Captured on the plains of Ethiopia and surrounding lands, Bush elephants provide the armies of the Ptolemaioi and Qarthadastim with a fearsome advantage.
Can Run Amok
Captured on the plains of Ethiopia and surrounding lands, Bush elephants provide the armies of the Ptolemaioi and Qarthadastim with a fearsome advantage. Larger than their Forest cousins and even those of distant India they tower over anyone and anything on the battlefield and to those not accustomed to fighting elephants a sight that fills their hearts with fear. The expenses required to capture, train and maintain bush elephants are high, so their numbers will never be great.
Elephants are best used as cavalry screens for your army, where their presence can scare away enemy cavalry. They can also be used to ram through an enemy battle line, though they are less useful when faced with loose order or phalanx infantry. Pyrrhos of Epeiros even invented a tactic of flank screens when he fought the Romans at Heraklea. Beyond their obvious use against enemy infantry or cavalry, they can also be used in siege combat; battering down gates, though they're highly vulnerable to better prepared installations. Their greatest vulnerability is against skirmishers, slingers and archers, who can pepper them with missiles - eventually toppling them by virtue of their cumulative impact. To counter the effect of enemy skirmishers, it is often wise to array your own in opposition, or to maintain constant attacks upon each individual group.
Historically, the use of elephants in war was largely contained to India, but after the battle of Hydaspes that changed. Though Alexandros never cared over much for the animals, his successors were very much in favor of their use, organizing their own elephants into a distinct corps under their own "elephantarchos". The forest elephant was used in battle after the Ptolemaioi dynasty established itself in Egypt. Being cut off from India by their Seleukid rivals, the Ptolemaioi needed another source of elephants and sent expeditions to the Horn of Africa to gather Elephants and later they established “elephant stations” to make sure the Ptolemaic armies were well supplied, an enterprise which required a massive amount of organization and resources to succeed and which it did.
The use of Bush Elephants in war is much debated in military history circles. However there is some evidence to support the use of Bush Elephants, as an inscription found regarding an invasion of Syria by Ptolemaios III Euergetes states that:
“...led a campaign into Asia with infantry and cavalry and fleet and Troglodytic and Ethiopian elephants, which he and his father were the first to hunt from these lands and, bringing them back into Egypt, to fit out for military service.”
Troglodytiki was what the ancient Hellenes called modern Somalia and it makes distinct mention of two types of elephants. There is also evidence implying that the Carthaginians imported Bush Elephants across the desert for their own armies from Ethiopia or possibly directly from the Ptolemaioi. Compared to their Forest cousins the Bush elephants were much harder to train which is probably why they weren't used in substantial numbers compared to the Indian & Forest elephants. Another reason might be that because of their larger size they were harder to transport back to Egypt which included ferrying elephants along the Erythrean Sea in specially crafted "elephant-carriers".
Despite their great usefulness when properly employed, it was not unusual for elephants to cause defeat for those who employed them. If an enemy was clever enough to devise their own means to combat elephants, as was the case at the battle of Gaza when Ptolemaios planted an ‘iron spiked minefield’ to ward off elephants, or when Caesar properly utilized slingers and Scipio gaps between his infantry cohorts to channel the elephants, they could be defeated and even turned against their masters. Even pigs were used on occasion, released among elephants who were often scared of their comparatively small, darting forms. However, despite the many different weapons and stratagems being devised to fight them and the huge expenses required to maintain them, the elephant was still considered a valuable asset, maintained widely. The Arche Seleukeia even developed a corps of "elephant guards", whose task was simply to defend the beasts in combat.