Although experts prefer to avoid authenticity arguments there comes a point when even casual observers wonder:
Did Roman Men really wear Tights?
Did Roman Women really wear Bikinis?
The twists in this tale suggests Roman History has more wrinkles than a herd of elephants.
Elephants Rafting the Rhone
War elephants were a double-edged sword as they are prone to “panic”.
Elephants had a tendency to panic themselves: after sustaining painful wounds or when their driver was killed they would run amok, indiscriminately causing casualties as they sought escape.
Their panicked retreat could inflict heavy losses on either side.
War elephants were also a high maintenance logistical challenge.
Also unclear are the wider implications of the presence of elephants for Sasanian armies in terms of marching speeds and provisioning.
There is no information for the period, but modern assessments require 300 to 350 lbs. of fodder per beast per day and 50 gallons of water.
This fodder had to be collected and transported, and these considerations must have acted as a limiting factor on the numbers participating in campaigns.
Elephants in Warfare in Late Antiquity – Philip Rance
Acta Antiqua – 43(3):355-384 – December 2003
Hannibal’s elephants crossing the “1000 yard wide” Rhône in 218 BC highlights these challenges.
The Battle of the Rhône Crossing took place during the Second Punic War.
The Carthaginian army under Hannibal Barca, while marching to Italy in the autumn of 218 BC, fought an army of the gallic Volcae tribe on the east bank of the Rhone River possibly near Aurasio.
The army that marched for Italy from Cartagena [Spain] is supposed to have numbered 90,000 foot and 12,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants.
But first the reader must weed out the purely imaginary interpretations.
This 19th century portrayal envisages a fully laden war elephant calmly grasping a steadying rail with it’s trunk as the crew struggle to propel a specially constructed heavy duty raft [of uncertain design and stability] across the river Rhone while the very gentlemanly opposition archers peacefully watch this spectacular sitting duck drift downstream.
Then the reader can choose between:
The glossed over summary
The main Punic army started to cross the 1000 yard wide river.
The majority of the Carthaginian army crossed the river on the day of the battle using rafts, boats and canoes in relays.
Hannibal took measures to have his elephants ferried across the river the following day.
Either the elephants were ferried across on rafts covered by dirt, or they swam across.
The more revealing original source.
Hannibal, on the day after the assembly, advanced his cavalry in the direction of the sea to act as a covering force and then moved his infantry out of the camp and sent them off on their march, while he himself waited for the elephants and the men who had been left with them.
The way they got the elephants across was as follows.
They built a number of very solid rafts and lashing two of these together fixed them very firmly into the bank of the river, their united width being about fifty feet.
To these they attached others on the farther side, prolonging the bridge out into the stream.
They secured the side of it which faced the current by cables attached to the trees that grew on the bank, so that the whole structure might remain in place and not be shifted by the current.
When they had made the whole bridge or pier of rafts about two hundred feet long they attached to the end of it two particularly compact ones, very firmly fastened to each other, but so connected with the rest that the lashings could easily be cut.
They attached to these several towing-lines by which boats were to tow them, not allowing them to be carried down stream, but holding them up against the current, and thus were to convey the elephants which would be in them across.
After this they piled up a quantity of earth on all the line of rafts, until the whole was on the same level and of the same appearance as the path on shore leading to the crossing.
The animals were always accustomed to obey their mahouts up to the water, but would never enter it on any account, and they now drove them along over the earth with two females in front, whom they obediently followed.
As soon as they set foot on the last rafts the ropes which held these fast to the others were cut, and the boats pulling taut, the towing-lines rapidly tugged away from the pile of earth the elephants and the rafts on which they stood.
Hereupon the animals becoming very alarmed at first turned round and ran about in all directions, but as they were shut in on all sides by the stream they finally grew afraid and were compelled to keep quiet.
In this manner, by continuing to attach two rafts to the end of the structure, they managed to get most of them over on these, but some were so frightened that they threw themselves into the river when half-way across.
The mahouts of these were all drowned, but the elephants were saved, for owing to the power and length of their trunks they kept them above the water and breathed through them, at the same time spouting out any water that got into their mouths and so held out, most of them passing through the water on their feet.
Polybius – The Histories – Book III
However, as the original source bears all the hallmarks of medieval manufacture, it’s likely these interpretations are essentially creative fiction.
Polybius (c. 200 – c. 118 BC) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period noted for his work The Histories, which covered the period of 264–146 BC in detail.
