a unified kingdom surrounding the area of Nubia. After the fall of the Naqada kingdom in 2700 BC, the Kerma culture took over the area of Nubia, with Kermites spreading out from the city of Kerma. Eventually this culture was the dominant one in the area, and led to the creation of the The Kingdom of Kerma around 2500 BC with the entirety of the area of Nubia under their control.

At this time their northern neighbours, the Egyptians were flourishing as well, and that opened up both trade opportunities, and rivalries in terms of territories for the Kermites. They kept clashing with each other but there were no significant inroads made by either.

After centuries of expanding away from Egypt, the Hyksos invasion of Lower Egypt, around 1786 BC, gave the Kermites an opportunity to extend northward. Hyksos comes from heqa-khase, a phrase meaning “rulers of foreign lands”.

In 1650 BC, Kerma made an alliance with the Hyksos which enabled them to almost double their strength. While the Hyksos ruled Lower Egypt, the Kermites controlled Upper Egypt. The authority of independent Egyptian kings was thus constrained to a little territory around Thebes. The population of Upper Egypt, on the other hand, appeared to have acknowledged the control of Kerma without obstruction. This launched the Kingdom of Kerma into its golden age, wherein it reached the peak of its wealth and power.

Areas Under Rule and Administration

In the Kingdom of Kerma’s most prosperous phase, from about 1700–1500 BCE, it absorbed the Sudanese kingdom of Sai and became a sizeable, populous empire rivalling Egypt. This Kingdom covered wide swathes of the great Nile river, covering all of Nubia and Egypt, barring the areas around the city of Thebes, where the Egyptian Pharaohs still held power.

The Kermite Empire was divided into provinces run by a pesto (governor). The pesto had subordinates who served specialized functions. Nubian queens were co-rulers with pharaohs. In some cases, they ruled alone.

Kermite kings worshipped Amun, who was also a key deity to Egyptians. Amun was the god of the sun, and only one of the many in the Egyptian Pantheon. However, Kerma were believers in a single god, and hence had banned the public worship of any other religion or major god in their territory. This excluded the local gods, which were considered minor deities under Amun. Kermite temples for Amun were similar to Egyptian temples, but temples for local gods were constructed differently.

Kerma and Archaeology

Kerma is known among archaeologists for the unique architecture of its metropolis, which reflects an exceptionally high degree of urban organization. The city had its own expanded harbour quarter facing the Nile, thick fortification walls and bastions, royal residence and cemeteries, religious buildings, storehouses, and bakeries.

Moreover, the archaeology of the city indicated that the political structure of the kingdom was more complex than the monocratic political system of ancient Egypt. The archaeology of the cemeteries indicates that magnificent and pompous burials weren’t just reserved for the ruling class, but was made available to all elites, merchants, and anyone with the finances to bear its costs.


Among the monumental works believed to have been built during this time is called the Deffufa. The word ‘deffufa’ is either derived from the Nubian term for a mud-brick building or from the Arabic word ‘daffa’, meaning ‘mass’ or ‘pile’. There are three known deffufas, i.e. the western deffufa, the eastern deffufa, and a third lesser-known deffufa.

The Kingdom of Kerma had a very advantageous position when it came to trade in Central Africa. They were situated at the heart of the trade route from western to eastern Africa, and also were the primary controllers of the trade route from central Africa to the Mediterranean. This meant that they were able to exact heavy taxes and tolls from all trade across these routes. This advantageous position in trade is a direct cause for the wealth of the Kerma.

Nubia was known as the land of the bow. Kermite soldiers were expert archers, often lending their services out to train and educate other kingdoms’ armies as well. Their bows were about six feet in length, usually made with palm fiber stretched across different kinds of wood. The arrows were short, fletched with eagle and goose feather, given steel tips. Often the archers also carried a dedicated quiver with poison tipped arrows. The other Kermite weapons were the spear, pike and the Khopesh sword. While the Kermites were expert archers and bow makers, their melee weapons may have been imported. The Kermite military is also credited with the first use of elephants in active combat in warfare, as earlier elephants were only used for transport. They also trained war elephants for export to Egypt.

The Kingdom of Kerma had reached its peak by allying itself with the Hyksos, and using this alliance to attack and annex large parts of the Egyptian Empire. However, the Kermite forces had chosen to not occupy the region, and instead had just looted it and kept it as a tributary. This would prove to be their undoing as in 1532 BC, Ahmose too over the rule as the Pharaoh. He was a brilliant strategist and military leader and under him the Egyptian military flourished again. They eventually launched campaigns to retake the lands that had been lost to Hyksos and Kermites. In 1548 BC they went to war with the main Hyksos forces and won.

