War Elephants in the Roman Army

Weapons and Warfare

It is often assumed that the Romans realized the danger of using war elephants as early as their wars with Pyrrhus of Epirus and never employed them in their army. But this is not the case. The Romans first met with war elephants at Heraclea in 280 BC; much of their defeat was on account of Pyrrhus’s elephants. Yet after the battle they scornfully called them ‘Lucanian cows’ (after the district of Lucania where they had first faced elephants). The next year, at Asculum, the Romans brought out carts with hooks and torches against Pyrrhus’s elephants, but the idea failed to work, and again they were defeated because of elephants. In 255 BC the Carthaginians dealt them such a crippling blow, also with the help of elephants, that the Romans chose not to engage the Carthaginians and stay within fortress walls for another several years. It may seem strange that…

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