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Diffusion, Comparisons, and Periodization in the Pre-modern World


The War Elephants East and West

Stanley M. Burstein


     In the first issue of The Journal of World History William McNeill published a retrospective on his seminal work, The Rise of the West entitled, "The Rise of the West after Twenty-Five Years,"1 in the course of which he remarked "that contacts among contemporaneous civilizations…can be expected to alter the assortment and expression of high skills each civilization possesses…." While the general validity of this proposition is not in doubt, success was not guaranteed. Contact between cultures by itself is not sufficient to result in significant cultural transfers unless the receiving culture also has a need for the new skill or technology. Instances in which long term diffusion of significant skills did not occur, therefore, can serve to illuminate the conditions required for contact between cultures to be productive.

     This article examines one such unsuccessful case of cultural diffusion: the spread of the war elephant from India to the Mediterranean basin in the late fourth and early third centuries BCE. What makes this case particularly interesting is that, for a time, the westward diffusion from India of the war elephant was noted in western art and literature. It was also probably the largest and most complex example of a government sponsored technology transfer in antiquity. Yet, the use of war elephants had no lasting impact on the economy and culture of western Eurasia. Active classroom applications of the content of this article are offered in an Appendix

The War Elephant in India

     The use of the war elephant is probably the most distinctive feature of warfare in South Asia. Its long and complex history in India and its westward and eastward diffusion has been reconstructed by Thomas B. Trautmann in his brilliant study, Elephants & Kings: An Environmental History.2 Elephants were used for almost three thousand years in India and Southeast Asia for three purposes: work, riding, and, above all, war.

     Central to understanding the history of the war elephant is the fact that, while elephants do breed in captivity, they have never been domesticated. Instead, they are captured as adults—especially males—and tamed and trained for their intended functions. The reason for capturing male adults, with their greater size and larger tusks, rather than raising them from birth, was primarily economic. An elephant from birth requires over 150 kilos of food per day, large amounts of water and medical care to survive in captivity. Since elephants were believed to reach fighting peak at forty years of age, capturing and training adults had great economic advantages over rearing elephants from childhood to adulthood. Capturing adult elephants kept costs down as captured and tamed elephants would be ready for battle as soon as needed.

     At the same time, however, the system required an extensive body of specialist personnel to protect the forest environment in which the elephant herds lived, to both prevent the forest peoples from killing them for food and ivory, and to facilitate their capture, train, care for them, and manage them in battle. The evidence analyzed by Trautmann indicates that the war elephant and the extensive infrastructure required to support such animals first appeared in India sometime after 1000 BCE and that by 500 BCE it had become the central feature of armies in kingdoms throughout northern India, a role it maintained as a weapon in Indian warfare to the early 19th century and as a logistical element almost to the present day.

Figure 1
  Figure 1 & 2: On left, "Indian Elephant in Battle," Rajasthan, Artist/maker unknown, India. On right, "The Death of the Nabob of the Carnatic," (detail) painted by Paul Philippoteaux (1846–1923). Note Europeans on at bottom right. Images refer to events c. 1740–70. Both images are in the Public Domain.  

The War Elephant Comes to the West

     It is uncertain as to when knowledge of the war elephant first reached western Asia.3 The evidence available suggests that by about 400 BCE the Persians had learned of it through their contacts with India. The Greek doctor Ctesias, the personal physician to the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes II, included in his book Indica an exaggerated but generally accurate account of their role in Indian armies. He also claimed to have witnessed a tamed elephant overturning a palm tree in the city of Babylon on orders from its Indian mahout (driver and care-giver).4

Figure 3
  Figure 3: Silver decadrachm issued ca. 325 BCE to celebrate Alexander the Great's victory in the Battle of the Hydaspes River in India. On the right is the obverse (front) of the coin showing Alexander the Great with a thunderbolt. On the left is the reverse side of the coin showing Alexander the Great on horseback attacking the Indian king Poros who is mounted on a war elephant. Used by permission of The Classical Numismatic Group.  

