Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedonia, is considered one of the great conquerors of the ancient world.
He ascended the throne at the age of twenty in 335 BC. Alexander, who was fired by an ambition to become the world conqueror, gathered a large army and started his conquests in 334 BC.
After consolidating his position by conquering neighbouring powers, he became busy in waging war with Persia between 334 and 330 BC and conquered Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt.
In his wars with Persia, a decisive battle was fought at Arbela in 331 BC. Alexander captured and destroyed Persipolis, the capital of Persia and built a new city called Alexandria. By 328 BC, Alexander took the title of “Great King of Persia”.
Alexander then turned his attention towards India and divided his army into two parts. Alexander himself led a part of the army while the other part was sent to India under the command of Hephaeston and Perdikkas, Alexander’s army was opposed by the tribal chief Hasti or Aster, whose capital was Pushkalavati and after a bitter struggle Alexander won a victory. Later Alexander had to face the Asvayanas who fought very bravely before he defeated them. After a long seige, Alexander decided to cross the river Indus after consolidating his position in the conquered territories.
It is said that he constructed a sixteen-mile bridge at Ohind and here the envoy of Ambhi, the ruler of Taxila, met Alexander. From Ohind Alexander proceeded to Taxila, where the ruler Ambhi and the ruler of the Abhisara tribe became subordinates to him. Purushottama or Porus, the ruler of the territory of Jhelum opposed Alexander in the battle of Hydaspes.
In this battle, Purushottama was defeated by a stratagem, but in the end Alexander, recognizing the bravery and valour of Purushottama returned the territory to him. Purushottama appears to have accepted the overlordship of Alexander. Commemorating his victory, Alexander built the cities of Boukephala and Nikala near the Jhelum River.
Alexander then crossed the Chenab and defeated the tribes living between the Chenab and the Ravi. The army of Alexander revolted when asked to cross the Beas and as Alexander failed to convince them, he ordered retreat of the army in 326 BC, after constructing twelve huge altars on the river Beas. On the way back, Alexander had to face the opposition of many hill tribes and he died at the age of 33 in 323 BC in Babylon near Baghdad. His sudden death was followed by confusion and partition of the Greek empire in 321 BC and his power on the Indian soil was shattered to pieces.
A debate is going on among historians regarding the impact of the invasion of Alexander. There is a view that Alexander’s invasion of India is a landmark in the history of India. There are also arguments that the significance of the event was much exaggerated, or that it was underestimated.
Interestingly, not even a single Indian literary text, Hindu, Buddhist or Jainas, of the contemporary times or of later date makes the faintest allusion to Alexander or his invasion. What could be the reason for this silence? Could it be that he could not come to the mainland of India, i.e., the Gangetic Valley and that he succeeded only over small, petty chieftains and hill tribes? It is a fact that he invaded the border area of India, but failed to establish a sound political power structure that could transit Greek ideas into India.
His stay in India was only for 19 months, which was spent in fighting or planning to fight. Though there was no significant direct impact of his conquest, indirectly it opened up contacts between east and west culturally, and promoted trade contacts by opening up a communication network.
We cannot accept the view of Hernesse that all the later developments of India depended indirectly upon the institutions of Alexander. Even V.A. Smith admits that India was not totally Hellenised but followed a policy of “splendid isolation”. We may agree with the view of R.K. Mukherjee that the invasion of Alexander indirectly promoted the awareness and need for political unification under a large kingdom.
We also can agree with R.C. Majumdar that it was only a raid leaving no permanent marks. Culturally, the Gandhara art is a good example of the impact of the Greek artistic tradition on Indian art. The Greek influence on Indian astronomy is remarkable, and the Greek influence on Indian coins is to be remembered.In conclusion, it can be said that though India was not Hellenised because of Alexander’s invasion or raid, the Greek impact on Indian culture of later times is of considerable importance.