Elephant size in antiquity: DNA evidence and the Battle of Raphia

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Charles, MN 2016, 'Elephant size in antiquity: DNA evidence and the Battle of Raphia', Historia, vol. 65, no. 1.

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A recent study of mitochondrial DNA evidence of modern Eritrean elephants has resulted in the bold assertion that the Ethiopian elephants used by Ptolemaic Egypt were the larger bush elephants rather than a now-extinct North African population of the smaller forest elephant. If this was indeed the case, Ptolemaic use of at least some bush elephants could have important implications for the so-called 'battle of the elephants' at Raphia in 217 B. C. This brief article seeks to temper these claims through a close inspection of the ancient literature pertaining to elephant size, and Polybius' account of Raphia in particular.

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