     However, the decisive moment in the westward diffusion of the war elephant occurred about three quarters of a century later, during the reign of Alexander the Great. when Greeks and Macedonians first encountered them in battle during Alexander's invasion of India. As a result of his experience, Alexander actively sought to acquire war elephants. He sent back to western Asia possibly as many as two hundred animals, both ones captured in battle and others obtained as gifts from conquered or allied Indian rulers.5 The elephants would have been accompanied by their essential support personnel: hundreds of mahouts, trainers, and veterinarians.

     At the end of the fourth century BCE, Seleucus I, ruled the Asian portion of Alexander's empire in the wake of Alexander's death. His need for war elephants to use in battle against his neighbors was sufficiently great that he sought and obtained an additional 500 war elephants and their essential support personnel through a treaty in which he surrendered to Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan Empire, the bulk of Macedonian territory in what is now southern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India.

     However, the catalyst for the spread of the war elephant throughout the Mediterranean basin was the almost century-long struggle between the Seleucid rulers and their Egyptian rivals, the Ptolemies, over control of Syria and Palestine In what quickly became an ancient "arms race" which the Ptolemies lost in 197 BCE in part because geography and diplomacy placed the Ptolemies at a serious disadvantage against the Seleucids, whose treaty of alliance with the Mauryan Empire in India gave them ready access to the Indian source of Asian elephants and their vital mahouts and the other essential staff.

     The clearest evidence of knowledge of the Indian war elephant in the west is provided by the detailed account of the methods used by the Maurya to hunt and train elephants. This was contained in the account of India written by Megasthenes,6 Seleucus I's popular ambassador to Chandragupta Maurya. Good relations between the Seleucids and the Mauryas with all their benefits for the Seleucids continued until the fall of the Mauryan Empire ca. 185 BCE. At one time, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus I, desperate for more war elephants, had to closely consider Bindusara's request that in return, a philosopher from their court would be sent to join in the intellectual discourse at his court. The Seleucid ruler declined, wrongly thinking the philosopher would be traded and treated as a slave. The deal was soon made on other terms and Bindusara's son and successor, Ashoka, was to have many educated free Greeks in his employ, as well as good diplomatic relations with the Seleucids and the other states of the Near and Middle East.7

      It took time, of course, for the full implications of the significance of the Seleucid-Mauryan dealings in war elephants to become evident to the Ptolemies. Ptolemy I, who controlled Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great, had acquired the nucleus of an elephant corps, obtaining some of Alexander's elephants and their Indian mahouts and other support personnel in the wake of a failed invasion of Egypt in 321 BCE by Perdiccas, the regent for Alexander's successors, his brother Philip III and his son Alexander IV".

     He later captured 43 more elephants and their mahouts after the Battle of Gaza in 312 BCE, giving him something between 50 and 100 elephants.8

     As an elephants' life expectancy is approximately the same as that of a human being, Ptolemy's animals and their mahouts were what is called a "wasting asset" as age increasingly eroded their numbers and battle worthiness, while the Seleucid's geographical and diplomatic advantages of their alliance ed with the Mauryan Empire cut him and his successors off from the possibility of replacing them with fresh animals from India.

     The seriousness of the problem posed for the Ptolemies by a lack of elephants re-supply became clear when Seleucus I's successor, Antiochus I, was able to reinforce his own elephant forces in the west by bringing to his Syrian domains fresh beasts from Bactria [a region now in modern Afghanistan] in 275 BCE, just before the outbreak of the First Syrian War.9 Ptolemy II had no choice, therefore, except to find and to develop an alternative source of war elephants as well as obtain new mahouts and the rest of the requisite personnel. The latter problem was made more serious by the then current belief that elephants could only understand commands given in Indian languages, hence the use of the term Indos, Indian, for a mahout in Hellenistic Greek. Even when the Ptolemies learned that elephants could learn to understand commands in Greek and, therefore, that non-Indians could be trained as mahouts, the hunting techniques and the technology for training and managing elephants remained Indian and, initially at least, had to be learned through apprenticeship to Indian hunters and mahouts.

