Alexander’s Battles against War Elephants | LAH


War elephants had the immense potential to cause chaos in enemy ranks. Alexander the Great was one of many who experienced that power in front of his eyes. During his conquest of Asia, he first met these powerful animals in combat at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. There the Persian army deployed fifteen of them in the middle of its line where they were visible to their enemy. Their sight drove immense dread into the Macedonian army and they feared they would lose the coming fight. The next day, the battle took place with the result that Alexander’s soldiers decisively defeated the Persian army. In stark contrast to what they had thought, the enemy’s war elephants had not changed the outcome of the encounter. The long march the animals had endured preceding the battle had resulted in them being ineffective. Nevertheless, Alexander, deeply impressed by their strength, united the fifteen war elephants with his army and continued to capture more of them throughout his campaign against Persia. It was not until five years later, after they had conquered the once mighty Persian Empire, that Alexander and his men encountered these enormous animals in combat again. Prior to the fight, they had been strengthened by a tribute of 25 elephant forces by several Indian chiefs, which could have been deployed at the Battle of (the) Hydaspes in 326 BC against the Indian King Porus, who on his side prepared between 85 and 130 of them for war, but the Macedonian ruler decided to engage without them. He instead relied more on flexibility and maneuverability to counter his enemy. Engaging with infantry and cavalry alone, he succeeded to surround the elephants by loosening his men’s ranks and letting them pass through, then to injure their only unprotected spot — the legs. Frightened and hurt, they caused disorder in their own ranks by charging into friendly lines. For this purpose, the drivers of them had poisoned rods to kill the beasts but the Macedonian archers killed them before they could do that. However, where it was possible for the Indian king to unleash the power of his war animals, he easily broke through any of Alexander’s lines, causing a slaughter. The fact that he had fitted their tusks with steel spikes made them an even bigger threat. The Macedonian phalanx suffered immensely while it was crushed, trampled and impaled until it managed to repel the assault with aid from light infantry. Light infantry, such as javelin throwers and archers, were utilized on both sides to fight with or against the elephants on the field. On the Indian side, they were placed on top of them where they had a superior view of the battlefield. On the European side, because the animals were heavily armored with hardened leather as well as steel plates, they concentrated their attacks at the elephants’ eyes to help the phalanxes engaging them. The fight in the Indus Valley region concluded with another victory for the king from Macedon. Porus, weary and thirsty, dismounted his elephant from which he commanded the whole encounter. Alexander the Great was noticeably impressed by his adversary, to whom he gave a part of his kingdom, and added his former enemy’s battle animals to his own. East of Alexander’s mighty kingdom were other powerful empires that could employ an immensely stronger army of war elephants. The fear of facing thousands of them deprived the army of bravery and all attempts by the king to encourage his soldiers failed. Thus, his expansion into India concluded in the year 326 BC. Just three years later, Alexander the Great died in his palace in Babylon. It is said that an elephant force protected it.

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