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How do you stop an elephant from charging? You don't. Not even Wicked Wasps can stop it.

"Imagine you're a provincial Roman farmer. The most you've seen of the world is maybe the length of Italy if you're really well-traveled. Now imagine that through the sleets and the mist you see a great grey lumbering bulk begin to emerge. Imagine you see this creature two-and-a-half times as tall as you, at least a chariot-length long, with glistening white tusks and a distended snout, its eerie trumpeting carrying across to you faintly on the wind. This is probably the closest that human beings ever got to legit fighting monsters — fighting something so alien and gargantuan that there was no frame of reference for them."
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If you want to make an army look exotic and threatening, give them War Elephants.

Trained war elephants have been used by some historical nations, but fairly sporadically and usually by ones fighting against the Roman, European or Chinese cultures that most modern writers are descended from. Thus, war elephants' presence in an army easily establishes it as foreign and unusual. Elephants also have a domineering presence on the battlefield, smashing apart shieldwalls and light fortifications and trampling over regular troops, and their sheer fearsome bulk presents them as an obvious threat that will be very difficult to deal with. These creatures are typically be used by the Evil Army, but if they're on the heroes' side then they might be used by foreign allies to indicate the army's exoticness.

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In battle, elephants are mostly used for their fear factor, intimidating enemy troops while rallying yours, and as breakthrough troops with which to smash through enemy lines. It's also common for howdahs to be mounted on their backs, typically carrying additional soldiers, ranged troops to take advantage of the raised vantage point, or even whole cannons. More pragmatically, the beasts can also be used to haul around siege weaponry, supplies or mobile fortifications. The main downside to these creatures is the possibility of them stampeding if something scares them, at which point they'll usually trample their way through friend and foe alike; indeed, a common strategy employed by armies facing war elephants is to try to get them to stampede before battle is joined, ideally in the enemy's own camp.

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War Mammoths work too, especially when used by armies coming from the endless cold of the northlands or in the distant past. Fantasy elephant equivalents can also serve this purpose, in order to further emphasize the exoticness of the army or world in question. In all of these cases, the elephants' size tends to be super-sized to the point where they almost qualify as war-barges with tusks. They may also be accompanied by other safari animals like rhinos or leopards.

Unlike most elephants in general, these elephants cannot be stunned by rodents, be it Rodents of Unusual Size or Swarm of Rats. These rodents will run away from warring elephants instead, or the elephants will curb-stomp them.

This trope is Truth in Television: kingdoms in North Africa, the Middle East, and southeastern Asia have weaponized pachyderms at various points in history. Elephants are huge, strong, tough, terrifying, and highly trainable animals capable of carrying multiple riders on their backs, whether they be officers wanting a better view of the battlefield, archers, or even artillerymen firing a ballista or cannon from a howdah. Horses were also generally terrified of them and wouldn't go near them, so a few elephants in front of your army could make enemy cavalry charges useless. However, they could easily panic in battle, trampling friend or foe, and their sensitive hearing made them even more prone to panic when loud firearms became widespread.

Subtrope of Beast of Battle. Compare Horse of a Different Color. See Cruel Elephant for violent and dangerous elephants in general.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Berserk, the Kushan Empire uses large numbers of war elephants in their invasion of Midland, equipped with armor and carrying platforms for warriors and archers. The exotic animals seem like unstoppable monsters to their enemies, and we are treated to graphic depictions of hapless infantry being trampled beneath their feet, though Rakshas also demonstrates that they can be easily terrified and made to stampede over their own forces. As if the regular elephants weren't enough, Daiba and his sorcerers have also provided the Empire with bipedal elephant-headed monsters armed with equally enormous weapons. Emperor Ganishka certainly prizes elephants as a sign of royal power, since we see him riding to and from Charlotte's prison on an elephant, and he commands the siege of Vritannis from a palace on wheels drawn by no fewer than sixteen elephants and surrounded by an escort of elephant cavalry.
  • Digimon: In the various iterations of the franchise, Mammothmon are usually used in this fashion. The final battle of Digimon Xros Wars, which featured hundreds of the things serving under DarknessBagramon, stands out in this regard.
  • The Heroic Legend of Arslan: A feature of Shindra's army, they can also be drugged into an even more dangerous berserker state (predictably, they up being just as dangerous to Shindran troops).
  • Mazinger Z: Mechanical Beast Elephant γ3 is a bipedal elephant with long, curvy tusks, Arm Cannons, and big ears that shot heat rays.
  • One Piece: Jack from the Beast Pirates and one of Kaido's Co-Dragons ate the Zou Zou no Mi, Model: Mammoth, giving him the ability to turn him into a massive mammoth (and he is already huge from the start). He tramples through the battlefield like a calamity and he's also extremely endurable coupled with very high stamina, making him The Juggernaut. Untypical for this trope, Jack is actually in charge of many of Kaido's troops, thanks to his status as one of Kaido's right-hand men.
    • Zunisha, the colossal elephant that carries the island of Zu on its back, is not one of these normally, though it mentions that it committed some sin in the past for which it carries the island on its back. But if you try attacking it- as the afore-mentioned Jack does- then it will defend itself and its island- and it straight-up knocks Jack into the sea!

