Thread: Elephant swords
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Old 4th December 2018, 01:01 AM   #21
Jim McDougall
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This is a most interesting and arcane topic, and I checked the articles in Royal Armouries Yearbooks:
"The Elephant Armour" by Thom Richardson & Donna Stevens, Vol.1, 1996
and,
" The Elephant Tusk Swords" Thom Richardson, Vol. 4, 1997

According to these sources, examples of tusk swords are extremely rare, with the only examples are the pair in the Royal Armouries (XXVIM.40) which are from Powis Castle and deemed 16th century. It is not known what provenance these are from, but according to Robert Elgood, he believes they are Hindu.

The other pair, from the now dispersed Mysore arsenal of Maharajah Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (1794-1868) are obviously later and with weak construction clearly intended for ceremonial use.
While this pair is Mughal, it is suggested in the text that Mughal use in combat is unlikely, explaining (1997, p.133) that ,

"....athough there are numerous records of the use of tusk swords in the literature, there seem to ge no contemporary illustrations of them. This may be linked to the lack of reference to tusk swords for elephants in the detailed listing of all types of elephant equipment in the Ain i Akbari of Abu'l Fazi. Possibly they had ceased to be used by the 16th century. If this is so, of course the tusk swords belong to an earlier period when very few illustrations of war elephants survive".


It is curious what the various records of tusk sword use are, and whether they are from Hindu sources or other. As noted, the comprehensive illustrated Mughal guide Ain I Akbari does not include these, which seems significant.


Also, it seems curious that the tusks of the elephant are naturally deadly without the augmentation of sword blades. In the material I have referenced, apparently Pant notes something called 'tusk protectors' which are blunt coverings for the ends of the tusks. The 'tusk swords' shown in this discussion seem to be for 'blunted tusks' as noted as they could not be mounted on a full length and pointed tusk. Perhaps these are a kind of cover for tusks which have been rendered 'safe' in such manner?


I am wondering, with the noted volatility and power of the elephant if they could be effectively controlled in combat situations, and my understanding of the ankus used by the mahout was not only for prodding but 'ending' the animal if it became out of control. It has been noted it seems that these animals could be as deadly to the forces using them as to the enemy.

If contemporary references note the use of tusk swords, then of course they may have been used. However there does not seem to be nearly the support for these mentions that typically remain for the armour used on elephants nor existing examples in number of these tusk swords.


I am unsure of the example shown here from the Met, and would like to know more on its provenance etc. as it seems to be out of range of the authors of these articles which cite only the two extant examples.
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