Read this article to learn about the Macedonian invasion on India by Alexander.
Political Condition of Uttarapath (North-Western India) on the Eve of Alexander’s Invasion:
Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon, succeeded to throne at an early age of twenty and undertook to finish his father’s unfinished task of conquering the rest of Greece and the entire civilized world- He avenged the insult of the Persian invasion of Greece by conquering the whole of the Persian Empire after which he advanced towards India in 327 B.C.
North-Western India at that time was politically divided into several small states. There was no sovereign power in that area at that period. Between the Jhelum (Hydaspes) and the Beas (Bipasa) there were seven different independent tribes living at that time. Most of the states were kingship but there were some republican states as well.
From the Greek source we come to know of the following peoples who lived in that area at that period of time. These were:
(i) The Asvayanas (Aspasians) in the hilly tract on the northern bank of the river Kabul
(ii) Nikia (Nicaea) in the land between the rivers Kabul and the Indus
(iii) Goureanas (Garaeans) in the valley of the river Gouri or Panjkora
(iv) Asvakas (Assakenos) the people of the Swat or Bunar area
(v) Puskaravati (Peukelaotis) in the modern Peshwar district
(vi) Taxila, modern Rawalpindi
(vii) Ursa (Arsakes) in modem Hazara district
(viii) Abhisara in the hilly tracts north of Taxila
(ix) Kingdom of Poros between the rivers Jhelum and Chenub
(x) Gandhara (Gandaris) the eastern part of the Gandhara of the Sixteen Mahajanapada period
(xi) Katha (Kathaioi)
(xii) Kingdom of Saubhuti (Sophytes)
(xiii) Kshudraka (Oxydrakaoi)
(xiv) Malava (Malloi)
(xv) Sudra (Sodrai) and many other states.
For want of political unity among these kingdoms as well as republican states there was no end of mutual jealousy and war between them. Ambhi, king of Taxila, was at constant conflict with the kingdoms of Abhisara and of Poros. He was also in conflict with the neighbouring republican states like Malava, Kshudraka etc. In the circumstances there was no willingness nor capability to stand against the foreign invader among these states.
There was also no good relation between Poros of the kingdom of Paurava and his nephew Junior Poros, king of Gandhara. Other smaller states were also disunited and mutually jealous. The political condition of Uttarapatha, i.e. North-West India, having been a picture of disunion it naturally became easy for Alexander to subdue many of them by mere show of force.
Indian Campaign of Alexander:
We have detailed information about Alexander’s Indian campaign from the writings of Arrian, Quintus Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus. Justin etc. Within three years of the defeat of Darius III in the battle of Gaugamela Alexander completed his conquest of the eastern and the north-eastern parts of the Persian Empire as well as the western part of the Hindukos.
It was in 327 B.C. he conquered Bactria, Bokhara, Syr Daria region and Nikia and proceeded towards India. From Nikia Alexander sent his emissary to Ambhi, king of Taxila to ascertain whether it would be possible to obtain the allegiance of the Indian princes without war and invited him to come to Nikia for discussion in this regard.
But before Alexander’s emissary had reached Txila Ambhi had already sent information to Alexander that he (Ambhi) was prepared to assist Alexander in his Indian campaign on condition that Taxila would be spared. Besides this offer of help he sent 65 elephants, 3.000 oxen and a large number of sheep as a sort of tribute to Alexander.
In this way craven hearted Ambhi played the part of the first traitor in the history of India to his country. It is supposed that it was his unsatisfied jealousy of Poros that made Ambhi to do so. Ambhi failed to defeat Poros and was intolerant of the power and prestige of Poros and his kingdom.
Alexander’s invasion gave him an opportunity to feed fat his grudge. There were other cowards besides Ambhi who purchased Alexander’s neutrality by timely surrender. They were Kofius (Cophaeus), Sanjaya (Sangaeus), Asvajit (Assagetes), Sashigupta (Sisikottos) etc. Thus without any resistance Alexander entered India with his thirty thousand soldiers.
But Uttarapatha, i.e. north-western India, did not have only cowardly kings. Kings of smaller kingdoms and the republican states stood firmly against the foreign invader. King Astak (Astes) of Pushkaravati with his small army stood against the advancing army of Alexander. For long thirty days he was in a state of siege by the Greek army but he was unrelenting. He died fighting for the defence of his country.
Two tribal republics Asvayan and Asvakayan (Aspasio and Assakeni) tried their utmost to prevent the progress of the invading army but not with success. But the two cities Massage and Andaka gave heroic defence and Alexander could occupy them with great difficulty. When the republic of Asvakayana was defeated, 7,000 heroic soldiers of the republic were put to death at the order of Alexander. This cruelty towards the defeated enemies who had done their best for their mother land somewhat tarnished the character of Alexander.
This was followed by conquest of the city-state of Nysa, the region between the Indus and Puskaravati and the hilly fort of Varan (Aronus). It was in the spring of 326 B.C. that Alexander set his foot on the soil of India proper.
