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Old 07-06-2017, 11:59 AM
Son of a Rich Son of a Rich is online now
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Hannibal crossing the Alps

Are there any traces of the crossing- Carthaginian graves, weapons, elephant bones?
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Old 07-06-2017, 01:30 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Not yet. They've been arguing about the exact route since classical times and it still remains unsettled. In terms of artifacts it really is serious needle-in-a-haystack territory since you're talking about a single transit 2,200 years ago.

But folks are still working on it. There have even been recent studies published in 2016 exploring fossilized genetic evidence from mud, but so far no smoking gun last I heard. Maybe some day soon.
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Old 07-06-2017, 01:31 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
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I was about to say that the complete lack of physical evidence has made his exact route a source of employment for historians since antiquity.

But then I came across this article. Apparently they did leave some evidence behind, from their behinds:
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news...inally-7694569
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Old 07-06-2017, 01:43 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Right, okay double-checking that article is a fail. It was horse poop they found, not far more definitive elephant poop. So no smoking gun yet.

Last edited by Tamerlane; 07-06-2017 at 01:47 PM.
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Old 07-06-2017, 01:49 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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I recall reading in several places that people speculated that Mammoth bones found in Europe might have been the remains of Hannibal's elephants, but a quick search of the internet fails to turn up a primary source for this. I begin to wonder if it might be a pre-urban legend.


I did, however, turn up this instead:

Quote:
Microbiologists unmask the Hannibal route enigma
Date:April 4, 2016

...

Microbiologists based in the Institute for Global Food Security and School of Biological Sciences at Queen's University Belfast have recently released results that may have answered one of ancient history's greatest enigmas: Where did Hannibal cross the Alps?

...

For over two thousand years, historians, statesmen and academics have argued about the route Hannibal took across the Alps. Until now, no solid archaeological evidence has been forthcoming. However, this week -- publishing on-line in the Journal Archaeometry -- Queen's University's microbiologist Dr Chris Allen and his international team of colleagues, led by Professor Bill Mahaney (York University, Toronto), have finally provided solid evidence for the most likely transit route that took Hannibal's forces across the Alps via the Col de Traversette pass (~3000 m). This crossing point was first proposed over a half century ago by the biologist and polymath Sir Gavin de Beer, but has not previously been widely accepted by the academic community.

Using a combination of microbial metagenome analysis, environmental chemistry, geomorphic and pedological investigation, pollen analyses and various other geophysical techniques, the researchers have shown that a 'mass animal deposition' event occurred near the Col de Traversette -- that can be directly dated to approximately 2168 cal yr BP, i.e. 218 BC.

...
Journal Reference:
1.W. C. Mahaney, C. C. R. Allen, P. Pentlavalli, A. Kulakova, J. M. Young, R. W. Dirszowsky, A. West, B. Kelleher, S. Jordan, C. Pulleyblank, S. O'Reilly, B. T. Murphy, K. Lasberg, P. Somelar, M. Garneau, S. A. Finkelstein, M. K. Sobol, V. Kalm, P. J. M. Costa, R. G. V. Hancock, K. M. Hart, P. Tricart, R. W. Barendregt, T. E. Bunch, M. W. Milner. Biostratigraphic Evidence Relating to the Age-Old Question of Hannibal's Invasion of Italy, II: Chemical Biomarkers and Microbial Signatures. Archaeometry, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/arcm.12228

https://www.sciencedaily.com/release...0404134205.htm


The references are:

Mahaney, William C., et al. "Biostratigraphic Evidence Relating to the Age‐Old Question of Hannibal's Invasion of Italy, I: History and Geological Reconstruction." Archaeometry 59.1 (2017): 164-178.

Mahaney, W. C., Allen, C. C. R., Pentlavalli, P., Kulakova, A., Young, J. M., Dirszowsky, R. W., ... & O'Reilly, S. (2017). Biostratigraphic Evidence Relating to the Age‐Old Question of Hannibal's Invasion of Italy, II: Chemical Biomarkers and Microbial Signatures. Archaeometry, 59(1), 179-190.