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: Elephants — a creature type that also includes mastodons, mammoths and fictional proboscideans — feature as a recurring creature type. In addition to the assumed implication that cards represent creatures the player has summoned to fight for them, some are explicitly trained for this role in-universe — Trained Armodon is one such examples, while the Abzan Houses of Tarkir include elephants and mastodons among the giant creatures they use as beasts of battle and to pull their moving fortresses.

    Comic Books 
  • Alan Ford: Parodied when "His Excellency" the Number One tells the story of Pyrrhus and his war against the Romans. The infamous victory is attributed to the fact that while the elephants proved decisive to win the battle, they still trampled 3000 roman soldiers and 18000 of Pyrrhus' own forces.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Avengers: In Kurt Busiek and George Perez' run, Red Sonja's nemesis Kulan Gath transmutes a couple of tanks into war elephants that nearly trample Iron Man before he is saved by team mate Triathlon. She-Hulk tells them "Back off, Jumbo" and flattens one with a punch while swinging the other one through the air by its trunk. Even war elephants don't stand a chance against the Emerald Amazon.
    • Ghost Rider:
      • The prehistoric Ghost Rider is a caveman who rides a woolly mammoth on fire.
      • The Indian Ghost Rider Shoba Mirza rides a flaming skeletal Asian elephant. Coupled with her four arms in Rider form, she ends up resembling a raging Hindu god.
    • Red Sonja: In Marvel's 1970s run, Sonja allied herself with the young ruler of kingdom whose major military strength was its war mammoths.
    • War of the Realms: The Dark Elf soldiers ride creatures resembling moss-covered woolly mammoths.

    Fan Works 
  • ''An Empire of Ice and Fire': The Golden Company makes use of them, as per canon. During the Battle of Winterfell, they supplement their regular elephants with mammoths from North of the Wall.
  • Equestria Divided: House Everfree can field both elephants and gigantic oliphaunts, mounting howdahs on their backs to carry warriors into battle. Boars, rhinos and hippos are also used as less powerful but cheaper alternatives for the same purpose.
  • ''I Am Skantarios': The Byzantines fights these in their wars, and eventually gets a herd of their own.
  • A Scotsman in Egypt: the final major battle of the fic against the Timurids features their war elephants. Of course, the Timurid hordes didn't feature on being: a) outnumbered and b) facing Scotsmen. Angus the Mauler gets a special mention for going batshit insane (moreso than usual) at the sight of them, not calming down until he's finally killed one. Singlehandedly.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Jungle Book (1967): Referenced when the elephants act like heroic (if dimwitted) British army officers.
  • Khan Kluay, known as The Blue Elephant in the USA, has the protagonist grow up into a war elephant, complete with a war elephant battle at the climax.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 300: Xerxes' army uses elephants against the Spartans, but they fall to their deaths off a cliff. Keeping in line with the "exotic nature" of this trope, the Persians also have a war rhinoceros.
  • 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, which sends the whole herd into a panicked stampede through the Turkish camp.
  • Alexander: Alexander's army faces "elephant monsters" at the Battle of Hydaspes.
  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: Mordred summons gigantic war elephants with his Black Magic and tears through the kingdom of Camelot with them. They are very much a Keystone Army, as one single strike of Excalibur by King Uther Pendragon on their summoners is enough to cause them to collapse into dust.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Oliphants, as in the books, are used by the Haradrim forces allied with Sauron. They're portrayed as fantastical dire elephants with eight tusks (four large and four small), and are even bigger than in the books, being roughly fifty to sixty feet at the shoulder. There are also some unnamed rhino-like creatures pulling the siege engines that the orcs bring to the Battle of Minas Tirith.
  • Operation: Dumbo Drop: Subverted. 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.

