As Alexander the Great attacked the Persian Empire in the fourth century BCE he came across an animal very few Europeans had ever seen before – elephants. By the time he reached India he faced large numbers of this huge creature in battle, and while they were not without their weaknesses the Macedonians were impressed by them, with many, either as spoils of war or tribute, sent back to Babylon and on to Europe. In the following years, particularly during the Successor Wars, elephants became highly prized in many armies, becoming something of the ancient equivalent of a battle tank.
In later years it became more common to build towers on these animals and cram as many men as possible onto them, but this set includes a crew of two simply riding the elephant much as they would a horse, which is more typical of the early adoption by Macedonians. The principal weapon of any elephant-mounted soldier was the elephant itself, which could smash, gore and crush humans with apparent ease, but having an armed crew gave both extra offensive power and the ability to defend the animal and its driver. The single soldier in this set is handling a 100 mm (7.2 metre) long spear with which he can easily reach opponents on the ground. Bows and javelins were also very common – more so than this rather ungainly weapon – but this is still a reasonable choice. In costume this man is typical Macedonian, but the mahout driver has much more the appearance of a native Indian. Many such men would undoubtedly have accompanied their charges as they were sent west, so while not part of any Indian army he is perfectly reasonable here.
The elephant itself is Indian, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. With its arched back and small ears this is an excellent model which is also of a very typical size, being about 40 mm (2.8 metres) at the shoulder, although the tusks are rather straight (conveniently parallel to the trunk to make sculpting a lot easier). The saddle cloth is held by a rope around the belly, and a large bell hangs from the neck to further add to the terrifying impact.
The technical aspects of this set are pretty good. The men are quite well detailed and there is no hint of flash. The elephant comes in three parts (left side, right side and head), all of which fit together securely and do not require gluing, although we would still recommend it. The crew perch on the back with no means of fixing, allowing their positioning to be varied, although the correct positions are as illustrated on the box. The long spear of the soldier rests rather precariously in his hands – there is no ring hand or other means of holding it there so gluing is necessary. With no hand detail on the spear and little on the figure this creates an unrealistic impression but it does mean the spear can be positioned anywhere along its length and from a distance the lack of hands is difficult to notice.
Now we come to what HaT describe rather vaguely as an ‘accessory’. If you cannot tell what it is then consider that a battlefield is a very frightening place, and when an elephant gets frightened you really do not want to be immediately behind it. Anywhere with a high concentration of animals, be it an ancient battlefield or a 19th century city, will inevitably also have a large amount of, well, waste. Including such waste may seem like authenticity taken too far but it is nice to have a touch of humour such as this once in a while. Perhaps we can look forward to smaller versions of this accessory in future HaT cavalry sets!
If we wanted to find fault (and usually we do) then we might have preferred the soldier to be armed with javelins rather than the spear. However his pose is also very good if a javelin is substituted from elsewhere, so even that is not a problem.
Elephants have always had a fascination for humans, and that extends to models of them at war. Such sets are generally very popular and this very nice one will probably prove to be no exception.
This review states there are two of each man and elephant in the box, which is correct. However the initial batch of this set included three of each as it appeared the box could accommodate this. Shipping problems mean that future batches will revert to two per box, so those who buy initial boxes will have a bonus sprue.