If you wanna read the originals:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...rcm.12231/full

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...rcm.12228/full

Last edited by CalMeacham; 07-06-2017 at 01:51 PM.
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Old 07-06-2017, 01:53 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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And those articles lead you to this overall one from last year:

http://maajournal.com/Issues/2016/Vol16-2/Full9.pdf

Mahaney, W. C. "THE HANNIBAL ROUTE CONTROVERSY AND FUTURE HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION IN THE WESTERN ALPS." Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry 16.2 (2016).
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Old 07-07-2017, 09:54 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Heck, even if they find solid evidence of a Carthaginian army (not holding my breath), maybe it's Hasdrubal's.

Yup, everyone always seems to forget about the second Carthaginian army that crossed the Alps. This was in 207 BC, the army was led by Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal, and it was basically the bizarro version of Hannibal's trek a decade before (how time flies in PWII, BTW). They jogged across the Alps, no problem at all. Then - spoiler alert - they immediately got their asses handed to them by the Romans, at the Battle of the Metaurus. Hasdrubal's head was tossed over the walls of Hannibal's camp, in southern Italy. There's a message for you to remind you how your war is going.

BTW, there's another thing that no one ever talks about, which concerns Hannibal's elephants. So I'll bring it up, because I'm just a dick that way. He's famous for those elephants, right? But what happened to them, once he had dragged them across rivers and mountains? Were they a superweapon? Nope. Did they play any decisive role in his victories? Nope. Where they even remotely useful? No. They all flipping died, apparently from the weather, or malaria, or something. It was a stupid idea to even bring them along. There, I said it.
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Old 07-08-2017, 10:58 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Much too late for edit:

Of course, Hasdrubal would (at least presumably) have used the same route as Hannibal, so either way, it would solve that question. Maybe I'm being persnickety and annoying again. I guess I just wanted to talk about Hasdrubal.
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Old 07-08-2017, 12:41 PM
shiftless shiftless is offline
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It was a stupid idea to even bring them along. There, I said it.
Yeah, from a practical standpoint they were pretty useless yet here we are, still talking about Hannibal and those damned elephants. From a PR standpoint they were genius.
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Old 07-08-2017, 05:52 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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I don't agree concerning the elephants. Those were a proven, and powerful tool in war, if with many downsides if not handled properly. But there was nothing better for crashing through a line. The big problem was that the Carthaginian forces couldn't get them through the Alps - not alive, anyway. Assuming they were worthless only because they weren't invincible... well, it doesn't make sense.

Of course, it turned out Hannibal didn't need them that badly, and by Zama it didn't matter what the Carthaginians fielded. But that's only with the knowledge of hindsight.
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Old 07-08-2017, 06:42 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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I don't agree concerning the elephants. Those were a proven, and powerful tool in war, if with many downsides if not handled properly.
What elephants are good for:

1. Freaking out if you look at them funny.
2. Running amok and stomping your own guys.
3. Being useless.

Screw elephants. And I don't agree that it didn't matter what Hannibal fielded at Zama. I don't think that battle was a foregone conclusion. Here's a tip, though: Don't field elephants. I don't care if you're in Africa, and have elephants coming out the wazoo. Here's what you should do: Hand the elephants over to the other side before the battle. Hopefully, they'll take them. It'll probably work out better for you.

Also, what is Hannibal's MO? Ambushes. Trickery. Who brings an elephant to an ambush? That's like... well, like bringing an elephant to an ambush. I think that is actually idiomatic.

Maybe, though, when I think about it, they're good for something else. Maybe they're for scaring the piss out of any Gauls you run into on the way from Spain to Italy. If you're a Gaul, and you see an army marching along, you'll think, "well, there's an army in my airspace", and block the pass. But if they have a bunch of elephants with them, and you've never been to the circus, because you're a Gaul, maybe you'll think "WTF is that?!", and run the other way. So there is, potentially, that.
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Old 07-09-2017, 01:58 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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The big problem Hannibal faced while crossing the Alps was an avalanche destroyed all his siege equipment. That meant the Romans were always able to avoid battles by retreating into forts and walled cities and all Hannibal could do is glare at them (and pillage the country side).

That said, he was in Italy for fifteen years. You'd think at some point he might have asked Carthage to send him replacements.
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Old 07-09-2017, 03:35 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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The big problem Hannibal faced while crossing the Alps was an avalanche destroyed all his siege equipment. That meant the Romans were always able to avoid battles by retreating into forts and walled cities and all Hannibal could do is glare at them (and pillage the country side).

