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Elephant Size in Antiquity - DNA Evidence and the Battle of Raphia

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A recent study of mitochondrial DNA evidence of modern Eritrean elephants has resulted in the bold assertion that the Ethiopian elephants used by Ptolemaic Egypt were the larger bush elephants rather than a now-extinct North African population of the smaller forest elephant. If this was indeed the case, Ptolemaic use of at least some bush elephants could have important implications for the so-called 'battle of the elephants' at Raphia in 217 B. C. This brief article seeks to temper these claims through a close inspection of the ancient literature pertaining to elephant size, and Polybius' account of Raphia in particular.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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  • Historia, first published in 1952 by Karl Friedrich Stroheker and Gerold Walser is an international, peer-reviewed journal on Greek and Roman antiquity. Articles are in English, German, French and Italian. It features original articles on Greek history, the Roman Republic and Empire as well as late antiquity. It covers all aspects of political, economic, religious and social life and deals with legal, archaeological, numismatic and epigraphical questions.
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