Created By: NoirGrimoir on August 20, 2011 Last Edited By: NoirGrimoir on September 17, 2011
Troped

War Elephants

Elephants are used in war.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
If you want to make an army look exotic and threatening, give them War Elephants. Or you know, war mammoths, one of the two. It's usually hard to decide which exactly the creatures are trying to be, or whether they are some fantasy equivalent, because they tend to be super-sized to the point where they almost qualify as war-barges, with hugely long tusks.

These creatures can be used by the Evil Army of Evil Foreigners inflicting massive damage. If not then they might be used by foreign allies, and usually used to indicate the army's exotic-ness. May also be accompanied by other safari animals like rhinos or leopards.

This trope is very much Truth in Television as historically, Persians and various Kingdoms in India and the middle east used Elephants in war as they are large, strong and highly trainable creatures who can carry multiple men high up on their backs, often officers who could get a raised view of the battle field, or archers and artillery, who could get clear views of targets.

Contrary to popular believe, Elephants are not afraid of mice. They are however afraid of pigs.

War Elephants are categorized as a Type 1 Living Weapon. Compare Horse of a Different Color

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Digimon, Mammothmon are usually used in this fashion.

Film
  • Xerxes army used elephants against the Spartans in 300. they basically fell tot heir deaths off a cliff though.
  • In Lord of the Rings, Mordor's army had people from the south who used ridiculously massive elephant creatures with huge tusks. In-world, the hobbits referred to them as 'Oliphaunts'.
  • In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen the Grand Turk uses elephants to propel his War Machines. The Baron gets them to back off with the strategic use of mice.
  • Subverted in Operation Dumbo Drop, in which the U.S. Army goes to great lengths to transport an elephant, but as a gift of a work animal to a Southeast Asian village, not a battle-beast.
  • Referenced in The Jungle Book (or at least the animated movie thereof) where one elephant commands the others like a Drill Sergeant Nasty (except without the swearing) and talks about the medals he earned.

Literature
  • In Tha´s of Athens, Seleucus (one of Alexander the Great's generals) gathers a whole unit of battle elephants while campaigning in India. It never sees much action in the novel, but Thais gets to ride one in Babylon.

Musicals

Tabletop Games

Video Games
  • In Civilization 2, war elephants are available as a unit. This is inexplicably available as a result of discovering polytheism.
    • In Civilization III they are the Indians' special unit, which they get instead of Knights when they invent Chivalry. Their stats are the same as Knights but they don't require any strategic resources to build (and thus can be built anywhere at any time).
  • Age of Wonders 1 and 2, have War Elephant units. Frostlings got Mammoth Rider in 2.
  • They also appear in Rome: Total War, with the more advanced types carrying archers on their backs. Only Carthage and the Seleucids can train them.
  • Dynasty Warriors - War elephants are generally used as mounts by the Nanman, and sometimes unlockable as a companion animal by the player character.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Older Than Dirt as Hannibal of Carthage actually used war elephants in many campaigns.
  • Historically, Persians and various Kingdoms in India also used Elephants in war.
  • Alexander the Great first encountered war elephants in India, and his general Seleukos got 500 of them in return for peace with an Indian king. He used these to gain a decisive advantage over the other Macedonian generals in the Wars of the Successors, eventually conquering the lion's share of Alexander's empire. Elephants were used in many Hellenistic armies after that, and were helpful for instance in defeating the Galatians in Turkey in the 3rd century BC. However, after a while, professional soldiers got used to the sight of elephants, meaning their psychological impact was lost. The Romans never adopted the practice of using them.
  • The people of Thailand have historically ridden elephants into battle. They are sacred animals there.

Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • August 20, 2011
    TheMayorofNorthfield
    Truth In Television combined with Older Than Dirt, as Hannibal of Carthage actually used war elephants in many campaigns.

