Ptolemaic Diplomatic-Military-Commercial Activities
Ptolemaic Diplomatic-Military-Commercial Activities
Abstract and Keywords
Ptolemaic strata excavated at Berenike produced archaeological evidence that corroborates and adds to information preserved in ancient literary sources. The segment of an elephant tooth is evidence for live pachyderms in the city. The “discovery” of the monsoons and their exploitation by “western” sailors drastically reduced travel times and costs between Red Sea ports in Egypt and the Indian subcontinent for Ptolemaic and later Roman ships when they were in the Indian Ocean. Ptolemies' trade in ivory helped to defray expenses entailed in elephant acquisition, transportation, and training. Elephant and ivory acquisition was well organized on a large scale by the reign of Philadelphus. Berenike was clearly the preferred landfall, although on occasion elephants might be disembarked at more northerly ports for a host of practical or other reasons. Furthermore, Romans were fascinated with and curious about elephants.
Ptolemaic strata excavated at Berenike produced archaeological evidence that corroborates and adds to information preserved in ancient literary sources. The segment of an elephant tooth, mentioned later in this chapter, is evidence for live pachyderms in the city, as may be a V-shaped ditch, possibly the remains of an elephant retaining pen (see chapter 7). Pottery from Phoenicia and Rhodes signals possible imports of wine and oil from those regions. We cannot determine whether these were consumed at Berenike, used as trade goods, or destined as provisions for the ships’ crews or for outposts farther south along the Red Sea coast. It does indicate, however, that the Ptolemaic trade network covered important regions of the eastern Mediterranean, the East African coast, and South Arabia.
In addition to elephants, ivory, and the mining of amethysts, iron, gold, and some other minerals,1 the Ptolemies had other interests in the Eastern Desert, the Red Sea, and beyond, though initially these were secondary to elephant and ivory acquisition and gold mining. Goods from South Arabia, a hub for trade with Mesopotamia, India, and the East African coast, traditionally followed the desert route north through the Arabian Peninsula and from there across to Mediterranean ports such as Gaza (figure 4–1). After Alexander the Great, much of this northern area fell to the Seleucids. From the Ptolemaic perspective, trade had to be rerouted to avoid or minimize Seleucid control; direct contact with the source was far preferable to commerce controlled by middlemen. Finds from excavations conducted throughout Ptolemaic Egypt and in parts of the eastern Mediterranean in Hellenistic contexts have unearthed products from and inscriptions left by peoples from (p.33)
Trade in Ptolemaic times from South Arabia, or transshipped from elsewhere in the Indian Ocean via southern Arabia, seems to have been mainly in frankincense, myrrh, calamus, saffron, cassia, cinnamon, and textiles.7 Also imported from India were valuable woods, precious and semiprecious stones, and special breeds of dogs.8 A Minaean inscription survives, carved on a wooden sarcophagus dated 264 B.C.E. and found at Memphis. The casket contained the remains of Zaydil bin Zayd, a merchant who “imported myrrh and calamus for the temples of the gods of Egypt.” A second-century B.C.E. Minaean altar was found on Delos, though we cannot be certain whether it arrived via the Red Sea or along the terrestrial trans-Arabian caravan routes.9 One Zenon papyrus mentions Minaean and Gerrhaean weights, suggesting that the incense trade was active in the mid third century B.C.E. in Ptolemaic Egypt.10 We do not know what the Ptolemies traded in return, though Ptolemaic coins have been found in southern Arabia and India.11 There were attempts by Ptolemaic authorities, apparently unsuccessful, to cultivate frankincense and myrrh within their territory.12 Perhaps much of this commerce in the third century with southern Arabia came sporadically by sea and more regularly overland via the caravan routes up to Gaza and thence to Egypt; it may have been only with the Ptolemaic loss of Coele-Syria to Antiochus III (reigned 223–187 B.C.E.) during the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes (210/204–180 B.C.E.) that more regular and direct maritime routes with southerly areas of the Red Sea were established.13
This commerce was not completely under the direct control of the Ptolemaic government, and there are sufficient indications that private merchants were also active.14 One example is an interest-free loan made by Arkhippos in about 150 B.C.E. to five merchants sailing to Punt.15 No one is certain of Punt’s location. It was either in southwestern Arabia (modern Yemen) or in the Horn of Africa (Somalia), likely the latter, and may have been a term whose geographical parameters changed over history.16 That the loan was interest free strongly suggests that Arkhippos himself had direct involvement in the voyage, undoubtedly to secure aromatics.
The Ptolemaic government heavily taxed imports, from 25 percent up to 50 percent of their value in some cases.17 Apparently, to avoid the onerous burdens entailed in collecting the duties itself, the government often auctioned to tax farmers the right to collect them.18 This guaranteed the government revenue without its having to undertake all the effort, time, and money that would have been necessary to expend in collecting these taxes itself. The Romans used a similar tax-farming technique, though not universally, across their empire.
(p.35) Conversely, there is in those “eastern” lands evidence of limited Ptolemaic commercial and diplomatic exchanges. Ptolemaic contacts with some Arab groups, especially the Nabataeans (see chapter II) and Lihyanites (in northwestern Saudi Arabia), related to caravan trade coming from southern Arabia.19 Although we can detect Ptolemaic artistic and linguistic influences among the Lihyanites, the Ptolemies seem to have viewed the Nabataeans as competitors in the lucrative transit trade arriving at the Mediterranean from the incense-bearing lands in southern Arabia and points beyond. Ancient sources refer to the Ptolemies periodically battling Nabataean “pirates” in the Red Sea who preyed on their shipping.20 It is not clear whether these Nabataeans acted as privateers, were under official royal Nabataean orders, or were freebooters.21 The Nabataeans may also have occasionally raided the Egyptian Red Sea coast.22 In response to these and other threats, by 130 B.C.E. if not earlier, an inscription relates that the Ptolemies placed archers aboard some of their vessels as protection;23 Pliny the Elder writes that this security measure continued into Roman times.24 It is clear, however, that expanding Ptolemaic commercial interest in the Red Sea can be detected not only in their defensive efforts against and punitive responses to these Nabataean attacks, but also by the appearance in the third century B.C.E. of a Ptolemaic official styled ho epi tes libanotiches (“overseer of the incense traders”)25 and stationed at Gaza. The creation of this office suggests that the importation of aromatics from southern Arabia into Egypt was substantial enough, and probably sufficiently lucrative, to require official Ptolemaic protection and regulation.26
Strabo (Geography 2.3.4–5) writes that toward the end of the second century B.C.E. Eudoxus of Cyzicus, a ship captain employed by the Ptolemies, seems to have “discovered” the existence of monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean, something long known to those who dwelt along its littoral.27 Alternatively, the Periplus (57) attributes western discovery of the monsoons to a skipper named Hippalos, after whom the winds were named. The Periplus does not mention when this event took place.28 Pliny the Elder (NH 6.26.101 and 104) is also vague, saying only that the Hippalos winds provided the most advantageous way of sailing to India.
