Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Punic War Elephant

Hannibal deployed his Baleric and light-armed troops, some 8,000 men, before the standards, and behind them he placed his heavier infantry, which represented the real strength and kernel of his forces. On the wings he set 10,000 cavalry and, dividing his elephants in two groups, added these to the wings as well.
~ Livy XXI, 55

The Carthaginians were first introduced to the war elephant while fighting Pyrrhus in Sicily during their short visit there in 278. By 262, the Carthaginians had acquired their own war elephants, and in a sense, were addicted to incorporating these unreliable and unpredictable beasts into their military arsenal from that time forward. Instead of of the grand Indian elephants used by their Hellenistic forerunners, the Carthaginians were forced to use the smaller, and now extinct, African forest elephant. African elephants were particularly unreliable in battle, often turning on their own side with devastating results when panicked or wounded. In an attempt to prevent this, their drivers carried a metal spike which they were expected to plunge into the soft nape of the elephant's neck with a mallet when they had lost control of their charges.

The war elephant was used by the Carthaginian army with some success during the First Punic War and in later campaigns in Spain and Northern Africa. For the Barcids the elephant became an emblem of their power on the Iberian peninsula:  its image appears on many high-value coins minted under the authority of Hansdrubal and Hannibal. The war elephant was also seen as a bridge between the military aspirations of the Barcid clan and the great Hellenistic tradition of which these beasts and long been a symbol. The war elephant brought some traditional validity to their military and their great campaigns

The elephants employed by the Carthaginians were smaller than the Indian elephants used by the Hellenistic kings (African forest elephants measured about 8 feet high at the shoulders while the Asian species often exceeded 10 feet) and so had to be used in a different manner. There is much debate on exactly how Hannibal used his elephants while on military campaign, other than as a way to simply intimidate the enemy. Recent research does show, in contradiction to previously held views, that Hannibal's smaller African forest elephants may have carried a howdah with soldiers, just as their larger Indian cousins had done.

Below is my recently completed Carthaginian war elephant. The figures are by Gripping Beast and are excellent as always. The soldier standing with the spear was originally intended to ride inside the howdah, but for this scene I preferred to have him standing on the ground next to the elephant. I also added a supply of extra spears to the howdah, which I thought to be reasonable. I am very pleased with the results.


  1. I'm increasingly impressed with GB stuff. They generally look pretty good with paint.

    1. I agree - in general I have been very happy with them. I have had some serious casting problems with a handful of the models which I didn't like, but the poses and the variety in the range makes them very nice.

  2. Excellent! Good call on moving the figure out and adding the extra spears. The stand is a mini diorama!

  3. A beautiful elephant...and pictures!

  4. The result looks wonderfull! Very nice little vignette!