After the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose vanquished the Hyksos in 1550 BC, he directed his concentration toward Kerma. Ahmose needed to overcome Kerma with the goal for him to guarantee power over Upper Egypt. The war with the Kermites went on for a long time, with wins and losses on both the sides.

Persistent invasions of nomadic groups in the peripheries of Kerma debilitated the Kermite kingdom. By 1500 BC, the Kermites were overpowered and were crushed by the attacking Egyptian armed forces under the Pharaoh Thutmose I.

The territories and people of the kingdom were annexed and absorbed into the Egyptian Empire, and that signalled the end of the Kingdom of Kerma.

The people of Kerma would in future reconquer Egypt to become the 25 th dynasty Pharoahs.

Török,László(1997). The kingdom of Kerma: handbook of the Napatan-Meriotic civilization, Part 1, Volume 31. Brill

A. Lobban Jr. Historical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Nubia. (Scarecrow P, 2003).

L. Haynes. Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa. (Acme Printing Company, 1992).

Hirst, K. K., 2015. Kerma – Ancient African Capital, Opponent to Egyptian Pharaohs.

Horse in Ancient Egypt

The horse is not native to ancient Egyptians and the exact date of its introduction to the country is not certain. The horse is believed to have come to Egypt with the Hyksos around 1600BC, who settled in the Nile Delta from the Levant, looking for grazing land for their cattle. By 1700BC these new settlers had been in the area, marrying the native women, for long enough that they could take political control. The Hyksos founded their own fortified capital in the Delta, controlling Memphis and forging alliances with kingdom of Kush, while the Egyptian kings retained control of Thebes. The Hyksos proved very difficult to expel from Egypt due to their competence with the horse and chariot, a method of warfare that the Egyptians had previously barely come into contact with.

But this was only so if they could fight on a level battlefield. The lightweight, high-speed chariots they utilized became very dangerous on all but the flattest terrain and a group of charging horses can rapidly become uncontrollable, potentially putting the passengers in a great deal of danger.

The Ancient Egyptian Horse and Chariot

The chariots used by the Egyptians were lightweight, fast vehicles with two wheels, drawn by two horses. Within each chariot rode two men, the driver and the fighter. It is thought that initially the chariot was used as transport for the aristocracy and also for hunting.

Since the turnover of chariot horses was likely to be very high, it is probable that a large stock of breeding horses were kept, to make sure there was a constant supply for battle. In the early years of the presence of the horse in Egypt, it is highly likely that horses were too precious to risk, so until stock increased horses were used very carefully.

The Horse and the Ancient Egyptian Elite

The horse soon became a much loved and prized possession for the Egyptian elite, particularly the Pharaoh. The horses first introduced to Egypt are smaller than those we are used to today, and had features similar to those of the Arab breed. Yoke measurements from chariots found in tombs give the horses an average height of 1.35m at the withers, or 13.2hh. However these animals could measure up to 1.50m, or 15hh.

Ramses II mentions his horses in the Poem of Kadesh, acknowledging them for their part in the battle of Kadesh. This in itself might seem a strange thing the Pharaoh rarely shared the credit for a victory with another human, so why should such praise fall upon horses?

Relief showing Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh.

“I defeated millions of foreign countries, being alone, being on ‘Victory in Thebes’ and ‘Mut is Contented’ my great horses. They it is whom I found to support me when I was alone fighting many foreign countries… They it is whom I found in the midst of the battle together with the charioteer Menna my shield bearer…”

The Value of the Horse to the Ancient Egyptians

It appears that horses were also ridden. However, it is thought that a chariot would offer more dignity than riding, especially as those on-board were less likely to fall off. The representations show horsemen riding with a bridle and reins, and sometimes a cloth to sit on, but no saddle and stirrups.

However, the horse was not used for draught work. It would be about two millennia before horses would replace oxen as work animals. This was partly due to the horse collar not having been invented, and the yoke collar was unsuitable due to the position it sat in. Also the Egyptians valued the speed of the horse too much to put it to work immediately.

The horse came to Egypt at the pinnacle of the history of the country. Ancient Egypt had her largest empire and greatest power, and this was increased by the addition of the horse and chariot to Egyptian warfare. Although the horse arrived in Egypt too late to be included in the pantheon, it proved vital in other areas, especially with regards to wealth and status, and proved its worth for years to come.