The “discovery” of the monsoons and their exploitation by “western” sailors drastically reduced travel times and, therefore, costs between Red Sea ports in Egypt and the Indian subcontinent for Ptolemaic and later Roman ships when they were in the Indian Ocean. The powerful Indian Ocean monsoon winds blow from the southwest between June and September or October, the time of sailing to the west coast of India, and between May/June and September, the seasons of sailing to southern India from Egypt. Returning from India to the mouth of the Red Sea required departure from ports there sometime between November and March/April (figure 4–2). If sailing from the Red Sea to East Africa, one left between November and April and returned between May and September. The round-trip voyage to India from the Red Sea was rough and very dangerous, and though the actual sailing time might have been only two to three months or so one way, the entire journey took about a year because of the need to wait for the shift in the monsoons. A round-trip voyage between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean ports on the African coast also entailed (p.36)
Ptolemaic contacts with India were more sporadic and deemed less vital than those with southern Arabia or other areas of the African coast of the Red Sea. Inscriptions found in India indicate that the Mauryan king Aśoka (reigned ca. 265–228 B.C.E.), grandson of Candragupta, first king of that state,31 maintained diplomatic relations with at least five contemporary Hellenistic monarchs, and references to these individuals help date the Indian inscriptions in which they appear.32 In his Thirteenth Rock Edict, Aśoka lists these “western” rulers: Antiochus II (reigned 261–246 B.C.E.), Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia (ruled 276–239 B.C.E.), Magas of Cyrene (reigned ca. 258–250 B.C.E.), and an Alexander. The latter could have been either Alexander of Corinth (reigned 252–244 B.C.E.) or Alexander of Epirus (reigned 272–255 B.C.E.). Pliny the Elder (NH 6.21.58) mentions that a man named Dionysus was Ptolemy II’s ambassador to the Mauryan court, and we later discuss the Seleucid ambassador Megasthenes’ description of elephant gathering in India in his day. Unfortunately, we cannot gauge the nature and frequency of these exchanges or who initiated them.33 Later, in the 130s B.C.E., there were also Ptolemy VIII’s embassies to incense-bearing lands.34
In addition to diplomatic exchanges, there appears to have been limited commercial interaction between the eastern Mediterranean and areas of India in Hellenistic times and between Ptolemaic Egypt and India; a few “Classical Greek,” Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and other coins of western “Hellenistic” date have been found in India, but numismatic evidence suggests that whatever commerce took place between the two areas was neither extensive nor intensive.35 Ptolemaic–“Indian” contacts may have been more diplomatic than commercial in nature, involving gift exchanges between rulers and a rather low level of truly commercial interaction using barter.36 It would be interesting to know more about the types and quantities of products the Indians and the Ptolemies and other “westerners” exchanged or traded with one another in this period. In the fourth century B.C.E. Theophrastus says little specific about western importation of Indian plants or plant products, which suggests that the market for these was not great at that time. It is not clear what the Mediterranean and Near East had to offer the Indians; perhaps the South Asians desired some of the same items in Hellenistic times that they imported in the early Roman period. These are described in the Periplus and by Pliny, and included wines, textiles and fancy Mediterranean red coral, bullion, and a variety of human cargoes, among other items.
If they ever entertained the idea, the Ptolemies were never able to dominate trade between southern Arabia, the Horn of Africa, or beyond on the one hand, and the Mediter-ranean (p.38) basin on the other. Some scholars attribute this to Arab and other middlemen obfuscating the provenances of these commercial products. It was in their interest to keep Egyptian and other “western” trading partners in the dark about the sources of precious goods. If Ptolemaic merchants were to cut out the middlemen and start direct trade relations with the producers, or local Indian merchants, South Arabian harbors stood to lose much of their trade.37 Thus, the sources of incense, cinnamon, and other resins and spices were not disclosed, and the discovery of the trade routes in the late Ptolemaic period is a story involving a successful degree of economic disinformation by middlemen.
Arabia matched on land the long tradition of Egyptian interest in and exploitation of the Red Sea. Parallel to the Red Sea coast, the western regions of the Arabian Peninsula had long-established overland caravan routes.38 Using these tracks, donkeys and, after their domestication somewhere in Arabia probably in the second millennium B.C.E., one-humped camels,39 traveling in caravans, conveyed the wealth of southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa to the eastern Mediterranean. This was primarily frankincense and myrrh—gum resins bled from the trunks of trees cultivated in those regions—plus any cargoes transshipped to southern Arabia from other points in the Indian Ocean. We do not know the sizes of these caravans.40 Smaller ones traveled faster, but might have been more vulnerable to bandits, than the slower-moving but better-protected larger ones. Whatever the caravans’ sizes, those braving these antique trade routes had to overcome adverse weather including sandstorms, intense heat and dearth of food and water, robbers, nomadic raids, and the inevitable payment of protection money to allow unmolested passage.41 These caravan routes continued long after the advent of Islam in the seventh century C.E.42
Pliny the Elder (NH 12.32.64–65) describes a trip of sixty-five stages (likely measured in days) for a caravan to reach Gaza on the Mediterranean coast from southern Arabia, a distance of 1,487.5 Roman miles (2,198.5 km) or an average speed of just under 23 Roman miles (about 34.2 km) per day. This relatively modest pace suggests that this may have been the typical speed of a larger caravan rather than a faster-moving smaller one. By the time a caravan reached Mediterranean ports, Pliny writes (NH 12.32.65), one camel load cost an incredible 688 denarii. A denarius was about one and a half day’s pay for a Roman legionary at that time.43 Pliny does not mention what the original price of this camel load was prior to the start of the journey, nor does he indicate the size of the caravan. The travel time he records may be an average depending upon the number of transport animals and travelers and the kinds of problems encountered by any given caravan. There is little reason to doubt, however, that it was a journey of similar length prior to Pliny’s day. The high costs, great dangers, and long duration of such trips did not dissuade merchants and transporters, suggesting that enormous profits were at hand that, they believed, more than compensated for the risks taken. Nor did the relatively cheaper costs of maritime transport versus overland conveyance induce large numbers to abandon the age-old overland Arabian caravan routes. The sea-lanes had their own liabilities: storms, pirates, dangerous reefs and shoals, and the ever-present perils of shipwreck resulting in death for crews and passengers, and the total loss of huge and expensive cargoes.
India and southern Arabia were not as important to the Ptolemies as was the Red Sea coast of eastern Africa, where ivory and war elephants were the main items sought. Elephants appear in rock art in the Eastern Desert from an unknown, but likely early, date;44 these depictions suggest that these animals were indigenous at that time. Use of ivory, both elephant and hippopotamus, for decorative purposes was an Egyptian practice dating to Pharaonic times.45 Thus, the Ptolemies continued a long tradition. It was only natural, in conjunction with the capture of elephants used in warfare, that the Ptolemies also sought ivory. This trade in ivory, in addition to increased exploitation of gold sources and, to a lesser extent perhaps, amethyst mines of the Eastern Desert, helped to defray expenses entailed in elephant acquisition, transportation, and training.46 Inscriptions from Delos dating to the reign of Ptolemy II record a dramatic drop in the price of ivory reaching markets in the Mediterranean, which suggests that substantial quantities were available at that time.47 Acquisition of ivory on a massive scale and its sale on the open market may have been part of a Ptolemaic policy to help defray the costs of their massive Mediterranean fleet and their elephant “trade” and training program. It reflects relatively intensive Ptolemaic activities in northeastern Africa and suggests that elephant and ivory acquisition was well organized on a large scale by the reign of Philadelphus.
The Ptolemies and Elephants
One weapon all Greek and Macedonian commanders came to know in their wars with the Persians and “Indians” during Alexander’s eastern campaigns was the elephant. Although they had been seen previously,48 Plutarch records (Life of Alexander 60.10) that the Macedonian king feared elephants. Horses of the Macedonian cavalry balked at approaching the pachyderms, put off especially by the smell, but also by the appearance of large numbers of elephants arrayed against them.49 Elephants were present at the Battle at Gaugamela in 331 B.C.E., though we are uncertain whether Darius III actually deployed them.50 By 326 B.C.E. Alexander himself had accumulated about 126 elephants, though he seems never to have used them in battle.51 There is no evidence that he deployed them when fighting Porus at the Battle of the Hydaspes River (Jhelum, a branch of the Indus, in Pakistan) in 326 B.C.E., though Porus did.52
As a result of their experiences, Alexander’s successors soon began incorporating these animals in calculations of their own battlefield tactics.53 Elaborate training procedures for the beasts and the eventual placement of custom-made and custom-fitted crenellated battlements, created of materials that remain unknown to us (probably lightweight yet strong), for troops placed atop the backs of the pachyderms provided soldiers with great moving platforms from which they rained missiles down on their opponents.54 We are not certain when “western” armies first fitted portable castles atop elephants—probably sometime in the 270s B.C.E. during Pyrrhus of Epirus’s war against Roman forces in Italy.55 (p.40) This idea of placing towers or turrets atop the elephants seems to have been a Hellenistic Greek invention rather than an Indian one.56 Plutarch (Life of Pyrrhus 15) says that Pyrrhus’s pachyderm contingent numbered twenty, of which only two made it to shore after a storm had ravaged his invasion fleet.57 It was the first time the Romans laid eyes on the beasts—which, Pliny tells us (NH 8.6.16),theytermed“Lucanian oxen,” since they first saw them in that region of Italy. Pliny has left a fairly lengthy description of elephants in his day (NH 8.1.1–8.13.35).