     Equally important, potential alternative sources for elephants in western Asia and the Mediterranean basin were limited in absolute terms. The Syrian elephant had been hunted into extinction by the early first millennium BCE and the Atlas Mountains herds which the Carthaginians and their Mauritanian and Numidian neighbors were to exploit later were too small and distant. That left only northeast Africa, specifically the territory of the Kingdom of Kush in the Upper Nile valley (Nubia), the Red Sea, and its African hinterlands as possibilities. Ptolemy II set about exploiting these hunting grounds in the late 270s BCE, and his successors continued to pursue his elephant hunting project in the region until the end of the third century BCE.

     Not surprisingly, most scholarship on Ptolemaic activity in Nubia focuses on the elephant hunts themselves.10 The evidence available for studying Ptolemaic elephant hunting is limited in quantity, but it does include a wide variety of textual, epigraphic, and papyrological sources. The most revealing of these sources is the triumphal inscription Ptolemy III set up ca. 244 BCE after the Third Syrian War at the port of Adulis in present day Eritrea. In this inscription, Ptolemy III boasted that his army included "elephants, both Trogodytic and Aithiopian." The former term in Ptolemaic sources refers to the African coast of the Red Sea and its hinterlands, and the latter to the Nile Valley south of Egypt. The inscription goes on to state that he and his father Ptolemy II "first hunted in these countries, and, having brought them back to Egypt, trained for military use."11 Greek graffiti at Ramses II's great temple at Abu Simbel confirm that elephant hunters hunted African elephants using the Nile Valley route.12

     However, the elephant hunters encountered two obstacles to using the Nile Valley route to reach elephant populations to the south. The first was the remoteness of the elephant herds—Ptolemaic scouts first reported signs of elephants near the Kushite capital, Meroe, south of the fifth cataract of the Nile, almost 600 miles south of Aswan.13 The second was the logistical problems involved in gaining access to them, and the difficulties involved in transporting them to Egypt by the Nile with its numerous rapids. These two difficulties combined to mean that the main focus of Ptolemaic elephant hunting would be the Red Sea region despite the smaller size of the herds in its hinterlands and the difficulties and expense involved in developing the infrastructure required to exploit that route.

     Despite its logistical challenges and high costs, Ptolemy II began elephant hunting via the Red Sea early, after the end of the First Syrian War in the late 270s BCE. The principal base for Ptolemaic elephant hunting was a military colony called "Ptolemais of the Hunts." This was located near the present port of Aqiq on the coast of central Sudan. According to the account in the Pithom Stele (an extensive hieroglyphic text honoring Ptolemy II and his wife Arsinoe II), the camp of Ptolemais of the Hunts was intended to be a self-supporting base from which elephant hunting expeditions could be dispatched into the interior and captured elephants could be transported to Memphis for training by way of the Red Sea and the Nile canal.14 The Pithom Stele relates that there was erected a great city "with the illustrious name of the king, the lord of Egypt, Ptolemy II":

And he took possession of it with the soldiers of His Majesty and all the officials of Egypt and the land of [text damaged] he made fields there and cultivated them with ploughs and cattle; no such thing took place there from the beginning. He caught elephants in great number for the king, and he brought them as marvels to the king, on his transports on the sea. He brought them also on the Eastern Canal; no such thing had ever been done by any of the whole earth."15

     Ptolemais of the Hunts remained the principal center of Ptolemaic elephant hunting throughout the third century BCE. Important changes in how the hunts were conducted occurred soon after its foundation, however, which required significant additional expenditures by Ptolemy II and his successors. Probably because of adverse sailing conditions in the northern Red Sea—strong prevailing northerly winds make sailing difficult above 20 degrees north latitude for most of the year16—the Nile canal, on the main route for transporting captured elephants from the Red Sea to Memphis, the imperial capital where the training facilities were maintained, had to be abandoned. As a result, a new Red Sea port was built at Berenike, about two hundred miles east of the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan. In addition, a road supported by wells and policing bases was built linking Berenike to Coptus on the Nile.17 Even so, the challenges of conducting the hunts remained formidable.

