Thread: Elephant swords
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Old 26th November 2019, 12:40 AM   #131
Jim McDougall
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Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
This is a good point......just how much fantasy or hubris laden license is included in the art depicting events and battles of hundreds of years before?
We know that many famous artworks depicting important battles were often painted many years after the events, and more current research has often revealed profound differences in actual circumstances vs. the portrayal in art.

In the articles cited here, the Shahnama (of Shah Tahmasp written c. 1590) is said to depict the Battle of Pashan in a painting which shows elephants using tusk swords, but it is noted that the event took place hundreds of years before. Other references claim that the use of tusk swords go back over a thousand years. It is here usually noted that these times precluded miniatures which might have illustrated these tusk swords contemporarily.

Richardson suggests that by lack of inclusion of tusk swords in the well known Mughal records of arms in the Ain-I-Akbari also c. 1590s may well have been because these were out of use by then. Perhaps also, they were not significantly used enough to warrant inclusion in this comprehensive record.


Is it possible that the dangerously deadly tusks of the elephants were compared to swords as they attacked in battle? and this became construed into actual swords attached. Why would a sword be used to supplant an already dangerous natural weapon? I think of descriptions of weapons in India's array of innovative weapons which are described using many animals natural defenses such as bagh-nakh; bichwa; tigers tail; and others.....could such converse portrayal be the case?


With the fact that survival of so many weapon forms, particularly of the 15th c. onward, why would only several of these pairs of tusk 'swords' be left? especially if 'thousands' of them were produced.

This situation reminds me very much of the case in the 17th c. of the famed "Winged Hussars of Poland", and the curious wings mounted on the backs of their cuirass. It was supposed that these would make terrifying noise as these hussars charged in battle, and of course many artworks depicted these fantastic warriors in battle with their wings. However, it seems that research suggests these were primarily a parade device, and worn ceremoniously, a case of course often debated still.

Could these tusk swords have been in the same way, ceremoniously used and their fearsome appearance extended into artwork depicting earlier battles where elephants were used in battle?

Regarding the use of a sword on the trunk, that as we discussed in 2008 here, would be disastrous, as if the tusk swords would not be trouble enough. Elephants are remarkably intelligent animals and fearfully volatile. This I believe is one of the purposes of the weapon/implement called the ankus. The mahout can use it as a goad but it is bladed as well allegedly to dispatch the elephant if out of control.
I am unclear on the use of weights on the trunk as these would be as deadly as the other.



Just wanted to bump this entry back up rather than to try to reiterate what I said before.
It seems to me the TUSK swords were in place in some degree, possibly more of a parade element, and not widely employed. Still the great paucity of surviving examples suggests they may have been 'recycled'.

With the TRUNK sword mystery, as I have noted, I cannot see the possible purpose of arming an elephant with a weapon which swung about at the whim or exacerbation of these huge animals would endanger both friend and foe. It does seem that weights and chains were placed on the trunks, perhaps to restrict the flailing of this appendage, but that sounds questionable as well given the strength of these.

While the period narratives added do suggest the elephants 'armed to the teeth' (pun intended) they certainly meant swords bound to the TUSKS not the teeth, and I wonder if similar misperception might apply in the next account pertain to swords held in TRUNKS. It seems well known that hyperbole laden descriptions are often describing events in exotic circumstances, so 'eye witness' accounts are not necessarily the most reliable evidence.

It does seem that most of the accounts of elephants in warfare agree that the volatility of the demeanor in these huge animals in the explosive nature of combat was a definite threat to all in the area. It was bad enough having them trampling back through the ranks WITHOUT a flailing sword in the trunk.
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