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Set HB013

Persian War Elephants

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All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Date Released 2022
Contents 8 figures and 2 elephants
Poses 4 poses, 2 elephant poses
Material Plastic (Fairly Hard)
Colours Brown
Average Height 23.5 mm (= 1.7 m)


Persia never had any war elephants. When elephants lined up in some Persian army, they were always from either subjects or allies in India. The box for this set states that they are intended for the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE, when 15 elephants were indeed part of the Persian forces, but there is no evidence they actually took part in the battle, and the only reference to them states they were captured when the Macedonians took the Persian camp, so it seems they were inactive. In fact Alexander only faced elephants in battle when he invaded India, but they were sufficiently impressive that the Successor States all tried to obtain elephant units for their armies, despite the many drawbacks of using such animals in battle, and for a couple of centuries they were quite fashionable in several armies.

We really must begin our look at this set with a discussion of the production quality, because it is particularly bad. Taking the animals first, each elephant is supplied as two body halves (left and right), a head and two separate tusks. None of these parts are made to lock together (no pegs etc.), and the body halves make for a terrible join as both have very uneven surfaces, so placing them together means there are only a couple of tiny places where they actually meet – far too little for even the strongest glue to have any chance of maintaining a decent bond. It also means there is a very wide gap between the two parts along much of the join, which just looks terrible. We chose to combine these by using a putty adhesive, which at least means the two surfaces meet, but if you wanted to make a half-decent model then you would need to do a lot of filling to remove the resulting gap between them. The head is the same in that there is no guidance on where to place it, which does mean you have complete freedom to place it where you want. Again, gluing is not an option as the join is very vague, so more putty adhesive was used to achieve this on our examples. The tusks come separately, in a white plastic, and need to be cut from the sprue first. With some sculpting you could get these to match the irregular surface on the animals head for which they are intended, but we cheated and again used putty adhesive, which does not look so good, but you get the idea.

The elephants are intended to have a tower, which is the long piece pictured above them. This is simply a slab of plastic scored so that it folds into a square, and while this works to a degree, we found it hard to make it keep its shape, and again there is nothing really for any glue to adhere to, so some serious extra effort would be required to make that work. Equally, the ‘tower’ merely rests on the elephant’s back, with no means of fixing it (and yes, the contact is so vague that gluing is unlikely to work). Anyone wanting to make up these animals to a reasonable standard is faced with a considerable amount of effort and improvisation to achieve acceptable results.

Moving further up our pictures, the second row begins with a piece of plastic onto which a number of javelins and a bow have been engraved. Clearly you are supposed to carve these out yourself, and while they look reasonable and are nice and straight, it is still fiddly work. The other item is described by the manufacturer as a high fire altar, and is modelled after the well-known fire altars at Naqsh-e-Rastam, near Persepolis. These Zoroastrian structures had a flame at the top as fire was seen as pure, and this is a reasonable model, although such alters took many forms and this particular one only dates to the Sasanian period. These largely accurate models scale up to about 20 percent bigger than the real thing, with a height of 26 mm (1.87 metres), so a little taller than the people. Nothing to do with elephants though.

The top row shows the figures, and the first two are to fight from the elephant. Detail is poor, and both figures are very flat. Both need to be equipped with the aforementioned weapons, but neither can be described as easy constructs because the crude hands would need some work to accept the javelin and bow. Like the rest of the range, these have a very flat back side and much excess plastic and flash, particularly where the moulds met (this applies also to the elephant body parts, with the inside legs being almost flat and very crude indeed, with almost no skin texture). What should also be noted is neither have a base, and they do not stand even on a smooth table top, never mind a poorly defined elephant’s back. Some more putty adhesive would be required there, both to make them stay and to raise them, as the lack of a base for the tower makes them barely see over the rim otherwise. The third man is the driver, or mahout, and he is kneeling on the neck of the animal with both arms held tight down his sides. His back is completely flat, so can only be placed up against the tower to hide this. He seems to wear no more than a loincloth, and his upper body physique is remarkably impressive – the sort of thing we see on a body-builder in the modern era. The last figure is a Zoroastrian priest, and suffers in exactly the same way as the rest of the pieces in this set.

We don’t normally take so much time up discussing the sculpting, but there is much to say, and it isn’t even the worst aspect of this set. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves, for we are going to talk about accuracy. As we have said, there were no Persian elephants during the Achaemenid Empire, which is not a great start, so for these models to be seen in a Persian army they must be Indian. Looking at the figures, we do not really see many Indians here. The archer wears a long robe and a cap or helmet which looks like old-style Persian dress to us, and the second man wears trousers and a short tunic that looks much more Median, although the tunic is much too short if so. Certainly it does not look at all Indian, and while it is perhaps conceivable that native Persians might mount and fight from one of their elephants it seems to us hugely unlikely, and having its Indian owners as crew and fighters makes much more sense. We could find no evidence that Persians fought from elephants like this, so that is a big problem. The mahout on the other hand looks entirely Indian, dressed only in a loincloth and with hair arranged in typical Indian style, he works well here. The clothing of the Zoroastrian priest reflects images of them carved at the time in Persepolis, so seems quite accurate.

The weapons look fine, and we have already said the altar reflects a real (if later) example, but there is a problem with the elephants – they are not Indian either. With the large ears, and standing about 2.5 metres at the shoulder, these can only be African elephants, something that never graced any Persian army at the time. The shape of the trunk also suggests this, so it seems these are just generic elephants. Since the differences are large, there is really nothing much you can do to make this animal look at all authentic, which is incredibly sloppy work. Let’s talk about the tower, because even that is wrong. At this period the Indians never had towers on their elephants as far as we know today, and indeed the idea only seems to have appeared in the Successor states after Alexander’s death. Therefore the crew figures should be kneeling on the animal, not ‘standing’ as these are.

As to the poses, well the animals are actually quite nicely posed, but the standing figures are flat and entirely inappropriate for the subject. The mahout suffers from having nothing in his hand (they held an ankush, a sort of pointy stick with which to help control the beast), so again is far from a realistic pose. The priest holds out what seem to be bowls in each hand, which apparently contain holy medicine, although whether they held them out to the side like this we cannot say, but again, a very flat pose.

Unfortunately we have done little else but criticise this set so far, so now it is time to look at the positive aspects. Well, the elephants have a nice caparison or cloth draped over them, and also a sort of head protector, perhaps even armour, on their forehead, both of which seem reasonable. The mahout is at least dressed reasonably, and while the tower is inappropriate, you can leave it off if you wish. That’s about it sadly. Overall this is a really badly-made collection that depicts something that never happened in reality, and cannot realistically be improved to the point where any of it might be usable. The box claims this can also be used for the later Parthians and Sassanids. Well, there is no evidence that the Parthians ever used elephants in war, and while the Sassanids certainly did do so, they did not look like this. This set is one for the darkest corner of our archive, never likely to see the light of day again.


Historical Accuracy 1
Pose Quality 2
Pose Number 7
Sculpting 2
Mould 3

Further Reading
"Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars" - Wargames Research Group - Duncan Head - 9780950029948
"Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World" - Greenhill - Simon Anglim - 9781853675225
"Rome's Enemies (3) Parthians and Sassanid Persians" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.175) - Peter Wilcox - 9780850456882
"War Elephants" - Osprey (New Vanguard Series No.150) - Konstantin Nossov - 9781846032684

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