War Pigs: the defense weapon against Elephant attacks3 min read
It’s known that in ancient times man used animals in warfare: horses, elephants, monkeys and even Rhinos were used in the battlefields. As well as beeing turned into weapons, they have been used as transportation for soldiers and equipment. But who would believe that even pigs were used as a war weapon?
War pigs are pigs reported to have been used in ancient warfare as military animals, used by ancient armies as military weapons, mainly to face the huge war elephants. In the first century BC, Lucretius reported that some animals, including lions and wild boar, were released by armies to face enemies, with catastrophic results.
According to legend recounted in the “Alexander Romance” by Pseudo-Callisthenes, Alexander the Great learned about this “secret weapon” against war elephants from Porus in India.
Pliny the Elder reported that “elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of the hog”. The historian Aelian confirmed that elephants were frightened by squealing pigs (and rams with horns), and reported that the Romans exploited squealing pigs (and rams) to repel the war elephants of Pyrrhus in 275 BC. In fact, during the last battles of the war against Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, the Romans defended themselves against the Elephants, whom they had seen for the first time only five years earlier, thanks to rams and pigs, which were able to drive the pachyderms crazy.
Procopius, in History of the Wars, records that the defenders of Edessa suspended a squealing pig from the walls to frighten away Khosrau’s single siege elephant in the sixth century AD.
Historical accounts of incendiary pigs or flaming pigs were recorded by the military writer Polyaenus and by Aelian.
Both writers reported that Antigonus II Gonatas’ siege of Megara in 266 BC was broken when the Megarians doused some pigs with combustible pitch, crude oil or resin, set them alight, and drove them towards the enemy’s massed war elephants. The elephants bolted in terror from the flaming, squealing pigs, often killing great numbers of their own soldiers by trampling them to death.
Moreover, in “The wars of Justinian” the late antique historian Procopius chronicles the use of pigs in battle. 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. Pigs ended up saving the day. “But the Romans,” wrote Procopius, “by dangling a pig from the tower, escaped the peril. As the pig was hanging there, he naturally squealed, and this so irritated the elephant that it, stepping back little by little, withdrew.”
The elephants, though highly trained, would not obey orders. They were frightened by the squealing pigs.
The solution to the terror experienced by the elephants in the presence of the pigs was solved by the elephant trainers, making the pachyderms grow along with the pigs. Accustomed to listening to the screeching of pigs, the elephants were no longer frightened.
In fact, according to an account, this practice was immortalized by a Roman bronze coin, which showed an elephant on one side and a pig on the other.
Funny the imaginative reconstruction in the video game “Rome Total War” of the use of war pigs: