The history of elephants in Europe dates back to the ice ages, when mammoths (various species of prehistoric elephant) roamed the northern parts of the Earth, from Europe to North America. However, these became extinct several thousand years ago, and subsequently the presence of elephants in Europe is only due to importation of these animals. As exotic and expensive animals, they were often exchanged as presents between European rulers, who exhibited them as luxury pets.

Historical accounts of elephants in Europe include:

  • The 37 elephants in Hannibal 's army that crossed the Rhône in October/November 218 BC during the Second Punic War, recorded by Livy.

  • The first historically recorded elephant in northern Europe was the animal brought by emperor Claudius, during the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, to the British capital of Colchester.

  • Abul-Abbas, the Asian elephant given to Charlemagne by Haroun al-Raschid in 797 or 802. The animal died in 810, of pneumonia.

  • Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor captured an elephant in the Holy Land by and used in the capture of Cremona in 1214.

  • The elephant given by Louis IX of France to Henry III of England, for his menagerie in the Tower of London in 1224/5. Drawn from life by the historian Matthew Paris for his Chronica Majora, it was the first elephant to be seen in England since Claudius' war elephant. It is supposed to have died in 1257 from drinking too much red wine. It is carved on a contemporary miserichord in Exeter Cathedral. This animal may be the inspiration for the heraldic device 'Elephant and Castle,' the arms of the Cutlers' Company of London, a guild founded in the 13th Century responsible for making scissors, knives and the like. Its heraldry survived in an 18th century pub sign that in turn gave its name to a largely modern district in South London.

  • In the 1470s, King Christian I of Denmark founded a chivalric order, the Order of the Elephant, and had it confirmed by Pope Sixtus IV. The order is named for the battle elephants which symbolized the Christian Crusades. Today, it continues to be awarded under statutes established by king Christian V in 1693, amended in 1958 to permit the admission of women to the order.

  • The elephant given by Afonso V of Portugal to René d'Anjou about 1477.

  • The merchants of Cyprus presented Ercole d'Este with an elephant in 1497.

  • Suleyman the Elephant was a present from the Portuguese king John III to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. The animal arrived in Valladolid in 1551, was then shipped to Genoa, and travelled overland to Hall, sailing from there on 22 January 1552 with Maximilian on the Inn to Vienna, festively entering the city on 7 May 1552. A wave of "elephant enthusiasms" followed, and Suleyman was a popular subject for artists and poets. The animal had his portrait drawn by the German artists Hans Burgkmair the Elder, Albrecht Altdorfer and Albrecht Dürer. Suleyman installed in the menagerie of Schloß Kaiser-Ebersdorf, but died in December 1553. Maximillian had a commemorative medal by sculptor Michael Fuchs issued. His front right foot and part of a shoulder-blade were given to the mayor of Vienna, Sebastian Huetstocker, and the bones were fashioned into a chair that currently resides at the Kremsmunster abbey. The rest of the body was stuffed and exhibited in Kaiserebersdorf until Maximillian, as Emperor, presented it as a gift to Albrecht V in Munich. After standing more than 100 years in the Old Academy, the body was transferred to the Bavarian national museum in 1928. The mummy deteriorated during World War II.

  • Hanno, or Annone, was a white elephant presented by king Manuel I of Portugal to Pope Leo X on the occasion of his coronation in 1514. He died, probably of an intestinal obstruction misdiagnosed as angina, with Pope Leo at his side in 1518. His story is told in Sylvio Bedini's The Pope's Elephant (Nashville: Sanders 1998).

See also: war elephant

External Links


"They Called him Suleyman: The Adventurous Journey of an Elephant from the Forests of Kerala to the Capital of Vienna in the middle of the sixteenth Century", Karl Saurer & Elena M.Hinshaw-Fischli, collected in Maritime Malabar and The Europeans, edited by : K. S. Mathew, Hope India Publications: Gurgaon, 2003 [ISBN 8178710293]