That said, he was in Italy for fifteen years. You'd think at some point he might have asked Carthage to send him replacements.
Or, you know, build some more siege equipment. No shortage of trees in Italy.
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Old 07-09-2017, 04:00 AM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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That said, he was in Italy for fifteen years. You'd think at some point he might have asked Carthage to send him replacements.
They did send him replacements and the occasional reinforcement. Like the aforementioned Hasdrubal, and also sometimes across the sea from Spain or Africa. The Roman Navy was not always able to stop them like they were unable to stop him returning to Africa before Zama.

The problem was that the Barcid's were about as politically popular in Carthage as George W Bush at the end of his term. The Carthaginian Senate routinely turned down requests for help by Hannibal on one pretext or the other (Roman writers mention this in passing) almost as much as they would if they were actual paid Roman agents (my conspiracy theory self-says at least some were).\

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Or, you know, build some more siege equipment. No shortage of trees in Italy.
Well, he needed engineers for that, and for some reason, he was not allowed to take any. They said they were needed in Spain, but surely some could have been sent when he won his victories, to reinforce success; you know, scratch what I said above, the Carthaginians Senators all absolutely were getting Roman gold and probably a few Vestel Virgins thrown in. What other reason could they have had for always cutting Hannibal at the knees?

Last edited by AK84; 07-09-2017 at 04:01 AM.
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Old 07-09-2017, 05:23 AM
Evan Drake Evan Drake is offline
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I will up and confess, no matter how shameful, if an elephant charged at me I would run like fuck.
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Old 07-09-2017, 05:33 AM
MichaelEmouse MichaelEmouse is online now
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
The big problem Hannibal faced while crossing the Alps was an avalanche destroyed all his siege equipment. That meant the Romans were always able to avoid battles by retreating into forts and walled cities and all Hannibal could do is glare at them (and pillage the country side).

That said, he was in Italy for fifteen years. You'd think at some point he might have asked Carthage to send him replacements.

What siege equipment is so complex that it can't be made locally over those 15 years?
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Old 07-09-2017, 07:08 AM
Melbourne Melbourne is offline
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I will up and confess, no matter how shameful, if an elephant charged at me I would run like fuck.
They certainly had that effect. Speaking of which (not relevant, but I always liked it)
Municipal (Rudyard Kipling) (A Waler is a gelding supplied from NSW.aus)

But after a while, people weren't afraid of elephants, and apparently elephants are like tanks: they need to be supported by infantry or they're vulnerable. I think that when people worked out effective defensive tactics, the level of organisation required to provide effective screening for tactical deployment of elephants was prohibitive.
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Old 07-09-2017, 10:07 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Hannibal did actually build and employ siege equipment while in Italy, so any discussion about why he didn't is rather moot. If and when he wanted to, he could besiege stuff. It never really seemed to work out for him, though. Here he is with a tower at Cumae (quoting Livy):

Quote:
While these reasons detained Fabius, Sempronius was blockaded and already beset by siege-works. As a defence against a great wooden tower which was moved up to the city, the Roman consul reared from the wall itself another tower considerably higher. For he had used the wall, which in itself was quite high, as a base, shoring it up with stout timbers. From that tower the defenders first held the wall and the city by hurling stones and stakes and every other missile. Finally, seeing that the enemy's tower had been pushed close against the wall, they hurled a vast amount of fire all at once from their blazing torches. While great numbers of armed men, alarmed by the fire, were leaping down from the tower, a sally out of two gates of the town at the same time routed the enemy's guards and sent them in flight to the camp, so that on that day the Carthaginian resembled a besieged army more than a besieger.
As the cool kids say, tower fail. And here's other stuff at Casilinum:

Quote:
While the attack was now in progress with engines of every kind and with siege-works, a garrison sent from Metapontum encouraged the Romans to make a surprise attack by night upon the works of the enemy. Some of these they pulled apart, others they ruined by fire; and this was the end of Hannibal's attack upon the citadel from that side.
Siege equipment fail.

Anyway, there are lots of problems with sieges, certainly in this era. The two main issues being that they are super difficult, and they take bloody ages. Hannibal spent months parked outside Saguntum before that city fell in 218 BC. The Romans themselves, in this same war, spend forever besieging Capua and Syracuse.

