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Thread: War Elephants in Vietnam

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default War Elephants in Vietnam

    How often were they in use throughout Vietnamese history? Well, after the end of China's millennium-long domination of (the northern half of) Vietnam in 938 AD, that is.

    The only use of war elephants in Vietnam that I'm familiar with is when the Chinese Sui Dynasty invaded the Kingdom of Champa in 602 AD, in what is now southern Vietnam. According to my source (Ebrey, et. al. 2006), the Chinese were able to destroy Champa's elephant cavalry by luring them into traps with deep trenches and firing massive volleys of crossbow bolts at them. The campaign to conquer Champa was ultimately a failure, though, since much of the invading Sui army died off from malaria, a tropical disease that soldiers from northern China would not have been accustomed to at all. The Sui military easily replenished its numbers ten years later for the second invasion of Goguryeo in northern Korea, which again ended in failure (the subsequent Tang Dynasty would remedy that by allying with Silla).

    Curiously enough, the Chinese seem to have made use of war elephants earlier in the 6th century, but their use in southern China seems to have been rather sparse after that. From the 9th century onwards the nearby Khmer Empire in Cambodia (also incorporating Laos and Thailand) made great use of war elephants. IIRC, didn't the Mongols of the Chinese-styled Yuan Dynasty face war elephants when they attempted to invade Vietnam in the late 13th century? Which was then under the Tran Dynasty in the north (Dai Viet) and once again Champa in the south.

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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    I know that when the Song invaded the Southern most Chinese kingdom they encountered war elephants, which they defeated with massed crossbow bolts.
    I know that when the Qing invaded Vietnam under Nguyen Hue the army under Fukanggan and Sun Shiyi encountered elephants as well.
    Also I hear that the Trin sisters used elephants gainst the Han but not sure if the source holds up to scrutiny.

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    hellheaven1987's Avatar Comes Domesticorum
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    The thins is Asian elephants are much smaller than their African cousins, and if my memory serves me right, the elephants in Vietnam are even smaller than Indian elephants - in other words, its height would not be much higher than 2.2 meters and that is not very tall.
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Eats, shoots, and leaves.

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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Thank you Oda, and I believe it's spelled "Trung" sisters. Does the Book of Later Han mention it?

    @Hellheaven: yes, they are much smaller than African elephants, but their sheer weight alone would have still made them much more frightening and powerful than horse cavalry, obviously.

    @Condottiere: LOL. Dumbo. Good answer.

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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Well this is what the primary source had to say about the Trung sisters ie HouHanshu

    至十六年,交阯女子徵側及其妹徵貳反,攻郡。
    During the 16 year of Jianwu(40 CE),The Jiaozhi natives Zheng Ce and Zheng Er revolted and sieged the local commandery.
    徵側者,麊泠縣雒將之女​​也。
    Zheng Ce was the daughter of Luo general who hailed from Miling county.
    嫁為硃珪人詩索妻,甚雄勇。
    Zheng Ce wed Shi Suo and was known for her bravery.
    交阯太守蘇定以法繩之,側忿,故反。
    Su Ding the Grand Administrator of Jiaozhi opposed her laws and subsequently Zheng Ce rebelled.
    於是九真、日南、合浦蠻裡皆應之,凡略六十五城,自立為王。
    Eventually the commanderies of Jiuzhen,Rinan and Hepu Li barbarians revolted,65 cities were brought under her control and she crowned herself queen.
    交阯刺史及諸太守僅得自守。
    The Grand Administrator and prefects of Jiaozhi could only endure.
    光武乃詔長沙、合浦、交阯具車船,修道橋,通障谿,儲糧穀。
    Emperor Guangwu mandated that Changsha,Hepu and Jiaozhi to produce carts and boats as well as rebuild the roads and bridges and conserve supplies.
    十八年,遣伏波將軍馬援、樓船將軍段志,髮長沙、桂陽、零陵、蒼梧兵萬餘人討之。
    18 year of Jianwu(42 CE) Ma Yuan the general who subdues the waves and Duan Zhi general of the towered ships commanded 10,000 men from Changsha,Guiyang,Lingling and Cangwu.
    明年夏四月,援破交阯,斬徵側、徵貳等,餘皆降散。
    During the 4 month of the following year,Jiaozhi was pacified,Zheng Ce and Zheng Er were crushed and the rebels scattered.
    進擊九真賊都陽等,破降之。徙其渠帥三百餘口於零陵。於是領表悉平。
    The rebel Du Yang of Jiuzhen pleaded for clemency and his 300 men were relocated to Lingling. Thus the frontier was tamed.

