Iranian Invasion of India:

In north-east India, smaller principalities and republics gradually merged with the Magadhan empire.

North-west India, however, presented a different picture in the sixth century BC. Several small principalities, such as those of the Kambojas, Gandharas, and Madras fought one another.

This area did not have any powerful kingdom like that of Magadha to weld the warring communities into one organized kingdom. As the area was fertile and rich in natural resources, it attracted the attention of its neighbours. In addition, it could be easily penetrated through the passes in the Hindu Kush.

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The Achaemenian rulers of Iran, who expanded their empire at the same time as the Magadhan princes, took advantage of the political disunity on the north-west frontier. The Iranian ruler Darius penetrated north-west India in 516 BC and annexed the Punjab, west of the Indus, and Sindh. This area was converted into the twentieth province or satrapy of Iran, which had a total number of twenty-eight satrapies. The Indian satrapy included Sindh, the north-west frontier, and the part of Punjab that lay to the west of the Indus. It was the most fertile and populous part of the empire.

It paid a tribute of 360 talents of gold, which accounted for one- third of the total revenue Iran received from its Asian provinces. The Indian subjects were also enrolled in the Iranian army. Xerxes, Darius’s successor, employed Indians in the long war against the Greeks. It appears that India continued to be a part of the Iranian empire till its invasion by Alexander.

Results of the Contact:

The Indo-Iranian contact lasted for about 200 years. It gave an impetus to Indo-Iranian trade and commerce. The cultural results were more significant. Iranian scribes brought into India a form of writing that came to be known as the Kharoshthi script. It was written from right to left like the Arabic. Some Ashokan inscriptions in north-west India were written in the third century BC in this script, which continued to be used in India till the third century ad. Iranian coins are also found in the north-west frontier region which points to the exchange of goods with Iran.

It is, however, wrong to think that the punch-marked coins came into use in India as a result of contact with Iran. However, Iranian influence on Maurya sculpture is clearly perceptible. The monuments of Ashoka’s time, especially the bell-shaped capitals, owed something to the Iranian models.


Iranian influence may also be traced in the preamble to Ashoka’s edicts as well as in certain terms used in them. For instance, for the Iranian term dipi, the Ashokan scribe used the term lipi. Also it appears that through the Iranians, the Greeks learnt about the great wealth of India, which whetted their greed and led to Alexander’s invasion of India.