    Literature 
  • In Animorphs, Rachel and her elephant morph. True, she's only one elephant, but the 'army' is the rest of the group. She manages to get in plenty of damage on her own anyway. Cassie, Ax and Tobias also acquire elephants in book 22, but they never use them other than that one mission.
  • In The Black Company war elephants are used during during the Battle at Charm and Dejagore, and it is mentioned that they come from the Jewel Cities.
  • Conqueror: Jelaudin's army uses elephants extensively. They backfire when the Mongols shoot them in the knees, causing a panic.
  • Discworld: Battle elephants are mentioned in Pyramids. According to the protagonist, they're useless, since all they do is trample on their own troops when they inevitably panic. The military responded to this setback by breeding bigger elephants.
  • The Executioner: In Tiger War, Mack Bolan has to defend a village from a punitive expedition sent to punish them for aiding Bolan. He waits for the column to move past, then charges an elephant (used by the villagers for carrying logs) up their rear, panicking the soldiers and causing them to flee to the sides of the trail where the villagers have placed punji sticks. One of the villains shoots the mahout, where upon the elephant rips off the man's limbs and tramples him underfoot.
  • The Heroes of Olympus: Camp Jupiter has a resident war elephant named Hannibal. Somewhat ironic, since his human namesake was an enemy of Rome.
  • John Carter of Mars: The nomadic communities of the Green Martians often include enormous beasts called zitidars that Carter, in his role as narrator, repeatedly compares to mastodons, suggesting an elephantine aspect to them.
  • The Jungle Book: In "The Queen's Servants", Kipling gives the camp-animals archetypical army personalities. The cavalry horse is a gung-ho Blood Knight, the mountain-gun mules are Old Soldiers, and the siege-gun elephant is a Dirty Coward.
  • Leviathan: While the Darwinists have created a number of elephant- and mammoth-derived beasts, these are not used for war and are instead mostly employed as supersized draft animals. What is an example is the elephant-shaped walking machines used by the Ottoman Empire, outfitted with gun emplacements on their backs and used to guard the Sultan.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Haradrim ride to battle on "Oliphaunts" (as the hobbits call them) or mûmakil (as they're referred to by the Men of Gondor). They are described as being far larger than modern elephants, and are nearly impervious to arrows (unless they get hit in the eye). Sam is an awe-struck witness when a strikeforce of Gondorian Rangers ambushs a Haradrim force its way to join Sauron's armies, causing one of these animals to go mad and trample Rangers and Haradrim alike as it rampages. Others are seen in the siege proper, first hauling Siege Engines and towers and then being used to sow destruction among the Gondorian ranks.
  • Mik's Mammoth: Mik uses his mammoth friend Rumm as one to save his tribe from another tribe.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Crossing this trope with Horse of a Different Color, the giants who live north of the Wall ride woolly mammoths into war like men ride horses. Several mammoth-mounted giants are seen within Mance Rayder's wilding army.
    • The finest and most disciplined sellsword army in the series, the Golden Company, has a unit of elephants, though in the voyage to Westeros to support the claim of the apparently-still-alive Aegon Targaryen, most of them are lost or late making landfall; only three are mentioned to be present at Griffin's Roost. Their captain frequently laments not having them available.
    • Daenerys acquires several elephants after her conquest of Meereen, and her generals are divided on whether to use them in battle.
  • Spellsinger: One of the novels includes an armor-wearing warrior rhinoceros, who's as sentient as any other mammal in the Warmlands. An equally-sentient tickbird acts as his squire and companion.
  • In Thaïs 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.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Seanchan (who have weird animal husbandry as one of their hats) use "s'redit", which are described as very much like elephants, in battle and for labor. One character who is unfamiliar with the animals dubs them "boar-horses".
  • The Windup Girl: War megodonts (genetically-engineered giant elephants) have carbon fibre armour, blades attached to their tusks and machine-gun cages on their backs.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • Them Crooked Vultures: These are apparently the types of "Elephants" referred to in the song of the same name, since the lyrics specifically refer to "lepers riding atop pachyderms full of germs."

