Did Age of Empires 3’s Gatling Camels Actually Exist? | History Hit

Did Age of Empires 3’s Gatling Camels Actually Exist?

Kyle Hoekstra

05 Aug 2021
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Engraving of a Gatling gun attached to the saddle of a camel, published in the 1880s
Image Credit: Alamy

Some 16 years after Age of Empires III was first released, the African Royals expansion brings two new civilizations to its Definitive Edition. Faithful to the series’ tradition of stirring rare and romantic elements of the past into one big anachronism soup, the African Royals DLC includes a handful of units inspired by history.

These histories are those of Ethiopia, the Hausa Kingdoms and beyond. Take the Sebastopol mortar. It’s fielded by the Ethiopia faction and is based on the 6.7 ton artillery mortar built by hostages of Emperor Tewodros II. (Probably never used in battle, it was dumped on the way to Tewodros’ mountain fortress.)

Age of Empires III: DE – The African Royals

Image Credit: Xbox Game Studios

There’s also the Shotel Warrior, which uses the eponymous curved sword originating in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Lifidi Knight, which takes its name from the Hausa term for quilted cloth armour, and the Gatling Camel. The Gatling Camel?

1. The Gatling gun

Age of Empires III: DE – The African Royals

Image Credit: Xbox Game Studios

The idea for the Gatling camel originated over a century ago as a development of the Gatling gun. The Gatling gun was invented in 1861 by Richard J. Gatling, and was operated with a hand crank which rotated its multiple barrels. This helped sustain a rapid rate of fire without overheating the barrels.

Mr. Gatling wasn’t unusual in insisting on the peace-making properties of his weapon. He said it would reduce the number of deaths from combat by reducing the need to field large armies. However, such improvements to the technology of killing helped transform the way warfare took place.

The increasing complexity of the technology meant that only a few great powers could manufacture advanced weaponry, and it was used effectively to expand colonial empires. The Gatling gun was used by Russian forces in central Asia, by British forces during the colonisation of Africa, and by American forces in Cuba and the Philippines.

2. Gunpowder camels

Scientific American, 2 March 1872

Image Credit: Alamy

On 2 March 1872, Scientific American published a story about a new model of the Gatling gun. This version would be mounted on camels. By this time, camels had been used to carry and even be mounted with light artillery.

Forces in the Iranian Plateau, where rough terrain meant typical transportation of heavy weapons was difficult, had used an artillery weapon called the zamburak during the 18th and 19th centuries. The zamburak consisted of a “light” swivel gun affixed to a camel’s saddle.

A soldier would ride the camel and fire the weapon when the camel was on its knees. In 1722, an Afghan army commanded by Mahmud Hotak used zamburak weapons against the Iranian Safavid Empire in the Battle of Gulnabad.

3. The “Camel gun”

Age of Empires III: DE – The African Royals

Image Credit: Xbox Game Studios

A new Gatling gun, the 1874 model, was also called the ‘Camel gun’. It was a smaller and lighter version of the Gatling gun. Weighing less than 125 lbs, it might have feasibly fit onto the back of an elephant or camel.

Yet Peter Smithurst, a former curator at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, writes in the 2015 Osprey title The Gatling Gun that while an 1874 model of the Gatling gun was advertised in a ‘camel gun’ configuration, with shorter barrels than usual, “no such Gatling-equipped camel corps has ever been heard of.”

4. A marketing device?

Engraving of a Gatling gun attached to the saddle of a camel, published in the 1880s

Image Credit: Alamy

Instead, Smithurst suggests that the notion of a ‘camel gun’ was “an intriguing and eye-catching marketing device” based on a story told by an artillery officer to an audience in Woolwich. Colonel Maxwell had reported how an Afghan chief had attacked Persians with an army mounted on camels, using swivel guns attached to saddles.

While the Gatling gun had successfully miniaturised to 74 lbs by 1892, so that it might be carried in a case, lashed to a pack animal, and then set up on a tripod, it’s uncertain whether a Gatling gun-mounted camel ever saw action as a real military unit.

How do you recruit the Gatling Camel unit in the African Royals DLC?

Age of Empires III: DE – The African Royals

Image Credit: Xbox Game Studios

In the African Royals expansion for Age of Empires III: DE, the Gatling Camel unit is only recruitable if the player allies with the Arabia faction while playing as Ethiopia. Playing as either the Ethiopia or Hausa civilizations enables access to unique technologies through the age-up mechanic. Each time players age-up, they can pick new alliances.

These alliances in turn provide new units. Both the Ethiopians and Hausa have unique alliances to choose from, and only the Ethiopians can partner with the Arabian faction. Like every culture represented in Age of Empires, they are reduced to a few defining traits. For some reason, that trait here is “Gatling Camel”.

Kyle Hoekstra

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