35
Arrogant Emperors

Corruption and gridlock plagued the Roman senate until powerful generals became the policy-making branch of government, leading to the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Imperial age of Rome.

Pompey had failed in his bid to ride through Rome in an elephantdrawn chariot, but eventually the emperors would enjoy the god-like experience, if only in effigy. Tiberius had a statue of Caesar Augustus pulled around the city in a cart harnessed to elephants in 35 AD. Henceforth, it became fashionable for royalty and rich people to put images of their loved ones in carriages for pachyderm pulling.1

Where did these elephants come from? Many sources mention a herd of elephants that was kept near Rome through at least 200 AD, and these beasts were occasionally used against the Gauls or the Britons when the need arose.2

When Emperor Caligula fell to the assassins' blades, the Praetorian Guard forced his uncle Claudius to take power. Claudius had no military experience, and when an uprising threatened the Roman garrison near Londinium, Claudius felt compelled to earn some glory in Briton. Since Julius Caesar had used one elephant against the Britons, Claudius took several behemoths along. The ruler of the western world and his beasts traveled by ship from the Italian port of Ostia to Marseilles, in Gaul, in 44 AD. They marched north to the English Channel and then took boats across to meet Aulus Plautius, the governor of Gaul and Briton.3 Claudius came up to reinforce the hard-pressed Plautius on the southern side of Thames, perhaps using the Richborough base, and they crossed Thames together.4

Unfortunately we hear nothing about the role of the pachyderms in driving the Britons back and saving the Roman garrison. It seems that the Emperor had a look around for a week or two and then loaded up the elephants and went home.

Emperor Nero owned an elephant that could walk up and down a tightrope, while Germanicus trained elephants to wear dresses, toss flowers,

-167-

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War Elephants
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1: Useful Orphan 1
  • 2: Early Contests 7
  • 3: Beauty and the Beasts 14
  • 4: Fill of Blood 19
  • 5: Improvements 21
  • 6: The Elephant Mystery 25
  • 7: The Horror 31
  • 8: Alexander's Opinion 38
  • 9: Death on the Nile 42
  • 10: Elephants Marching 47
  • 11: Siege 54
  • 12: Cavalry Killers 58
  • 13: The Elephant Industry 68
  • 14: Unmitigated Gauls 75
  • 15: The Elephant of Surprise 80
  • 16: Flaming Pigs 87
  • 17: Chaos in the Streets 93
  • 18: War Elephants of Carthage 97
  • 19: Proud Mahouts 101
  • 20: Cruelty and Inhumanity 104
  • 21: The Lion's Brood 107
  • 22: Dangerous Waters 110
  • 23: Treacherous Paths 115
  • 24: The Best Laid Plans 119
  • 25: Stalemate 123
  • 26: Hasdrubal 126
  • 27: Rome's Genius 130
  • 28: Africa Versus Asia 135
  • 29: Day of Slaughter 141
  • 30: Weapons of Massive Destruction 146
  • 31: Guerrilla War 151
  • 32: The Running of the Bulls 156
  • 33: Pompey's Circus 159
  • 34: The Herd of Julius Caesar 161
  • 35: Arrogant Emperors 167
  • 36: Sackcloth, Ashes, and Prayer 170
  • 37: Breach of Faith 174
  • 38: The Year of the Elephant 177
  • 39: Early and Medieval Asia 181
  • 40: Charlemagne and Frederick 187
  • 41: Plump and Ready 191
  • 42: Mongol Hordes 197
  • 43: Pyramids of Skulls 202
  • 44: Thais, Burmese, Khmers, and Others 206
  • 45: The Great Mahout 210
  • 46: Beasts of Burden 220
  • 47: Mighty Engineers 225
  • 48: Targets of Opportunity 230
  • Index 315
  • About the Author 335
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