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Surus – Hannibal’s elephant

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Hannibal na czele armii w Alpach
Hannibal at the head of the army in the Alps | Illustration: board game Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage

Hannibal – during the invasion of Italy, during the Second Punic War – took 37 elephants with him, of which 10 animals did not survive the harsh conditions and harsh winter. He used the remaining elephants during the battle of Trebia1. After this battle, the rest of the elephants died of wounds and colds, except for one – named Surus.

When Hannibal contracted an eye infection, he commanded the Arno River crossing from the elephant’s back. According to some historians, it is believed that Hannibal’s elephant did not come from Africa, but was of Indian origin. Apparently, the Ptolemaic dynasty (descendants of Alexander the Great) brought a large population of Indian elephants during the campaign in Syria2.

According to the records of Plautus, a Roman comedy writer from the 3rd-2nd century BCE, Surus wore red bedspreads, had a red shield attached and a platform for the mahout to sit on.

  1. There are many opinions as to how many animals survived the journey through the Alps and how many took part in the Battle of Trebia.
  2. John Noble Wilford, The mystery of Hannibal's elephants
  • Richard A. Gabriel, Great Captains of Antiquity
  • Richard A. Gabriel, Scypion Afrykański Starszy. Największy wódz starożytnego Rzymu

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