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Old 2nd December 2018, 03:48 PM   #1
Jens Nordlunde
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Default Elephant swords

These are seldom seen, at least I have only seen them in books, or read about them - like in The Book of the Sword by Richard F. Burton.
Another place where I have found them mentioned is in Athanasius Nikitin description of his travel to India in the 15th century - here is the description.
"The big elephants are mounted by tvelwe men. Each animal has two large probortys and a heavy sword, weighing a kentar (three pouds, about 100 lb.) attached to its tusks, and large iron weights hanging from the trunk."
Somewhere else I read that the war elephants had heavy chains in their trunks.
The attached picture is from the MET accession number 2015.103. Length 61 cm.
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Old 2nd December 2018, 06:03 PM   #2
fernando
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Great picture, Jens.
Indeed citations of weapons mounted on elephant tusks may be read here and there but, seeing a picture of one of those, is a rare opportunity.
Probably there were more than one (sword) version; Alvaro Velho, for one, (1297-1490) speaks of (SIC)"a wooden house, in which four men fit in. And this elephant brings in each tooth five armed swords; so that in both teeth brings ten armed swords. The way they walk frightfuly, no one that can run will wait for them. And everything that they are ordered to do by the ones on top of them, they do it so thorougly like a rational creature; in a way that, if they are told to kill that one or do this or that, so they do it".
Whreas Grcia de Orta (1501-1568) speaks of adorned weapons similar to plow irons.
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Old 2nd December 2018, 07:19 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Another place where I have found them mentioned is in Athanasius Nikitin description of his travel to India in the 15th century - here is the description.
"The big elephants are mounted by tvelwe men. Each animal has two large probortys and a heavy sword, weighing a kentar (three pouds, about 100 lb.) attached to its tusks, and large iron weights hanging from the trunk."

Let me offer my version of the translation from the Old Russian language. Sorry for my english.

"А к слоном вяжут к рылу да к зубом великие мечи по кентарю кованых, да оболочат их в доспехи булатные, да на них учинены городкы, да в городкех по 12 человек в доспесех, да все с пушками да с стрелами."

"Elephants have great forged swords tied to their trunk and tusks, weighing Kentar (Arabic: Kantar). Elephants are dressed in wootz armor. On their backs arrange turret. In each turret are 12 men in armor, all armed with cannons and arrows."

«да триста слонов наряженых в доспесех булатных да з городки, да и городкы окованы. Да в городках по 6 человек в доспесех, да и с пушками да и с пищалми, а на великом слоне по 12 человек. Да на всяком по два проборца великых, да к зубом повязаны великые мечи по кентарю, да к рылу привязаны великыа железныа гири».

«And three hundred elephants dressed in wootz armor with turrets on their backs. The turrets are bound with metal. In the turret there are 6 men in armor with cannons and guns. And on a great elephant for 12 men. On each elephant there are two great “proborets”, the great swords weighing Kentar are tied to their tusks, and a great iron weight is attached to the trunk.»

P.S. I do not know what “proborets” means, but I will try to find out.

Last edited by Ren Ren : 2nd December 2018 at 09:40 PM.
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Old 2nd December 2018, 09:05 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ren Ren
Kentar


Kentar - Russian measure of weight, introduced in the 15th century, which is equal to 2.5 poods (approximately 41 kg)
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Old 3rd December 2018, 02:13 AM   #5
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I have seen them in India in rural museums. I will try to located the photos. They were massive in scale and thickness.
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Old 3rd December 2018, 05:36 AM   #6
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Max Fasner’s dictionary: “ According to Prokopius, Kentar equaled 100 liters, and from the end of XVI century to 2 1/2 poods. A.K.Kazambek defines kentar as a unit of weight between 1 1/2 to 10 1/2 poods”,
.
Pood ( Russian пуд) as a unit of weight unofficially equals 40 pounds i.e. 18,1 kg , but was officially defined in 1899 as equal to 38.05 pounds, i.e.17.2 kg.

The hooker is which pound?
The very word funt came to Russia after English word pound.

Classical British pound is 453 gram, but official Russian pound ( funt) is only 405 gram, and Russian pharmacy pound ( funt) is 354 gram.

Thus, we really do not know the actual weight Nikitin referred to. Obviously, he could not use 2 1/2 poods as a kentar, since this was defined about 100 years after his death and we do not know precisely what kentar meant in the XV century. Was it 100 kg ( 100 liters) or 1.5 poods i.e. around 24 kg?