    I find no use in quoting medieval Vietnamese texts as they are laced with historical fabrications.

    From the Jiaozhou Waiyuji and my own posts from another forum

    《交州外域記》曰:越王令二使者典主交趾、九真二郡民,後漢遣伏波將軍路博德討越王,路將軍到合浦,越王令二使者,齎牛百頭,酒千鍾,及二郡民戶口簿,詣路將軍,乃拜二使者爲交趾、九真太守,諸雒將主民如故。交趾郡及州本治于此也。州名爲交州。
    The treaties of Outer Jiaozhou says: The King of Yue ie King of Nanyue commanded messengers to the two commanderies of Jiaozhi and Jiuzhen. Later Lu Bode(title general that subdues the waves) questioned the King of Yue. Lu Bode's soldiers entered Hepu thus the King of Yue sent messengers,100 heads of cattle,thousands of containers filled with wine,and detailed the population of the two comanderies ie Jiaozhi and Jiuzhen.Messengers were sent to the Grand Administrator of Jiaozhi and Jiuzhen and to the Luo generals and common citizens. The commandery of Jiaozhi was ruled as before ie with Luo generals in charge. Jiaozhi was renamed Jiaozhou.
    《交州外域記》曰:交趾昔未有郡縣之時,土地有雒田,其田從潮水上下,民墾食其田,因名爲雒民,設雒王、雒侯,主諸郡縣。縣多爲雒將,雒將銅印青綬。後蜀王子將兵三萬來討雒王、雒侯,服諸雒將,蜀王子因稱爲安陽王。
    The treaties of Outer Jiaozhou says: Prior to the establishment of administrative divisions in Jiaozhi,the land was Luo fields. Under the receding and rising waters the common people that tilled the land were called Luo people. Luo kings and marquises ruled over these areas. These counties had Luo generals,the Luo generals received imperial bronze seals and green ribbons. Later the king of Shu ie Shu Pan with 30,000 soldiers defeated the Luo king,marquise and the generals. The King of Shu was then known as King Anyang.

    No where does it mention the usage of elephants rather King Anyang used a divine crossbow to ward off Zhao Tuo's advances.
    Last edited by Wu Guo; June 02, 2014 at 09:08 AM.
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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Thanks, Wu Guo! That answers my question about the Book of Later Han. If there are no contemporary records from the 1st century AD saying that the Vietnamese used elephant cavalry, then it most likely did not transpire (despite what much later medieval Vietnamese sources have to say in their elaboration on the Trung sisters). From the looks of it, apparently Champa was the first Vietnamese state to use elephant cavalry, at least by the beginning of the 7th century when the Sui army invaded. Elephants could have been utilized earlier by Champa, but I can't find any records of it. Maybe someone who is more adept at such research can answer that question.

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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    Thanks, Wu Guo! That answers my question about the Book of Later Han. If there are no contemporary records from the 1st century AD saying that the Vietnamese used elephant cavalry, then it most likely did not transpire (despite what much later medieval Vietnamese sources have to say in their elaboration on the Trung sisters). From the looks of it, apparently Champa was the first Vietnamese state to use elephant cavalry, at least by the beginning of the 7th century when the Sui army invaded. Elephants could have been utilized earlier by Champa, but I can't find any records of it. Maybe someone who is more adept at such research can answer that question.
    The main difference between later day Vietnamese accounts and Chinese ones is that Trung/Zheng sisters originally had the surname Lac/Luo(the same as Luoyue) and that the rebels fled not because of her incompetence but because she was a women.

    Otherwise the Dai Viet su ky Toan Thu and Kham dinh Viet su thuong giam cuong muc pretty much follow the HouHanshu narrative,there is no mention of unorthodox tactics of Ma Yuan or the use of elephants by the Trung sisters.

    What is interesting about medieval Vietnamese texts is that they still honor just governors of Jiaozhi ie Ren Fang and Shi Xie though Vietnamese nationalist historiography has virtually erased acknowledgement of these men.

    Its also interesting that the men of Jiuzhen,Rinan and Hepu were labeled "barbarians" which contradicts the recent movement of claiming all Baiyue people as Vietnamese.
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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Yeah, I had one source mentioning elephants but it was definitely Qing dynasty at the earliest (really can't remember what it was though).
    My bad guys, Vietnamese names sound the same to me, Trin, Trung.