The Mauryan Empire Military

Chandragupta governed a true monarchical imperial state. The king ruled with the help of a small body of elder statesmen, the mantri-parisad, that functioned as advisors. These included the great councilor, or mantrin the purohita, or chief priest the treasurer, or sannidhatr the chief tax collector, samahartr the minister of military affairs, sandhivigrahika the senapati, or chief military advisor or general and the chief secretary, or mahaksapatalika. Below this council, the state was governed on a day-to-day basis through powerful individuals, called superintendents, who oversaw various government departments. The military system itself was controlled by high-ranking civilian superintendents who oversaw the operations of state armories, where all military equipment and weapons were manufactured, as well as supply depots, cavalry, elephants, chariot corps, and infantry, including provisions, training, and general combat readiness. According to Megasthenes, the Seleucid ambassador to Ashoka’s court, the imperial army was run by a committee of thirty of these superintendents, while each branch or department-infantry, cavalry, elephants, chariots, navy, commissariat, and so on-was run by a committee of five men. It is likely that these committees reported directly to the chief military man, the senapati, who then reported to the king.

There were six types of troops in the Mauryan imperial army: the ksatriya, or troops of the hereditary warrior class who formed the spine of the professional army mercenaries and freebooters hired as individuals seeking military adventure troops provided by corporations or guilds troops supplied by subordinate allies deserters from the enemy and wild forest and hill tribesmen used in the same manner as the French and British used Native American tribes in their wars in North America. The troops of the corporations are little understood and may have been units maintained by guilds to guard their caravan routes and trade stations. Such units were later found in the armies of medieval Europe. The imperial armies were not conscript armies. In Vedic times, war fighting was the responsibility of all members of the tribe. By the time of the Mauryas, whatever sort of conscription had once existed earlier had disappeared, and the imperial armies comprised professional warrior aristocrats and other professionals fed, equipped, trained, paid, and otherwise maintained at great cost to the state.

The Mauryan army was quite large. Classical sources (Pliny) state that the size of the army of the last Nanda king was 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 2,000 chariots, and 3,000 elephants when it was overwhelmed by Chandragupta’s force of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 elephants. When Alexander confronted Porus on the banks of the Hydaspes, he faced an army of 30,000 foot, 4,000 cavalry, 300 chariots, and 200 war elephants, an army of considerable size to be deployed by a minor king of a minor state in the Jhelum region. Less than a year later, Alexander confronted the army of the Malavas state, another minor regional entity, and faced an army of 80,000 well-equipped infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 800 chariots. Even accounting for the exaggeration common in ancient accounts, it is by no means unlikely that these armies were this large. The population of India during this period was somewhere between 120,000,000 and 180,000,000 people. Even excluding the lower social orders, the Mauryan empire possessed an enormous manpower pool. Moreover, India was rich in gold and metals and the skills to produce weapons in great quantities in state armories. The Ganges plain and other areas farther north were excellent for breeding mounts for the cavalry. Whatever the true size of the imperial armies, they are all recorded as smaller than those said to have existed during the later medieval and Muslim periods of Indian history.

The tactical organization of the Mauryan army may have been influenced somewhat by the Chinese innovation of combining several combat arms within a single tactical unit and training it to fight together, employing their arms in concert. Indian armies of this period had within them a basic unit called the patti, a mixed platoon comprising one elephant carrying three archers or spearman and a mahout, three horse cavalrymen armed with javelins, round buckler, and spear, and five infantry soldiers armed with shield and broadsword or bow. This twelve-man unit when assembled in three units formed a senamukha, or “company.” Three of these formed together comprised a gulma, or “battalion.” Units were added in multiples of three, forming an aksauhini, or “army,” comprised of 21,870 patti. Sources also speak of military units formed around multiples of ten, and there were no doubt units of single arms that could be employed individually or in concert with other arms. The Arthasastra mentions a unit called the samavyuha, or “battle array,” that was about the size of a Roman legion (5,000 men). This unit comprised five subunits joined together, each subunit containing 45 chariots, 45 elephants, 225 cavalry, and 675 infantrymen each. It goes without saying that managing such units in battle required a high degree of tactical sophistication.

The military equipment of the Mauryan imperial army was essentially the same as it had been for the previous 500 years. The Indian bow was made of bamboo and was between five and six feet long and fi red a long cane arrow with a metal or bone tip. Nearchus, the Cretan chronicler who accompanied Alexander into India, noted that the bowman had to rest the bow on the ground and steady it with his left foot in order to draw it full length. The arrow fi red from the bamboo bow could penetrate any armor. At the Hydaspes the battle took place over muddy ground, which prevented the archers from steadying their bows in this manner, rendering them useless. The composite bow, or sarnga, was also used but probably far less so and not by cavalry. When Alexander’s Asian cavalry archers at the Hydaspes attacked the Indian cavalry with bow and arrow, the Indian cavalry took heavy losses and had no means of returning fi re. It is unlikely that the Indian cavalry ever became proficient with the bow, relying completely on the lance and javelin, the weapons of light cavalry. If the Mauryan army possessed heavy cavalry, they appear to have done so in small numbers.

