The history of civilizations and elephants goes back to time immemorial. But the first evidence of captive elephants was not until 4500 years ago, in Pakistan. Therefore, most elephants used by ancient or modern civilizations came directly from nature.
History of civilizations and elephants
In the case of the largest and most powerful land animals, elephants have always aroused curiosity, envy and fear. They have been worshiped and punished in equal parts, both in ancient times and today.
The three existing species of elephants today – the Asian, the savanna African and the African jungle – have been trained for captive use. And throughout history many varied uses have been described. Its role in several historical events is irrefutable, and it helps us understand the relationship that this species has with the human being.
India of the Vedic period
Elephants have been part of the Hindu navies since the beginning of time. Numerous stories from ancient times tell the use of elephants as battle animals.
The first news of an elephant killed in combat in India dates from 1100 BC.
Ancient Greece has numerous data concerning the importance of elephants in the battles that defeated Emperor Cyrus of Persia, in 530 BC.. And the stories become even more detailed in the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia in 331 BC.
Southern Mediterranean countries
In another subdivision of the Alexandrian Empire, Ptolemy I of Egypt built his own army of elephants. It began with the 43 Asian elephants that he had captured during the battle of Gaza in 312 BC. And his son, Ptolemy II, incorporated many African elephants into that army.
During the first millennium BC, India saw numerous Hindu empires fall. And in all of them elephants have shown themselves as an important part of military conflicts.
Because their size makes them look impressive, elephants have always been used as a symbol of power. Its maintenance also needs numerous resources, which is indicative of the status of its owner.
In the Roman Empire, the elephants captured after the battles were carried to the gladiatorial arenas. There they were tortured and made to fight against other animals and against the gladiators themselves.
Later,these animals became the perfect gift for European kings. For example, in 1230, the Sultan of Cairo gave an elephant to King Frederick of Sicily, which he immediately used to make his triumphal entry into Milan.
History of civilizations and elephants: working animals
If its use as war animals is historical, it goes without saying that it is used as pack animals. Wylie suggests that The use of elephants for construction, logging and transportation dates back to the year 2000 BC.
Given their size, strength and intelligence, they have been considered as living machines for many jobs. But due to the relative importance of these works, their mention in the books is of minimal importance.
More than 2000 years after Carthage trained elephants for war, King Leopold of Belgium developed a work school for them in Congo. By 1910 it already had 35 copies in what became known as the Elephant Domestication Center, although it was abandoned during virtually the entire First World War.
The first elephants participating in shows date back to Vética India in 1000 BC.. But since then they have starred in them without rest.
In addition to their torture in the Roman amphitheaters we mentioned earlier, they were also trained to entertain the audience at the circuses of the time. His repertoire included walking on the rope, putting on flashy suits, throwing knives with the trunk, etc..
The concept of modern circus originated in nineteenth-century Europe, in England and France. And it was distributed all over the world to reach America, so that in 1887 there was already a circus with 160 elephants.
History of civilizations and elephants: zoos
Elephants have been held captive as part of collections for more than 3500 years. The ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur – 2000 BC – already kept them in zoos for public exposure.
Today, elephants remain one of the main attractions of zoos. Sukumar estimates that more than 1000 captive African elephant specimens live in zoos in the West.