    Religion 
  • In The Bible, the Seleucid general Antiochus Epiphanes fields war elephants against the Maccabees.
  • The Qur'an: One verse mentions the story of Abrahah, a general marching with his army of war elephants to destroy Kaaba, the Islamic holy site. They were thwarted when God sent a flock of birds carrying brimstone from Hell, pelting Abrahah and his men to death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 7th Sea: The East: These are the preferred mounts of Nagaja's warriors. The commoners boast that the reason the Khazars never tried to invade their realm is the prowess of their war elephants in battle. They may find out if that's true very soon, when the Khans set sail.
  • In Chess, the Bishop used to be called the Elephant, and could only move exactly two diagonal squares. In some languages, they are still called Elephants. Other games of the same family, like Xiangqi, Janggi, and Makruk, still use the old Elephant piece, though, at least in Xiangqi, their offensive use is limited by their not being able to cross the river in the middle of the board. Some editions of chess also design the Rook (castle) unit to be an elephant with a howdah on its back.
  • Gods of the Fall: A group of mushroom growers ride elderly war elephants, patrolling the main road through the Dead Wood and bordering fungi fields. Many once served as mounts of Corso's cavalry before the Fall.
  • Iron Kingdoms: Titans (which can be described as small, trunkless, bipedal, four-armed elephants) and their larger cousins, the mammoths, are widely used as warbeasts by skorne warlocks.
  • Pathfinder:
    • The Realm of the Mammoth Lords is an inhospitable tundra inhabited by mighty-thewed Barbarian Heroes who ride mammoths and other enormous mammals into battle.
    • There are many ways for a player to get an elephant or mammoth friend, but the one that most specifically invokes this tropes — and is clearly intended for the above Mammoth Lords — is the prestige class Mammoth Rider.
  • The Strange: The scarbacks of Mesozoica sometimes ride mammoths when they hunt.
  • Wargames Research Group: War Elephants are the most powerful (and most expensive) units in the DBA, DBM and DBMM game systems. They are vulnerable to shooting and light troops, however.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Norscans use giant Warp-mutated mammoths. The Arabyans also use war elephants, but theirs are normal beasts trained for combat instead of monsters like the ones used by the Norscans.
    • The Ogre Kingdoms also have the vaguely mammoth-like Thundertusks, so enormous that they can carry two ogres at a time.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Orks come closest to this trope with their Squiggoths; tusked, dinosaur-like beasts fitted with howdahs filled with guns, artillery or howling Orks, and driven into battle to rampage their way through the enemy army. Squiggoths native to icy worlds, which develop mammoth-like fur and tusks, come particularly close.

