We opened this episode with a passage from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. And here’s an awesome clip of his Oliphants in action in the movie version. PSA for violence done to CGI mammoth-elephants.
A few things to note:
1. This is a wildly fantasized depiction and of course Tolkien’s Oliphants are quite a lot bigger than real war elephants–what’s that, like 30 guys in those howdahs?–but this clip gives you a decent sense of the chaos and terror wreaked by war elephants on the battlefield.
2. Notice Théoden taking out the driver with his javelin. An Ancient History Fangirl-recommended elephant-fighting tactic.
3. No one disputes that Eowyn is a screaming badass, but no way would she have been able to hamstring a war elephant by herself on a ride-by, backwards and one-handed. Alexander the Great’s infantry would confirm that this is a group activity that took a lot of effort.
4. Where are these poor Oliphants’ ground crews?? Honestly.
Obligatory link to The Two Towers:
This episode, as we mentioned in the podcast, owes a great debt to this book: War Elephants by John M. Kistler. It’s so fascinating, well researched and well written that you really owe it to yourself to drop whatever else you’re doing and go buy it.
We also drew from and highly recommend another War Elephants,this one by Konstantin Nossov:
The Mahabharata and the Rigveda are great sources for some of the earliest mentions of war elephants in recorded history:
For a detailed how-to on capturing, taming, training, and using your war elephant in battle, you can’t go wrong with the Arthashastra (we used the R. Shamasastry translation):
Here’a another great source that discusses war elephants in ancient India:
For the Battle of the Hydaspes, we have these ancient sources to thank:
Plutarch’s Life of Alexander:
…and Diodorus’ The Library of History (Volume XVII):
And if you’re looking for more info on Alexander the Great’s wars and general good times, Dan Carlin goes into it as only he can in King of Kings III. Get it while it’s free.