     The hunting expeditions, sometimes numbering hundreds of men,18 had to be paid and supplied from Egypt. So also did the crews of the elephant maritime time transports, who sailed the unwieldy ships with their cargoes of captured elephants on their dangerous voyages to Berenike during which "running with sails set and often continuing through the night because of the strong winds, they are wrecked when they run aground on the rocks or submerged bars."19 Facilities had to be prepared near Thebes to house and feed the captured elephants that survived their dangerous sea voyage and the long desert march from Berenike to the Nile before they could be transported downriver to Memphis for training. Also, caretakers and grain for the elephants had to be provided while they were at Thebes prior to transport to Lower Egypt. Moreover, the same peculiarities of the sailing conditions in the Red Sea that led to the construction of Berenike also meant that shipyards had to be established there to maintain and repair the elephant transports because those in the Nile valley could not be used.

     Ptolemy II pursued his elephant hunting project throughout his reign, and the Adulis inscription indicates that by the time of his death in 246 BCE he had achieved his primary goal of building a battle worthy elephant corps supported by trained mahouts. The evidence concerning the size of his elephant corps is ambiguous, with some ancient sources claiming that he had as many as 400 elephants. Hunting on a scale necessary to produce a herd of this size is, however, unlikely, and there is no evidence that Ptolemy II successfully bred elephants in captivity. Hellenistic sources, moreover, suggest a lower figure. So, the historian Callixeinus of Rhodes20 claimed that there were twenty-four elephant drawn quadrigas—chariots normally drawn by four horses—in his vivid description of the great procession Ptolemy II held at Alexandria probably in the late 270s or early 260s BCE, which implies that he possessed at least ninety-six trained elephants at some point in his reign, while in 217 BCE Ptolemy IV deployed seventy-three elephants against his Seleucid opponent Antiochus III's one hundred and two Indian elephants at the Battle of Raphia.21 As Ptolemy IV mobilized all available forces including Egyptian heavy infantry for the Battle of Raphia, it is likely that the seventy-three elephants that fought at Raphia were all that he had, suggesting that the size of the Ptolemaic elephant corps ranged between about seventy and one hundred animals during the third century BCE.

Figure 4
  Figure 4: Kushite king riding an elephant (ca. 200 BCE–200 CE), Sudan. Source: E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Sudan: Its History and Monuments, Vol. 2 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1907), 150 fig. 6).  

     In any event, for a little over two centuries war elephants formed an integral part of armies in the Mediterranean basin and Northeast Africa. Their use spread from Ptolemaic Egypt south to Kush and west to Carthage and its North African neighbors, and ultimately to Rome, and they took part in virtually every major recorded battle, including the Carthaginian general Hannibal's failed use of them in the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE).

Figure 5
  Figure 5: Hannibal Barca crossing the Rhône River to attack Rome as imagined by French painter Henri Paul Motte (1878). Hannibal was defeated, in part because, after losing one battle, Roman Legions learned to part their disciplined ranks and let charging elephants pass through them. Image in the Public Domain.  

     At that point, the military function of elephants in the west abruptly ended. The last recorded use of war elephants was at the Battle of Thapsus in what is now modern Tunisia in 46 BCE, when Julius Caesar's Roman Republican enemies unsuccessfully used them. Thereafter, war elephants disappear from accounts of Roman warfare with the exception of an isolated reference to elephants being included in the Roman invasion force dispatched to Britain by the Emperor Claudius in 43 CE.22 Thereafter, allusions to the use of elephants in the Roman world in the are limited to accounts of circus combats and descriptions of occasional ceremonial functions.23 Not even when the Sassanid Persians reintroduced the war elephant to western Asia in late Antiquity did the Romans respond in kind.24 So complete was the disappearance of the war elephant from western warfare that the authors of Roman military handbooks explicitly state that it would be a waste of time to discuss them and the tactics appropriate to their use. Not surprisingly, the arrival in Constantinople in 496 CE of an elephant sent as a diplomatic gift to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius by the King of Axum in Northeast Africa was treated as a special event.25

