Read this article to learn about the impact of the Persian and Macedonian invasion on India.
Neither the Persian nor the Macedonian invasion succeeded in making any deep dent in the political system of India, but cannot be said to have been in vain or altogether meaningless.
The Persian conquest had for the first time unveiled India to the western world and established contact between the Indians and the peoples of the Levant.
Indian soldiers, particularly Indian archers and spearmen, were drafted into the Persian forces and they fought for the Persians on the European soil in the fifth century B.C. The dresses of the Indian struck strange to the Greeks and quickened the interest of the people of the Hellas in the homeland of these strange folks and its fabulous wealth.
Persian officials found employment in the Indus provinces and naturally they made their presence felt in diverse ways. The introduction of the Aramaic and Kharosti scripts and the Yavanani alphabet so called by Panini are supposed to have been the result of this contact. According to some writers use of certain phrases in the Asokan inscriptions and certain features in the Maurya architecture betray Persian influence, this is highly debatable.
The invasion of Alexander was in itself no more than an episode in the Indian history; its significance lying only in the establishment of a simple medium of communication between the Indian and the western cultures. The claim that Alexander had opened India to the West is untenable, for opening of India to the West can be traced to earlier times.
The Persian invasion and conquest of a part of India had already unveiled India to the West and the Greeks had seen with amazement the strange dresses of the Indian soldiers who fought for the Persians on the European soil.
The Indian body politic was dented no deeper than mere surface by Alexander’s invasion and the scar took no long time to be healed up and eventually totally forgotten. This is borne out by the fact that no where in the Indian literature there was any reference to the invasion. Even the Indian army did not adopt any of the tactics of the Macedonian army at whose hands it was defeated.
The conservative Indian society did not permanently accept anything of the Greeks beyond the very transient Greek ideas and practices which were found in the Greek occupied parts of north-west India. All this leaves us in no doubt that Alexander’s invasion was a passing phase in the history of India.
The Indian society had reasons to be hateful to the Macedonians because of the atrocities perpetrated on the people of the small republics who boldly stood against Alexander. ‘In one of their towns the citizens numbering 20,000, after a brave resistance, cast themselves with their wives and children into flames, anticipating the Rajput Jauhar of later days’ in order to escape the brutalities of the Greek soldiers.
One may agree with Michael Edwardes that Alexander’s invasion was unlike those of the barbarian invasions of Tamerlane and Nadir Shah which had plunder as their aims yet the brutalities of Alexander’s army experienced by the people of the small republics which made the Arjunayanas to immolate themselves with their wives and children did not certainly show Alexander in any better light.
Even if we agree that Alexander contemplated a westernisation of the East, and that he brought with him historians and engineer’s intent not on narrow mechanics of war but on the permanencies of an active occupation, his contemplation remained at best an unfulfilled dream. ‘His grandiose conception remained merely a scratch on the palimpsest of Indian history’. Simith’s fond hope that spared some more years Alexander might have been successful in Hellenising India, remains, to say the least, in the realm of conjectures.
Alexander’s invasion had fewer direct results than the indirect. Among the direct results were the establishment of a few Yivana, i.e. Greek settlements in the Uttarapatha, i.e. north-west India. These were the cities of Alexandria in the Kabul region, Boukephala on the spot from where Alexander had started to cross the IIydaspes (Jhelum), Nikia where the battle with Poros took place a second Alexandria on the confluence of the Indus and the Chenub, and Sogdian Alexandria below the confluence of the Punjab Rivers.
The second direct result was the removal of the barrier between the Indian and the Mediterranean civilisations and opening up of four lines of communication, three by land and one by sea. The land routes were through Kabul, Baluchistan and Makran and that by water was through the Persian Gulf. India had, no doubt, communication with the western world long before Alexander’s Indian campaign, but route was circuitous and indistinct.
Alexander was accompanied by historians and geographers, voyagers and engineers and this helped in the acquisition of knowledge historical and geographical, about India by the West The name of the voyager Nearchus needs particular mention. Under orders of Alexander Hephaestion a general-cum-engineer built a naval station and constructed dock-yards at Patala on the mouth of the Indus where the river divides itself into two.
The indirect results of Alexander’s invasion were, however, more far-reaching and enduring. Through the lines of communication opened up as a result of the Indian campaign and exploration by Alexander’s men a long process of cultural intercourse between India and the West, particularly with the Greek world, began.
The Greeks of post-Alexandrian ages learnt lessons in philosophy and religion from the Indian Buddhists and Bhagavatas, the Indians on their part imitated the Greek coinage, learnt Greek astronomy, honoured Greek astronomers and appreciated and learnt Greek art. The Gandhara art was the result of adaptation of the Graeco-Romano-Buddhist schools of art into one unified form.
The Macedonian empire in the Indus valley no doubt collapsed within less than five years of Alexander’s death but his arduous campaigns had welded the political atoms in north-west India into one unit and thereby paved the path for the more permanent unified India under the Mauryas.
The colonies set up by Alexander in the Indian border land were brought under the Magadhan kingdom no doubt, and the Yavana, i.e. the Greek official’s continued to serve under the Magadhan king.
The indirect results of Alexander’s invasion, if somewhat beneficial to both India and the West, were of a fortuitous nature. These were not the main purpose of Alexander’s Indian campaigns. The military success of his campaigns was of a very limited nature and brought in their tram the harrowing tales of ravages, ruthless killing and bestial revenge.
The only success, if it can be reckoned as any success, was the reduction of the Confederacy of the republican tribes led by Malloi (Malavas) and Oxydrakai (Kshudrakas). Every town of the Malavas became a citadel of resistance and in one of them five thousand Brahmins left their religious and literary pursuits and took swords for the defence of the country and laid their lives down in the battlefield leaving a few to be taken prisoners.
In taking another town Alexander was severely wounded and although it was captured it had cast a gloom in Alexander’s camp. The Macedonians were also in a state of perplexity how to get back in safety to their own country, being quite enclosed by so many warlike nations, some of whom had not yet submitted, and who they conjectured, would fight stoutly for their freedom’. When the city was taken the infuriated soldiers put to sword every one irrespective of age and sex.
The heroic resistance by the small republics had- no doubt redeemed the honour of the Indians which was tarnished by Ambhi of Taxila and a few other craven hearted Indian rulers. Alexander’s invasion gave an opportunity to the otherwise peace-loving Indians to prove their mettle and it may be pointed out that retreat of Alexander was not solely due to the unwillingness of his soldiers, as some Greek writers would have us believe, but caused by the terror of the mighty power of the Nandas as many more Greek writers have pointed out.