Khmer War Elephants

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Khmerian war elephant in action. The crew consists of two men – or maybe the driver was deemed too insignificant to be depicted. It is hard to tell which of the two riders is of higher rank: the one with a javelin and shield on the elephant’s neck or the archer in the howdah. In Southeast Asia noble warriors traditionally fought sitting in front, and his rich armour and helmet also probably speak in favour of the first warrior. (Relief carvings, Angkor Thom, Cambodia, late 12th-early 13th centuries, after D. Nicolle)

Khmer elephants are depicted with a driver, armed with spear and shield, and a single archer or sometimes spearman. Those ridden by generals (identified by being shown enlarged) are accompanied by one or more parasol carriers on foot. Neither these nor elephants being shown in the background of infantry combats, Cham elephants are all crewed by a driver, a javelin-thrower, and a parasol bearer at the rear.

The artillery was Chinese-type “double crossbows” man-handled on wheels or mounted (or possibly only transported) on elephants Khmer troops in Cambodia placed double-bow crossbows on elephants. Several surviving images of the late 12th through to early 13th centuries show that it was not an experimental device. The idea of multiple crossbows was undoubtedly borrowed from China, where similar powerful installations comprising two to three bows were common at the siege and defence of fortresses. Nevertheless, only the Khmers put these crossbows on elephants’ backs.

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2 thoughts on “Khmer War Elephants

  1. Pingback: The Khmer Empire | Weapons and Warfare

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