War pig

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War pigs are pigs reported to have been used in ancient warfare as military animals, mostly as a countermeasure against war elephants.

In the 1st century BCE, the Roman author Lucretius[1] noted that humans may have attempted to launch wild beasts, such as lions or "savage boars", against the enemy, but with catastrophic results. In 272 BCE, it was recorded that the Romans used wild boars in their fight against the war elephants of the Tarantines.[2] According to a legend recounted in the "Alexander Romance" by Pseudo-Callisthenes,[3] the Macedonian Emperor Alexander the Great learned about this "secret weapon" against war elephants from King Porus in India.[4]

The Roman naval and army commander Pliny the Elder reported that "elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of the hog".[5] Roman author and teacher Aelian[6] confirmed that elephants were frightened by squealing pigs and rams with horns, and reported that the Romans exploited both squealing pigs and horned rams to repel the war elephants of Pyrrhus in 275 BCE. Byzantine Greek scholar Procopius, in History of the Wars,[7] recorded that the defenders of Edessa suspended a squealing pig from the walls to frighten away Khosrau's single siege elephant in the 6th century CE.[8]

Historical accounts of incendiary pigs or flaming pigs were recorded by the Greek military writer Polyaenus[9] and by Aelian.[10] Both writers reported that Antigonus II Gonatas' siege of Megara in 266 BCE was broken when the Megarians doused some pigs with combustible pitch, crude oil or resin, set them alight, and drove them towards the enemy's massed war elephants. The elephants bolted in terror from the flaming, squealing pigs, often killing great numbers of their own soldiers by trampling them to death.[11][12] According to an account, Gonatas later made his mahouts keep a swine among elephants to accustom the animals to pigs and this practice was immortalized by a Roman bronze coin dating back to his time, which showed an elephant on one side and a pig on the other.[13]

As late as the 16th century, the supposed terror of the elephant for the squealing pig was reported by the English politician Reginald Scot.[14]


  1. ^ Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1298–1349
  2. ^ Alves, Romulo; Albuquerque, Ulysses (2017). Ethnozoology: Animals in Our Lives. London: Academic Press. p. 329. ISBN 9780128099131.
  3. ^ Pseudo-Callisthenes, "Letter to Aristotle" 12
  4. ^ Mayor 2005; Kistler 2007
  5. ^ Pliny the Elder, "Natural History" 8.9.27
  6. ^ Aelian, "On Animals" 1.38
  7. ^ Procopius, "History of the Wars" 8.14.30–43
  8. ^ Nossov, Konstantin (2012). War Elephants. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 9781846038037.
  9. ^ Polyaenus, "Stratagems" 4.6.3
  10. ^ Aelian, "On Animals" 16.36
  11. ^ Harden, A. (2013). Animals in the Classical World: Ethical Perspectives from Greek and Roman Texts. Springer. p. 139. ISBN 9781137319319.
  12. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2014). "Chapter 17: Animals in Warfare". In Campbell, Gordon Lindsay (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life. Oxford University Press. pp. 292–293. ISBN 9780191035159.
  13. ^ Kistler, John (2007). War Elephants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 90. ISBN 9780803260047.
  14. ^ Petersson, R. T. (1956). Sir Kenelm Digby. Harvard University Press.


  • Kistler, J. (2005, 2007). War Elephants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Mayor, A. (2005, 2009). Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. NY: Overlook/Duckworth.