The War Elephant Disappears from the West

     Thus, in the west, the war elephant disappeared with rise of Roman imperial state in the late first century BCE, despite having been an integral part of Hellenistic warfare and the enormous effort previously expended by kings to acquire them. This development has puzzled scholars. Several causes have been advanced to explain it. One was the poor performance of African elephants in battle, some because they were unknowingly employed, as were early tanks on the Western Front in the First World War, without adequate infantry support. Further, all war elephants were not equal: the Ptolemies' smaller African forest elephants lost in their one confrontation with the Seleucid's larger Indian elephants at the Battle of Raphia in 217 BCE. 26 Another cause was a difficulty with Indian elephants arising not their performance, but from their lack of availability due to Seleucids' loss of contact with India after the passing of the Mauryan Empire and years of unsettled conditions on the subcontinent that followed.

     Another, perhaps stronger explanation that may account for disappearance of the Indian elephant from western armies may well have been connected to factors that nurtured them and protected them in India but were not present or available in the west. In India, the war elephant was associated with a form of warfare between kingdoms, all of which possessed elephants. Equally important, the kingdoms controlled the forest sources of the elephants and were able to manage them and the forest peoples who captured and trained them, even limiting the collection of ivory to scavenging from dead elephants.

     None of these factors were present in the west, however, where the existence of states able to maintain war elephants disappeared in the first century BCE with the unification of the Mediterranean basin by Rome and the gradual shift of the major theaters of warfare to Rome's European frontiers where war elephants were of little use due to terrain and cold temperatures. Equally important, with the exception of Kush, none of the principal elephant-using states in the west directly controlled the African sources of elephants and thus not could manage them effectively as their Indian counterparts did. This problem was made more serious by the emergence of an insatiable demand for ivory in the Mediterranean that resulted in hunting north and northeast African elephants to near extinction.

     Two examples of the impact of over-hunting may serve to make that clear. In his great procession in the late 270s or early 260s BCE Ptolemy II paraded 600 tusks, the products of 300 elephants, through the streets of Alexandria. Two centuries later, another Ptolemy gave sixty-eight tusks—the product of 34 elephants—weighing 4 thousand pounds to decorate a single set of doors in the Temple of Apollo at Didyma at Miletus in western Turkey.

     The disappearance of war elephants in the west may thus have been the inevitable result of the slaughter of elephants for their ivory on an ever-increasing scale. The problem was already evident in the third century BCE when over-hunting of the small elephant herds near the coast of the Red Sea drove Ptolemy II's successors constantly to seek new hunting grounds and to establish additional hunting stations south of Ptolemais of the Hunts, a process that finally resulted in extending the hunting zone outside the Red Sea itself, reaching the northern coast of Somalia sometime in the reign of Ptolemy IV.27 The situation was similar in North Africa where the Atlas herds had been decimated by the first century CE, leading the first century CE encyclopedist Pliny the Elder to observe that "ivory is scarce" and "outside [of] India an ample supply is rarely found."28


     As was pointed out at the beginning of this article, successful diffusion requires the imported skill or technology to fill a lasting need in the receiving culture, and that was not the case with the war elephant. Instead, as a result of changes in the nature of warfare, their cost, and the growing difficulty of obtaining elephants due in part to over-hunting for their ivory, and the difficulties posed by the European terrain and climate, the war elephant disappeared from the west, surviving only as an imperial symbol and an exotic circus animal, a role that is only now ending with the abandonment of trained elephant acts by circuses such as Ringling Brothers. In South Asia, however, where the requisite conditions existed, the war elephant continued to be a major factor in Indian combat arms until the early 19th Century. This argument is further strengthened by the fact that, whereas in the first century CE, the Roman Empire no longer employed war elephants, at the same time their use was spreading to Southeast Asia where waring kingdoms all had access to an abundant supply of elephants and where other favorable conditions, such as indigenous drivers and trainers, were the same as in India.

