Armored fighting vehicles are crucial in modern warfare but they were just as important to those at war for many centuries.  As a matter of fact, the earliest armored fighting vehicles may not even have been vehicles at all.  Lets take a look at armored mobility at war over the centuries.


The earliest types of armored fighting vehicles might not have been vehicles at all.  The military of early India was the first to employ war elephants—as elephants, of course are pretty common to the region—as a means to break through enemy lines. Obviously, these mammals are massive, so they could accomplish more than ground troops alone. Military units, then, would mount into baskets atop the elephants in order to instill terror and break the ranks of their enemies.

While this practice may have started in India, it quickly spread throughout Southeast Asia and then westward into the Mediterranean region. War elephants saw their most famous battle of all, perhaps, when the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus employed them during the Pyrrhic War in Roman Italy (280 – 275 BC).  War elephants also played quite an important role throughout battles of antiquity, but during the Middle Ages their popularity declined.


Although historians are certain that war elephants were somewhat common during battles of antiquity there is great disagreement over when this practice began.  We have record of elephants used for transport from the codified Rigveda (c. 1200 – c 850 BC), though there is not, necessarily, any evidence yet that they were used specifically for war.  It is not until, perhaps, stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (c 4th century BC) where we start to see elephant warfare mentioned in script.  

We can find mention of war elephants spreading westward from India and into the Persian Empire. You may actually be more familiar with war elephants as influenced by campaigns designed by Alexander the Great. As a matter of fact, the very first confrontation between Europeans and Alexander the Great’s war elephants occurred at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC).


It was not until the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and then Punic rule—when we start to see African elephants in use throughout the Mediterranean.  Unfortunately, the animal they used were the North African elephant which was smaller, harder to tame, and could not swim deep rivers; and because of overexploitation these animals went extinct.