Monday, Jul. 19, 2010


War elephants are awesome. They have tusks, a bellowing trumpet of a trunk and can stomp on things. In antiquity, their bulk also allowed them to become mobile fortresses, capable of carrying soldiers and archers on their backs. Nothing could break up a line of infantry or send horses into a panic faster than a charging pack of pachyderms. Elephants comprised the most feared ranks of ancient Indian armies and spread in use through Mesopotamia and parts of the Mediterranean. In 218 B.C., the Carthaginian general Hannibal famously led an army of North Africans and Iberians — and 37 elephants — across the Alps and nearly snuffed out the Roman republic. The detachment of elephants proved the centerpiece of a campaign whose tactics would be emulated for centuries to come, even by U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War.