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File:Hannibal Elephants copy 6137.jpg

If you want to make an army look exotic and threatening, give them War Elephants. War Mammoths work too, or whatever the fantasy equivalent might be. In any case, they tend to be super-sized to the point where they almost qualify as war-barges with tusks.

These creatures can be used by the Evil Army of inflicting massive damage. If not then they might be used by foreign allies, and usually used to indicate the army's exotic-ness. May also be accompanied by other safari animals like rhinos or leopards.

This trope is very much Truth in Television; kingdoms from the Middle East to southeastern Asia have weaponized pachyderms at some point in their histories. Elephants are huge, strong, tough, terrifying, and highly trainable animals capable of carrying multiple riders on their backs, whether they be officers wanting a better view of the battlefield, archers, or even artillerymen firing a ballista or cannon from a howdah.

War Elephants are a type of Attack Animal. Compare the Beast of Battle and Horse of a Different Color.

Examples of War Elephants include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the various iterations of Digimon, Mammothmon are usually used in this fashion. The final battle of Digimon Xros Wars, which featured hundreds of the things serving under DarknessBagramon, stands out in this regard.
  • In Berserk, the Kushan Empire utilizes war elephants during its invasion of Midland. And some of the elephants are used as familiars, which ends up giving them a more anthropomorphic appearance, which allows them to wear armor and use weapons.


  • Xerxes' army uses elephants against the Spartans in 300, but they fall to their deaths off a cliff. Keeping in line with the "exotic nature" of this trope, the Persians also have a War Rhinoceros.
  • Used in Lord of the Rings, as in the books. (see Literature)
  • In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen the Grand Turk uses elephants to propel his War Machines. The Baron gets them to back off with the strategic use of mice.
  • Subverted in Operation Dumbo Drop, in which the U.S. Army goes to great lengths to transport an elephant, but as a gift of a work animal to a Southeast Asian village, not a battle-beast.
  • Referenced in The Jungle Book (or at least the animated movie thereof) where one elephant commands the others like a Drill Sergeant Nasty (except without the swearing) and talks about the medals he earned.
  • Prince John from Robin Hood has a pair of elephants pulling his carriage. The elephants also serve as trumpeters (using their trunks as trumpets) as well. Although, the elephants here, like all other characters, are sapient creatures that wear clothes.


  • In Thais of Athens, Seleucus (one of Alexander the Great's generals) gathers a whole unit of battle elephants while campaigning in India. It never sees much action in the novel, but Thais gets to ride one in Babylon.
  • Battle elephants are mentioned in the Discworld novel Pyramids. According to the protagonist, they're useless, since all they do is trample on their own troops when they inevitably panic. The military responded to this by breeding bigger elephants.
  • In Animorphs, Rachel and her elephant morph. True, she's only one elephant, but the 'army' is the rest of the group. She manages to get in plenty of damage on her own anyway.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the Southrons ride to battle on "Oliphaunts" (as the hobbits call them) or mûmakil (as they're referred to by the Men of Gondor). Sam is very excited when he gets to see one at a distance. They are described as being far larger than actual elephants, and are nearly impervious to arrows (unless they get hit in the eye).
  • In The Black Company war elephants are used during during the Battle at Charm and Dejagore, and it is mentioned that they come from the Jewel Cities.
  • Jelaudin's army uses elephants extensively in the Conqueror books. They backfire when the Mongols shoot them in the knees, causing a panic.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire mentions the presence of war mammoths in the freemen's army, ridden by giants.
    • In addition, the finest and most disciplined sellsword army in the series, the Golden Company, has a unit of elephants, though in the voyage to Westeros to support the claim of the apparently-still-alive Aegon Targaryen, the ship carrying them is lost or late making landfall.
  • Rudyard Kipling once wrote a short story giving the camp-animals archetypical army personalities. The cavalry horse was a gung-ho, the mountain-gun mules were Old Soldier s, and the siege-gun elephant was a Dirty Coward.
  • In Belisarius Series elephants are often mentioned as transport animals.

