War elephants were a powerful, early-deployed weapon used alongside horses as animals in armed forces. The first elephants were used in South Asia, accordingly often Indian elephants were used, the African were used by the Egyptians and Kathargo, but not in the mass. In addition, usually only male elephants were used, these were larger, faster and also more aggressive than their female counterparts.
Elephants were initially used primarily as elevated commandos, later serving as a platform for archers and spear throwers. Even the animal itself was sometimes used as a weapon, because in addition to the shock effect of its size in the battlefield, it could trample enemy infantry or seriously injured. However, the fact that elephants themselves are easily panicked and could cause heavy casualties by breaking out in their own ranks, these were rarely used in the front row in a battle.
First elephant taming took place in the early Indus civilization about 4000 years ago. Elephants were not bred with a few exceptions, but always captured and tamed in the wild. The first use of elephants for military purposes took place around 1100 BC. It was first mentioned in ancient Sanskrit hymns. From India, the elephants were imported into the Persian Empire and used in several campaigns such. also during the invasion of Xerxes in Greece.
Already around 400 BC The Egyptian pharaohs built the city of Ptolemais Theron, the marina of Meroe on the Red Sea coast in present-day Sudan, which became a transit point for imprisoned elephants. In the Meroitic Empire elephants were also used in wars, probably also served as a mount of the king and for ceremonies. On the west wall of the lion temple of Musawwarat a train of war elephants and prisoners are depicted in a relief.
Also in the later Roman Empire war elephants were used.
The first encounter of Rome with war elephants took place in the battle of Heraclea 280 BC. Chr. Against Pyrrhus instead. The best-known general, who used war elephants against Rome, was the Carthaginian Hannibal. His crossing of the Alps with 37 mainly African, but also at least one Indian elephant in 218 BC became famous. But after the lossy crossing of the Alps and the Battle of the Trebia he had at the Battle of Lake Trasimeno only one elephant available. He commanded the battle of this Indian elephant by the name of Suru, but of which during his further campaign in Italy, no more should be. His brother was to bring some war elephants from Spain to reinforce, but was defeated in the Battle of the Metaurus. In Hannibal's last battle, the battle of Zama in 202 BC. BC, again on African soil, but it became clear that the used here, not yet trained elephants of the Carthaginians shy away from the Roman fanfares. In addition, their use was ineffective, since the Romans formed lanes for the elephants and thus only a few soldiers were trampled. 156 years later, in the battle of Thapsus on February 6, 46 BC BC, Julius Caesar armed his Legio V Alaudae with axes and gave instructions to beat on the legs of the animals. The Legion was victorious and henceforth chose the war elephant as its heraldic animal. The Battle of Thapsus is considered the last major use of war elephants in Western culture.
In late antiquity, Ammianus Marcellinus, Prokopios of Caesarea, and Arab authors, especially the Sassanid war elephants, tell us, among other things, in the battles against the Romans. In the battle of Avarayr (451 AD) they were used by the Sassanids against the Armenians, in the Battle of Kadesia (636 AD) against the Arabs.
For the Aksumitische empire located in the north of the today's Ethiopia the employment of war elephants is occupied up to its downfall in the 7th century. Nonnosus came from Constantinople to Aksum as ambassador of Justinian in the middle of the 6th century and estimated the number of wild elephants in the Ethiopian highlands at about 5,000. Sura 105 in the Koran ("The Elephant") is based on a campaign of the Christian King of Aksum at 13 Elephants against Mecca in the year of Muhammad's birth around 570.
In the Middle Ages, elephants in the military completely disappeared in Europe. Only in Asia, especially in India elephants were still used for military purposes, which was set after the advent of gunpowder but also there.
Matching literature on the topic can be found here:
War Elephants (New Vanguard)
Elephants have been deployed as weapons for centuries, particularly in South and South-East Asia, where war elephants constituted the bulk of most armies in the region from antiquity right up to the 19th century. This book offers an insight into the incredible history of these "living tanks," focusing on the design of the equipment and armament that made them so terrifying, particularly the development and structure of the fighting tower.
The author, Konstantin S. Nossov goes on to trace the battle history of war elephants, from their deployment against Alexander the Great's army at the battle of Gaugamela, through to their use in the 19th century by the myriad armies of South-East Asia, all the time analyzing the battle formation and tactics of war elephants in action and how these tactics changed over time. He then goes on to examine the most famous action that war elephants took part in, Hannibal's dramatic march over the Alps and his subsequent invasion of Italy. Supported by rare illustrations and full-color original artwork, this book is a vivid account of the development and operation of one of history's most unusual "machines of warfare."
Elephants have fought in human armies for more than three thousand years. Asian armies boasted of their pachyderm power, while the Romans fielded elephants alongside their legendary legions but were perhaps too proud to admit that mere animals contributed to victory. War Elephants is the story of their largely forgotten role in the history of warfare.
Generals throughout recorded history used elephants as tanks, bulldozers, and cargo trucks long before such vehicles existed. Until gunpowder began to reduce the utility of elephants in battle during the seventeenth century, these beasts built roads, swung swords, or simply terrified opposing forces. Although some believe that elephants were mere gimmicks of warfare, John M. Kistler discredits that notion. War Elephants shows that elephants deserve respect for the sacrifices they have made in the service of many cultures. Elephants have long fought for and served human masters, but it is now the elephants themselves that must be protected.