How War Elephants Were Used In Sieges

Key Point: War elephants were utilized in sieges to intimidate and disrupt enemy forces. They were often equipped with protective armor and used to breach walls or gates, providing a formidable presence on the battlefield.

Today you are going to see how war elephants were used in sieges. I know, when you think of war elephants you don’t often think of them attacking a city or a fortification. But as you will see they were used for sieges too not just as an anti-infantry weapon.

So, before we take a look at the huge siege weapon that was the war elephant, I will give you a short overview of the entire article. Here is the main takeaway of the article for you:

War elephants were used in sieges to perform various tasks such as battering through enemy gates, destroying fortifications, and creating chaos in enemy ranks. The elephants were often equipped with armor and carried soldiers or archers on their backs to provide additional support. Their sheer size and strength made them powerful weapons on the battlefield, and they were often used to break enemy morale and create a sense of fear and panic.

That is the main takeaway of the article. But now, let’s take a closer look at the history of war elephants in sieges, before describing how they were used.

The History Of War Elephants In Sieges

War elephants attacking fortifications of a city

War elephants were a common feature of ancient warfare and were often used in sieges. The elephants were often equipped with armor and spikes on their tusks to make them more effective against enemy fortifications.

A notable war where war elephants were used is the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. In the Middle Ages, elephants were used in sieges by various empires, including the Byzantine, Indian, and Mongol empires. The use of war elephants declined with the advent of gunpowder, which made them vulnerable to gunfire.

There is no use in having a huge animal charging at you when it can be stopped by a well-placed cannon shot.

A Few Famous Sieges Where They Were Used

There are several famous sieges where war elephants were used.

One example is the siege of Megara during the First Macedonian War in 266 BCE. This is where the Aetolian League used elephants to break through the city walls. Another example is the siege of Carthage during the Third Punic War in 149-146 BCE. There the Roman army used elephants to attack the city’s walls.

When it came to the Romans they, used war elephants to attack the walls of Carthage. The Carthaginians responded by using fire to scare the elephants and they ultimately had little impact on the outcome of the siege.

Now that you have seen the history of using war elephants it’s time we take a look t exactly how they were deployed.

How War Elephants Were Used In Sieges

When used in a siege, the elephants would be deployed at the front of the attacking force and would charge at the enemy’s walls or gates, often breaking through them. The sight and sound of the charging elephants could be terrifying to defenders, causing them to panic or lose morale. Elephants were also sometimes used to carry siege equipment, such as ladders or battering rams, on their backs.

So they were used to batter the weak points in a wall and intimidate the enemy. Due to their size, they could also carry a small number of archers on their backs in order to shoot at the defenders.

But What If They Ran Into A Stone Wall?

War elephants were less effective against stone walls than against less solid barriers. No surprise there.

The force of an elephant’s charge could be diminished by a solid wall. Also, stone walls were often too high for the elephants to climb over, which limited their usefulness in that context. However, in cases where the walls were not completely solid, or if the defenders were not adequately prepared to repel the elephants, they could still be effective in causing damage and creating openings in the walls.

Why War Elephants Stopped Being Used

The use of war elephants in siege warfare gradually declined in the later stages of the medieval period. Mainly because of the development of gunpowder weapons and more advanced siege tactics.

The increasing use of gunpowder weapons and the rise of artillery made it easier for besieging armies to breach fortifications without the need for elephants. And the cost of training and transporting elephants became very costly compared to using a gunpowder weapon such as a cannon.

So by the 18th century, the use of war elephants in siege warfare had largely died out, although they continued to be used for ceremonial purposes and in some isolated instances of guerrilla warfare.

War elephant in use

If I had to sum up why war elephants stopped being used it would be this: The use of elephants was more costly than the use of gunpowder weapons, which were more effective than the use of war elephants.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you want to continue learning about siege weapons from history I suggest you take a look at this article. There I discuss how sapping was used as a weapon in sieges.

Or feel free to check out a rocket launcher used by the Koreans in the 16th century in siege warfare. You can see this unusual siege weapon, right here.

Take care!

Source: “War Elephants” by John M. Kistler