Figure 6
  Figure 6: Khmer army going to war against the Cham; relief at the Bayon Temple in Angkor, Cambodia (S section, E gallery), late 12th to beginning 13th century. Photograph by Manfred Werner (2001), used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  


     Instructors seeking to examine this subject may be tempted to reference the Wikipedia article at Unfortunately, like most encyclopedia articles, it is long on descriptive material and short on analysis that can be translated into classroom activities that can stimulate critical thinking. It is hoped that instructors will find the following activities useful in achieving that aim.

Classroom Activities

  1. Students may compare and contrast the messages conveyed by the images of elephants on the coin of Alexander the Great and the graffito of the Kushite king riding an elephant. How does each ruler wish to be seen by his subjects as reflected in this coin?

  2. Students may be asked to identify the factors involved in the disappearance of the war elephant from the west.

  3. Discuss the significance of the institution of the war elephant for the survival of wild elephants in South Asia and Africa in term of sustainability

  4. Using Megasthenes' account of the capture of elephants available online at*.html or the following text, adapted from The Geography of Strabo, translated by Horace Leonard Jones, Volume 7 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1930), 71–73), students may be asked to develop a plan for an elephant hunt, identifying the persons, resources, and infrastructure needed for the hunt to be successful.

Megasthenes' Account of the Capture of Elephants

     The chase of the elephant is conducted as follows: they dig a deep ditch round a treeless tract about 2,400 or 3,000 feet in circuit and bridge the entrance with a very narrow bridge; and then, letting loose into the enclosure three or four of the tamest females, they themselves lie in wait under cover in hidden huts. Now the wild elephants do not approach by day, but make the entrance one by one at night; and when they have entered, the men close the entrance secretly; and then, leading the most courageous of their tame elephants into the enclosure, they fight it out with the wild elephants, at the same time wearing them down also by starvation; and, once the animals are worn out, the boldest of the riders secretly dismount and each creeps under the belly of his own riding-elephant, and then, starting from here, creeps under the wild elephant and binds his feet together; and when this done, they command the tamed elephants to beat those whose feet have been bound until they fall to the ground; and when they fall, the men fasten their necks to those of the tamed elephants with thongs of raw ox-hide; and in order that the wild elephants, when they shake those who are attempting to mount them, may not shake them off, the men make incisions round their necks and put the thongs round at these incisions, so that through pain they yield to their bonds and keep quiet. Of the elephants captured, they reject those that are too old or too young for service and lead away the rest to the stalls; and then having tied their feet to one another and their necks to a firmly planted pillar, they subdue them by hunger; and then they restore them with green cane and grass. After this the elephants are taught to obey commands, some through words of command and others through being charmed by tunes and drum-beating. Those that are hard to tame are rare; for by nature the elephant is of a mild and gentle disposition, so that it is close to a rational animal; and some elephants have even taken up their riders who had fallen from loss of blood in the fight and carried them safely out of the battle, while others have fought for, and rescued, those who had crept between their fore-legs. And if in anger they have killed one of their feeders or masters, they yearn after him so strongly that through grief they abstain from food and sometimes even starve themselves to death.

Stanley M. Burstein is Professor Emeritus of History at California State University, Los Angeles and former president of the Association of Ancient Historians. His research focuses on relations between Greeks and non-Greeks in the Hellenistic Period. His numerous publications include: Outpost of Hellenism: The Emergence of Heraclea on the Black Sea (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), The Hellenistic Age from the battle of Ipsos to the death of Kleopatra VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), Agatharchides of Cnidus, On the Erythraean Sea (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1989), and The World from 1000 BCE to 300 CE (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) He can be contacted at


1 William H. McNeill, "The Rise of the West after Twenty-Five Years," Journal of World History, Vol. 1, no, 1 (1990), 2.

2 Thomas R. Trautmann, Elephants & Kings: An Environmental History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

3 The standard treatment of the war elephant in western Eurasia is H. H. Scullard, The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974).

