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Historical Warfare: Carthaginian War Elephants

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The Carthaginians were famed for utilizing war elephants in battle. They first encountered war elephants, when the greeks, under the command of the great general Pyrrhus of Epirus, used the beasts to fight the Romans. Carthage soon adopted this fearsome method of warfare.

Typically, the Carthaginians used a now extinct species of elephant, called the North African Elephant, although occasionally they used elephants from Syria as well. Often reaching a height of 2.5 metres, the elephants were made even more fearsome by adding armour to the head, trunk and blades of spears to the tusks.

The elephants were controlled by a driver, called a Mahout. However, these elephants were not large enough to carry a tower called a howdah, but were large enough to carry two men. The other man was usually a javelin man.

Before going into battle, the carthaginians used to give their elephants a fermented wine. THis was to make them behave more erratically and to also increase their trumpeting and stamping. Their main purpose in battle was to break up enemy formations, as well as terrify the enemy into running away, they were also extremely effective at stopping calvary charges, as horses naturally are scared of the smell of elephants.

However, because an elephant was such a large and loosely tamed beast, more often than not, they would end up causing more damage to their own side, rather than the enemy. This was due to the elephants running away from the battle, and as a result stampeding on their own men.


Cartwright, M. and Cartwright, M. (2018). Carthaginian Army. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Carthaginian_A... [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].

Cartwright, M. and Cartwright, M. (2018). Carthaginian Warfare. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Carthaginian_W... [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].

Mark, J. and Mark, J. (2018). Punic Wars. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Punic_Wars/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].

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