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How To Defeat A War Elephant - A Survival Guide

War Elephants were the tanks of Ancient Warfare. A long time ago, Around the 4th Century BC – give or take a decade or three - some bright spark in India decided that fighting whilst sitting on an elephant would be a jolly good idea. Indeed, the thoughts of Indian Kings on War Elephants at the time were, “an army without elephants is as despicable as a forest without a lion, a kingdom without a king or as valour unaided by weapons.”

It’s easy to see why a War Elephant would be an essential seasonal accessory for any would-be General. First off, the sheer solid mass and thick hide of an elephant meant that it could not easily be stopped by the spears of puny soldiers. Secondly, elephants can reach a rather astonishing top speed of twenty-five miles per hour. Imagine fifteen elephants charging towards you at almost the same speed as an Olympic champion. Picturing it? I think it's safe to say that the experience would certainly leave an impression. Possibly the impression of an Elephant's foot left in a face.

A War Elephant as seen in the videogame Assassin's Creed Origins.

This already formidable creature was then levelled up by adding weapons and armour. In India and Sri Lanka, heavy iron balls were chained to the trunks of elephants, and the animals were then trained to swirl the weapon like an angry baton twirler at the front of a marching band.

Meanwhile, Kings of Khmer utilised the elephants as mobile artillery, planting giant wooden crossbows onto their broad backs, each weapon capable of firing deadly armour-piercing shafts at the enemy.

So, if you were up against 4500 kg of mace-wielding and arrow-firing elephant, what exactly would stop it? The answer…a pig.

Yes, a pig.

War Elephants in Battle by Paul Philippoteaux

So how could one of our porcine chums possibly hope to defeat an Elephant?

The world found out during the War of the Diadochi, in which Alexander the Great’s generals fought over the Macedonian empire after the big man’s premature case of severe death. The battle in question was a siege in 266 BC, in which Antigonus II Gonatus advanced upon the city of Megara with a vast army, including a great number of formidable war elephants. The Megarians had to break the siege at any cost, to do so, they called for the help of an elite squad of War Pigs.

According to Pliny the Elder (the Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher), ‘elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of the hog’ which led to the Romans sending squealing pigs and rams to successfully repel the War Elephants of Pyrrhus in 275BC.

For the Megarians under siege, launching War Pigs to attack War Elephants didn’t seem nearly deadly enough. Instead, they went one step further. They coated their war pigs in a flammable resin and set them on fire.

The War Pig had just become the Flaming War Pig.

The Megarians drove the flaming pigs – or moving bacon, if you will - towards the massed ranks of war elephants facing them in a screaming, squealing, cacophony of angry burning pork. Despite the forceful commands of the riders sat upon them, the elephants bolted. They crashed back through their own ranks, smushing both man and horse beneath them and effectively destroying Antigonus II Gonatus's unsuspecting army in just a few moments.

The pig had been victorious. In the battle of War Pig and War Elephant, it was clear who the champion was.


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