Elephant Armour

2009/07/25 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Elephant Armour | 3 Comments

Elephant Armour


From about the mid 1st millennium BC elephants were used in warfare in India, gradually ousting war chariots from the battlefield. The last recorded use of elephants was in the late 18th century, although they continued to be used as draught animals.

A war elephant was covered with a Caparison, a large square carpet, secured with a girth. The caparison almost invariably had red in its coloration, while the girth was made from thick rope or chains. An elephant usually wore a little bell on its neck and two more bells often dangled on the front part of the caparison. Elephants were sometimes decorated with additional bells hanging from the caparison or fastened all around the collar. In some pictures an elephant’s body is bound with ropes longwise or across, possibly to facilitate the driver getting onto its back. Umbrellas, flags or other objects were sometimes used to decorate or identify an elephant. There is also some evidence that an elephant’s head and trunk were painted bright in battle, for a combination of sacramental, aesthetic and martial reasons. (Osprey, New Vanguard 150)

War elephants of the Great Mughals 16th-18th Centuries

In the time of the Great Mughals in India (1526-1858) people either rode an elephant or sat in a ‘Howdah’. The most valuable elephants were protected by armour. Some were fully clad in armour, others had only their heads and parts of their trunk protected, others had no protection at all. Elephant armour was made of; plates and mail (As in the royal Armouries example), Scales sewn on a piece of cloth, brigandine (steel plates sewn in between layers of cloth), or just quilted cloth or leather. The armour also had a peculiarity – protective ‘ears’, two projections on the elephant’s head to protect the driver.

YouTube sequence from ‘Warrior Empire, the Mughals’, The History Channel

The very tip of the trunk was left bare as it had to remain mobile to grab foes. Various kinds of weapons were sometimes fastened to the trunk – Swords, scythes, maces and scraps of chain. Tusk swords were also sometimes attached.

 Elephant Tusk Swords







Goads used for elephant driving (Ankus)

Indo-Persian Elephant Goad (ankus) Rajput 18th century with 8.5″ spear point tip, forward hook with rear fluke terminating into a dragons head. Handle sectioned into six cage areas  containing a rolling bell. Bun shaped pommel to haft. 22″ overall length







Late 18th early 19th century steel and koftgari silver engraving Ankus.
Length: 18″ head: 6 1/2″ head width: 4 1/2″ handle: 11″
Elephant Armour at the Royal Armouries, Leeds 
Brought to England in 1801 by Lady Clive, it is reputed to have been captured by Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
Mughal, about 1600, the armour is made of sheet iron panels and chainmail. Some of the panels have designs of elephants, fish, peacocks and lotus flowers hammered out.
Some of the panels are missing, revealing the way cotton would have been used under the armour for the animal’s comfort.

The armour originally consisted of eight parts: three at either side of the body and one each for the head and throat. Only six survive: two of the three panels for the right side are missing.







The large circular gaps near the top of the head probably mark the place for the ‘ears’ (protection for the driver).

The armour is of mail and plate construction; small plates with scalloped edges alternate with large square panels decorated with embossed birds, trotting elephants, lotus flowers and
confronted fish; all these are joined with mail.








Other Examples

Some other examples of elephants found on the internet. Look like wargame  pieces, but could provide inspiration,…or not! 







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