Hannibal never had a very large army, and he needed to stay mobile. Parking outside cities for yonks, only to have Roman relief armies show up, was probably never really going to work very well. And that wasn't ever plan A. Plan A was simple:

1: Beat the living bejeezus out of the Roman armies.
2: Have the Roman allies switch sides to Carthage.
3: Laugh as the Romans surrender. Also, profit.

Part 1 worked out great. Part 2 kinda-sorta worked. The problem was that the Romans absolutely would not play ball on part 3. Instead, they gave Hannibal the finger, and raised new armies, from a seemingly bottomless pool of manpower.

Which is not supposed to happen. The plan should have worked, dammit. It would have worked fine against anyone who wasn't the Romans. and it's pretty much exactly what works for Scipio by the time we get to Zama. The idea that Hannibal should have besieged Rome seems, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, pretty ridiculous. The Romans didn't win PWII by besieging Carthage. They won by beating the Carthaginian armies (in Spain and at Zama), having the Carthaginian allies switch sides, and then watch as Carthage surrendered. They didn't besiege and take Carthage until PWIII, and that was an absolutely huge logistical operation. Hannibal was supposed to do that in Italy? Really?

Last edited by Martian Bigfoot; 07-09-2017 at 10:12 AM.
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Old 07-09-2017, 12:11 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Actually, a word on part 2 of that.

It kinda-sorta worked, but it also kinds-sorta totally didn't. For one thing, when Roman allies flip, it doesn't really help Hannibal militarily. Sure, it deprives Rome of resources, but it almost doesn't matter, because they always find more men and money behind the couch cushions, or behind the portal closet door, or something. And Hannibal isn't refilling his army with Italians, is he? It's not like he suddenly gets legionaries now. The Italian allies either get super good deals, like, "we won't fight for the Romans, but we also won't fight for you, we'll just sit over here". Or Rome just instantly slaps down a siege on whatever town or city Hannibal flips. Capua and Syracuse flip, and boom, Rome just hits them. So, fat load of good that did. If anything, Hannibal buys himself problems. He flips an ally, Rome hits them, they cry foul. And now Hannibal has to stop whatever he's doing to go bail them out. He must have been tearing his hair out.

On the other side of the fence, meanwhile, it's a bit different. When Rome flips a Numidian ally of Carthage to their side, suddenly it's Rome who are fielding the Numidian cavalry. Whoops.

Last edited by Martian Bigfoot; 07-09-2017 at 12:14 PM.
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Old 07-09-2017, 12:43 PM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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The idea that Hannibal should have besieged Rome seems, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, pretty ridiculous. The Romans didn't win PWII by besieging Carthage. They won by beating the Carthaginian armies (in Spain and at Zama), having the Carthaginian allies switch sides, and then watch as Carthage surrendered. They didn't besiege and take Carthage until PWIII, and that was an absolutely huge logistical operation. Hannibal was supposed to do that in Italy? Really?
While they did have some pretty good siege weapons in that era, including the first Lithobolos and Ballista, these were nothing like the one seen a couple of centuries later, the Lithobolos which could throw a one-ton rock a half a mile and which went through walls as is they were tissue paper.

Most sieges in those days depended on towers and ramps, as well as digging counter fortifications around the town you were besieging. You needed good engineers to win quickly, otherwise, you could be there a while.

Right after Cannae, the Romans had (IIRC) three legions in Rome itself. If Hannibal went to try and take the city quickly, he needed way more siege expertise then he had with him, otherwise, prepare for a long seige. And while he was sitting outside Rome, he had the risk of another Roman Army coming and pinning him between the walls and itself.
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Old 07-09-2017, 01:17 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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AK, I think we pretty much agree, I just don't think that even bringing even the most crack engineering corps around would have helped. So I don't think it's about "oh, bugger, I could have marched on Rome, but I didn't bring engineers. My secretary screwed up! I didn't write 'elephants', I wrote 'engineers'!" I just don't think it comes down to that. No one was doing this kind of thing quickly, and certainly not with a small force. If speed counted, you'd be boned. Even taking a small town would take time. And while Rome wasn't yet the megapolis it would become, it was still a large city, with fortifications.