    Likely the Vietnamese didn't have horses either.
    I don't recall any source talking about Zhuge Liang's pacification of Nanzhong or Sun Quan's conquest of the South even mentioning elephants or horses either. Except the Romance of Three Kingdoms book which mentions elephants, but that isn't exactly a source.
    Although I do know that the Chinese used war elephants during the Southern and Northern Dynasties in 400/500 AD.
    Last edited by Lord Oda Nobunaga; June 02, 2014 at 01:00 PM.

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Oda Nobunaga View Post
    My bad guys, Vietnamese names sound the same to me, Trin, Trung.
    Like the sound of throwing pots and pans down the stairs, huh?

    Likely the Vietnamese didn't have horses either.
    Well, they would have had horses, just not very many of them. The Chinese got most of their horses from the Mongolian steppes, Tibet, and on occasion Central Asia (the Ferghana breed that Emperor Wu of Han so adored).

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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    But how would the Vietnamese tribes have gotten to the horses? I mean it's possible but I just never saw that referenced anywhere, more a problem with my lack of sources really. Cause I just assumed that they ran around on foot and fought more or less like the Vietnamese usually do.

    "Famous general without peer in any age, most superior in valor and inspired by the Way of Heaven; since the provinces are now subject to your will it is certain that you will increasingly mount in victory." - Ōgimachi-tennō

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    I'm almost fairly certain horses were brought to Vietnam in small numbers with Zhao Tuo's establishment of Nanyue in Vietnam and southern China (Guangxi, Guangdong) in 204 BC, following the fall of Qin. With Sinicization came a culture of equestrian riders, at least for elites. A cross border horse trade certainly existed afterwards, and more horses were certainly brought with the conquest of the region in 111 BC by Han under Emperor Wu. It's just that Vietnam never had considerable amount of horses, certainly not enough to compete or even compare to China proper. Hence a strong military tradition of horse-based cavalry never developed in early Vietnam.

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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam


    至十六年,交阯女子徵側及其妹徵貳反,攻郡。
    During the 16 year of Jianwu(40 CE),The Jiaozhi natives Zheng Ce and Zheng Er revolted and sieged the local commandery.
    徵側者,麊泠縣雒將之女​​也。
    Zheng Ce was the daughter of Luo general who hailed from Miling county.
    嫁為硃珪人詩索妻,甚雄勇。
    Zheng Ce wed Shi Suo and was known for her bravery.
    交阯太守蘇定以法繩之,側忿,故反。
    Su Ding the Grand Administrator of Jiaozhi opposed her laws and subsequently Zheng Ce rebelled.
    於是九真、日南、合浦蠻裡皆應之,凡略六十五城,自立為王。
    Eventually the commanderies of Jiuzhen,Rinan and Hepu Li barbarians revolted,65 cities were brought under her control and she crowned herself queen.
    交阯刺史及諸太守僅得自守。
    The Grand Administrator and prefects of Jiaozhi could only endure.
    光武乃詔長沙、合浦、交阯具車船,修道橋,通障谿,儲糧穀。
    Emperor Guangwu mandated that Changsha,Hepu and Jiaozhi to produce carts and boats as well as rebuild the roads and bridges and conserve supplies.
    十八年,遣伏波將軍馬援、樓船將軍段志,髮長沙、桂陽、零陵、蒼梧兵萬餘人討之。
    18 year of Jianwu(42 CE) Ma Yuan the general who subdues the waves and Duan Zhi general of the towered ships commanded 10,000 men from Changsha,Guiyang,Lingling and Cangwu.
    明年夏四月,援破交阯,斬徵側、徵貳等,餘皆降散。
    During the 4 month of the following year,Jiaozhi was pacified,Zheng Ce and Zheng Er were crushed and the rebels scattered.
    進擊九真賊都陽等,破降之。徙其渠帥三百餘口於零陵。於是領表悉平。
    The rebel Du Yang of Jiuzhen pleaded for clemency and his 300 men were relocated to Lingling. Thus the frontier was tamed.
    thank you for your information. It is the great shock for me.

    about Vietnamese during Han dynasty. I believe their main force actually weren't elephant or cavalry, but is naval and infantry. In many ancient bronze drum of Yue, we can see very many picture about their fleet:
    http://lichsuhuyenbivietnam.blogspot...inh-ve-co.html



    Everyone ( include Vietnamese) usually think Viet's military in history almost is some Guerilla units as VC in Vietnam war. Actually, guerilla unit is something very new with Vietnamese.

