23 Jan: The Elephants of War

Elephants have played a surprisingly important role on the battlefield, even before the birth of Christ; notably in 5th Century BCE India, and during the Punic Wars in Africa. 

But on 23rd January, 971, the Southern Han division of the Chinese military retired their famous elephant corps forever – after facing a massive aerial assault from crossbowmen from the Song Dynasty, who had defeated them in battle.

War elephants were not just formidable attackers, but also served as platforms for archers, vantage points, and even provided cover for advancing troops. Despite their effectiveness, the inherent volatility of the animals – susceptible to spooking and turning on their own side –  led to their eventual decline.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly discover how some elephants continued to serve in the military, even after the development of gunpowder; consider the awesome psychological impact of being attacked by a troupe of elephants; and reveal how the Romans learned to defend themselves from elephants – with the aid of some squealing pigs…

Content Warning: animal cruelty.

#China #Animals #War #Medieval #BC

Further Reading:

‘War Elephants’ (Royal Armouries, 2018):