Image by Elias Holmquist.

Charlemagne did indeed have an elephant! Abul-Abbas, likely an Asian elephant, was given to the Carolingian emperor in 801 CE as a diplomatic gift from Baghdad. How he got to the palace at Aachen and much of his life remains a mystery, but according to the Annales Gesti Francorum, Abul-Abbas lived for 8 years in Charlemagne’s palace. Despite the absence of information, Charlemagne’s elephant remains a poignant moment for historians of the Carolingians as well as the Middle East. From the early practice of gift-giving between sovereigns, to European contact with things of ‘foreign’ or ‘exotic’ origin, approaches to Charlemagne’s elephant are manifold. You might wonder, for example, how exactly would an adult elephant live in a Carolingian fortress – as we have!

This is the fifth post of Medieval A-musings, the official comic strip of Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies! Stay tuned for posts and follow us at our Instagram.