With a contingent of 5,000 soldiers sent by Ambhi Alexander’s army crossed the Indus and held a Council at Taxila. The local chiefs of the surrounding areas pledged their loyalty to Alexander. But king Poros whose kingdom lay between the rivers Jhelum and Chenub was a person of different mettle.
The lack of the sense of patriotism and self-respect on the part of other Indian kings shocked and dismayed but not frightened him. The king of Abhisara initially promised to stand by Poros but prevaricated and sent his brother as an emissary to Alexander to purchase his neutrality.
Surrounded on all sides by cowards, traitors and unpatriotic Indian rulers Poros determined to defend, at all costs, the independence of his kingdom and the honour of his family. When Alexander sent his envoy to Poros summoning him to meet the proud invader, Poros dauntless reply was that he would certainly meet him near his own frontier and in arms.
Alexander now marched against Poros. He was informed that Poros with his whole army was waiting on the other side of the river Hydaspes ‘having determined either prevent him from making the passage, or to attack him while crossing’. Alexander at once sent for his vessels which he had left in the Indus, which were dismantled and carried by land to the bank of the Hydaspes and reassembled.
Alexander camped on the Hydaspes and on the other side Poros kept his army which ‘Ajtrian estimates 30,000 foot, 4,000 horse, 300 chariots and 2,000 elephants’. From the two banks the two armies watched each other. Alexander then had recourse to a stratagem. He divided his army into many parts and moved them into various directions.
He also conveyed food from different quarters thereby giving an impression to Poros that he, would wait for the end of the rainy season when the river would become fordable at various points. His vessels also sailed up and down the Hydaspes. A report was also spread by Alexander that he would wait for the winter reason. All this had confused the camp of Poros. At last after a night of torrential rains Alexander crossed the river at dawn at a point seventeen miles up stream by a bridge made of boats.
Poros was taken unawares and when surprised by the Macedonian army he hurriedly sent a contingent of 2000 soldiers and 120 chariots under his son who was defeated and killed in action. Soon Poros proceeded with 50.000 foot, 4,000 cavalry, 200 elephants and 300 chariots and engaged the invader.
From the point of view of the military strength victory of Poros was more than certain but unfortunately in the rain-soaked earth the end of the long bows of the cavalry could not be fixed on earth for releasing the arrows, nor could his chariots move because their wheels got stuck in the mud.
Alexander charged the army line of Poros with picked Macedonian cavalry and his Central Asian mounted archers and soon made breaches in the army and the cavalry line of Poros and threw the whole of Poros’ army into confusion. From Plutarch we know that even in that great confusion in his own army Poros gave battle to the enemy for long eight hours and it was possible to take him prisoner when all was over and there were nine bleeding wounds in the body of the valiant defender of freedom.
Thousands of his soldiers were slain and all his great generals including his two sons lost their lives in the battlefield. Poros was conducted to Alexander who asked him how would he like to be treated, his reply which became classic was: Act as a king. Alexander had nothing but admiration for the valiant Indian enemy who fought for the defence of the freedom of his country.
He reinstated Poros in his kingdom to which he added fifteen republican territories towards the east. Alexander next conquered the republic of Glauganikai and annexed it to the kingdom of Poros. He then crossed the Chenub and conquered the king Poros II (nephew of Poros) who fled and took shelter in the territories of the Nanda king. The kingdom of Poros II was also annexed to the kingdom of Poros.
Alexander then marched upto the river Hydraotes, i.e. Ravi and defeated the small, weak republics of Kathaioi etc. as also the kingdoms of Sophytes and Phegelas (Saubhuti and Bhagala). Alexander’s unbroken success in conquests whipped up his ambition for more conquests. But when he reached the Beas his army refused to advance further. Alexander’s address to his men reminding them of their glorious achievements failed to persuade them to proceed further.
He was obliged to begin his return journey homewards in the month of November, 326 B.C. by water route through Jhelum. Near the confluence of Jhelum and Chenub the republican tribes, the Malloi, Oxydrakai, Agalassci (i.e. the Malavas, Kshudrakas, Arjunayana) attacked him but were defeated. They had to accept Alexander as their overlord. The republic of Sibae (i.e. Sibi), however, submitted to Alexander without a fight.
In 325 B.C. Alexander was attacked by the tribes called the Sudra (Sogdre), Musika (Musicanus), Partha (Oxycanus or Porticanus) but were defeated and had to accept him as their overlord. The last country to be defeated by him was Pattala, after which he crossed through Baluchistan (Gedrosia) for Babylon in September, 325 B.C. On reaching Babylon he fell sick and died there in 324 B.C.
Nature of Indian Resistance to Alexander:
Fighting ability, sense of unity as well patriotism and above all determination to defend independence at all costs always determine the nature of resistance to foreign invaders. India at the time of Alexander’s invasion was ruled over by small cowardly rulers in the north-west, called Uttarapath. Lack of their unity in the face of foreign invasion, on the contrary their mutual jealousy and recrimination made them weaker than what they actually had been.