Although, I should mention that there is another way of going about this sort of thing, in rather particular circumstances. Specifically, if you're Scipio, and you're assaulting Carthago Nova while no one is home. I think there were, like, a thousand dudes there to defend it, and Scipio took it in an afternoon. So, weird stuff like that might happen.
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Old 07-09-2017, 01:23 PM
Evan Drake Evan Drake is offline
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Yeah, but that's Scipio.
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Old 07-09-2017, 04:32 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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I will up and confess, no matter how shameful, if an elephant charged at me I would run like fuck.
You and me can be in the Legion of the Yellow Bellied together. Our motto is "Ain't Nobody Got Time For That!" It sounds better in the original screaming.
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Old 07-09-2017, 09:29 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Yeah, but that's Scipio.
Well, true. He is made of magic and pixie dust.

BTW, can I just say that your use of bold in that quote is messing with my mind? I'm used to seeing bolded names referring to posters on the board. So now it looks to me like Scipio is a poster here. Which would be pretty weird. He could start one hell of an "ask me" thread, though.
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Old 07-09-2017, 10:13 PM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is online now
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Well, true. He is made of magic and pixie dust.

BTW, can I just say that your use of bold in that quote is messing with my mind? I'm used to seeing bolded names referring to posters on the board. So now it looks to me like Scipio is a poster here. Which would be pretty weird. He could start one hell of an "ask me" thread, though.
If he were a Doper, cunctator would hold him back from posting in a timely fashion.

Last edited by JKellyMap; 07-09-2017 at 10:14 PM.
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Old 07-09-2017, 10:43 PM
Hector_St_Clare Hector_St_Clare is offline
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I've been told that elephants, in general, are much overrated as a weapon of war. When they're shot at or lit on fire, they freak out and trample their own side.
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Old 07-09-2017, 11:11 PM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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I've been told that elephants, in general, are much overrated as a weapon of war. When they're shot at or lit on fire, they freak out and trample their own side.
Properly trained war-elephants and their properly trained operators/rider would not. They were like the tanks of their day, impervious to most infantry weapons and made crunching sounds when going over infantrymen.

In many battles in the Med, one or more of the above were lacking. Then that happened.
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Old 07-09-2017, 11:31 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Properly trained war-elephants and their properly trained operators/rider would not. They were like the tanks of their day, impervious to most infantry weapons and made crunching sounds when going over infantrymen.

In many battles in the Med, one or more of the above were lacking. Then that happened.
Oh, true Scotsmen. AK, if you're not too busy, could you show me a list of important battles won by use of elephants? Bonus points if those battles are against organized armies, such as Macedonians and Romans. I'll wait.

Meanwhile, I'll prepare a list of those where elephants were either pointless or a calamity. I'm thinking of Yakety Sax as the soundtrack. I'll start with Thapsus.
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Old 07-10-2017, 12:31 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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But after a while, people weren't afraid of elephants, and apparently elephants are like tanks: they need to be supported by infantry or they're vulnerable.
I think this is basically backwards. Elephants weren't the tanks of their day. They were just the elephants of their day. Who were the tanks? Well, who can walk through a storm of missiles, stand up to charges by large animals, and stomp all over lightly armored enemies? Who can cut their way through swarms of barbarians like they're made of butter? Chuck Norris! OK, he wasn't there. But who were pretty good at those things, minus the hyperbole? Heavy infantry. Starting with the hoplites, moving on to the Macedonian phalanx, and upgrading all the way to legionaries.

If your elephants suck unless you bubble wrap them in infantry, that should tell you something. And that something is probably that you should stop selling your product, and go into the bubble wrap business full time. People love that stuff! Popping it is great fun, and very soothing. It'll sell like hotcakes! Wait, what was I talking about? Right. Infantry.

Last edited by Martian Bigfoot; 07-10-2017 at 12:33 AM.
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Old 07-10-2017, 03:55 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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Are you familiar with the concept of force multipliers? If infantry with elephants is more effective than just plain infantry, then elephants are effective.

People always seem to critique military units and equipment in isolation, and they're always wrong. A military force is a system, and the effectiveness of any component in it is measured not by how effective it is and and of itself, but how effective it is in conjunction with the other components. As you would say, tanks are the tanks of today - and tanks are almost useless without infantry, artillery and air support.

