- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press (31 July 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 022626436X
- ISBN-13: 978-0226264363
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
Elephants and Kings – An Environmental History Paperback – 31 Jul 2015
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"With substantial and wide-ranging scholarship, Trautmann lucidly presents the elephant's history in India, illuminating the important role of the war elephant and its powerful links to Indian kingship. The result is a unique and original work." (Rachel Dwyer, author of Bollywood's India)
About the Author
Thomas R. Trautmann is professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Michigan. He is the author of many books, including Dravidian Kinship, Lewis Henry Morgan and the Invention of Kinship, Aryans and British India, and India: Brief History of a Civilization.
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The military history aspect may interest some readers, but it is a general history of military use rather than specific wars. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 concern the spread of war elephants to South India (they originated in the North of India) and Ceylon, to the Middle East (Persia, the Syrian empires) and North Africa and Europe. There is some interesting detail; elephants used by the Ptolemies may have come from Sudan, and the elephants used by the Carthaginians and later by Romans (to a certain extent) were the forest elephants from the Atlas region of Algeria and Morocco, smaller than the large savannah species and now extinct. Imported Indian elephants and their trainers were common and Trautmann speculates that Indian mahouts trained Egyptians and others in Indian techniques.
The timespan of the war elephant covers nearly 3,000 years, starting in the late Vedic period 1000 to 500 BCE, Syria and the Mediterranean around 500 to 300 BC (first the Persian empire and then the successor states to Alexander's conquests), then into Southeast Asia around 100 CE. Trautmann compares the intense use of the war elephant in India and areas influenced by Indian traditions, and differentiates it from China, where elephants were native but which had a different concept of warfare and land use--and neither elephants or their habitat survived. This comparison is key to his argument about the historical environmental impact.
The most readable--and least academic--portion of the book is the last section, after the end of the war elephant. He describes the logging elephant, a process now extinct except in Myanmar (Burma), and methods of capturing elephants and using them. He speculates that Asian elephants probably have better chances of survival than African elephants, partly for cultural reasons, partly because some of Africa is lawless (he does not use that phrase).