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Author Topic: Elephants all at sea?  (Read 742 times)


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Elephants all at sea?
« on: August 17, 2016, 03:00:42 PM »
Something that has bothered me for some time.

Elephants especially African ones are really big. Roman era cargo ships are really small. Imagine an elephant deciding to turn around on one or getting spoked! I mean how did the Carthaginians manage to get so many elephants to Europe, even if across the straights of Gibraltar it just does not seem credible?

Was there an existing supply of elephants already in Spain in the colony brought over as infants and then used to maintain a flock, or perhaps a residual pretty ice age population down at the tip of Spain? They must have got them from some where?

Did they have a way of sedating elephants for sea voyages?


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Re: Elephants all at sea?
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2016, 06:54:16 PM »
The Carthaginians used the now extinct Forest elephant, considerably smaller than the modern African elephant.  Even so, they probably only shipped them one or two at a time per ship. They were however a maritime power with a huge fleet. There were no elephants native to Spain after the last Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years ago.


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Re: Elephants all at sea?
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2016, 07:16:34 PM »
While not Carthage, Ptolemy II Philadelphos imported Elephants for use in war from south of Egypt, and Eumedes, according to Strabo (XVI.769), founded the port of Ptolemais Theron (Ptolemais of the Hunt) somewhere on the African Coast of the southern Red Sea (the exact location is unknown), as well as several other landing places and hunting bases, down until the North Coast of Somalia at Cape Guardafui. From these places, the captured Elephants were sent by ship up the Red Sea to Berenice Troglodytica, another port founded by Ptolemy, and sent over land to the city of Koptos on the Nile, from where they could be shipped further North, probably up to Memphis where the chief stables were located. Elephants do not naturally fear water and are excellent swimmers, but getting them on boats in an orderly fashion would have required at least some training.
Ptolemy's naval architects designed a special type of ship for the transport of the elephants, the ἐλεφαντηγός or 'elephant-carrier', not galleys, but sailing ships with shallow draft - but this is owing more to the different nautical conditions in the Red Sea as compared to the mediterranean: The Red Sea is quite shallow, but has steady northerly winds most of the year, with southerly winds between October and May, without the periods of calms that afflict the Mediterranean. Oared ships, such as the Greek cavalry transports, also restrict the space available for transport (and elephants are large - eight horses take the place of 40 men on a ship, and Kistler estimates this much space for an elephant, not to mention the vertical space needed, though they probably were kept on deck). The journeys must have taken from a week minimum to as much as a month, depending on the distance of the port where they were captured, so it's certain that long sea-voyages with Elephants were possible. The crossing of the straits of Gibraltar, or from Africa to Sicily - or Sicily to Italy - would have taken a much shorter amount of time. Pyrrhus took Elephants to Italy with him as well, and he didn't use specially designed ships, but ships on loan by Antigonos Gonatas, so we can assume that they were nothing special. The Elephants were probably carried on deck, since, when some of Pyrrhus vessels were sunk in a storm off Italy, some of the animals managed to swim ashore on their own account and were collected by Pyrrhus together with some two thousand men and a few cavalry (although he lost about half of his Elephant force and arrived with only 20 out of 50).