Elephants And Kings: An Environmental History

Paperback | August 3, 2015

byThomas R. Trautmann

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Because of their enormous size, elephants have long been irresistible for kings as symbols of their eminence. In early civilizations—such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Civilization, and China—kings used elephants for royal sacrifice, spectacular hunts, public display of live captives, or the conspicuous consumption of ivory—all of them tending toward the elephant’s extinction. The kings of India, however, as Thomas R. Trautmann shows in this study, found a use for elephants that actually helped preserve their habitat and numbers in the wild: war.
            Trautmann traces the history of the war elephant in India and the spread of the institution to the west—where elephants took part in some of the greatest wars of antiquity—and Southeast Asia (but not China, significantly), a history that spans 3,000 years and a considerable part of the globe, from Spain to Java. He shows that because elephants eat such massive quantities of food, it was uneconomic to raise them from birth. Rather, in a unique form of domestication, Indian kings captured wild adults and trained them, one by one, through millennia. Kings were thus compelled to protect wild elephants from hunters and elephant forests from being cut down. By taking a wide-angle view of human-elephant relations, Trautmann throws into relief the structure of India’s environmental history and the reasons for the persistence of wild elephants in its forests. 

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Because of their enormous size, elephants have long been irresistible for kings as symbols of their eminence. In early civilizations—such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Civilization, and China—kings used elephants for royal sacrifice, spectacular hunts, public display of live captives, or the conspicuous consumption of ivory—all of t...

Thomas R. Trautmann is professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Michigan. He is the author of many books, including Dravidian Kinship, Lewis Henry Morgan and the Invention of Kinship, Aryans and British India, and India: Brief History of a Civilization.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:August 3, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022626436X

ISBN - 13:9780226264363

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“Engaging and erudite account of why elephants have survived in India when they have disappeared over much of their former range, especially China. Covering more than three thousand years of recorded history and a terrain that extends from North Africa to East Asia, forensically interpreting the material record while trawling through texts as diverse as the Arthashastra and a history of the Ringling circus, Trautmann’s scholarship is as hugely  impressive and graceful as the pachyderms he discusses. Put simply, this is a marvelous book. . . . A magisterial work which is a pleasure to read. . . . This is how environmental history should be done: by seamlessly combining a wide-ranging vision with detailed attention to all the elements that converge in the intertwining of nature and culture.”