I am leaning to much lower numbers: from the practical point of view there is no need to create a super heavy cutting blade. It should be just massive enough to sustain any mechanical stress. Second, and most important, Fernando’s quote of 5 such swords on each tusk ( I.e. 100 up to 500 kg) would likely break it.

Richard’s info of actual presence of these implements in Indian museums gives the best way to figure it out: just weigh them:-)))
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Old 3rd December 2018, 11:03 AM   #7
fernando
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
...Second, and most important, Fernando’s quote of 5 such swords on each tusk ( I.e. 100 up to 500 kg) would likely break it...

As i started by saying, these things don't have to be all of the same format, especially in such vast territory, and by the time there was no armour standardization .
Certainly five swords in a set must be composed with units much smaller than a single one; completely a different apparatus ... not excluding that the narrator (who was in loco) had not taken his medication or the natives who told him about it were cheating.
You have in the other hand a different chroniclar comparing the ones he saw to plow irons. I assume this one 'saw' them (not told about), as natives would not use the plow iron term.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
...I should have added that the sword shown from the MET weighs 5lb 3oz. - 2362g.
I see no reason why the swords should be so heavy, that the elephant could hardly lift it, or that the elephant would easily be tired...

I don't know.These guys can carry a whole tree trunk in their tusks; i wouldn't think 2 1/2 Kilos is a great deal for them. Besides, them not being properly keen in fencing arts, these 'swords' must resist violent thrusts.
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Old 3rd December 2018, 10:10 AM   #8
Jens Nordlunde
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Thank you for the interesting posts on the weight.
I should have added that the sword shown from the MET weighs 5lb 3oz. - 2362g.
I see no reason why the swords should be so heavy, that the elephant could hardly lift it, or that the elephant would easily be tired.
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Old 3rd December 2018, 11:21 AM   #9
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Jens,

I fully agree.

Afanasij Nikitin was a trader from Tver and, like all traders,was likely to exaggerate the weight of things he was trying to “sell”, be it at the market or recollection of Oriental marvels to his readers :-))))) Kind of physical or mental “ finger on the scale”.
I also cannot understand what was the purpose of attaching these cutting/slashing things to the tusks. Slashing/cutting requires lateral movement , so the trunk would be ideal.
I saw some examples of tusk swords, and they were straight like spears, which makes sense to me: stabbing function.

But.... Indian arms and Armour often defy our logic.

Fernando,
I actually witnessed elephants carrying tree trunks in Thailand. They do not put then on the tusks: they wrap their trunks around the object and carry it. I would guess that a day or two of carrying heavy objects on their tusks would break the ivory.

Last edited by ariel : 3rd December 2018 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 3rd December 2018, 12:33 PM   #10
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You are obvious right, Ariel; my bad


Here is what thy called The battle of Pashan begins ...


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Old 3rd December 2018, 12:43 PM   #11
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Ariel, about breaking the ivory. Ivory from the African elephant was sought for rather than ivory from the Indian elephant - as it was said to be stronger.


Fernando, nice miniature. I have seen pictures of these 'daggers' as well, but only pictures.
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Old 3rd December 2018, 02:50 PM   #12
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Yes, that is what I was talking about: a single stabbing thingie on each tusk.

African ivory might have been stronger for making sword handles, but regretfully to have stronger ivory of a battle elephant they would have to drag the entire living creature from Africa.
Taking into account that any respectable Indian army had to have 500-800 battle elephants , that would have been a major undertaking:-))))
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Old 3rd December 2018, 05:11 PM   #13
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And the Mughal Empire style; suggesting pointless tusks ...

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Old 3rd December 2018, 05:49 PM   #14
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Agree.

These two examples introduce a mild doubt in the veracity of Nikitin’s and Velho’s descriptions of elephant swords. But, as I said, stranger things were happening in India.

The use of elephants as war machines might have been devastating to both sides. There are description of many battles in which the defenders conducted massive arrow ( and later firearm) “bombardments” against the elephants thus were turning them around and destroying their own forces. Not till WWI was this problem solved by the introduction of tanks. Although Leonardo left behind blueprints of the first tank-like contraption: a large turtle- like wooden/metal shell with multiple embrasures for several cannons hidden inside.
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