Title

The elephants of Aksum: in search of the bush elephant in late antiquity

Document Type

Article

Publication details

Charles, MB 2018, 'The elephants of Aksum: in search of the bush elephant in late antiquity', Journal of Late Antiquity, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 166-192.

Published version available from

http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/jla.2018.0000

Peer Reviewed

Peer-Reviewed

Abstract

It is widely assumed by scholars that the Aksumite kingdom’s use of elephants was confined to a military context and, in particular, that the Aksumites deployed these animals principally as war engines. However, a critical inspection of the relevant Arab and Byzantine sources reveals that the Aksumites in fact were interested in elephants primarily as symbols of regal display and power. Furthermore, this article argues that it was the large bush elephant, rather than the smaller forest elephant, to which the Aksumites had access, and that this animal played a crucial role in their strategic self-positioning in the late antique ivory trade.

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