Flaming Pigs Can Win a War


(Picture courtesy of Mental Floss)

After constructing one of the largest empires in history, Alexander the Great kicked the bucket in 323 BC. For the next 40-50 years (sources differ), his old generals went to war with each other over the now-vacant throne, a period of turmoil known as the Wars of the Diadochi. Into this chaos stepped Antigonus Gonatus II, native of Macedonia and one of the aformentioned warring generals. In 266 BC, he amassed an unholy army of war elephants and Macedonian soldiers to lay siege to Megara, a large, wealthy city-state in Greece. 

With said terror clamoring outside Megara’s walls, the Megarians within were surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered. This being a siege, food supplies ran low and morale sank. Defeat seemed imminent. However, some of the embattled citizens did happen to know that elephants are terrified of pigs. Armed with this handy bit of folk knowledge, they rounded up some pigs, slathered them in tar, set them all on fire, and let them loose through the city gates.

As you can probably guess, this combination of animals, fire and insanity made a surprisingly good psychological weapon; Antigonus was soon met with a wall of flaming pig flesh bearing down on the Macedonian ranks. Once the pigs got within range, all hell broke loose. According to the historian Polyaenus, the elephants reared up in terror, “broke their ranks in confusion and fright, and ran off in different directions“, crushing their riders and most of the soldiers in the process. The entire army was routed in minutes, and Antigonus and his decimated army mounted a hasty retreat. 

After the battle Antigonus famously ordered his elephant trainers to raise pigs with the elephants, to desensitize the pachyderms. Ultimately, though, he got the last laugh; with his elephants now pig-proof, he went on to conquer pretty much the whole of Greece. 

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