These elephant-mounted walls plus the intimidating size and power of the beasts promised great tactical advantages to those who possessed and used them effectively against enemy infantry and cavalry or even against other elephants. Controlling the animals in battle proved extremely difficult, however, and Arrian (Anabasis 5.17.5) reports that at the Battle of the Hydaspes River, elephants inflicted as many casualties on “friendly” forces as on Alexander’s when they turned and fled from the mêlée back through Indian ranks.58 Although we possess no detailed accounts of later battles of the Ptolemies and Seleucids, it is likely that friendly forces suffered as much from their own elephants as had the Indians from theirs at the Hydaspes. Such seems to have happened, for example, to the Ptolemaic left flank against the Seleucids at the Battle of Raphia in 217 B.C.E.59 It occurred later to the Romans as well; Appian (Wars in Spain 46) provides a description of the problems of stampeding elephants used by the Romans in battle at Numantia in Spain in the mid second century B.C.E.
Nevertheless, despite the great costs entailed in their capture, training, maintenance, and deployment, and the practical problems of using them in battle, no self-respecting third- or second-century B.C.E. army in the Near East, Asia Minor, Egypt, parts of Greece, Italy, or North Africa was deemed complete without elephants;60 they were the ancient equivalent of armored units. Not all ancient authorities, however, agreed on the utility of elephants in battle. Asclepiodotus, a lesser-known military historian writing in the first century B.C.E., indicates (Tactics 1.3) that elephants were not by nature well adapted for warfare. Since he wrote from a theoretical point of view and had little if any practical battlefield experience, we are not sure how much weight to give to his observations. On the contrary, Julius Africanus (Kestoi 1.18), in the early third century C.E.,61 notes the great shock value of elephants in battle and describes tactics one should use to counter them.62
Representations of both Indian and African elephants alone or outfitted in military garb or in martial settings adorned items including contemporary coinage,63 silver plates, wall paintings, and tomb decorations, and their images also appeared as large sculptures and small statuettes found in many parts of the Mediterranean world, the Near East, and deep into modern Sudan.64 Column capitals sculpted in the form of Asian elephant heads decorated the Great Temple at Petra.65 The phases of construction and use of this structure are not yet securely understood, but current opinion is that the edifice was initially erected in the first century B.C.E., subsequently altered and enlarged perhaps into the second century C.E., and used until abandoned sometime in the third or fourth century C.E.66 (p.41) Clearly, elephantomania had seized much of the ancient Mediterranean world and Near East during the course of the third century B.C.E. and later.
According to Diodorus Siculus (18.33.1–18.36.5), Perdiccas, one of Alexander’s former lieutenants, invaded Egypt in 321 B.C.E. with a force that included elephants. He was defeated by Ptolemy I Soter and ultimately killed by his own troops.67 Ptolemy probably captured some elephants from his deceased opponent. Then, atthe Battle of Gaza in 312 B.C.E., Ptolemy I, joined by Seleucus I, who had been forced to flee his realm, captured forty-three Indian elephants from Demetrius Poliorketes, son of Antigonus Monopthalmos,68 thereby augmenting his elephant units. These Indian elephants would have eventually passed away, as did whatever goodwill that had once existed between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. With the end of somewhat civil relations between the two states sometime early in the third century B.C.E., Ptolemaic access to Indian elephants became a thing of the past.69 Naturally, the Seleucids, who controlled overland access to India, tried to prevent their Ptolemaic adversaries from acquiring the Indian species, and the Ptolemies were, thereby, forced to locate alternate sources. Although they denied their Egyptian adversaries access to Indian pachyderms, that species appears on coins minted by Tarentum in celebration of its alliance with Pyrrhus of Epirus against the Romans.70 Though Pyrrhus was a protégé of the Ptolemy I and perhaps of Philadelphus,71 the depiction of the pachyderms on the Tarentine coins is Indian, perhaps deriving via Egypt if not directly from the Seleucids. Certainly when Pyrrhus launched his war in 280 B.C.E. against the Romans in support of Tarentum, Ptolemaic penetration into those regions of Africa that later produced elephants for their military was either in its infancy or had yet to take place at all. Thus, it may be that those Indian beasts in Pyrrhus’s possession came to him from the Ptolemies but had been initially captured from Demetrius at the Battle of Gaza described earlier.
For the Ptolemies, finding a comparable species with the size, power, and intelligence of an elephant was not an option; they demanded elephants. Strategically outflanking the Seleucids to bring Indian elephants from the subcontinent by sea rather than overland to Egypt, however, was clearly not feasible, or if possible it would have been extremely hazardous, would have resulted in an unacceptably high attrition rate of elephants, ships, and crews, and would certainly have been prohibitively expensive.72 An alternate source had to be found closer to home. Beginning with Ptolemy II Philadelphus or perhaps even as early as the latter part of Ptolemy I Soter’s reign (323–282 B.C.E.), the Ptolemies turned to Africa to obtain elephants.73 The African species captured by the Ptolemies was transported by sea to Egypt, usually to Berenike, and thence marched to the Nile.
Graffiti and pictographs in the Eastern Desert allude to the transdesert conveyance of elephants that landed at Berenike. Depictions of at least two elephants—one painted in red with a human rider, probably a mahout, and the other a graffito of an elephant alone—appear on rock outcrops in a wadi near the Ptolemaic-Roman hilltop fort of Abraq, southwest of Berenike.74 Abraq seems to have straddled at least one road linking Berenike to (p.42)
An inscription, together with a graffito of an elephant, left by Dorion at al-Kanaïs during the reign of Philadelphus, probably in the period 270–264 B.C.E., attests the transport of the beasts from Berenike to Apollonopolis Magna along that desert thoroughfare (figure 4–3).76 Interestingly, however, the pachyderm depicted here is Indian, not African, suggesting that the artist knew that elephants passed by al-Kanaïs but had not actually seen the African variety.77 A Hungarian expedition identified two other elephant graffiti in the vicinity of Bir Menih,78 a site near the Berenike-Koptos road.79 Koptos replaced Apollonopolis Magna as Berenike’s main Nile entrepôt sometime in the early Roman period.80 It is, therefore, odd to find elephant graffiti along this Roman-period route, since the large-scale importation of elephants from Africa via the Red Sea seems to have ended during the late third or second century B.C.E. Perhaps these latter drawings represent prehistoric rather than Ptolemaic elephants,81 since the Ptolemaic and later Roman routes partly followed well-established and long-used desert tracks.
Another inscription, dated 260/259 B.C.E., on a stele erected in conjunction with the opening of a canal linking the Red Sea and the Nile and found in the northeastern Nile Delta at Pithom (Tell al-Maskhuta), near the Greek settlement of Heroonpolis, reports on (p.43) Philadelphus’s elephant-gathering efforts in Africa.82 The elephants displayed in Ptolemy II’s grand procession in Alexandria held at some unknown date, but likely early in his reign,83 may have been a mix of Indian ones, obtained years earlier from the Seleucids, and some of the more recently captured African species.84
An inscription of about 246 B.C.E., at the beginning of the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (246–221 B.C.E.), and originally set up at Adulis on the Red Sea coast but surviving only in a sixth-century copy by Cosmas Indicopleustes (Christian Topography 2.58),85 states that both “Troglodytic” and “Ethiopian” elephants were used in a war in Asia Minor. The text also claims that these animals were first obtained by Euergetes and his father, Ptolemy II; there is no mention of Ptolemy I.86 We do not know whether the designations “Troglodytic” and “Ethiopian” refer only to the geographic locations from which the pachyderms were obtained or whether they indicate different types of elephants that were available.
There was likely a connection between the Ptolemaic search for sources of ivory, of iron for armaments, and of gold from the desert on the one hand and the need to pay to fortify the military with pachyderms on the other. The timing of these events cannot be accidental. While the Ptolemies were moving into regions of the Eastern Desert, they were also busy, from the reign of Ptolemy II on, if not earlier, extending roads into the area, building ports on the Red Sea coast, and also digging a canal joining the Nile to the Red Sea. All of these activities must have been complementary to one another and cannot be viewed in isolation (see chapter 9).