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • 0 A.D.: War elephants are units available to Carthage, Egypt, Persia and India.
  • Age of Empires:
    • Age of Empires gives War Elephants (which attack with their tusks), Armored Elephants (an upgrade of War Elephants with improved armor and attacks), and Elephant Archers (where the elephant in question does not attack at all, but the Bowman mounted on its back does). It also has wild elephants which can be hunted for food (though strangely, they cannot be tamed; elephant units simply create a trained elephant and rider).
    • Age of Empires II dials back the elephants, having (riderless) War Elephants as the unique unit of the Persians, but eventually introduced more with The Forgotten's Indian Elephant Archers and Rise of the Rajas that gave its four new factions Battle Elephants (and one of them, the Khmer, a Ballista Elephant as their unique unit).
    • Age of Empires III has the Indian faction which has a variety of elephant units. From the standard Mahout Lancer which are like the slower but stronger version of the Spanish Lancer and deals trample damage to boot, The Howdah which are elephants with a musketeer on the back and retains elephants' deadly melee attack, Flail Elephant that is basically a battering ram but on an elephant, and the Siege Elephant which has a cannon on the back and also has the advantage over other artillery by being faster and not having to unpack the cannon before it can start firing. There is also the Sufi War Elephant which can be obtained from a Sufi trading post.
    • Age of Mythology has them as the Egyptian faction's strongest cavalry unit.
  • Age of Wonders: Some factions have access to war elephants and war mammoths.
    • In the first game, only the Azracs could build war elephants,which replaced siege rams for that race.
    • The Wizard's Throne: Nomads had access to Elephant riders and Frostlings could use Mammoth Riders
    • Age of Wonders 3: Frostlings still have their mammoths, but war elephants are absent. However, playing as the Arch Druid class enables the taming of wild elephants through the use of the befriend animal ability.
  • In ARK: Survival Evolved, numerous animals can fit the motif. Mammoths prove to be it quite literally, being competent fighters and reasonably fast for mounts. The larger, slower Paraceratherium and Brontosaurus can even have siege weapons and towers built onto their platform saddles like old illustrations of war elephants.
  • Assassin's Creed Origins features war elephants as high-level Bonus Bosses.
  • Aztec Wars: The Chinese use these; they have cannons mounted on their backs.
  • Civilization has had war elephant units since II, where they were inexplicably available as a result of discovering Polytheism.
    • In Civ III they're the Indians' special unit, replacing Knights but requiring no special resources.
    • In Civ IV all factions can build them so long as they have a source of ivory, and though slower than horse units they have a combat bonus against them. The Khmer from the Beyond the Sword expansion have Ballista Elephants as a unique unit, which specifically target enemy cavalry when attacking a stack.
    • In Civ V India, Carthage, and Siam get elephants as special units, replacing Chariot Archers, Horsemen, and Knights respectively.
    • In Civ VI India once again gets an elephant-mounted unit, now known as the Varu. When the expansion packs brought back the Khmer, they had their own elephant unit as well, called a Domrey (which is the Khmer word for "elephant").
  • Dwarf Fortress, as of DF:2010, allows elephants to be trained for war. Unfortunately, your dwarves can't actually ride them.
  • Dynasty Warriors: War elephants are generally used as mounts by the Nanman, and sometimes unlockable as a companion animal by the player character.
  • Empire Earth:
    • The first game has war elephants available to everyone in ranged and melee varieties from the Bronze to Dark ages. They have the same amount of health, but the ranged one's arrows do more damage than its tusks.
    • Empire Earth II: The war elephant is Egypt's early unique unit, and also unique in that its counted as Heavy Cavalry, it has a ranged attack (the only one until cavalry is replaced with tanks).
  • Etrian Odyssey: Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth has a war elephant called the Primordiphant as a Bonus Boss.
  • Far Cry:
    • The Golden Path in Far Cry 4 uses war elephants as weapons against Pagan Min. They're unbelievably destructive when used against soldiers and vehicles, and being hit by one when driving a car results in a One-Hit Kill. Rabi Ray Rana and Hurk certainly love them.
    • Think that's impressive? Takkar, The Beastmaster from Far Cry Primal, can tame woolly mammoths themselves. Admittedly, they're young woolly mammoths, but they're equally dangerous to anyone Takkar rides them into.
  • At one point in the story mode of For Honor, a playable Samurai hero has to break out of a rival Samurai fort by goading a war elephant into breaking the gate mechanisms via Ramming Always Works.