The work describes the rise of the Roman Republic to the status of dominance in the ancient Mediterranean world and includes his eyewitness account of the Sack of Carthage in 146 BC.
His intention was to make plain how and why it was that “all the known regions of the civilized world had fallen under the sway of Rome”.
This empire of Rome, unprecedented in its extent and still more so in the rapidity with which it had been acquired, was the standing wonder of the age, and “who,” he exclaims, “is so poor-spirited or indolent as not to wish to know by what means, and thanks to what sort of constitution, the Romans subdued the world in something less than fifty-three years?”
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica – Volume 22 – Polybius
Manuscripts of the full text
A = Vaticanus graecus 124 (once 126). 10th c., probably AD 947.
B = London, British Library, Add. 11728. AD 1616.
The Manuscripts of Polybius – Roger Pearse
Elephants at Sea
One outstanding mystery is the shipping of war elephants overseas.
Here the reader can choose between:
A modern educated guess that features swimming elephants
The ancient record of Pyrrhus’ landing in Italy may provide the clue regarding how the elephants traveled by sea.
As the fleet approached Italy, a storm came up and scattered the ships.
Pyrrhus and his men, fearing the flagship would sink, jumped into the ocean to swim to the nearby shore.
Interestingly, Pyrrhus was able to collect two thousand man, a few cavalry, and two elephants at this landing place.
How did the elephants get ashore during the storm?
Certainly elephants are strong swimmers, but how would they get out of the ship?
They must have been standing on the main deck when the ship sank beneath them.
It seems that Pyrrhus must have kept the elephants on the deck of the ships, making their loading and unloading substantially easier.
The storm itself was only a small danger to the swimming beasts, as we may infer from the gale that swept an elephant off a ship in 1856.
The creature simply swam the remaining fifty kilometers to South Carolina!
War Elephants – John M Kistler – 2007
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0803260040
The original source without swimming elephants.
First, then, he sent Cineas to Tarentum with three thousand soldiers; next, after numerous cavalry-transports, decked vessels, and passage-boats of every sort had been brought over from Tarentum, he put on board of them twenty elephants and three thousand horse, twenty thousand foot, two thousand archers, and five hundred slingers.
When all was ready, he put out and set sail; but when he was half way across the Ionian sea he was swept away by a north wind that burst forth out of all season.
In spite of its violence he himself, through the bravery and ardour of his seamen and captains, held out and made the land, though with great toil and danger; but the rest of the fleet was thrown into confusion and the ships were scattered.
Some of them missed Italy and were driven off into the Libyan and Sicilian sea; others, unable to round the Iapygian promontory, were overtaken by night, and a heavy and violent sea, which drove them upon harbourless and uncertain shores, and destroyed them all except the royal galley.
She, as long as the waves drove upon her side, held her own, and was saved by her great size and strength from the blows of the water; but soon the wind veered round and met her from the shore, and the ship was in danger of being crushed by the heavy surges if she stood prow on against them.
However, to allow her again to be tossed about by an angry open sea and by blasts of wind that came from all directions, was thought to be more fearful than their present straits.
Pyrrhus therefore sprang up and threw himself into the sea, and his friends and bodyguards were at once emulously eager to help him.
But night and the billows with their heavy crashing and violent recoil made assistance difficult, so that it was not until day had already come and the wind was dying away that he succeeded in gaining the shore, in body altogether powerless, but with boldness and strength of spirit still making head against this distress.
The Messapians, among whom he had been cast forth, ran together with eager offers to assist as well as they could, and at the same time some of his ships that had escaped the storm came up; in these there were but a few horsemen all told, less than two thousand footmen, and two elephants.
Plutarch – The Parallel Lives – The Life of Pyrrhus
However, as the original source [yet again] bears all the hallmarks of medieval manufacture, it’s likely these renditions are essentially creative fiction.
Plutarch (c. CE 46 – CE 120), later named, upon becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, was a Greek biographer and essayist, known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia.
Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch’s Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century AD.
The surviving Parallel Lives comprises 23 pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman, as well as four unpaired, single lives.
The modern source finally arrives at his last ancient war elephant mystery.
How exactly were war elephants loaded onto [and unloaded from] ships?
The biggest challenge to the sea transport of elephants would certainly be loading and unloading of the beasts.
Were cranes or reinforced ramps used?
War Elephants – John M Kistler – 2007
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0803260040
Here the modern source hedges his bets.
On the one hand he provides an illustration of an elephant being hoisted aboard ship.
