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    Elephants At War

    SELEUCID KINGDOM. Seleucus I Nicator (312-281 BC). AR tetradrachm (26mm, 17.11 gm, 10h). Seleuceia on Tigris, ca. 296/5-281 BC. Laureate head of Zeus right / BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΣEΛEYKOY, Athena right, brandishing spear, in car of quadriga pulled by four horned elephants to right,  B to upper left; to upper right, anchor above ΔI. SC 130.1b. ESM 29 (A31/P98). A truly splendid example of this evocative type, deeply struck, lightly toned and displaying considerable luster in fields. NGC AU? 5/5 - 4/5.

    Combat elephants, the "tanks" of ancient warfare, were introduced to the Hellenistic world by the northern Indian king Porus at the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC. Although the Macedonians won the battle, the gigantic Indian elephants, carrying fighting towers manned by spearmen and bowmen, made an enormous impression on the Greeks, and pachyderms became an important element in the armies Alexander's successors. Seleucus I Nicator gained an advantage in this ancient arms race by concluding a treaty with the northern Indian ruler Chandragupta, but which he secured 500 trained war elephants for the Seleucid army. The treaty is celebrated on this impressive series of tetradrachms, which depicts a militant Athena be pulled by four elephants equipped with horned headdresses. As awe-inspiring as these animals must have been, their actual performance in battle was frequently underwhelming.


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    January, 2016
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