Live Action Television


Tabletop Games

  • Magic the Gathering had a few Elephant or Mammoth cards in previous editions. In addition to the non-sapient kinds, there are the humanoid Loxodons, introduced in Mirodin. (Loxodonta africana is the scientific name of the African Elephant).

Video Games

  • The Civilization series has had war elephant units since II, where they were inexplicably available as a result of discovering Polytheism. In Civ III they were the Indians' special unit, replacing Knights but requiring no special resources. In Civ IV all factions could build them so long as they had a source of ivory, and though slower than horse units they had a combat bonus against them; the Khmer from the Beyond the Sword expansion had Ballista Elephants as a unique unit, which would specifically target enemy cavalry when attacking a stack. In Civ V India and Siam get elephants as special units, replacing Chariot Archers and Knights respectively.
  • The Age of Empires series uses elephants, in keeping with its historical theme. The first game gives War Elephants (which attack with their tusks), Armored Elephants (an upgrade of War Elephants with improved armor and attacks), and Elephant Archers (where the elephant in question does not attack at all, but the Bowman mounted on its back does). The first game also has wild elephants which can be hunted for food (though strangely, they cannot be domesticated; elephant units simply create a domestic elephant and rider). The Sequel dials back the elephants; they are the unique unit of the Persians, and attack with no rider.
  • Age of Wonders 1 and 2, have War Elephant units. Frostlings got Mammoth Rider in 2.
  • They also appear in Rome: Total War, with the more advanced types carrying archers on their backs. Only Carthage and the Seleucids can train them.
    • In Medieval II elephants are Gamebreakers, hugely effective in combat and capable of charging through enemy lines, flattening everything in front of them. Their only downside is their tendency to go berserk and rampage at random, which is only a problem if you have friendly units nearby. The vanilla version has a howdah full of gunners, while cannon and even rocket elephants are also recruitable. They make the scripted Timurid Invasion all the more terrifying.
  • Dynasty Warriors - War elephants are generally used as mounts by the Nanman, and sometimes unlockable as a companion animal by the player character.
  • Dwarf Fortress, as of DF:2010, allows elephants to be trained for war.
  • In World of Warcraft, the Draenei utilize elekks (elephant-like creatures brought over from their homeworld) as their racial mount. Mammoths are also available to players in the northern region. Neither of these are specifically used in combat very much, though.
  • Gohma Crushers from Asura's Wrath.
  • The Chinese in Aztec Wars use these; they have cannons mounted on their backs.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Older Than Feudalism as Hannibal of Carthage actually used war elephants in many campaigns. The page image is a depiction of one such battle.
  • Historically, Persians and various Kingdoms in India also used Elephants in war.
  • Alexander the Great encountered war elephants in India, and his general Seleukos got 500 of them in return for peace with an Indian king. He used these to gain a decisive advantage over the other Macedonian generals in the Wars of the Successors, eventually conquering the lion's share of Alexander's empire. Elephants were used in many Hellenistic armies after that, and were helpful for instance in defeating the Galatians in Turkey in the 3rd century BC. However, after a while, professional soldiers got used to the sight of elephants, meaning their psychological impact was lost. The Romans never adopted the practice of using them.
    • Alexander first encountered while fighting against the Persians, but never fought them. The Persians had used them to haul supplies, and deemed them too tired to be used in the attack. Without their Secret Weapon, Alexander defeated them, and captured the elephants for his own. They proved useful to Alexander when they began invading Pakistan and India, as his men already knew about them.
    • One of the last uses of elephants in Mediterranean warfare was against Julius Caesar. Caesar dedicated part of his army as an anti-elephant force, by disciplining them to scatter and quickly reform after the elephant's charge, and by equipping them with axes with the authority to swing away.
  • The people of Thailand have historically ridden elephants into battle. They are sacred animals there.