  • August 20, 2011
    Maklodes
    Video Games
  • August 20, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen the Grand Turk uses elephants to propel his War Machines. The Baron gets them to back off with the strategic use of mice.
  • August 21, 2011
    JonnyB
    That would be Civilization 2.
  • August 21, 2011
    SharleeD
    • Subverted in Operation Dumbo Drop, in which the U.S. Army goes to great lengths to transport an elephant, but as a gift of a work animal to a Southeast Asian village, not a battle-beast.
  • August 21, 2011
    Bisected8
    A type of Living Weapon (type I to be exact).
  • August 21, 2011
    shimaspawn
    • War Elephants are one of the mount choices in Dynasty Warriors 5. They are first encountered in use by the Nanman Forces.
  • August 21, 2011
    TBeholder
  • August 21, 2011
    Trotzky
    MUSIC
  • August 21, 2011
    Smo
    Fun war elephant facts:

    • Elephant skin was basically impervious to arrows.
    • Elephants are extremely trainable and could be taught many manuveurs and attacks.
    • The commanding officer would often sit atop an elephant to get an elevated view of the battlefield.
    • Archers and even ballistas could be fired from atop an elephant.
    • It was discovered that elephants were scared of pigs, and that releasing that elephants would cause them to turn about in panic and often crush their own side. Also severing the elephants trunk was an effective counter tactic.
  • August 22, 2011
    HiddenFacedMatt
    Referenced in The Jungle Book (or at least the animated movie thereof) where one elephant commands the others like a Drill Sergeant Nasty (except without the swearing) and talks about the medals he earned.
  • August 22, 2011
    desdendelle
    Age Of Empires 1 and 2 have War Elephant units.
  • August 22, 2011
    azraelfinalstar
    • In Digi Mon, Mammothmon are usually used in this fashion.
  • August 22, 2011
    Koveras
    In Thais Of Athens, Seleucus (one of Alexander The Great's generals) gathers a whole unit of battle elephants while campaigning in India. It never sees much action in the novel, but Thais gets to ride one in Babylon.
  • August 22, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    There was this strategy game from some time ago with a number of countries; Thailand's army was the only one to use elephants. I don't remember what the game's name was or if it's already listed here, but it was Truth In Television in that the Siamese army did once bring elephants into war.
  • August 22, 2011
    jaytee
    I don't know what that The King And I example is getting at, but you can't "almost subvert" a trope. I don't know the musical well enough, but it sounds like they were discussing an inversion (where a good guy uses elephants instead of a bad guy)?
  • August 23, 2011
    oztrickster
    The Lord Of The Rings elephants are called M├╗makil by the people from the south
  • August 23, 2011
    hotrods4ben
  • August 23, 2011
    Nomic
    Chaos warriors in Warhammer have ware mammoths (they hail from the cold northlands, so elephants wouldn't really fit them).
  • August 23, 2011
    Dessek
    In Civilization III they are the Indians' special unit, which they get instead of Knights when they invent Chivalry. Their stats are the same as Knights but they don't require any strategic resources to build (and thus can be built anywhere at any time).

    This is also heavily Truth In Television, by the way. Alexander the Great first encountered war elephants in India, and his general Seleukos got 500 of them in return for peace with an Indian king. He used these to gain a decisive advantage over the other Macedonian generals in the Wars of the Successors, eventually conquering the lion's share of Alexander's empire. Elephants were used in many Hellenistic armies after that, and were helpful for instance in defeating the Galatians in Turkey in the 3rd century BC. However, after a while, professional soldiers got used to the sight of elephants, meaning their psychological impact was lost. The Romans never adopted the practice of using them.
  • August 23, 2011
    Dessek
    They also appear in Rome: Total War, with the more advanced types carrying archers on their backs. Only Carthage and the Seleucids can train them.
  • August 25, 2011
    Maklodes
    Maybe the references to this being an Evil Army unit could be dropped, or given less prominence. It seems like there are a few fictional examples of it being a tool of clear evil armies (Lord of the Rings, WHFB), but it seems like many fictional examples are just as prone to having them just be a unit. (Azracs and Frostlings from Age Of Wonders are both neutral, for example)
  • August 25, 2011
    AP
    Real life examples:

    • The people of Thailand have historically ridden elephants into battle. They are sacred animals there.
    • It is also not unheard of in Indian history.
  • September 17, 2011
    Gatomon41
    Tabletop Games:

  • September 17, 2011
    dotchan
    • Dynasty Warriors - War elephants are generally used as mounts by the Nanman, and sometimes unlockable as a companion animal by the player character.
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