Infantrymen carried a long, narrow shield made of raw ox hide stretched over a wooden or wicker frame that protected almost the entire body, unlike the small round buckler carried by the cavalry. Armed with spear, bow, and javelin, the infantry tended mostly to be of the light variety. Heavy infantry carried the nistrimsa, or long, two-handed slashing sword, while others were armed with iron maces, dagger axes, battle axes, and clubs. A special long lance, the tomara, was carried by infantry mounted on the backs of elephants and was used to counter any enemy infantry that had fought its way through the elephant’s infantry screen to attack the animal itself. What evidence we have suggests that from Vedic times until the coming of the Greeks, only slight use was made of body armor, and most of that was of the leather or textile variety. With Alexander’s invasion, however, the use of metal and lamellar armor became more widespread, as did the use of scale plate armor for horses and elephants. The helmet did not come into wide use until well after the Common Era, and for most of the ancient period the Indian soldier relied mostly on the thick folds of his turban to protect his head.

By the Mauryan period the Indians possessed most of the ancient world’s siege and artillery equipment, including catapults, ballistas, battering rams, and other siege engines. A distinguishing characteristic of Indian siege and artillery practice was a heavy reliance on incendiary devices, such as fire arrows, pitch pots, and fireballs. There was even a manual instructing how to equip birds and monkeys with the ability to carry fire inside buildings and onto rooftops. This was not surprising in a country whose military fortifications and buildings were made mostly of wood. Fire was such a constant threat to Indian towns that thousands of water containers and buckets were required to be kept full and placed outside dwellings at all times to extinguish fi res. All citizens were required by law to assist in fighting fi res, and it was required that people sleep in the room nearest the street exit to escape fi re more easily and to be quickly available to help in fighting them. So serious was the concern for fi re that the punishment for arson was death by burning alive.

The Arthasastra declares that a good army can march two yojanas a day and that a bad army can only manage one. This is a rate of march for an effective army of about ten miles a day, considerably below what the armies of the Near East could manage during the same period. It is likely that the Mauryan army followed the old Vedic practice of agreeing with the enemy as to the location of a battlefield in advance. Under these conditions, tactical surprise was likely to have been a rare event. Much of the advice offered by the Arthasastra, at least from the tactical perspective, seems to be of the same variety as that proffered by Sun-Tsu, more a set of maxims designed to make the commander think than a set of rules to be applied in certain circumstances. That is why, to the Western mind, such maxims often appear obvious. Hints of a tactical system appear, however, in the suggestion that whether the attack is from the center, right, or left, it should always be led by the strongest troops. The weakest troops are to be kept in reserve. But the reserve is very important. The king should always station himself with the reserve to exploit any enemy failure, and a king should “never fight without a reserve.”

FURTHER READING Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India: A Study of the History and Culture of the Indian Sub-continent Before the Coming of the Muslims. New York: Grove Press, 1959. Bhatia, H. S. Vedic and Aryan India. Delhi: Deep and Deep, 2001. Bradford, Alfred S. With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001. The Cambridge History of India. Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 1968. Dikshitar, V. R. Ramachandra. War in Ancient India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987. Jackson, A. V. Williams. History of India. London: Grolier Society, 1906. Prasad, S. N., ed. Historical Perspectives of Warfare in India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002. Sandhu, Gurcharn Singh. A Military History of Ancient India. Delhi: Vision Books, 2000. Singh, Sarva Daman. Ancient Indian Warfare. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997. Smith, Vincent Arthur. The Oxford History of India. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958. Thapar, Romila. A History of India. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1966.

Early tourists visiting the Pyramids and the ruins of Ancient Egypt, 1860-1930

By the late eighteenth century, Egypt had been reduced to nothing more than an impoverished and neglected corner of the Ottoman Empire, crippled by endless power struggles among its Mamluk leadership.

Then in 1798, Napoleon arrived at the head of a French army, closely followed by the British, who had hitherto shown little interest in Egypt. After the French retreat, Egypt became gradually Westernised under the Albanian Ottoman Muhammad Ali Pasha, so that by the time the English novelist Thackeray visited Alexandria in 1845, the Nile ‘was lined with steel mills’ and looked ‘scarcely Eastern at all’.

Egypt’s early tourism trade started in the 19th century and increased in popularity alongside the rise of Egyptology as an academic and amateur pursuit. Especially, after the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, it became much easier to visit Egypt.