  • Gems of War: the War Elephant is a troop from the Leonis Empire. They're classified as Beast/Knight units and their magic can empower the other troops.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: The wizards of the Silver Cities use elephants as war-steeds in Heroes Of Might And Magic V, providing them with a good view of the battlefield from which to cast spells. The expansion packs add Dwarven Runemages who ride into battle atop mammoths, casting spells while their steed gores the enemy with its tusks.
  • Imperator: Rome: War elephants are available to anyone who can trade with a province that supplies elephants, which generally means North Africa and India. They also cost double the supply limit of any unit.
  • March of War: The African Warlords tend to use these in place of armored vehicles, in the 1940s, going up against super-heavy tanks and Diesel Punk Mecha.
  • Master of Magic: The trolls make use of war mammoths.
  • Metal Slug: One route in Metal Slug 3 has you free an elephant from ice and use it to stomp on all the zombies that got in your way. It could also pick up and eat chili peppers and batteries to spew flames/lightning at them as well.
  • Original War: Mastodons can be trained for this role by Arab sheikhs.
  • Rimworld: Skilled trainers can use trained elephants as attack animals. They can't ride on them, though.
  • Ryse: Son of Rome features Boudica, of all people, invading Rome with a bunch of elephants to take revenge on Nero and his son Commodus, the latter of whom killed her father. They're pretty resilient, unless you have a siege crossbow, or are Commander Vitallion with his pilum.
  • In Tears to Tiara 2 there's Noa the elephant. Tart and Charis can ride it in battle. Also the other eleven elephants Tart summons as part of The Cavalry.
  • Tembo the Badass Elephant is a slightly more literal example than most.
  • Total War:
    • Rome: Total War: War elephants appear, with the more advanced types carrying archers on their backs. Only Carthage and the Seleucids can train them.
    • Medieval II: Total War: Elephants are Game Breakers, hugely effective in combat and capable of charging through enemy lines, flattening everything in front of them. Their only downside is their tendency to go berserk and rampage at random, which is only a problem if you have friendly units nearby. The vanilla version has a howdah full of gunners, while cannon and even rocket elephants are also recruitable. They make the scripted Timurid Invasion all the more terrifying.
    • Third Age: Total War (a mod for Medieval II): Harad has access to Mûmakil in their late game. Mordor has similar units in the form of their Great Beasts.
    • Total War: Warhammer: Norsca can field massive war mammoths twisted by Chaos, with visible mutations such as multiple tusks and trunks tipped with clawed, hand-like appendages. They come in a few variants, namely as feral monster units (the cheapest, but with low leadership, no armor and a tendency to rampage), as semi-tamed war beasts with howdahs on their backs, as an upgraded version thereof mounted with a shrine to the Chaos Gods and with the ability to buff and encourage nearby units, as mounts for Norscan generals, and as a unique Regiment of Renown in the form a white-furred specimen known as the Soulcrusher.
    • Total War: Three Kingdoms: In The Furious Wild DLC, the Nanman tribes can mount their generals on war elephants, which prevents access to the general's character traits and ability to duel other characters but makes them combat juggernauts with powerful trampling and goring attacks. In addition, three actual units of elephants are present — southern elephants, which carry howdahs of slingers on their backs; more heavily armored war elephants better suited for charging into enemy units while still sending out ranged fire; and Nazhong elephants, which lack the slingers but instead carry drummers who boost other units' stats and morale.
  • Warlords Battlecry: Mounted elephants serve as elite cavalry for The Empire faction.
  • In World of Warcraft, the Draenei utilize elekks (elephant-like creatures brought over from their homeworld) as their racial mount. Mammoths are also available to players in the northern region. Neither of these are specifically used in combat very much, though.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time has an Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant.
  • Futurama: In "Fun on a Bun", Neanderthals riding woolly mammoths attack Oktoberfest.
  • Pinky and the Brain: The song "A Meticulous Analysis of History" mentions Hannibal of Carthage's war elephants.
    Brain: Hannibal, our book confirms,
    Tried conquering Italy with pachyderms.
    Just why he failed, nobody tells,
    But he never could get past the Roman sentinels.
    Pinky: And he couldn't find his weapons in the peanut shells.
  • In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Prince Violent" Viking Yosemite Sam uses an elephant to assault Bugs' fortress. After the "stupid packy-derm" does Sam more harm than good, Sam chases him off..only for the elephant to wind up helping Bugs.