Last edited by Alessan; 07-10-2017 at 03:56 AM.
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Old 07-10-2017, 04:40 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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True, obviously. I was going to add: Don't, for heaven's sake, apply my advice to actual tanks.

Obviously, I'm aware of the concept of a mixed army. You support your heavy infantry. That's what your light infantry, your skirmishers, your field artillery, your cavalry and your whatever bits and bobs are there for. They didn't show up only for the sightseeing. I thought that was kind of implied, but I suppose that it wasn't. Those guys, and... aha! Your elephants!

As I said, the elephants aren't the tanks. The heavy infantry is. Elephants are support weapons, right? For one thing, you're never going to have all that many of them. I suppose what I mean is that if you find yourself having to babysit your support with your main guys, you may have a problem. Support should run out there, and then be able to bugger off. Either that, or they should have range, to avoid contact.

Skirmishers that have to hide behind the infantry aren't really working as they should, are they? Cav that can't fight without the infantry coming along isn't really working at all. Same thing with elephants. If you have to stick them behind your infantry line lest they cause havoc, they're not an asset. They're a pain in the ass.

Last edited by Martian Bigfoot; 07-10-2017 at 04:41 AM.
  #32  
Old 07-10-2017, 05:01 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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If infantry with elephants is more effective than just plain infantry, then elephants are effective.
This I'm fine with, BTW. And I'd absolutely love to see all the examples of this being the case.
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Old 07-10-2017, 06:21 AM
Darren Garrison Darren Garrison is offline
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I've been told that elephants, in general, are much overrated as a weapon of war. When they're shot at or lit on fire, they freak out and trample their own side.
And they are shit against Abrams tanks, destroyers, and dragons.
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Old 07-10-2017, 10:01 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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This I'm fine with, BTW. And I'd absolutely love to see all the examples of this being the case.
I really have no idea. I was just trying to say that claiming that they're useless without infantry to protect them is not a valid argument, as they were not intended to be deployed without infantry support.
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Old 07-10-2017, 10:08 AM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
And they are shit against Abrams tanks, destroyers, and dragons.
Depends on how many tardises are involved.
  #36  
Old 07-10-2017, 10:37 AM
PatrickLondon PatrickLondon is offline
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a 'mass animal deposition' event occurred
Next question: what gave Hannibal's elephants diarrhoea?
  #37  
Old 07-10-2017, 10:43 AM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Originally Posted by Martian Bigfoot View Post
could you show me a list of important battles won by use of elephants?
Well, there is Ipsus. Two very similar armies, but one had a large elephant superiority that came into play at a decisive moment.
  #38  
Old 07-10-2017, 11:22 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Originally Posted by Tamerlane View Post
Well, there is Ipsus. Two very similar armies, but one had a large elephant superiority that came into play at a decisive moment.
Well. that's one, bringing them level with scythed chariots.

But now I realize that I was asking the completely wrong question. They're support, not the tanks. So it's like asking for a list of battles won by skirmishers, light infantry or field artillery. Or by scythed chariots. (Cavalry, of course, being rather different.)

That's right, I was being a bit stupid, after all. Live and learn. I suppose what gives them their bad rep, then, is mainly the calamity factor. It's pretty unique, when you think about it. You'll never have this problem with other parts of your army. Your skirmishers, cavalry, etc. may perform well, or poorly, or meh, but they don't come crashing back into your line and stomp your own army.

Also, an expectation gap. Everyone assumes that elephants are supposed to be awesome. So whenever someone nullifies the elephant threat (which is, like, always) it's actually pointed out.

And now I'm done ranting about elephants. Not sure why I started doing that in the first place. That being said, though, note that they're still a calamity, and they still suck.

Last edited by Martian Bigfoot; 07-10-2017 at 11:25 AM.
  #39  
Old 07-10-2017, 12:05 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Originally Posted by Tamerlane View Post
Well, there is Ipsus. Two very similar armies, but one had a large elephant superiority that came into play at a decisive moment.
Actually, look at your link there, because this is actually pretty interesting. How were the elephants deployed decisively at Ipsus? Were they up front? Did they break the enemy line? No. Did they even pull a flanking move? No.

