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by Archaeology Newsroom

Elephant Hunters in Ptolemaic Egypt

In antiquity the use of elephants in battle was a crucial factor for victory. War elephants were a necessary weapon to every general who wanted to be successful and effective in the art of war. The provision of war elephants, an essential prerequisite of war planning and preparation, demanded significant sums of money from the Ptolemaic state treasury, as well as carefully and thoroughly planned expeditions or “hunts” in order wild elephants to be captured and kept in captivity. Two important inscriptions from the Ptolemaic Egypt, combined with accounts from papyri and descriptions from contemporary authors, provide valuable information on the officially organized hunting expeditions. Until 1948 it was commonly accepted among scholars that the Ptolemaic dynasty was interested in capturing specifically the large African elephant, the loxodonta Africana Africana, for the needs of the Egyptian army. It was then that William Gowers proved that this warfare animal was not the large but the smaller elephant of the African forest who belonged to a different species, the loxodonta Africana cyclotis.