    Real Life 
  • Older Than Feudalism as Hannibal of Carthage actually used war elephants in many campaigns. The page image is a somewhat fanciful depiction of one such battle,note  and the A Song of Ice and Fire entry above is a veiled reference to Hannibal making it to his invasion target (Italy) with only three elephants after losing the rest on the way.
  • It's established Indians were the first to use elephants in war, as Indian elephants were more controllable than their African counterparts. Many Indian kingdoms used alcohol and other intoxicants to get the elephants high before sending them into battle, making them more pain-resistant and less prone to being terrified, and their riders were trained to sacrifice them with poisoned lances in case they got out of control anyway. A charge of intoxicated elephants with archers shooting down from their backs was pretty much enough to wreck any enemy formation. And to make matters worse for enemies, the Indians developed elephant armor, turning them into living tanks.
    • When Timur the Lame invaded India, the Indians brought 120 armor-clad elephants with poisoned tusks against him. Timur ordered all his camels lit on fire and sent towards the elephants. The giant beasts (who scare easily) turned around and trampled their own troops, thus winning the battle for Timur. He then had the same elephants incorporated into his own army, apparently thinking that he was the only one crazy enough to come up with a counter.
  • The Persians got their elephants and elephant trainers from India and frequently used the same tactics. Fifteen of them were meant to be used against Alexander the Great in the Battle of Gaugamela, and they caused such an impression that Alexander had to celebrate sacrifices to Phobos, the god of fear, the night before. Ironically, the Macedonians won the battle rather easily after the Persians ultimately decided not to deploy the elephants, as they deemed the beasts too tired to be used in the attack after they had used them to haul supplies. Still, after they captured the elephants, Alexander was so impressed with them that he added them to his own army. They proved useful when they began invading Pakistan and India, as his men already knew about them.
    • Alexander would finally face war elephants during the Battle of the Hydaspes against the Indian king Porus, who brought around 90 of them with tusks equipped with iron spikes. However, knowing he would probably lose an elephant-on-elephant battle and preferring finesse over force, Alexander only deployed his infantry and cavalry against Porus's army. He sustained heavy losses, but he ended up winning the battle thanks to his military genius: he ordered his men to loosen their ranks to allow the elephants to pass through and shower them with javelins and arrows, specifically targettting the mahouts so they could not sacrifice the beasts when they turned against them.
    • He would have advanced more towards India, but seeing that the next kings could deploy thousands of elephants against him, he wisely backed out. He still created an elephant guard in Babylon and created the post of "elephantarch" to lead them.
    • Alexander's general Seleucus 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 Egyptian Ptolemaic kingdom (also descended from Alexander's conquests) and the city of Carthage (a Phoenician colony in Africa) also started using African elephants, as they discovered, probably from looking at the neighboring kingdoms of Numidia and Nubia, that there were elephants there which they could use. However, they chose to take the smaller North African elephants rather than the huge savanna elephants, as African specimens proved to be much harder to tame than their Asian homologues. There is debate about whether those small elephants could still carry howdahs and turrets, as it is known Ptolemaics and Carthaginian still traded abroad some Asian elephants to make for the difficulty of the locals.
    • Carthaginians apparently only started thinking on war elephants after they saw those used by Pyrrhus of Epirus, who acquired a contingent of them from Ptolemy II in order to invade Rome. Ironically, although Pyrrhus managed to salvage two Pyrrhic Victories because he had been the first one to use elephants against Rome, the latter adapted typically pretty fast, and by the third battle the Romans had learned how to kill them or set them on their owners. Needless to say, even although Pyrrhus was technically the victor, he never dared to show up in Italy again.
    • Carthage's use of elephants through the Punic Wars was similarly mixed, as by this time it was clear their usage required some keen strategy and sense of chance, rather than just sending them forward against people who now knew how to counter them. After his father Hamilcar died precisely due to this, Hannibal learned the lesson and became good enough to literally trample the Romans at several battles, but by the battle of Zama, the Roman anti-elephant measures had improved too much. At that place, Scipio Africanus left wide lanes open between his disciplined units, so that the elephants could take the line of least resistance by charging between them instead of over them, and also had some of his troops blow loud horns, which turned some of the elephants back on their masters. Nonetheless, Scipio took the elephants so seriously as a threat that he dictated, as part of the peace terms, that the Carthaginians should get rid of all their remaining elephants and not tame any more.
  • Perhaps because they were now so accustomed to neutralize elephants, the Romans never generally adopted the practice of using them, although they did a few times, most famously in their invasions of Hellenistic kingdoms. This actually featured a true elephant-on-elephant battle at Magnesia, where Rome deployed 16 against Antiochus III's 54 and was victorious despite the numeric disadvantage.