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It is not explicitly stated by Plutarch, but it has been assumed that the two phalanxes engaged each other during the battle. If this was the case, then the Antigonid strategy would have been for Demetrius to take his cavalry and attack the rear of the allied phalanx; or alternatively, return to station on the right wing and protect the Antigonid phalanx's flank. However, Demetrius found himself unable to return to the battlefield because of the deployment of 300 elephants in his path.

[...]

This 'elephant manoeuvre' was the decisive moment in the battle, but it is not clear how it came about; Plutarch only says that "the [allied] elephants were thrown in his way". If the elephants had indeed been held in reserve, then it might have been relatively straightforward to deploy them, but as discussed, it is not clear why so many elephants would have been held in reserve. However, it is also possible that the deployment of the elephants was a piece of improvisation during the battle [...]
Here's what happened, as far as I can tell: They weren't even deployed, as such. They were at the back, apparently in "reserve" (*cough* stuffed way behind the infantry and out of everyone's way *cough*), where they happened to block an enemy flanking force, by pure happenstance.

So, whoop-de-doo. Well, OK, fine. I suppose that's one way to use them, If you want to bring a wall, though, I think more phalanx is probably a better option.
  #40  
Old 07-10-2017, 02:04 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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It seems very clear to me that elephants were not tanks, at least not like we think. They couldn't smash through disciplined heavy infantry that knew how to deal with elephants.

The problem is that many wars were fought without much in the way of disciplined heavy infantry. And sometimes even when you had disciplined heavy infantry, you had never run into elephants before and didn't know how to handle them.

So elephants worked like a heavy cavalry charge. Try charging headlong into the spearmen, and if they just keep the pointy bits pointing the right way, your cavalry charge is doomed. If they get nervous and start running away, you trample them. And elephants scare horses too.

So I'm pretty sure that elephants were very useful when the Carthaginians were romping around Hispania. And overawing the Gauls as you march through Transalpine Gaul to Italy.

But they're a boggart that stops being effective when you stop being scared of it. Easier said than done of you're a barbarian tribe. Easily done if you're a Roman legion.

Again, Hannibal's elephants are famous for only one thing: crossing the Alps. They disappear from history the day after they cross the Alps.
  #41  
Old 07-10-2017, 03:18 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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So elephants worked like a heavy cavalry charge.
Right. So let's think of them as cavalry. Cavalry also can't successfully smash into a strong line, yeah? So you flank, or you smash a weakened line.

So, can you flank with elephants? Well, as mentioned, 1) they need infantry support, and 2) they can trample your own infantry. So now you have a flanking force that moves at the speed of infantry, with a built-in self-destruct mechanism. That's nutty professor territory. Just bring some actual cavalry.

Can they smash the weakened line, cataphract-style? Yes. But if they need infantry support, you don't want them too far ahead of your own line. So if you fail? Those elephants are returning like a damned boomerang. Just bring some actual cavalry.

What, then? Flank defense? Look at Ipsus again, and think of this in soccer terms. I know, that makes no sense to you, but I'm European. Maybe that move wasn't happenstance. Maybe the elephants were put there as flank defense, because it's what they're good for at that point. Basically, they're defensive full backs.

Not great ones, though. I wouldn't rely on those. If I was the other side, I'd bring some skirmisher cav against them, pelt them, and then grab the popcorn. What's as bad as rampaging elephants in your own front? Rampaging elephants in your own rear. Just bring some actual cavalry.
  #42  
Old 07-10-2017, 04:23 PM
Hector_St_Clare Hector_St_Clare is offline
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Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
Properly trained war-elephants and their properly trained operators/rider would not. They were like the tanks of their day, impervious to most infantry weapons and made crunching sounds when going over infantrymen.

In many battles in the Med, one or more of the above were lacking. Then that happened.
How would even the best training override the elephant's instinctive response to stampede when it's in pain / burning? That seems hard to imagine- what is the rider supposed to do in such a case?

Unlike tanks, an elephant has a mind of its own, which seems like it would make it particularly unpredictable in a way that a tank isn't.
  #43  
Old 07-10-2017, 04:30 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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How would even the best training override the elephant's instinctive response to stampede when it's in pain / burning? That seems hard to imagine- what is the rider supposed to do in such a case?
I have read about elephant riders being equipped with rods or stakes, maybe poisoned, to kill their own elephants. Like a rudimentary off button. I'm having a hard time picturing this working too well in practice, though.
  #44  
Old 07-10-2017, 04:38 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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Exactly so. An elephant, despite its strength, is actually extremely vulnerable. It cannot be armored like a tank. It can't just stroll into enemy formations and crush everyone and everything. They can only do that if the enemy infantry is sensible, and runs the fuck away, like anyone who doesn't like being trampled would do.

