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Elephants in Mongol History: From Military Obstacles to Symbols of Buddhist Power

  • William G. Clarence-SmithEmail author
Chapter
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series book series (PMAES)

Abstract

Mongols lacked any experience of elephants in their homeland, and their encounters with the great beasts in the course of building their empire have been interpreted in different ways. Some scholars contend that the Mongols quickly got over their initial shocked surprise, and devised efficient tactics for dealing with troops mounted on elephants. Other scholars suggest that the Mongols found it impossible to conquer peoples who employed elephants for war permanently at a time when rudimentary firearms did not yet give a sufficient advantage to horses over elephants. This fact may have contributed to the puzzling Mongol inability to subdue Mainland Southeast Asia, or to make substantial long-term conquests in India. However, converted Mongol rulers of successor khanates slowly came to embrace aspects of elephant culture. The Muslim Ilkhanate revived an old Persian interest in the animals, while Timur employed captured elephants for war. Qubilai Khan collected tribute elephants at court for purposes of show, and deployed them a little in minor campaigns. Finally, and as the eastern Mongols converted to Buddhism, they further came to appreciate the symbolic value of the beasts in this religious tradition.

Keywords

Elephants Mongol history India Timur Persion Qubilai Khan Buddhism 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SOAS University of LondonLondonUK

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