In order to control gold-mining areas, the Ptolemies launched an attack overland via the Nile into Nubia in about 275 B.C.E., which may have led to their domination of important auriferous assets in the Wadis Allaqi and Gabgaba and adjacent regions east and southeast of Syene (Aswan).87 Areas of the Eastern Desert north of Berenike and west of Hurghada preserve numerous remains of Ptolemaic gold-mining operations.88 These were major sources of revenues for the Ptolemaic state and military. This aggressive policy of controlling important areas of Egypt’s Eastern Desert and perhaps northern Sudan may have been one facet of an overall strategy. We have no contemporary or later documents that suggest this strategy, but it would have been a sensible one, since the Ptolemies required gold in orderto subsidize the great expenses entailed in acquiring elephants. Ivory, either a by-product of elephant hunts gone badly, or deliberately harvested in tandem with the capture of live beasts, would also have defrayed expenses entailed in the capture, shipment, training, and maintenance of elephants. Some indigenous peoples—specifically, the Asachae and Trogodytes known as elephantomachoi—hunted elephants for food, and ivory gathering was a by-product of these activities.89 Undoubtedly, some of the ivory that made its way into Ptolemaic hands came from these peoples. It was logical for the Ptolemies to piggyback efforts to import live elephants with the procurement of gold, ivory, precious stones, and iron from the same general region.
Projection of power in the arena that the Ptolemies considered most important—that is, the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean—required a substantial military presence. The (p.44) Ptolemies could not hope to field native troops in numbers comparable to those of the Seleucids due to great differences in the sizes of their respective populations, except, perhaps, by employing mercenaries.90 Thus, they sought to even the playing field if not tip the military balance of power in their favor through naval superiority if not supremacy. Since their Mediterranean and Aegean interests lay in the islands and coastal areas of mainland Asia Minor and the Levant, their emphasis on naval power is understandable. Athenaeus (Deipnosophistai 5.203d), in the late second or early third century C.E., records that Ptolemy II possessed the largest navy in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean, totaling some four thousand vessels, a number of which were huge warships. Although this figure is probably greatly exaggerated, to construct, man, and maintain a naval force even one-quarter of this size must have been an expensive undertaking, one whose cost gold from the Eastern Desert and ivory from farther south would have helped to defray.
The Ptolemies also founded elephant-hunting stations—literary sources suggest over a dozen—the bulk of which lay along the African coast of the Red Sea down to the Bab al-Mandeb (see chapter 2).91 A few of these stations may have lain beyond the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa.92 Evidence suggests that when sources of elephants nearer to Egypt had been depleted, the Ptolemies were forced to go farther afield. If so, it seems that those more southerly stations functioned later in time.
One hypothesis holds that large savanna elephants may have been brought to Egypt occasionally from Kenya and Tanzania.93 These must have been rare and exceptional imports indeed, given their huge sizes and the great distances over which they had to be transported—perhaps sought more for the ivory of their larger tusks than for the animals themselves.
High-ranking officials commanded these elephant-gathering expeditions, which must have been elaborately organized, given the complicated logistics involved and the great importance the Ptolemaic government placed upon the success of these endeavors. Eventually men with the rank of strategos were put in charge,94 which underlines both the importance and military character of these activities. One such strategos, Lichas, son of Pyrrhos from Acarnania in Greece, left a dedication honoring Ptolemy IV Philopator (221–205 B.C.E.), his queen and sister Arsinoë III, and Serapis and Isis. This inscription was found at Apollonopolis Magna, an appropriate location given that this was the Nile terminus for those conveying pachyderms from Berenike after their traumatic voyage from more southerly points on the Red Sea coast.95 One scholar suggests that Ptolemaic elephant hunts in Africa were haphazard under the earlier Ptolemies and were not systematized until the reign of Philopator.96 Yet, this does not appear to have been the case.
Locations of a few of these coastal stations may have been identified in modern times, but certainly none has been excavated. Correcting this oversight would provide important information on the organization of the elephant hunts, something missing in the extant ancient written accounts. Some of these larger Red Sea stations along the coasts of Sudan and Eritrea would also have been havens for ships engaged in other ventures in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, especially trafficking in precious woods and aromatics.
(p.45) Many coastal foundations dealing with Ptolemaic elephant gathering bear Ptolemaic royal family names or those of high officials involved in organizing and conducting the expeditions. The names of these stations included the Harbors of Antiphilos, the Isle of Straton, the Altars of Konon, the Lookout Post of Demetrios, the Grove and Harbor of Eumenes, the Island of Philip, the Hunting Ground of Pythangelos, the Lookout Post of Leon, and a number of Berenikes as well as others.97 Their precise locations are uncertain, though a large one named Ptolemais (Epi)Theron (Ptolemais of the Hunt)98 probably lies south of modern Port Sudan (see chapter 9). We do not know how many other elephant-hunting stations founded by the Ptolemies still operated in Roman times. During the stations’ zenith in the third and perhaps early second centuries B.C.E., hunting parties sent into the hinterland from these enclaves captured the elephants, but probably not without great danger and loss to both themselves and their quarry.
We are not completely certain how Ptolemaic elephant-hunting parties operated, but Megasthenes—an older contemporary of Alexander the Great who served as a governor in the empire and later (between about 302 and 291 B.C.E.) as ambassador from the Seleucids to Candragupta, the first king of the Mauryan state in India99—left descriptions of India that may provide some clues.100 Megasthenes’ accounts in his Indika, now lost, survive in writings of later savants, including Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Arrian. According to Strabo (Geography 15.2.9 cf 16.2.10), Candragupta traded five hundred Indian elephants—undoubtedly an exaggeration101—for territory from his western neighbor Seleucus I.102 Strabo’s account (Geography 15.1.42–43) and Arrian’s (Indika 13.1 to 14.9) preserve descriptions of how Indian elephants were captured and domesticated in Megasthenes’ day. Strabo’s and Arrian’s descriptions of the Indian techniques may have been similar to methods used by the Ptolemies in Africa, but we cannot be certain, because only the briefest fragments survive detailing African methods of elephant capture. Unplaced fragments of ancient texts, possibly from Agatharchides, preserved later most likely in Pliny (NH 8.1.1–8.13.25), suggest that in Africa (presumably North Africa) elephants wandered into pits and were extracted from these.103 Elephants were available at that time from the Atlas Mountains in modern Morocco.104 Ptolemaic elephant-gathering expeditions in East Africa seem to have used an enclosure method similar to that of the Indians, described later in this chapter, but those elephants caught or lured into these traps by Ptolemaic hunters may have been starved until they submitted and could be tamed;105 this was one technique used in India, as we shall see shortly.
The Indian system, recorded by Strabo and Arrian (copying or paraphrasing Megasthenes), involved entrapment of wild male elephants by luring them into a large enclosed area where domesticated female elephants were located. This occurred at night. Or, a mahout riding a tame elephant beat a wild elephant, which was alone or separated from its herd, with an iron whip, thereby forcing it into an enclosure. We should probably view this last account with skepticism, since it is highly unlikely that a feral elephant would allow a human riding a tame beast to approach near enough or remain sufficiently close to allow it to be goaded into an enclosure unless a number of mahouts commanding (p.46) domesticated elephants encircled the target elephant, thereby forcing it into the retaining area. Strabo and Arrian (Megasthenes) continue: Once the feral elephants were inside this large “corral,” the bridge joining it to the outside was removed or blocked and the quarry cornered. Tame elephants then battled the newly corralled feral males, and these were also worn down through food deprivation. A man then dismounted and bound the feet of the object elephants, which were then beaten by the tame ones. Once these fell, men fastened the necks of the wild elephants to those of the tame ones and also inserted thongs into their necks so that through pain and starvation they finally submitted. Strabo is quite clear that the Indians did not want elephants that were too old or too young, but only those mature and large enough, and presumably sufficiently healthy, to be trained for immediate use. Since elephants have life spans similar to those of humans and sometimes longer, the age of captured elephants would have been of some concern. We assume that the Indians captured not only males but also females, as indicated by the fact that females were used as lures for wild males.