    During Viet history, their main force actually is naval. Their fleet's earliest picture is what we saw in the bronze drum. And during their history, their army usually use ship to travel. Bach Dang river's battle is their most famous battle in history. Follow Dai Viet Thong Su, a Viet's history book ( be written by Le Quy Don in 18th century about Le-Mac civil war in 16th century), Mac's army is skillful in naval while Le army good in infantry. Mac usually use fleets to raid their enemy's seaside. But Viet's naval usually is good when fight on the river ( and sometimes is on the seaside) and almost never seen they have any battle on the sea.

    About elephant and cavalry, we have very few information about them. They Viet usually think war elephent " be ridden by our generals/kings/leaders". And that is which we see in their legend about " Trung sisters rode war elephant" . But I still have some information about Viet's war elephant units in history:

    - Follow Toan Thu ( a history book, be written in 15th century):
    + 1407, Ming invasion of Viet: in the seige of Da Bang city. They Viet general is Nguyen Tong Do opened their gate and use elephant unit to attack Ming forces. But Ming soldiers use flame arrows shot and defeated them.
    + 1465, king Le Thanh Tong released a book about orders and laws for his naval, infantry, cavalry and war elephant. Follow that, we know that in 15th century, they Viet have cavalry and war elephant.

    ( we don't have many information about Viet during 10th - 14th century. after invaded Viet in 1407 -1425, Ming dynasty burned almost of Viet books already)

    - Follow Nam Trieu Cong Nghiep Dien Chi ( a novel-history book about Viet civil war in 17th century, be written by Nguyen Khoa Chiem, a general in that civil war.): he written about many battles where one side use war elephant to attack their enemy. And the other side would defend themselves against elephant with small cannons and arquebus.

    ----------

    About cavalry unit, we have more little information than even elephant. Some information I know about Viet's cavalry in battle is follow Dai Viet Thong Su about Le-Mac civil war:

    + " Nguyen Huu Lien leaded 5000 elite soldiers and strong elephant and armoured horses to raid and burn Thang Long capital"
    + in one battle against Mac Mau Hop, Trinh Tung of Le " ordered 400 of armoured horses to help his soldiers in the battle"

    that is very few information about cavalry. May be their cavalry isn't as numerous as other kingdoms ( as we seen, Trinh Tung used 400 heavy cavalry in one battle)
    Last edited by yevon; June 22, 2015 at 01:06 AM.

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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    I could believe that the Vietnamese used infantry and naval forces most. As I recall the likes of Vietnam, Champa, Khmer and Burmese city states made extensive use of river boats and canoes.
    I think when the Mongols invaded Trang Hung Dao also made use of slightly larger river boats to combat the Yuan sea going vessels (in the Chinese style of course).

    My main point was just to say that I had found no references to cavalry or elephants being used until the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (400-600 AD). As none of the original sources in the Hou Hanshu, Sanguozhi or Pei Songzhi's annotations mention the use of elephants (or use of cavalry interestingly enough) by the tribes of Sichuan, Yunnan, the Jiangnan region or Vietnam (especially during the campaigns of Zhuge Liang and He Qi to pacify the southern tribes of their respective states).

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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Something worth mention, is that elephants in warfare often found themselves being used for logistics more then fighting.
    I'm not terribly familiar with ancient Vietnam, but I do know that the elephant's ability to lug around loads that would otherwise require a team of oxen can make it quite valuable for moving materiel around, especially in terrain that's not friendly to wheels; with the one caveat that there needs to be enough plant matter around for the elephant to eat without relying on supply lines, that is (not a problem in Vietnam, I presume), so that it won't take more logistical clout to feed the elephant then it can supply in return.

    Alexander famously only used his elephants for logistics, as he saw them as too fickle to be worthwhile in battle. Given the better documented battles the Romans had with elephants, they're not even all that effective as a weapon after the shock of fighting an elephant wears off, and even that initial shock is largely a result of soldiers who've never seen elephants before encountering them for the first time in battle. Seeing as your average south-east Asian was fairly familiar with elephants, the shock value would have been greatly diminished, and the effectiveness of war elephants reduced, perhaps to a point the locals didn't think them worth the bother.

