Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian general considered among the greatest military strategists in history, famously crossed the Alps in the third century B.C., bringing with his armies a number of war elephants to intimidate his Roman opponents. What soldier after all would even consider standing his ground against a giant, charging, tusked war beast?
Hannibal's use of war elephants was bold, but not completely original. The history of war elephants starts a century before Hannibal's armies entered the Iberian peninsula. The forces of Alexander the Great faced off against the military of Darius III, who had 15 elephants in his service, at the Battle of Gaugamela. The Persians borrowed the idea from the Indian armies to the east.
Although Alexander was triumphant in battle, the sight of the elephants rattled him initially. Following his victory, he incorporated the the 15 elephants from Gaugamela into his own armies, and gradually expanded the elephant corps as he won more battles against the Persians.
Whatever psychological value the elephants held in battle, Hannibal never used these animals tactically quite as effectively as they were originally intended. Most of Hannibal's war elephants perished in the Alps, and the ones that survived were ineffective against a Roman military that had developed defenses against these war beasts, their shock value diminished through experience and counter-strategy.
Toxic Wine Might Have Killed Alexander the Great