Meroitic peoples, in whose territory much Ptolemaic elephant gathering took place, may have employed a similar system, or there may have been several techniques. Ptolemaic officials and hunters sent to acquire the beasts would have consulted, been trained by, or hired indigenous experts, or carefully observed and imitated local acquisition methods. Perhaps in some instances elephants already trained by Meroitic handlers were traded to the Ptolemies106 early on for their immediate deployment, thereby allowing time to train newly captured ones. There is archaeological evidence that Meroitic peoples may have used elephants in battle and that this was known to the Ptolemaic elephant gatherers, who would have sought their advice and assistance.107 In any case, hunters then conveyed recently captured feral elephants to the coast, where they probably underwent some pacification and detraumatizing prior to placement on board specially designed ships called elephantegoi108 (which we discuss later) for the treacherous journey north. Nor can we be certain, in the African scenario, whether mainly male or female elephants were gathered, and whether only adult or also juvenile and infant elephants were collected. If the Ptolemies wanted to establish their own breeding program in Egypt, both male and female elephants would have been captured, perhaps juveniles and infants as well on occasion. If they knew anything about the social relationships elephants have with one another, the Ptolemies would have seen the wisdom of having elephants of both genders and various ages grouped together. This may have made the training process easier.
We can only estimate the numbers of elephants captured during these hunting operations. No figures survive from the few papyri dealing with this issue, but we may glean some idea from accounts of ancient historians who describe battles in which numbers of elephants are listed. For example, Polybius recounts the Battle of Raphia in 217 B.C.E. between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid forces. He says (Histories 5.79.2 and 13) that Ptolemaic forces fielded 73 African elephants against the Seleucids’ 102 larger Indian ones on that occasion.109 In no surviving records are the numbers of elephants recorded in battles excessive—usually in the tens or dozens, exceptionally in the 70s to low 100s. We (p.47) can estimate that at its zenith the Seleucid elephant corps totaled perhaps 150 beasts.110 We assume that the figures cited by the ancient authors reflect only elephants that could be put into the field or were deployed in battle and that they do not include others that, for various reasons, were not used. The elephants the Ptolemies and their opponents actually possessed would have been greater than the number they put into the field on any single occasion. These “unseen” elephants would have included infants in captivity; their lactating mothers; any injured, juvenile, sick, or elderly animals; and others still in training. We cannot know what percentage of the total captive herd (both those in the field and those held back from combat) these animals would have represented, but if they were even as much as half, this would still put total Ptolemaic numbers of elephants at about 150, certainly less than 200.111 These figures, in turn, would have been less than the number of elephants originally obtained, as a result of attrition during their capture, transport, and training. There is no evidence that any ancient “western” armies regularly using elephants could, under any circumstances, field an elephant corps of hundreds of beasts at a time.112 Ancient “western” sources, though they disagree on numbers, indicate that even Porus, when confronting Alexander at the Battle of the Hydaspes, fielded no more than 200 or so elephants,113 and he was from a region where elephants were easily acquired. Appian (Punic Wars 14.95) reports that the Carthaginians had stables that could accommodate up to 300 elephants and places for their fodder; many of these pachyderms were likely obtained from nearby regions of the Atlas Mountains and the Fezzan in modern Libya.114
In connection with discussion of the numbers of elephants the Ptolemies may have possessed, we have some information about the size of one of the elephant-hunting parties, its pay, and the duration of its activities. A papyrus dating from 223 B.C.E., toward the end of the reign of Ptolemy III (246–221 B.C.E.), records that 231 men received a combined salary of 2 talents and 1,860 drachmas forthree months’ work. That averages about 20 drachmas or 4 silver obols per person per day, very good pay for the time.115 Who were these people? Was local talent employed rather than conveying at some cost in time and money individuals from Egypt itself to undertake this highly specialized and dangerous work? Whoever they were, they obtained an advance on this amount for the three-month operation, with the balance paid upon completion of the assignment.116 We cannot be certain why the contract was limited to three months or at what time of year the men undertook their assignment. This may have had to do with the length of time the men needed to finish one job, or it may have coincided with the time of year that the elephants were most easily captured (mating or birthing season?), or perhaps it coincided with some annual elephant migration closer to the coast, or it may have been undertaken during cooler weather or been based on calculating wind patterns and, thus, sailing conditions, in the Red Sea, or a host of these or related factors. The account in this papyrus answers some questions about hunting activities, but it raises several others. Was this the normal or average size of such expeditions, and were the salaries paid and time on the job also typical? How successful were these hunts—viz., on average, how many elephants might they (p.48) expect to capture in one expedition? Alternatively, how many perished? How were the hunting teams organized? Were the men who captured the elephants responsible for harvesting ivory as well? Were the hunting teams also assigned to care for the animals once they had been conveyed to the Red Sea coastal depots, or was this responsibility delegated to others?
Graffiti scratched on statues of Ramses II (reigned 1279–1213 B.C.E.) at his Abu Simbel temple record the names and hometowns of some Ptolemaic-era elephant hunters. These men were not from Egypt or anywhere in Africa, but from Cyprus and, apparently, Asia Minor. Two of them, Ariston and Boutrys, were from Kourion, whereas a third, Krateros son of Leukaros, was likely from Ionia. The men did not date their graffiti, but they likely carved them sometime in the third century B.C.E. during the zenith of Ptolemaic elephant hunting; perhaps the scribblings were left in connection with Ptolemy II’s “Ethiopian” expedition, which passed this way sometime between 280 and 272 B.C.E.117 It is noteworthy that these elephant hunters’ names should appear here when most of the elephant traffic seems to have been via the Red Sea; this indicates that some of the hunters reached areas of elephant habitation overland via the Nile. It also suggests, given their origins, either that little training or talent was needed to hunt the elephants—and we do not know whether these individuals were involved in capturing the beasts or slaying them for their ivory—or that these men had received the training necessary to carry out their tasks; perhaps this was not their first expedition.
In any case, there is no evidence that live elephants were conveyed overland to Egypt; they came via the Red Sea on specially designed ships called elephantegoi. Ships built for conveying certain types of animals were not unusual in the ancient world. Hippagogoi, horse-carrying transport ships, represent one category, and they are mentioned by writers between the fifth century B.C.E. and the second century C.E. and in a fourth-century B.C.E. inscription found at Piraeus.118 Though several ancient accounts report transporting elephants by sea, including the Pithom stele noted earlier119 and Diodorus Siculus (3.40.4), only two surviving ancient written sources mention elephantegoi by name. These rare references to the elephantegos occur solely in the early to middle Ptolemaic period. One is a third-century B.C.E. papyrus, discussed later, and the other is in Agatharchides (5.85).120 It has been calculated that voyages in the elephantegoi lasted at least a week and more often several weeks to a month depending upon factors including location of the hunting stations, their final ports of call in Egypt, sailing conditions, the sizes and experience of the crews, and the sizes and conditions of the ships.121 Ports, stations, and other safe landfalls along the African Red Sea littoral were critical to the administrative tasks and logistical support associated with the elephant hunts. It was undoubtedly at these principal ports that practical basic training and initial maintenance and recuperation of the pachyderms took place after their capture and prior to their shipment north by sea. Red Sea stations situated between ports of embarkation and Egypt likely also supported the transport ships that plodded north with their troublesome cargoes. Elephantegoi likely could not carry sufficient food and water for crews and their charges to make a nonstop (p.49) journey; ships traveling some distance probably landed periodically for resupply and rest, and ports sprinkled along the coast would have performed this critical logistical task. Alternatively, but less likely, large transport ships loaded with stores of food and water may have occasionally accompanied the elephantegoi, provisioning them as needed, thereby obviating the need to land frequently. Such transfer, at sea, from one ship to another, of heavy containers of fresh water and food, if it took place at all, would have required great skill and must have been a rare occurrence. One papyrus mentions a large grain ship headed south from Arsinoë/Cleopatris/Clysma;122 perhaps one of its functions was to accompany and supply one or more elephantegoi sailing back north.