On the other hand his words suggest a “strong ramp”.
The ancients probably had to walk the elephant up a strong ramp.
War Elephants – John M Kistler – 2007
Sadly, historians overlook the Messinian Event when most of the inland seas drained away into the ocean basins during the era of the Roman Republic.
During the Messinian Event elephants could walk from Africa to Europe.
They could also walk directly from Greece to Italy during the Messinian Event.
The Twist in the Elephant’s Tail
It’s puzzling that the loading of war elephants should be deemed an unsolved mystery.
There are Roman mosaics that portray elephants.
And there are Roman mosaics that portray elephants being loaded onto ships.
However, this Roman “3rd-4th century AD” mosaic is stylistically strange.
More specifically: the men portrayed in this Roman mosaic are wearing coloured hose.
The hosiery suggests the men modelled for the mosaic sometime after [roughly] 1200 CE.
While men wore leggings, hose, stockings, tunics (baggy, collarless shirts), with doublets and cloaks on top, women during this era covered themselves with a profusion of fabrics.
In many respects, clothing like this changed little between the 1200s or 1300s, up to the dawn of the Modern Era…
Sacks to Suits: The Evolution of Clothing – Scheong – 1 Jan 2018
Taking a closer look at the provenance it comes as no surprise to discover the fabricator’s friend Cardinal Alessandro Farnese liked the mosaic so much he “bought the village”.
Therefore, it’s a matter of conjecture whether this mosaic – discovered in 1889 – is genuine or a real Renaissance Farnese Fake or a late 19th century Fake inspired by the excavations at Villa Romana del Casale [which began in earnest in 1881].
Veii was an important ancient Etruscan city situated on the southern limits of Etruria and only 16 km (9.9 mi) north-northwest of Rome, Italy.
It now lies in Isola Farnese, in the comune of Rome.
It eventually fell in the Battle of Veii to Roman general Camillus’s army in 396 BC.
Veii continued to be occupied after its capture by the Romans.
Isola Farnese is the fifty-fifth area of Rome in Agro Romano…
In 1567, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese bought the village from the Orsini family, and inserted it into the Duchy of Castro, assigning him the family name of Farnese .
It took its current name in the early nineteenth century.
The second Roman mosaic portraying an elephant being loaded onto a ship was discovered at the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily where the artwork – according to Wikipedia – is from the “early 4th century AD”.
The Villa Romana del Casale is a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km from the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD.
This mosaic is very interesting because it depicts a Sicilian Dwarf Elephant whose ancestors “perhaps” arrived in Sicily during the Messinian Event.
Dwarf elephants are prehistoric members of the order Proboscidea which, through the process of allopatric speciation on islands, evolved much smaller body sizes (around 1.5-2.3 metres) in comparison with their immediate ancestors.
Dwarf elephants are an example of insular dwarfism, the phenomenon whereby large terrestrial vertebrates (usually mammals) that colonize islands evolve dwarf forms, a phenomenon attributed to adaptation to resource-poor environments and selection for early maturation and reproduction.
Fossil remains of dwarf elephants have been found on the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus, Malta (at Ghar Dalam), Crete (in Chania at Vamos, Stylos and in a now underwater cave on the coast), Sicily, Sardinia, the Cyclades Islands and the Dodecanese Islands.
All 21 recorded fossil sites of pygmy elephants (Elephas cypriotes) on the island of Cyprus are dated from the Late Pleistocene period.
The presence of pygmy elephants on Cyprus is now documented at 21 bone – bearing faunal localities throughout the island… Many sites occur in caves or rockshelters, as well as near rivers or ponds and on alluvial fans.
Although Cyprus was never connected through a land bridge, according to Hsü et al. (1973, 1977, and 1978) Cita and Wright, (1979) and Hsü (1983), during the Messinian salinity crisis Cyprus was perhaps connected to the mainland through a salt desert.
The reasons for the extinction of the earlier endemic mammals of Cyprus, including elephants, remain unclear.
The Arrival of Elephants on the Island of Cyprus – E. Hadjisterkotis – 2012
Elephants: Ecology, Behavior and Conservation. 49-75
This island-bound elephant was an example of insular dwarfism, with an adult male specimen MPUR/V n1 measured 96.5 cm (3 ft 2.0 in) in shoulder height and weighed about 305 kg (672 lb), and an adult female specimen MPUR/V n2 measured 80 cm (2 ft 7.5 in) in shoulder height and weighed about 168 kg (370 lb).
