A Polish-American archaeological team studying a 2,300-year-old Red Sea fortress now believe it was a staging area for the widely feared war elephants of the Egyptian Ptolemy dynasty, the tanks of ancient warfare.
The Egyptian port of Berenike on the Red Sea was settled many times throughout history from the ancient Egyptians to the Romans. It was also used by the Ptolemies, a line of pharaohs descended from one of Alexander the Greats generals, as both a trading post and a fortified military base complete with “sizable fortifications” and “double-lined walls.”
“The biggest and the most heavily fortified part of the Berenike fortress is about 525 feet (160 meters) long and 262 feet (80 meters) wide,” authors Marek Wozniak and Joanna Radkowska wrote in the journal Antiquities.
The ancient fortress, built on fossilized coral reefs, maintained commercial ties extending from Greece and Italy to Ethiopia and East Africa, as far as South Arabia, India, and the Malay Peninsula.
Though the outpost boasted square towers at each corner and an impressive array of fortifications, the team discovered that the majority fell into disrepair shortly after construction, perhaps because not many militaries at the time fancied their chances against a garrison of war elephants, with only hot and shifting sand dunes for cover.
The team found terracotta figurines, coins and elephant skull fragments at the sites trash dump, while elsewhere in the ancient fort, pet cemeteries provided major insights into the reverence and respect the ancient Egyptians had for their four-legged companions.
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