We have no surviving ancient descriptions of the size or appearance of an elephantegos. Yet, we must assume that each vessel was specially designed and built for the purpose at hand, was quite large, and was probably especially wide, to provide added stability in consideration of the size and shifting heavy weight of the cargo; the vessel was undoubtedly fairly awkward in appearance. There may have been several different classes of elephantegoi depending upon the number of elephants destined for transport and the travel time and distance of each journey. Perhaps the sizes of these ships increased over time as their ports of departure lay farther south and the journey north to ports in Egypt became longer. To make such long voyages more cost-effective, ever-larger vessels may have been built to carry more elephants and/or more supplies to minimize the number of intermediate revictualing stops that would be required. Each elephantegos would probably have conveyed at least several pachyderms if not more to make such journeys worth the cost and effort. One highly speculative modern account holds that such ships carried ten elephants and enough food and water to remain at sea for ten days without putting into port.123 It would also be important to learn where the Ptolemies obtained their knowledge for the design of these vessels and the methods and materials used in their construction. Ptolemaic shipwrights understood how to design and build massive warships for use in the Mediterranean,124 and they may have used these large battleships as models for constructing elephantegoi. Alternatively, they may have built modified hippagagoi to meet the special needs for conveying elephants.125 Was the design one their own marine architects evolved after much trial and error or modification of ship designs known to them, or did the Ptolemies borrow the design from other peoples and modify it for their own requirements? If the Ptolemies’ elephantegoi were copied from foreign prototypes, or perhaps initially built by natives living along the coasts associated with the elephants’ capture and shipment, the question arises of why indigenous peoples such as the Meroitic would have needed vessels like these in the first place. The location, identification, and excavation of an elephantegos would likely answer some of these questions.
For an added degree of safety, elephantegoi may have occasionally traveled in groups, though this is uncertain; nor can we estimate how large such convoys might have been. We can imagine the scene when these ships arrived at Berenike with their terrified and seasick charges and exhausted crews. How and where in the port were they unloaded, and where in the city were the elephants kept until healthy enough to begin their journey (p.50) across the desert to the Nile? We can only speculate—as we do later on in this chapter—though we hope that future excavations might answer these questions with more precision. The discovery of an elephant tooth in Berenike’s Ptolemaic “industrial” area and finds of ivory from parts of the Roman-era city indicate that live beasts and their tusks traveled through the port, undoubtedly brought by ship from the more southerly reaches oftheRedSea.126
A mosaic pavement in the early fourth century C.E. villa at Piazza Armerina127 preserves depictions of an elephant and a bull being coaxed onto a ship for transport, presumably from Alexandria, most likely to Ostia.128 There are images of other animals being loaded onto another vessel, perhaps at Carthage, and also destined for Ostia.129 Other scenes show the disembarkation of animals including a tiger and an ostrich at a port, presumably Ostia.130 These creatures were destined for spectacles or destruction in combats between animals of different species or between animals and men (bestiarii) held in amphitheaters throughout the empire. The appearance of at least one other animal species being boarded on the same ship as the elephant does not indicate a vessel design specifically for elephants, nor are any elephantegoi known from ancient writers to have plied the Mediterranean in the Roman era, but this may be the closest surviving depiction we have, in lieu of an excavated specimen, of what an elephantegos in the Red Sea might have looked like.
There is another possible depiction of an elephantegos carved as a graffito on a block recycled into the Islamic Bab al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest) in Cairo. It is impossible to date this graffito or determine the provenance of the block on which it is inscribed. It may show an elephantegos on the Red Sea. Alternatively, it might represent a Nile ship transporting an elephant or a ship leaving Alexandria with an elephant.131
A third possible representation appears on a mosaic in a late first-century C.E. Roman villa at Veii. The mosaic depicts an elephant on a gangplank, with men on board the ship and on the dock pulling at ropes attached to the beast in an attempt to get him on board the vessel.132 In the case of the Roman mosaics from Piazza Armerina and Veii, the ships onto which the elephants are being loaded may be only large transports, for there is no record of an elephantegos from the Roman era. We have no way to establish a Ptolemaic date for the Cairo graffito. So, again, we cannot be certain that the ship depicted was an elephantegos. Nevertheless, these visual survivals suggest the possible appearance of an elephantegos.
Most ancient written evidence indicates that elephants were offloaded at Berenike, and there is papyrological evidence that elephantegoi were outfitted at Heroonpolis in 224 B.C.E.—and likely at Berenike as well—about the time when archaeological evidence indicates that the Ptolemaic industrial area at Berenike was active.133 Thus, measurements of harbor facilities at Berenike (see chapter 10) may provide some idea of the dimensions of many ships that berthed here.
The size, awkward dimensions, and deep draft of elephantegoi, as well as their direction of voyage against strong prevailing north winds in the Red Sea, meant that rowing one of these vessels was out of the question. Diodorus Siculus (3.40.4–8) reports on the (p.51) ships, noting that they were powered by sails. We might speculate, though we have no evidence, that elephantegoi had multiple rudders due to their large dimensions and as insurance in case one broke—supplemented, perhaps on occasion, with oars that could be used in emergencies to keep the ships away from reefs. Because they likely had drafts greater than those of typical merchant or cargo ships or of any galley, they would probably have traveled some distance offshore to avoid shallow waters with their sandbars and dangerous reefs.134 Yet, tacking these unwieldy ships against strong prevailing north winds must have been a daunting task. Diodorus Siculus (3.40.4–8) reports that many elephantegoi were wrecked. Their skeletal hulks were deliberately left dotting islands and shorelines as cenotaphs for their crews and warnings to others passing nearby of omnipresent dangerous sailing conditions. We do not know what percentage of the ships were sunk, how many crews were lost, or how many animals may have died in transit, but every effort must have been expended to keep the elephants alive and as healthy as possible.
Once the ships’ live cargoes landed at Berenike or, perhaps occasionally, at some other, more northerly Egyptian Red Sea port, the elephants were undoubtedly allowed a recovery period prior to being marched overland to Apollonopolis Magna. The Pithom stele reports that on at least one occasion during Philadelphus’s reign elephants went via the “Eastern Canal” linking the Red Sea to the Nile.135 This may have been a onetime public-relations stunt. Aside from this passing reference, however, there is no evidence that elephants were transported on a regular basis as far north as Arsinoë/Cleopatris/Clysma for subsequent conveyance by barge along a canal linking that Red Sea port to points along the Nile.136 The strong prevailing north winds in the Red Sea would have deterred such efforts. Transport ships sailed south from Egypt; one is specifically mentioned carrying grain,137 and undoubtedly such ships carried other merchandise that was traded or sold to residents of the elephant-hunting stations or peoples living in the hinterlands of those entrepôts. Sailing as far north as Arsinoë/Cleopatris/Clysma with elephants when more southerly ports were available must have been very rare indeed. One station on the Myos Hormos-Koptos road bears the name Simiou, which may derive from Simmias, who Diodorus (3.18.4) mentions was one of the commanders Ptolemy III sent to secure elephants.138 This suggests that Simmias passed by here, though we cannot be certain of this or of whether, if he did travel this direction, he was en route to his assignment farther south or on the way back with some elephants. In any case, Berenike was clearly the preferred landfall, although on occasion elephants might be disembarked at more northerly ports for a host of practical or other reasons.
We have an account of an elephantegos that was shipwrecked—fortunately, as it returned south, and thus had no elephants on board—in 224 B.C.E.; the papyrus recording the event reports that help was on the way as soon as another elephantegos could be outfitted at Berenike.139 Communication between the crew of the wrecked elephantegos and officials at some port in Egypt, most likely Berenike, suggests that at least one other ship had accompanied the stricken vessel during its voyage and that the emergency signal to (p.52) officials in Egypt and their reply to it had been conveyed in this manner. This may suggest, in this instance, that elephantegoi traveled in convoy with at least one other ship. In addition to the possibility of these ships sailing north in groups with their charges to ports in Egypt, they were probably guarded, perhaps not on a regular basis but only as needed or deemed necessary, by Ptolemaic naval forces or came in convoy with such vessels as a safety precaution as the opportunity arose. There were a number of Red Sea ports bearing the sobriquet Berenike, so we cannot be certain that our emporium is the one referred to in the letter. That the papyrus in which this mention appears was found in Egypt in the Fayum, however, strongly suggests that our Berenike was indeed the port from which help was to be sent.
