Article excerpt

Byline: Charles Legge


WAS Hannibal the first to use elephants in battle and when did they become obsolete in warfare?

HANNIBAL'S feat in crossing the Alps with elephants is considered one of the major military achievements of Classical times but it was neither the first nor the most successful.

The Indians are believed to have been the first to use elephants in battle and reference them in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, dating from the 4th century BC.

Their kings certainly valued the elephant in war, some stating that 'an army without elephants is as despicable as a forest without a lion, a kingdom without a king or as valour unaided by weapons.'

It was inevitable then that the world's greatest-ever military campaigner Alexander The Great would deploy these battering rams to wreak havoc on his enemies.

Alexander first encountered the elephants at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC and was so impressed by their fighting qualities that he took them into his own army after defeating the Persians.

By the time Alexander reached the borders of India five years later, he had a substantial number of elephants under his own command.

His foray into India was ultimately held up though by the sheer numbers of elephants that the kings of the Nanda Empire and Gangaridai could muster -- some 10,000.

Alexander was to remain a huge fan of elephants right up until his death. He established a force to guard his palace at Babylon, and created the post of elephantarch to lead those units.

Hannibal was not the first general to use elephants against the Romans, King Pyrrhus of Epirus used 20 to rout them at the battle of Heraclea in 280 BC. The Romans, though, learned their lessons by the following year's battle of Asculum.

They came prepared with flammable weapons and ox-led chariots with long spikes to wound the elephants, pots of fire to scare them, and troops who would hurl javelins at the elephants to drive them away. A final charge of Epirot elephants won the day again, but this time Pyrrhus had suffered heavy casualties -- a Pyrrhic victory.

Hannibal's Crossing of the Alps has been immortalised in the history books, but it was to cost him dear.

Most of them perished in the harsh conditions while the Romans developed effective anti-elephant tactics, leading to Hannibal's final defeat at Zama in 202 BC; his elephant charge was ineffective because the Romans simply made way for them to pass.

Elephants were used in battle until as late as the final years of the 19th century before modern warfare made them obsolete.

Bernadette Kelly, Cork.


What is the lowest point in Nepal? Which country has the highest low point?

THE country with the highest 'lowest point' is the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa.

Lesotho is an independent kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. Previously known as Basutoland, it was never a colony.

Under the rule of Moshoeshoe (1786-1870), it became a British Protectorate in 1868 and in 1966 was granted independence as the kingdom of Lesotho, making it the southernmost kingdom.

Letsie III of Lesotho, a constitutional monarch, succeeded his father in 1990 only to abdicate in 1995 during a time of political turmoil. He was restored as king in 1996 and his consort is Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso.

The royal couple were recently in London where they joined the queen for lunch at Windsor Castle as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Lesotho, with an area of just over 30,000 sq km is also the southernmost landlocked country.

With 80 per cent of its land above 1,800m, it is the only country in the world that lies entirely above 1,220m in elevation.

Lesotho's lowest point is in the bed of the Senqu River as it leaves the country (becoming the Orange River in South Africa), which is recorded as being at 1,400m above sea level -- and is thus the highest 'lowest point' in the world, making Lesotho a true mountain kingdom. …