War Elephants Were So Scary, They Created War Pigs

By | August 19, 2019

test article image
War elephants, equipped according to General d'Orgoni's instructions, Burma, illustration from L'Illustration, Journal Universel, No 595, Volume XXIV, July 22, 1854. Source: (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Always keen to get a leg up on the enemy, military leaders have often looked to animals to give them a wartime advantage. Horses, naturally, were trained to carry soldiers into battle. The stories of Hannibal taking war elephants over the Alps during the Second Punic War are legendary. But did you know that several other animals were also used in ancient warfare? Monkeys, dogs, rhinoceroses, and even cats were used for military purposes. It was the enormous elephants, however, that proved to be formidable---that is, until clever commanders discovered the best way to disrupt the army of elephants was with their own four-legged troops. This is the story of how war pigs were used to battle war elephants in ancient Rome. Yes, really! 

test article image
Elephants made formidable war machines. Source: (elitereaders.com)

First Came the Elephants

There is an actual term for the use of trained elephants in war: elephantry. Get it? You'd think it would be difficult at best and sheer hubris at worst to attempt to master an elephant-sized animal, but elephants are intelligent and easily trained. When capturing and training elephants as a war technique began in India, the war elephants were almost always captured from the wild because elephants live, like, forever. There was no time to wait for a teenage elephant to get its act together, so in this case, it was actually better to teach an old not-dog new tricks. Ideally, elephants that were around 60 years old were sought out to be used as war elephants because they were at their prime. Like grizzled old generals, older elephants were valued for their experience, intelligence, and discipline in battle. Only male elephants were used in battle, but not because they were stronger and fiercer than the females. It was because the females would stampede away from bull elephants.