Given that the Ptolemaic court had a direct and vested interest in elephant and ivory acquisition and that most of the live animals and their by-products would have reached Egypt by sea, the former aboard elephantegoi, we must assume that these transport vessels were part of the logistical side of the Ptolemaic navy in the Red Sea.140 We have no idea how sizable the Red Sea fleet was, since the bulk of Ptolemaic military effort was concentrated against better-organized and more dangerous foes in the eastern Mediterranean. The Egyptians had a naval presence in the Red Sea since Pharaonic times, and this seems to have grown with the advent of the Ptolemies in proportion to their increased presence and interest in the Eastern Desert and the Red Sea.
An inactive (adult) elephant, such as would have been on board a ship, consumes an average of 45.5 kg of hay, supplemented with vegetables and oats, per day, whereas an active feral African elephant may consume 136.5–227.5 kg of vegetation and spend up to sixteen hours a day obtaining it. An elephant can drink up to two hundred liters of water per day,141 whereas if it is inactive, and in a relatively cool environment, it would probably drink far less. We must assume that although inactive, the elephants would have been quite stressed while aboard the transport ships, and this would have greatly affected these rates of consumption and the overall state of their health. Thus, providing even the most minimal provisioning for the animals, their caretakers, and ships’ crews—plus adding the dangers, stress, and exhaustion of sailing on the Red Sea—probably dictated that an elephantegos had to put into shore at least once every few days. An important question then becomes whether the elephants were periodically taken off at these intermediate stops to eat, drink, or otherwise recover somewhat from the voyages before continuing on. Numerous resupply points along the coast would, then, have been necessary. Some of these may have been only temporary stations established during the peak of each elephant-gathering season, which for practical purposes would have been mainly in the cooler winter months, though elephant acquisition at other times of the year might also have taken place depending upon locations of the herds, their breeding cycles, and other considerations. Prevailing wind patterns south of 18°–20° north latitude in the Red Sea blow from the south between October and May,142 and sailors would have been wise to take advantage of these whenever possible. Perhaps it was at those times that most elephantegoi voyaged north to Berenike. The names of these transitory waypoints are lost; others were (p.53) elephant-marshaling yards or served other trade-related purposes and would have been the larger, more permanent settlements the names of which we noted above. None of these stations, with the possible exception of Ptolemais (Epi)Theron, has been positively identified on the ground, so their sizes and plans, and the degree of effort expended in creating and maintaining them, remain unknown.
African elephants could be trained for military duties, though there seems to be no specification in the ancient sources that the African variety was more difficult to discipline than its Asian counterpart. Of the two major species of elephants in Africa—the larger bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the smaller forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis, now extinct in East Africa though present elsewhere on the continent)—it seems that the object of the Ptolemaic hunters was the forest elephant.143 This species is generally smaller than both the African bush elephant and its Indian cousin, which caused some problems when they met their larger Seleucid counterparts in battle.144 The forest elephant is, however, easier to train than the bush variety.145 Whether the “Troglodytic” and “Ethiopian” elephants mentioned earlier in this chapter in the inscription of Ptolemy III/ Cosmas Indicopleustes were both types of forest pachyderms is uncertain. Although their use in battle continued, there is little indication that the Ptolemies imported elephants from the Red Sea region after the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopator (221–205 B.C.E.) orpos-sibly as late as Ptolemy VI Philometor (180–145 B.C.E.).146 This may have been due either to the presence of adequate numbers imported into Egypt and the establishment of a successful breeding program there and later or, certainly by the late third or second century B.C.E., to the realization that elephants as military tools cost more than whatever real or perceived advantages they might bring to those deploying them. There is also the possibility that the Seleucids may have been cut off from their sources of Indian elephants by the rise of the Parthian state, with its heartland in Iran, atthe end of the third century B.C.E. If so, lack of elephants among their rivals due to inaccessibility of traditional Indian sources of supply and failure of any domestic breeding program they may have instituted, and the reduced military threat that the Seleucids then posed, may have convinced the Ptolemies to abandon their own elephant-gathering and -training project.147 Thus, whatever attempt the Ptolemies made to establish an elephant-breeding program in Egypt was closed down. In any case, we cannot be certain of the success of this endeavor if, indeed, it was ever seriously and consistently implemented.
Romans and Elephants
Fascination with and curiosity about elephants continued into the Roman period.148 Though they first saw these animals during the war with Pyrrhus in the early third century B.C.E., the Romans first captured large numbers of the beasts, 140 or 142 according to Pliny (NH 8.6.16), from the Carthaginians during the First Punic War in Sicily in 252 B.C.E. The Romans themselves deployed elephants, captured from the Carthaginians during the war with Hannibal in North Africa, in small numbers in the second (p.54) century B.C.E. in battles against the Macedonian king Philip Vat Cynoscephalae in 197 B.C.E. and again against his son and successor, Perseus, at Pydna in 168 B.C.E.149 They also used them on a limited scale (ten beasts total) in the mid second century B.C.E. in Spain, at the siege of Numantia.150 Dio Cassius (39.38.2–4) reports the importation of eighteen elephants from Africa to celebrate the inauguration of the Theater of Pompey in 55 B.C.E. Since Ostia at this time probably could not have accommodated any large ship or ships transporting the animals, these likely landed at Puteoli; then they either were loaded onto more numerous and smaller vessels that could land at Ostia or, alternatively, were marched overland from Puteoli to Rome.151 Julius Caesar’s civil-war opponents fielded sixty pachyderms in 46 B.C.E. at the Battle of Thapsus.152
Julius Caesar himself or Augustus may have established an elephant-breeding program located somewhere in Italy, probably south of Rome, which persisted at least into the reign of Claudius (41–54 C.E.).153 At that time, late in the first century B.C.E. and subsequently, successive emperors put elephants on display in various venues as curious beasts of incredible strength and, depending upon their training, great ferocity or docility, as well as of considerable intelligence.154 Their previous important role in the military had, however, faded to near insignificance, though it had not disappeared completely, by the peak of the Roman Empire in the later first and second centuries C.E.
Ammianus Marcellinus (25.6.1–4) records that Romans faced elephants deployed in battle by their Sassanian adversaries in 363 C.E. It is evident from Ammianus’s brief description that the Romans were so unaccustomed to elephants by that time that both their infantry and cavalry were initially thrown into some confusion by their appearance before eventually rallying to win the battle. Several writers in the sixth and seventh centuries C.E., especially Procopius and Theophylactus, report that the Sassanians continued to use elephants in battle, though apparently in small numbers, against their late Roman/Byzantine opponents.155 There is little indication of their effectiveness in these engagements. Cosmas Indicopleustes (Christian Topography 11.20)156 relates how the Indian king Gollas took with him to war at least two thousand elephants. Given all we have said above about elephants in battle, this number seems greatly exaggerated.
(1.) Fraser (1972a): 175; Ogden (2000): 161–168; Aston et al. (2000): 15 (table 2.2), 50–52; Lucas and Harris (1989): 388–389. Meredith (1957b) and Bernand (1977): 136–140 (nos. 59–62) for Ptolemaic inscriptions at Abu Diyeiba; Harrell and Sidebotham (2004); Harrell et al. (2006); Mueller (2006b): 47–49, 151–157.
(4.) Edgar (1931): 7 [P. Cairo Zen. 4.59536 dated to 261 B.C.E. (year 25), written before Zeno went to Palestine and refers to “Minaean frankincense”]; cf PSI 6 628 and Edgar (1925): 16–17 [P. Cairo Zen. 1.59009]; Hoyland (2001): 41; Orrieux (1983): 42; Pestman (1981a): 153, 172, 200.
(13.) Personal communication from S. M. Burstein.
