Hello history fans. We have another “History throughout the Ages” blog for you. This week, I wanted to feature a unit that has not been requested yet but that can be found throughout the whole series: The War Elephant, the Indian war elephant specifically.

War Elephants can be found in the first game in the series, Age of Empires, Age of Empires II HD, Age of Empires III, Age of Mythology, Age of Empires III, and in Age of Empires Online. While each game and each civilization adds some variations to the unit, War Elephants are generally known for being heavy cavalry units that are good at melee and can be used against buildings, but are easily converted by enemy Priests, due to their low speed.

Below, you can see some of the War Elephants found in the series.

War Elephants in AoE
Persian War Elephant in AoE II HD
Egyptian War Elephant in AoM
Indian Siege Elephant in AoE III
Egyptian War Elephant in AoEO – Not just effective against Boar

Elephants had been working with humans long before war elephants were employed. Their strength was used to carry items and for riding. The invention date of elephants and culture that introduced them are unclear. According to the book “War Elephants” by John Kistler, the oldest recorded document mentioning war elephants may be the Sanscrit epic “Mahabharata” from about 3000 BC. Said document describes a life stage of the elephant called “musth”, during which adult bulls are especially aggressive. As this state occurred naturally only once or twice a year, artificial means were sought to invoke such a state. “Drugs, alcohol, loud noises, and music,” were some of the means used to harness the elephant’s aggressiveness for war. In addition, the most suitable elephants were chosen. Interestingly, old elephants were preferred over young ones, as they were more experienced and less easily frightened.

Some of the commands war elephants were taught were climbing over obstacles, marching in zigzag lines, trampling horses and foot soldiers, fighting other elephants, and attacking forts and buildings. A gradual process was used to allow the animals to become accustomed to the noise of war. Early war elephants did not carry weapons but used their trunks as weapons or to grab enemies.

Initially, war elephants to not wear armor and only carried one rider. As you can see in the in-game screenshots, elephants were later covered with a cloth called “caparison” which was fastened with thick ropes or chains. According to the book “War Elephants” by Konstantin Nossov, elephants also wore bells around their neck. Ropes tied around the elephant could make it easier for the rider to climb the animal. The head and trunk of the elephant were sometimes painted. Sometimes, fighting towers or elephant seats were mounted on the elephant.

Michael and Mary Wood’s book “Ancient Warfare: From Clubs to Catapults” states that war elephants could be 9ft tall and weigh more than six tons. Notable examples of usage of these stately animals include Alexander the Great’s battle against Porus in 326 BC. Of course, there are also the famous elephants used by Hannibal. One way to defend oneself against war elephants was to use spikes on the ground, which is what Ptolemy I did in his battle at Gaza in 312 BC – and won. In order to avoid being attacked by an elephant of one’s own army or in case of one’s fellow soldiers being attacked, Indian riders used so-called “elephant killer” arrows or a spike that could be used to injure the elephant’s brain. War elephants were definitely not to be messed with.

The image below shows war elephants in battle during the Carnatic Wars of 1746-1763.

Which facts mentioned in this blog were new to you? Which War Elephant in the game do you like best? Are there any units or weapons from the game that you think I should write about? Let me know in the comments below.





Age of Empires Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. <http://ageofempires.wikia.com/wiki/>.

Kistler, John M. War Elephants. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. 7-12. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Nossov, Konstantin. War Elephants. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Ancient Warfare: From Clubs to Catapults

Woods, Michael, and Mary B. Woods. Ancient Warfare: From Clubs to Catapults. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000. 68. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

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