    One final detail, the elephants available in east south-east Asia are actually larger then the ones used in North Africa. Savannah elephants were too difficult to capture, tame and train for use in war; the ones famously used by Carthage were north African forest elephants, which were smaller then the Indian variant. One possible exception is Hannibal's personal elephant, named Sirus (the Syrian), which if the name is to go by, was a Syrian elephant, roughly the same size as the Indian ones.
    Both the North African and Syrian elephant are extinct nowadays, having died out some time under Roman rule. They were never bred, but rather captured in the wild and tamed (cheaper and faster), which given the average ancient attitudes towards conservation and sustainability, meant that over exploitation to the point of extinction was more or less inevitable.
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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    I hope Hannibal wasn't relying too much on his elephants for logistical purposes when he crossed the Alps into Italy, because if I remember correctly, nearly all of them died! Thanks for the reply, Caligula's Horse. Or should I address you as Senator Incitatus? You were made a senator, after all. Well, according to Cassius Dio at least, who may have been a bit partisan in that assessment.

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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    I hope Hannibal wasn't relying too much on his elephants for logistical purposes when he crossed the Alps into Italy, because if I remember correctly, nearly all of them died! Thanks for the reply, Caligula's Horse. Or should I address you as Senator Incitatus? You were made a senator, after all. Well, according to Cassius Dio at least, who may have been a bit partisan in that assessment.
    Carthaginian elephants were more for battle then for logistics if I recall correctly.
    Certainly no point bringing them along to haul supplies across the alps, as there isn't enough vegetation to support them without straining the supply lines more then the elephant's carry weight could make up for. They might have seen some use pulling obstacles like rocks and fallen logs blocking mountain passes, and I can certainly imagine how Hannibal might have used them to impress the locals enough to recruit into his side (or at least impress them enough to hear him out until he pulled out the silver, as was fitting of a Carthaginian general).
    One way or the other, they didn't leave much of an impression on the Romans once the fighting started. While we remember Hannibal's invasion largely due to said elephants, in practical terms, only half made it across the mountains, and most of the rest were swiftly killed at the beginning of the campaign. The initial shock was mostly used up by Pyrrhus decades earlier, so by the time Hannibal came along, the elephant was already of dubious usefulness against the legions which had not only gotten used to the idea of fighting elephants, but had also developed methods to frighten and slay them.

    I recall hearing of the Timurids under Timur himself facing Indian war elephants. Some versions of the story involve either pigs or camels set alight and stampeded towards the Indian line, but there's a decent chance those are just fanciful. In truth, horse archers would have little trouble engaging elephants without any special tricks; the horses don't spook so easily that they couldn't get into bow shot distance, and even if the elephant is armored to ward off arrows, its too slow to have any real chance to catching them (elephants are too heavy to run; they can only walk quickly, and even then only for short distances), and can't seat enough men on their backs to out-shoot steppe nomads like foot archers could.
    The horse archers might have even had access to flaming arrows, if they made the effort to run around with a few lit torches, and they certainly were good enough shots to snipe the mahut (driver, equipped with a hammer and chisel) responsible for killing the elephant should it go berserk. Hence, the elephants panic, turn around, and trample their own men, contributing to the Timurid victory.

    As for the title, a horse's place is not to question, nor to besmirch his emperor's name by repeating slander set about by historians who weren't even alive at the time, only to serve the people of Rome to the best of its ability, whether as senator, consul, or priest.
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    Aymer de Valence's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    An elephant ate all of Principal Skinner's unit during the Vietnam War so they were pretty deadly!
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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    Oh and I should add that Pei Songzhi's annotations to the Sanguozhi don't really mention elephants or cavalry being used by the Nanyue tribes and all that.

    But aside from the foliage that one would find in such a densely forested area having elephants both as transport and for fighting purposes would logistically impractical. Since both war horses and pack animals need to eat (add soldiers and camp followers into that equation) then a pack animal would have to carry two or three times more than it can eat in one day for that to be practical. Pack animals are usually older horses, or low quality horses or even mules and donkeys so they wouldn't have to be fed quality grain since performance is not an issue (unlike a war horse which needs to be healthy and perform well hence aside from pastures it requires some quality grain).

    But an elephant eats many times more than a horse and the only upside I can find is that they can carry much more than a pack mule. As a weapon they're not super effective over all and one would be better off using the food supplies to bring more war horses and replacement horses. Now war elephants would likely require a lot more trainers and handlers for them to perform efficiently and probably even prevent them from flipping out and wrecking the camp grounds.

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: War Elephants in Vietnam

    @Oda: I'm starting to wonder, then, where Patricia Ebrey & Co. got their information, i.e. which precise primary sources. I don't doubt her for a second; she's a credible Sinologist who contributes book chapters to various Cambridge University text series. She's been writing scholarly articles since the 1970s. However, I do have to wonder what primary source material she used for this claim about the Sui invasion of Champa if you can't find anything. Are you sure you looked everywhere for it?

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