(16.) Kitchen (1993): 603–605; Phillips (1997b): 423–425; Fattovich (1999): 637; Nibbi (1981): 99–150; Shaw (2000): 322, 324; Meeks (2003); Harvey (2003); Sayed (2003); Kitchen (2004); Kitchen (2005): 11–12, 13.
(23.) OGIS 132.
(30.) Bernand (1969): 306–311, no. 352; 311–314, no. 353; 319–321, no.356; Mooren (1972): 127, 132; Otto and Bengtson (1938): 1–22; Fraser (1972a): 182; Thomas (1975): 121–122. SB 2264 and 8036 for this official.
(32.) Sircar (1957): 51–55, especially 54; Benveniste (1964); Das (2006): 98–153 (and 130–133 for Mauryan-Ptolemaic trade): does not take into account recent excavations; Thapar (1997a): 303–305: Mauryan chronology is subject to debate.
(35.) Fraser (1972a): 141; Hultzsch (1904): 403; Rostovtzeff (1986): 1248; Raschke (1979): 69 and notes 10–11; Thiel (1967): 53–55; Krishnamurthy (2000): 1–56 for “Classical Greek,” Seleucid and other western “Hellenistic” coins found in India; Karttunen (1995): 90.
(38.) Crone (1987): 3–50; Kitchen (2001); Potts (1988): 127–162; Beeston (2005): 53, 54 (fig. 2), 56, 59; Groom (1981): 165–213; Salles (1988); Saud et al. (1996); De Maigret (1997); MacDonald (1997); Jasmin (2005); De Maigret (2004).
(39.) The date of the earliest domestication of the camel in Arabia is debated: Bulliet (1975); Rice (1983): 92–93 and note 167; Ripinsky (1975); Ripinsky (1983); Zeuner (1963): 341–343; Retsö (1991); Saud et al. (1996).
(41.) Pliny the Elder, NH 12.32.64. NH 12.32.65 refers to exorbitant costs of overland caravan transport.
(44.) Winkler (1938): 4 (site 6), 5 (site 8a), 5 (site 12), 6 (site 15), 6 (site 16), 6 (site 17), 6 (site 18), 6 (site 18a), 7 (site 24H), 8 (site 25a), 8 (site 26), 8 (site 27), 9 (site 38), plate XIV (1), plate XX (1) = (in detail) plate XXI (2), plate XXVII (2–3); Redford and Redford (1989): 5, 13–14 (fig. 12), 14–15 (figs. 13–14), 28–29 (figs. 44–45); Rohl (2000): 17 (no. 1), 27 (no. 3), possibly 30 (no. 7, fig. 6), possibly 49 (no. 3), 51 (no. 5), 58 (no. 9, fig. 4), 58 (no. 2), 62–63 (no. 11, fig. 9), 74 (no. 5, fig. 4), 105 (no. 19), possibly 107 (no. 3, fig. 3), 111 (no. 2), 127 (no. 3, fig. 3 on p. 126), 129 (no. 6, fig. 4), 129 (no. 10), 143 (no. 8, fig. 4 on p. 142), 143 (no. 10, fig. 6), 148 (no. 11, fig. 7); Fuchs (1989): 130.
(48.) Reinach (1892); Wellmann (1905); Scullard (1974): 64–65; For Indian views see Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra 2.31.1–2.32.22 (on care and training of elephants), 10.4.14 and 10.5.54 (use of elephants in battle) [ = Kangle (1986a): 174–179, 444, 449].
(58.) Pliny the Elder (NH 8.9.27) also makes this claim in general. Diodorus Siculus (17.88.3) and Quintus Curtius Rufus (8.14.30) say that Porus’s elephants trampled both friend and foe.
(60.) Carthage, Pyrrhus of Epirus, and Juba of Mauretania.
(64.) Scullard (1974): plates VIIa–b, VIIIa–b, IXa–b and Xa–b; Venit (2002): 175–179 (especially 178, fig. 155) for tomb paintings of African fauna, including an elephant from tombs at Marisa (Idumaea) dating from the third to the first century B.C.E.
(76.) Bernand (1972b): 44–46 (no. 9bis) and pl. 54.41–42; Sidebotham and Zitterkopf (1995): 49 (fig. 17); Keenan et al. (2000a): atlas sheet 80 and Keenan et al. (2000b): 1173 for location of al-Kanaīs.
(77.) Personal communication from S. M. Burstein.
(78.) Personal communication from Gábor Lassányi; Luft (200 6) believes that at least one of the elephant pictographs here is early Neolithic in date.
(81.) Winkler (1938): 4 (site 6), 5 (site 8a), 5 (site 12), 6 (site 15), 6 (site 16), 6 (site 17), 6 (site 18), 6 (site 18a), 7 (site 24H), 8 (site 25a), 8 (site 26), 8 (site 27), 9 (site 38), plate XIV (1), plateXX (1) = (in detail) plate XXI (2), plate XXVII (2–3); Červíček (1974): 171–172, Abb. (p.294) 29–30, Abb. 70, Abb. 109, Abb. 110(?), Abb. 132(?), Abb. 134(?), Abb. 229, Abb. 252(?), Abb. 253, Abb. 282(?), Abb. 466(?), Abb. 505; Redford and Redford (1989): 5, 13–14 (fig. 12), 14–15 (figs. 13–14), 28–29 (figs. 44–45); Rohl (2000): 17 (no.1), 27 (no.3), possibly 30 (no.7, fig. 6), possibly 49 (no.3), 51 (no.5), 58 (no.9, fig. 4), 58 (no.2), 62–63 (no.11, fig. 9), 74 (no.5, fig. 4), 105 (no.19), possibly 107 (no.3, fig. 3), 111 (no.2), 127 (no.3, fig. 3 on p.126), 129 (no.6, fig. 4), 129 (no.10), 143 (no.8, fig. 4 on p. 142), 143 (no.10, fig. 6), 148 (no.11, fig. 7).
(91.) Scullard (1974): 120–145 for Ptolemies and Seleucids; 146–147 for Carthage; Casson (1993b); Desanges et al. (1993); Mueller (2006b): 154–155; Bengston (1955) for Ptolemaic elephant hunting in Jewish literature, especially the Maccabees.
(93.) Personal communication from M. Horton.
(109.) Pliny the Elder, NH 8.9.27, for sizes of African and Indian pachyderms.
(113.) Arrian 5.15.4 records the greatest number of any surviving ancient account at just over 200; Diodorus Siculus (17.87.2) reports 130; Quintus Curtius Rufus (8.13.6) says 85; Polyaenus (Stratagems of War 4.3.22) does not specify the number of elephants.
(118.) Herodotus (6.48 and 6.95), Thucydides (2.56.1 and4.42.1), Aristophanes (Knights line 599), Livy (44.28.7); Pliny the Elder (NH 7.56.209); Aulus Gellius (Attic Nights 10.25.5); Arrian (Anabasis 2.19.1); fourth-century B.C. inscription [in Kirchner (1927): 231–234, inscription no. 1623, line 14]; Casson (1986b): 93–94; Morrison, Coates and Rankov (2000): 227–228 and 230; Guasti (2007): 143.
(125.) Personal communication from L. Casson.
(131.) J. E. M. F. Bos and H. Planjer: unpublished ms. “An Elephant Carrier in Cairo?”
(146.) Rostovtzeff (1908): 304; Hofmann (1975): 104–111; Hölbl (2001): 56; Van’t Dack and Hauben (1978): 64 and note 38; for Ptolemy IV see Yoyotte and Charvet (1997): 253 (Aa, no. 77) = Bernand (1977): 193–198 (no. 77); Burstein (1989): 10–11.
(153.) Toynbee (1973): 37; Meiggs (1982): 330; Juvenal, Satires 12.102–104 and Aelian, On the Characteristics of Animals 2.11; ILS 1578 [ = Dessau (1892): 338] tombstone of Tiberius Claudius Speclatorus, procurator of elephants at Laurentum.
(154.) Jennison (1937): 65; Pliny the Elder, NH 8.1.1–8.13.35; Aelian, On the Characteristics of Animals 2.11; two reliefs of African elephants dated ca. 79–96 C.E. in the Getty Museum (accession numbers 71.AA.463.1 and 71.AA.463.2).