    • Rome also used them in the conquest of Hispania, always as part of allied North African cavalry contingents. They proved to be not too good, because many Hispanic peoples had fought either against or for Carthage and thus had already seen their fair share of trunks and tusks (the aforementioned Hamilcar, for instance, died when the Iberian chieftain Orissus sent carts of burning wood against his elephants, making them panic and wreak havoc in his own camp). Roman war elephants marched at both the Celtiberian Wars and the Lusitanian Wars, but they achieved little success, and at the latter it even coincided with Rome's worst local defeat against the famous rebel Viriathus.
    • At Numantia, the sight of the Romans' ten elephants first made the Numantines flee behind their walls. But when the Romans tried to tear down the gates of the city with the elephants, the defenders threw rocks at them until a lucky shot injured an elephant on the head. The animal panicked, which in turn panicked the other elephants, and they trampled the Roman forces. The Numantines then made a sortie and killed three elephants and 4,000 men. This was such a catastrophe for the Romans that they called the day damned and never fought a battle on the same date, and the war against Numantia prolonged for almost ten years.
    • Some sources claim that the Romans brought one or two elephants along on their invasions of Britain, presumably on the basis that those natives, unlike the previous, would surely never have even heard of elephants, and so would be scared witless by the mere sight of them. It is unclear whether it was Julius Caesar or Claudius who was in command, but they apparently succeeded in scaring the Britons.
    • One of the last uses of elephants in Mediterranean warfare was against Julius Caesar at Thapsus. Specifically, they played a decisive role in saving Caesar from defeat, even though they were on the opposing side. Many of Caesar's legions were so sick of the civil war at that point that they charged without orders. With a sizable chunk of his army going rogue and making contact with the enemy, Caesar had no choice but to order the rest of his army to charge as well, which put him at a disadvantage against the already numerically-superior Republican army. This might have ended in total disaster for Caesar had it not been for the advancing enemy elephants. As the elephants charged Caesar's approaching legions, the legions created huge gaps within their ranks to let the elephants passed through, who then met with Caesar's 5th Legion. The 5th was specifically prepared with axes and trained to fight elephants, so they were ready to stop the beasts. While Caesar's army was fighting tooth and nails against the superior Republican army, the 5th Legion routed the elephants and sent them running back to the Republican army. Caesar's legions quickly got out of the way of the panicked beasts and allowed them to crash into the Republican's line, which completely devastated them. What followed was a complete massacre as Caesar's legions used the ensuing chaos to encircle the enemy legions and butchered everyone.
  • The Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid gifted an elephant named Abul-Abbas to Charlemagne at the beginning of the 9th century. It is actually unclear if Abul-Abbas was trained for war or Charlemagne intended to use it as such, because later accounts were sensationalized. What is certain is that Abul-Abbas lived for eight years after arriving in Aachen, that Charlemagne took it with him when he marched north to answer a Danish attack on Friesland, and that Abul-Abbas died suddenly at some place beyond the Rhine called "Lippeham". The prevailing theory is that Lippeham is the confluence of the rivers Lippe and Rhine, and that Abul-Abbas died of pneumonia after being made to swim across the Rhine, which proved to be far too wide and cold for him.
  • The people of Thailand have historically ridden elephants into battle. They are sacred animals there.
    • King Naresuan, who is still venerated in Thailand, is said to have fought a one-on-one duel with Maha Uparaja of Burma, with both on the backs of elephants wielding halberds. (Naresuan's elephant had gone out of control and taken him too far into the Burmese lines; instead of retreating he challenged the enemy leader to single combat and won.)
    • The King of Siam (Thailand's original name) famously offered Abraham Lincoln a herd of war elephants to help with The American Civil War. Lincoln politely declined King Mongkut's offer on the grounds that the States do not extend South enough to comfortably raise them.
  • The Burmese, Yunnanese, and Vietnamese all used war elephants in their wars against the Mongols, Chinese, British, and French among others. The Ming Chinese later took war elephants as tribute from Vietnam, even though the Ming never used them in war themselves.
  • The Khmer temples in Angkor Wat have several depictions of war elephants, including elephants carrying ballistae on their backs. It is unknown if these ballistae were shot from atop the elephants or they just transported them, however.
  • Genghis Khan was thoroughly unimpressed with war elephants, although to be fair, he never met them in their prime. When the Mongols marched on Samarkand, the locals rejected an open battle and stayed within the walls until they were made desperate by dwindling food and water. Then the garrison's weakened elephants charged at the Mongols but were forced to retreat inside when attacked by catapults. After the city fell, Genghis had the chance to add the elephants to his forces. When told that the elephants were hungry, he asked what they ate; when the Samarkandans replied that they ate vegetation, he said that there was plenty grass in the steppe and had them released. The elephants then died of thirst and starvation.

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