Persian war elephants

Sasanian relief of boar-hunting on domestic elephants, Taq-e Bostan, Iran
A medieval Armenian miniature representing the Sasanian war elephants in the Battle of Avarayr in 451 AD

War elephants were used in Iranian military history, most notably in Achaemenid, Seleucid and Sasanian periods. The elephants were Asian elephants, and were recruited from southern provinces of Iran[citation needed], and India but also possibly Western Asiatic elephants from Syria and western-most Iran.

The men (excluding the driver) sat in a large tower from which troops would fight. The elephant itself would normally be armed with thin plate armour (the Sassanids used chain mail as well as thin plate armour) and would bear a large crenelated wooden howdah on its back.[1] Persian war elephants were trained by their rider, called a mahout, who would also ride the elephant into battle. Training elephants was a difficult task and they would be hard to maintain because they ate so much food and water. On the march, huge paths needed to be cut for the elephants.[citation needed]

History [ edit ]

Under the Achaemenids [ edit ]

Persians used war elephants at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. The battle raged between king Alexander the Great of Macedon and king Darius III of Persia. The Persians had 15 Indian-trained war elephants, which were placed at the centre of the Persian line, and they made such an impression on the Macedonian troops that Alexander felt the need to sacrifice to the God of Fear the night before the battle. Despite this the Persians lost the battle, relinquishing the Achaemenid empire to Alexander.

Some[citation needed] claim that they had been used previously in the Greek campaign of King Xerxes I of Persia, and even further back at the time of Darius the Great at the Indus, the Danube and against the Scythians in 512 BC. Neither Xenophon nor Herodotus mention war elephants in their accounts of these earlier campaigns.

Under the Parthians [ edit ]

Since the early 1st century AD, elephants were also used as a symbol of kingship in Iran. This notion was adopted from the Greco-Bactrians.[2]

Under the Sasanians [ edit ]

King Khosrow I on top of an elephant fighting the Mazdakite Revolt. Persian miniature

In the early Sasanian period, the war elephants were used in battles as a psychological weapon for its terrorizing effects. Later this role evolved into a logistical one, and in late Sasanian period they were used by army commanders to survey the battle scene.[2]

Sasanian elephants were under a special chief, known as the Zend−hapet, or "Commander of the Indians", as they were from India.

War elephant with turret. Statuette from Pompeii in National Archaeological Museum, Naples

Shapur I may have used war elephants against Valerian.[2] But the beasts were most notably used in Shapur II's forces.[3] Emperor Julian mentions their use in the wars of 337–361, which he described them to be Indian elephants and carried "iron towers full of archers"[4] (possibly hyperbole; he was not an eye-witness to the particular battle he described).[3] The elephants were later used by the Sasanians against Julian during his campaign in 363, including at Ctesiphon, Samarra, and later in a surprise attack on Jovian's forces.[3] The eye-witness Ammianus Marcellinus describes the beasts as "gleaming elephants with ... cruel gaping jaws, pungent smell, and strange appearance";[5] at Ctesiphon, they were placed behind the Sasanian ranks, looking like "walking hills" that "by the movements of their enormous bodies, ... threatened destruction to all who came near them, dreaded as they were from past experience".[2] But these instances were all results of "dire necessity rather than normal deployment", as they usually had little tactical impact, especially in pitched battles. When they were used in pitched battles, the elephants were usually positioned in the rear, in contrast to the classical Carthaginian and Hellenistic practices.[3]

The Sasanian elephants were most effective in siege warfare against fortified cities, where they probably carried turrets or howdahs[3] and were used as shooting platforms. According to Procopius, emperor Justinian I had raised Dara's city walls by 30 feet (9.1 m) to hinder attacks by the Sasanian elephants.[6] Procopius has mentioned wooden turrets that allowed the Sasanians to tower over the walls of a besieged city and shoot arrows. During the Lazic War, Mihr-Mihroe's eight elephants proved effective in the sieges of Archaeopolis and other Lazic fortifications.[3]

Miscellaneous applications of the elephants by the Sasanians are also reported; Agathias mentions their use to blockade a river in one occasion.[3]

In the Battle of the Bridge near the fall of the Sasanian Empire, the Sasanians under Bahman Jaduyah used their elite Zhayedan forces, which included war elephants, against the invading Arab Muslims under Abu Ubaid al-Thaqafi. A white elephant tore the latter from his horse with its trunk, and trampled him underfoot. The Arab Muslims suffered heavy casualties in the battle.[7] The elephants was also used in the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, but was unsuccessful.

Later dynasties [ edit ]

The war elephants were also used by Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Buyids to a lesser extent,[8] and also by Khwarezmids in the Samarkand area.[9]. The Timurids also used them in the Battle of Ankara.

In popular culture [ edit ]

  • Shatranj (chess) - which Modern chess has gradually developed from it, same as Indian chess includes the war elephant with the name fil (meaning "elephant" in Persian) as the bishop.
  • The Persian civilisation in Age of Empires 2 has War Elephants as their unique unit, in reference to this period in history. War Elephants are also available by the Persians in Age of Empires and are granted with fast movement.

See also [ edit ]

References [ edit ]

  1. ^ Charles, Michael B. (2007). "The Rise of the Sassanian Elephant Corps: Elephants and the Later Roman Empire". Iranica Antiqua. 42: 301–346. doi:10.2143/IA.42.0.2017880.
  2. ^ a b c d Daryaee, Touraj. ""From Terror to Tactical Usage: Elephants in the Partho-Sasanian Period," The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires: Adaptation and Expansion, eds. V. Sarkhosh Curtis et. al., Oxford, 2016, pp. 36-41". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Charles, Michael B. "ELEPHANT ii. In the Sasanian Army – Encyclopaedia Iranica".
  4. ^ Julian, Oration 2: "[[s:The heroic deeds of Constantius|]]"
  5. ^ Kistler, John M. (2007). War Elephants. U of Nebraska Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-8032-6004-7.
  6. ^ Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. Akadémiai Kiadó. 2003. p. 369.
  7. ^ Richard Nelson Frye, The Cambridge History of Iran: The period from the Arab invasion to the Saljuqs, (Cambridge University Press, 1975), 8-9.
  8. ^ Heath, Ian (2015-09-26). Armies of the Dark Ages. ISBN 9781326233327.
  9. ^ Kistler, John M. War Elephants, Westport, CT: Praeger, (2006).

Further reading [ edit ]

  • Nicolle, David (1996). Sassanian Armies : the Iranian empire early 3rd to mid-7th centuries AD. Montvert. ISBN 1-874101-08-6.
  • Rance, Philip (2003). "Elephants in Warfare in Late Antiquity". Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 43 (3–4): 355–384. doi:10.1556/aant.43.2003.3-4.10.
  • Wilcox, Peter (2001). Rome's Enemies 3: Parthians and Sassanid Persians. Osprey. ISBN 0-85045-688-6.

External links [ edit ]

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