True they were inferior to the invading Macedonian forces in so far as their military strength and equipment were concerned but with a sense of unity and patriotism and with determination to face the invader unitedly could have worked miracle. After all, a brave and patriotic breast was the greatest weapon of defence. The rulers of north-west India lacked all this and mo6t of them proved traitors to their own country and the people. But there were exceptions indeed.
Poros and a, number of small republics and republican tribes did their best to defend their countries against Alexander and put him to no inconsiderable difficulty. Poros and republican tribes like the Malavas, Kshudrakas, Aryunayanas, Sibis, Musikas etc. fought against Alexander knowing full well that their defeat was a foregone conclusion. But an independent breast fears not the consequence of such noble task, the task of defending his freedom and doing his duty to his country and the people.
Motive Behind Alexander’s Indian Conquests: His Administrative Arrangement:
Alexander is sometimes represented as ‘a mad man dazzled by wild and whirling visions of dominion and glory, impelled by an insatiable lust of conquest for conquest’s sake’. But judging by his schemes it has to be pointed out that he was ambitious indeed, but ambition did not blind him and he was capable of distinguishing between shine and substance.
His advance to the Indus ‘was no mere Wanton aggression, but was necessary to establish secure route tar Indian trade, which was at the mercy of the wild hill tribes; and the subjugation of the Punjab was a necessity for securing the Indus frontier. Solid interests of commerce underlay the ambitions of the Macedonian conqueror. It is not without significance that the Phoenician merchants accompanied his army’.
Apart from interests of commerce personal megalomania was no less a motive behind his Indian conquests, for he thought his conquest of the Persian Empire would not be complete and his adoption of the title of King of Persia would be somewhat truncated, Indian satrapy being the most populous and wealthy of the Persian Empire paying a proportionately larger tribute—360 talents of gold dust, valued at more than a million pound-sterling if India was not annexed. ‘Vanity conspired with curiosity to lead him into such distant territory’ although his generals advised against it, his army obeyed unwillingly.
The proposition that one of the major considerations behind the Indian invasion of Alexander was but an extension of his wider plan of Hellenising the East was an over statement. What Alexander aimed at was at best to graft Greek culture on the Eastern civilisation, not to effect wholesale Hellenisation of the East. This is borne out by his adoption of Persian costume and Persian ceremonies in his court, marrying a Persian Princess and giving Persian wives to many of his followers.
His wearing of Persian costume and adoption of Persian court ceremonies and his preference to the society of the Persian grandees roused the indignation of many of his followers. ‘His soldiers saw in this change the conquest of Alexander by the Orient; they felt that they lost him.’ In India his policy naturally could not be on any count one of Hellenisation.
It may be recalled that completion of Philip’s unfinished work, namely, conquest of the parts of Greece which still remained outside Macedonian rule and the conquest of the civilised world, had been the last instruction left by Philip at the time of his premature death, for his son Alexander. Smith’s observation that Alexander’s ambition was to out shine the heroism of the legendary Greek heroes was more or less a legacy left for him by his father Philip.
Alexander’s plan for consolidation of his conquests was extensive. Unlike the barbarian invasions of Tamerlane or Nadir Shah who were intent on plunder, Alexander intended to divide the Indus plain into provinces and to build at strategic points strong, walled cities with Greek inhabitants with a view to turning them into permanent colonies.
All the same Alexander had really no chance of permanent success against the difficulties of the Indian situation. His, administrative arrangements show a correct apprehension of the situation. He therefore divided his Indian conquests into seven satrapies two of which were outside India proper.
Two of these comprised the land between the Hindukos and the Indus. The Hindukos region was formed into a satrapy under Oxyartes, father-in-law of Alexander and the Kabul valley into another which was placed under Philip. Within India proper the region round the confluence of the Punjab Rivers was formed into a satrapy under Philippus, Sind under Pthon.
These four satrapies were placed under Macedonian or Persian Satraps, i.e. Governor in some cases assisted by the Indian Chiefs like Sasigupta of Varnavati (Aornos) and Ambhi of Taxila. The territories further north of the Punjab were left to the Indian Chief. The satrapy of Taxila under Ambhi, that of Paurava under Poros and of Kashmir region under Abhisara.
The last three satrapies, namely those of Taxila, Paurava and Kashmir were in the nature of protected states acknowledging nominal vassalage of the Macedonian conqueror. Although Macedonian garrisons were stationed at strategies centres such as Pushkaravati, Taxila and others, it was inevitable that the Indian satraps were de facto sovereigns from the very beginning and it would not be long before they would overthrow the nominal suzerainty of Macedon.
New cities, mostly on great rivers, were built with a view to establishing firmly conqueror’s authority in the acquired territories as well as to stimulate maritime trade and navigation of great rivers of India and communication by water between India and the west.