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Ancient Romans Used War Pigs Against Powerful War Elephants

Sara Martinez

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Man have recruited animals to help fight his battles since the dawn of war, and today’s militaries use an even wider range of creatures from bomb sniffing to coastline patrolling. That may seem remarkable, considering that dogs, horses and other animals certainly did not evolve for the purpose of human conflict. Yet nature’s designs have not only stood the test of time, but have also inspired humans to use four legged creatures in ancient warfare. Animals such as monkeys, rhinos, and elephants. But would you believe that pigs were also used as a war weapon in ancient times?

Around 240 B.C., pigs are probably the most interesting animal weapon utilized in ancient Roman warfare. War pigs as they were called, are reportedly used as countermeasure against war elephants. Elephants are generally peaceful and majestic creatures but in ancient times, their size and power were used with devastating results.

In ancient times, war elephants functioned as living tanks.

The main characteristic that made pigs totally useful as a weapon of war was their ability to terrify the much bigger elephants. The idea was to soak the pig in tar and a flammable substance. Then when they are close enough to the advancing or defending enemy, the pigs would then be lit on fire.

As it turns out, despite their massive size, elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of the hog. In 275 BC, the Romans exploited the squealing pigs as a counter-measure against the much superior war elephants of Pyrrhus. The concept was to cause pigs to run uncontrallably into the ranks of the enemies, causing a certain level of confusion.

Turns out, pigs are effective counter-measures against war elephants.

But it wasn’t only the romans who came up with the idea of using the flaming pigs as a military weapon. Historical accounts recorded by the military writers Polyaenus and Aelian, says that Antigonus II Gonatas’ siege of Megara in 266 B.C. was broken when the Megarians doused some pigs with a combustible pitch, crude oil, set them on fire, and drove them towards the enemy’s seemingly indestructible war elephants. As a result, the elephants bolted in terror away from the flaming, squealing pigs, causing stampede and killing great numbers of their own solders by trampling them to death.

War elephants are terrified by tiny squealing pigs on fire.

Another historian, Procopius, chronicled the use of pigs in the “War of Justinian”. When Khosrau I, King of Persia, besieged the Mesopotamian city of Edessa in 544 A.D., one of his war elephants nearly overpowered the enemy and got into town. One pig ended up saving the day. According to Procopius, the Romans escaped the peril by dangling a pig from the tower. As the pig hang in there, it naturally squealed which in turn irritated the elephant that it, stepping back little by little, withdrew.

Despite being highly trained, the elephants would not obey orders. They were terrified by the squealing pigs. To solve this problem, elephant trainers kept their young elephants with baby pigs so future generations would be unafraid of them, thus robbing their opponents of their battle tricks.

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