The Real War Pigs: Hogs Saving Human Bacon

On June 6, 2015 by Tim Newman

War Pigs - Ancient history

Image VIA

The term “war pigs” might not mean much to most people. But in ancient times, when there was an awful lot of war going on (unlike today of course) combatants would use whatever means necessary to get an edge. You might think that using pigs might be a long shot, but if reports are to be believed the pigs were pretty darned useful in ancient scraps.

Before I get down to the matter in hand, the Black Sabbath song “War Pigs” is nothing to do with the use of hogs in pitched battles. The Sabbath track actually started off being called “Walpurgis” which is like a Christmas celebration for Satanists; the record label thought the track name was too… well… Satanic; so they changed it to “War Pigs” instead. Sabbath didn’t bother to change the lyrics because the track was about war any way (specifically the Vietnam War, or the American War as the Vietnamese call it), and the Satanic reference was just pointing out the fact that war is evil. So, jokes on you record company.

Anyhow, on with the real war pigs. War pigs are reported to have been used in ancient warfare, mostly as a defence against the almighty war elephants. Huge, dirty mammalian war beasts. Who would have thought a tiny pig could have helped against such a behemoth?

It seems that early attempts to use beasts in warfare didn’t necessarily go too well. In the first century BC, Lucretius (a Roman poet and scholar) noted that early humans may have attempted to launch wild beasts, like lions or “savage boars”, against the enemy, but with less than successful results.

This use of exotic beasts may or may not have occurred, but pig war almost certainly did. Pliny the Elder reported that…

Elephants are scared by the smallest squeal of the hog.

Stupid things.

War Pigs - Second Punic War

Aelian, a Roman author, confirmed that elephants were frightened by squealing pigs (and rams with horns), and reported that the Romans exploited pigs and rams to repel the war elephants of Pyrrhus of Epirus in 275 BC. Pyrrhus is the guy that, despite winning battles, lost so many troops and spent so much cash that he had to withdraw from Italy anyway – the term ‘Pyrrhic victory’ will forever mark his folly.

Pyrrhus of Epirus

Pyrrhus of Epirus

Procopius, in History of the Wars, records that the defenders of Edessa suspended a squealing pig from the walls to frighten away Khosrau the Persian’s single siege elephant in the sixth century AD.

According to another legend recounted in the Alexander Romance by Pseudo-Callisthenes, Alexander the Great learned about this “secret weapon” against war elephants from Porus in India. Everyone was at it.

Antigonus II Gonatas

Antigonus II Gonatas

To add an extra dazzling aspect to the war pig saga, let’s add some fire shall we? Historical accounts of flaming pigs were recorded by the military writer Polyaenus and by Aelian, both fairly reliable chaps by all accounts. Both reported that Antigonus II Gonatas’ siege of Megara, Greece in 266 BC was broken when the Megarians doused some pigs with combustible pitch, crude oil or resin, set them alight, and chased them towards the enemy’s gang of war elephants. The elephants, massive girls that they are, bolted in terror from the flaming, squealing pigs, killing great numbers of their own soldiers by trampling them to death.

So there we go folks. Pigs deserve a lot more respect than you probably thought they did. So let’s lay off the bacon sarnies shall we?





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