Organized group holidays offering an all-inclusive price that reduced the travelers’ costs were an innovation of the 1840s. Thomas Cook (1808-1892), a brilliant entrepreneur from England, is seen as their inventor and thus the pioneer of commercialized mass tourism.

In the 1870s, Cook offered his famous tour of Palestine and the Nile, a way for wealthy people to explore the wonders of Ancient Egypt. Many of these tourists took pictures in front of the ancient ruins or the Great Sphinx, some of them even climbed all the way to the top of the pyramids.

Scores of photographers, seeking to establish their studios, began arriving in Egypt following the tourist gaze. They hauled heavy equipment across the desert to photograph the wonders of the Nile Valley. Some opened studios in the larger cities where they sold their wares to tourists a few were engaged by Egyptologists to document excavations. Travelers exploring the monuments of ancient Egypt could return home with souvenir photographs of the sights they encountered.

For Europeans, Egypt and Egyptian history offered a more vivid and exotic picture of the ancient world than probably any other culture. With a history covering over 3,000 years, dynasties of pharaohs lasting for centuries, and extraordinary figures like Alexander, Cleopatra, and Tutankhamun illuminating the story, this is hardly surprising.

The pictures collected here are part of a collection documenting the British occupation of Egypt and show the early tourists exploring the ruins of Ancient Egypt.

Britsh tourists in front of the Great Sphinx. 1910.

The ruins of Ancient Egypt. 1905.

Some of the more adventuresome tourists were determined to see the view from the top of the 455-foot Pyramid of Cheops.

The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Gloucester climb one of the pyramids. 1930.

British tourists in Egypt. 1895.

Egyptians and tourists clamber up one of the pyramids. 1880.

The smooth white limestone which had once encased the pyramid had long since been torn off for use in buildings in Cairo, leaving the massive structural blocks for tourists and local guides to clamber over. 1930.

Locals helping a tourist climbing the pyramid. 1860.

With the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, visits by wealthy tourists increased. 1900.

A lady climbing the pyramid. 1900.

It was quite a challenge to climb the pyramid! (1867)

Men rest atop the Great Pyramid. 1900.

Photographer Lewis Larsson composes a photo from atop the Great Pyramid. 1900.

A view from the top of the pyramid. 1900.

Egyptian men watch as the Graf Zeppelin floats over the pyramids of Giza. 1931.

A lot of time and effort was required to build these beautiful pyramids, each one averaging about two centuries. About 138 pyramids were built in ancient Egypt and their beauty lies not only in their construction but also in the phenomenal amount of thought that went into their positioning in relation to the stars.

The Egyptians believed that their pharaohs should be buried along with their treasure and sometimes even their slaves. Hence gold, jewelry, clothes etc were put in the tombs with the mummies. However, over the years, rulers of other kingdoms have destroyed the pyramids and taken these jewels and valuables back to their own respective kingdoms. Although the pyramids are very hard to damage, smaller pyramids were targeted, and their riches plundered. One such example of this can be seen in the Great Pyramid of Giza. There is evidence of a failed break-in and the deep hole that was made in the pyramid’s structure is still visible today.

The construction of these pyramids is just so incredible that much research has gone into how to make equivalently strong structures today. The mortar used is still unknown, and scientists have not even been able to determine where the mortar came from.

It is astonishing that the ancient Egyptians could create buildings with such precision, and this careful, intelligent level of construction can be seen in other monuments in Egypt as well, not just the pyramids. Without the help of machinery, and even before the invention of the wheel, they achieved as much as modern man is able to today. It is also possible to see progression in their building techniques when you compare the earlier pyramids to the later models, such as in the fine polishing of the exteriors.

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3 thoughts on &ldquoTop 10 Fascinating Facts about the Egyptian Pyramids&rdquo

The Pyramids of Egypt The sphinx is the gateway to finding the hidden chambers within the great Pyramid. There is much knowledge stored within their, you have heard of the great library of Alexandria that was destroyed by the zealous early Christians. They destroyed much of everything under within that great Pyramid within the chamber that is indeed under the sand. You see much sand has built up over the many many centuries, if the entire base was cleared completely you would see that there was much more, much has been covered by the sand over the time, Those chambers would lie under the sand, and the sphinx is indeed the doorway, to reaching it.

I think I was told in Egypt that the pyramids were buried in sand and were only discovered when the sand was blown away a long time after they were built. It seems unlikely that something that huge could be covered in sand, but I’d like to know for sure!

There are so many types of Pyramids. Wha you menrioned is true. There are such kind pyramids in Mexico. They are under ground and discovered recently.

Watch the video: Elefanterne i Københavns Zoo (January 2022).