The dogmatic “early 4th century” dating is curious as the site dates back to the 1st century AD [or earlier if the “Tetrarchy” really belongs to the era of the Roman Republic].
The Roman Villa del Casale is unique.
Other structures that mirror so completely not only an antique life-style but also a complex economic system that constitute a moment of union between different cultures of the Mediterranean basin (the North African and the Roman) simply do not exist elsewhere.
An earlier rural settlement, generally thought to have been a farm, although on slender evidence, existed on the site where the Late Roman villa was built.
Its orientation was the same as that of the baths of the villa, and its foundations were discovered beneath parts of the villa.
The existence of baths in the earliest phase of the site suggests that it was the residence of a rich tenant or the steward of a rich landowner.
Two portraits were discovered dating from the Flavian period (late 1st century AD) that may represent members of the owner’s family.
The stratigraphy of this earlier house provides a chronology from the 1st century AD to the Tetrarchy at the end of the 3rd century.
UNESCO Advisory Body Evaluation – Villa Romana del Casale – 1997
The dogmatic “early 4th century” dating is also curious because the “final act of destruction” is officially dated to “around 1155” i.e. close to the beginning of male hosiery in [roughly] 1200 CE.
The grandeur and lavishness of the new structure that arose on the ruins of the earlier country house suggests that it was built on the orders, if not of one of these Roman rulers, then of a rich and powerful landowner, some time between 310 and 340.
It continued to be occupied up to the Arab invasion of the 9th century, though in a state of increasing degradation.
It seems that the final act of destruction was the work of the Norman ruler of Sicily, William I the Bad, around 1155.
UNESCO Advisory Body Evaluation – Villa Romana del Casale – 1997
The dogmatic “early 4th century” dating is particularly dubious because the identified “two master-mosaicists” could have worked centuries apart.
The mosaics are the glory of the Villa del Casale.
They date from the most advanced period of mosaic art and were in all probability the work of artists from North Africa, judged by both the quality of the work and the scenes that they depict.
On stylistic grounds it is believed that at least two master-mosaicists worked on the villa, one working in a more classical style on principally mythological scenes and the other using a more realistic approach for scenes of contemporary life.
UNESCO Advisory Body Evaluation – Villa Romana del Casale – 1997
One look at the Great Hunt mosaic suggests “contemporary” means early 2nd millennium.
The “Great Hunt” swastika motif connects Vedic culture to 14th century Britain via Sicily.
The “Giants” mosaic connects Vedic culture to the Hopi culture via Sicily.
And the DNA evidence clearly points towards an Eastern origin.
The heritage of the Griko people in Southern Italy probably reaches back to the Byzantine migrations from “Greece and Asia Minor” during the “Early Middle Ages”.
During the Early Middle Ages, following the disastrous Gothic War, new waves of Byzantine Christian Greeks may have come to Southern Italy from Greece and Asia Minor, as Southern Italy remained loosely governed by the Eastern Roman Empire.
A remarkable example of the influence is the Griko-speaking minority that still exists today in the Italian regions of Calabria and Apulia.
Griko is the name of a language combining ancient Doric, Byzantine Greek, and Italian elements, spoken by few people in some villages in the Province of Reggio Calabria and Salento.
Around the end of the Middle Ages, large parts of Calabria, Lucania, Apulia, and Sicily continued to speak Greek as their mother tongue.
During the 13th century a French chronicler passing through the whole of Calabria stated that “the peasants of Calabria spoke nothing but Greek”.
In 1368 the Italian scholar Petrarch recommended a stay in Calabria to a student who needed to improve his knowledge of Greek.
The Griko people were the dominant population element of some regions of Calabria and the Salento until the 16th century.
But it appears the migrants of the “Early Middle Ages” from further east than “Asia Minor” were marginalised and persecuted [primarily] by the owners of the Roman narrative.
The origins of the European Apartheid System have been traced back to the early years of the 2nd millennium when Christian records document a class of “untouchables”.
The European Apartheid System then slowly gathered momentum.
The overtly genocidal period of the European Apartheid System appears to have lasted from 1510 to 1945 i.e. 435 years.
So when Wikipedia states the “archaeological evidence shows no trace of new arrivals” what it really means is the artefacts of the “new arrivals” were appropriated during the 2nd millennium CE by the owners of the Roman narrative.
Although possible, the archaeological evidence shows no trace of new arrivals of Greek peoples, only a division between barbarian newcomers, and Greco-Roman locals.