4 Ctesias, On India and Fragments of his Minor Works, translated by Andrew Nichols (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011). See F 45ba with comments on 140–41.

5 Scullard, The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World, 74.

6 Megasthenes' book is lost, but his account of elephant hunting is quoted in Strabo, Geography, 15.1.42, C 704.

7 Bindusara: Romila Thapar, Aśoka and the Decline of Maurya, 2nd edition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), 18. The clearest evidence of Greeks in the service of the Mauryas is the sophisticated use of Greek philosophical terminology in the Greek translations of Aśoka's edicts (cf. Thapar, 276). For his western contacts, see Rock Edict XIII.

8 Invasion of Egypt: Diodorus, 18.33–34; Battle of Gaza: Diodorus, 19.82–4.

9 M. M. Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), Nr. 141.

10 Recent accounts are Lionel Casson, "Ptolemy II and the Hunting of African Elephants," Transactions of the American Philological Association, 123 (1993), 247–60; and Stanley M. Burstein, "Elephants for Ptolemy II: Ptolemaic Policy in Nubia in the Third Century BC" in: Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, Paul McKechne and Philippe Guillaume (eds.), Mnemosyne Supplement 300 (Leiden: Brill, 2008) 135–46. .

11 Stanley M. Burstein (ed. and trans.), The Hellenistic Age from the battle of Ipsos to the Death of Kleopatra VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), Nr. 99, lines 11–14. The original inscription is lost, but the text survives in a transcription made by the sixth century ce Alexandrian merchant and theologian, Cosmas Indicopleustes.

12 See Jehan Desanges, Les Chasseurs d'Éléphants du Abou-Simbel," Actes du 92e Congrès national sociétés savants, Strasbourg et Colmar 1967, Section d'archéologie (Paris, 1970), 31–50.

13 Pliny, Natural History, 6.180.

14 Carol A. Redmount, "The Wadi Tumilat and the 'Canal of the Pharaohs'," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54 (1995), 127–135. The old Nile canal originally had been built by the Persian king Darius I in the late sixth century BCE and was reopened by Ptolemy II during the late 270s BCE.

15 Pithom Stele, Edouard Naville, trans., The Store-City of Ptihom and the Route of the (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, Exodus, 4th edition, 1903), 21, lines 23–24.

16 Claire Préaux, "Sur les communications de l'Ếthiopie avec l'Égypte hellénistique," Chronique d'Égypte, Vol. 27 (1952), 271.

17 On Berenike, see Steven E. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

18 A papyrus letter of 223 BCE refers to the hunting expedition numbering 231 men (Papyrus Elephantine, 28). The Elephantine Papyri is a collection of 175 documents spanning over 1,000 years found at the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Aswan.

19 Diodorus, 3.40.4.

20 See E. E. Rice, The Grand Procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983) 17.

21 Polybius, Histories 5.79.2, 82.7.

22 Cassius Dio, Rom. Hist. 60.21.1–2. There is no evidence, however, that they saw combat.

23 For details see J. M. C. Toynbee, Animals in Roman Life and Art (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), 32–54.

24 For the war elephant in Sassanid Persia see Michael B. Charles, "The Rise of the Sasanian Elephant Corps: Elephants and the Later Roman Empire," Iranica Antiqua. Vol. 42 (2007), 301–46.

25 See S. M. Burstein, "An Elephant for Anastasius: A Note on P. Mich. Inv. 4290," Ancient History Bulletin, Vol. 6 (1992), 55–57.

26 See Scullard, Elephant in the Greek and Roman World, 60–2, for the use by the Ptolemies of the smaller forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) instead of the larger and better-known bush elephant (Loxodonta africana).

27 See S. M. Burstein, "Ivory and Ptolemaic Exploration of the Red Sea: The Missing Factor," ΤΟΠΟΙ, Vol. 6 (1996), 799–807.

28 Pliny, Natural History, 8.7.

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