So the elephant is not a weapon of crush trample charge. It's a weapon of fear. And if the only thing you have to fear is fear itself, then just stop doing that. Like I said, that's easy enough if you're the inhumanly disciplined early Roman legions, you just have the grizzled centurions tell the green recruits not to be scared of some stupid elephants, and it works. It's harder when you're a tribal war band.
  #45  
Old 07-10-2017, 04:40 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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Originally Posted by Martian Bigfoot View Post
I have read about elephant riders being equipped with rods or stakes, maybe poisoned, to kill their own elephants. Like a rudimentary off button. I'm having a hard time picturing this working too well in practice, though.
The mahout who sat on the elephant's neck supposedly had a spike and a hammer. When the elephant goes berserk, you place the spike at the back of the skull and hammer it in. Hopefully the elephant hasn't reached back and killed the mahout yet.
  #46  
Old 07-10-2017, 05:13 PM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
When the elephant goes berserk, you place the spike at the back of the skull and hammer it in.
Now I'm picturing the look on people's faces in mahout school when they tell you that. Do we have an emoticon for it?



Quote:
[...] you just have the grizzled centurions tell the green recruits not to be scared of some stupid elephants, and it works.
It's something of a side note, but it occurred to me a while ago that it must be incredibly f***ing hard to make a Polybian era Roman legion run away. For starters, these guys have high morale to begin with. But in addition to that, the formation has a built-in morale boost system.

You know the triple line + skirmishers system, right? Velites, hastati, principes, triarii. This always nagged me a bit, because, in a sense, it looks backwards. Youngest and most lightly armored guys at the front, progressively heavy, experienced and rugged towards the back. What gives? Put the toughest guys up front, right?

But here's what happens if you try to make it rout:

The velites run away. That's fine, they're supposed to. No one routs because of that.
Next, maybe the hastati run away. But this doesn't make the whole army rout, because it's just the hastati, right? They're softies anyway. They go to the back of the formation. They regroup back there, because now there are two lines of tougher guys in front of them, so they're not freaking out anymore.
Say things keep going badly, and the principes run away. Don't panic, they go to the back, regroup. There's still the triarii.
Maybe the triarii run away? Never happens. But if they do, they go to the back, now you're facing the hastati and principes again, with the triarii back behind them, and you have to do the whole blasted thing all over again. You could be there all day. Basically, I don't think you rout an army like that. You have to kill every last mothercopulating bastard on the field.
  #47  
Old 07-10-2017, 05:52 PM
cmkeller cmkeller is online now
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Martian Bigfoot:

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What elephants are good for:
4. Trampling Sideshow Bob
  #48  
Old 07-10-2017, 07:05 PM
Hector_St_Clare Hector_St_Clare is offline
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What happens with the rider when he kills his elephant? Does he die too?
  #49  
Old 07-10-2017, 07:10 PM
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A quick google suggests that elephants can get up to 25 MPH, which compares favorably with the speed of horses. So you could deploy elephants as you would horse cavalry, in flanking maneuvers. Additionally, elephants will trample humans while I think horses will avoid it if possible.

Regarding "the triple line" as described by Martian Bigfoot, I'm sure your description is accurate. But I'm also pretty sure I've read about battles lost (not in the ancient world--U.S. War of the Southern Traitors maybe? Or Napoleonic?) where the front line/vanguard broke, fled back and disrupted the main army, resulting in a rout. Don't have a cite handy though.
  #50  
Old 07-10-2017, 07:24 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
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Originally Posted by Hector_St_Clare View Post
What happens with the rider when he kills his elephant? Does he die too?
Beats the heck out of me. The mahout takes a risk either way. Either you're carried along helplessly atop a rampaging elephant driven mad by pain and fear, who could with a little finesse reach up behind his head and rip you into pieces, or you kill the elephant and risk getting crushed underneath it as it dies.

If you don't kill the elephant that's rampaging through your own soldiers, I imagine you will find that your general won't be too happy with your dereliction of duty either.
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