North-West India on the Eve of Alexander’s Invasion!

From the sixth century B.C. when the political history of India came to clear light, powerful monarchies were seen to be rising in several places of the Gangetic valley.

By fourth century B.C., a powerful empire was already in existence covering a large part of north and eastern India with Magadha as its centre.

The founder of this empire was Mahapadma Nanda. He is said to have been the son of a Sudra mother.

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The Puranas describe him as the destroyer of all the Kshatriyas or the Sarva Kshatrantaka. He was also described as the sole sovereign or Ekarat, who brought the earth under one umbrella or Ekachhatra. Whatever be the origin of this king, he was no doubt a powerful monarch who tried to unite a large part of India under his rule. From the Greek sources it is known that the first Nanda monarch maintained a large army of 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 3,000 elephants and 2,000 chariot.

The achievements of Mahapadma pointed to the making of a greater all India empire in coming future. Mahapadma Nanda was no more at the time of Alexander’s invasion. One of his sons named Dhana Nanda was then ruling the Nanda Empire from Magadha. This king is identified with the king Agrammes or Xandrames of the description of the Greek writers. His empire was big, and wealth was immense, but his power did not extend to the North-West of India when the Greek invasion of Alexander took place.

On the eve of the Greek invasion, the North-West India possessed no strong kingdom. Though the area was exposed to outside invasions, the rulers of the region did not attempt to create a big state for safety of the area. From middle of the 6th century B.C., the Persian Kings looked towards the frontier regions of India for invasion.


King Cyrus (558-530 B.C.) invaded the Gandhara territory and died of a wound inflicted by an Indian in the battle. His successor Darius (522-486 B.C.) invaded the Indian mainland in northern Punjab and Sind, and established his power in those areas. Such dangers from the foreign powers did not awaken the Indian powers to create a stronger kingdom in the Indus valley, as others were doing it in the Gangetic valley.

Thus, the North-West of India remained under weaker rulers till fourth century B.C. when Alexander appeared on the Indian frontiers. There were both smaller kingdoms and smaller republics in that region which made the foreign invasion easy. Many of these states were like tribal territories.

Added to that, they lived in conflict with each other, and maintained their isolated existence. Though the people were brave fighters in their respective lands, they had smaller resources. Divided and disunited for ages, and constantly fighting among themselves, they were destined to fall before the Macedonian invasion, even though resisting the powerful invaders most courageously.

It is difficult to know the exact location of the states and their boundaries since most of their old names have disappeared. It is equally difficult to clearly identify them from the description of the Greeks or from the Greek names given to those states.


Among the known states, however, the names of Gandhara, Taxila, Abhisara, Arsakes, the land of Puru or Paurava, Saubhuti, and the land of Mousikanos (Sind) stand out prominent. They were ruled by the kings. The ancient Gandhara kingdom, extending from the vicinity of Kabul towards the river Indus, was itself broken into parts. Its western part is identified with Pushkaravati, and its eastern part was Taxila.

The kingdom of Taxila or Takshasila, was situated in a strategic area between Central Asia and the interior of India. Its capital of the same name was famous in those days as a centre of higher learning with a great ancient University which attracted students from other parts of India to gather knowledge in the Vedas and scriptures, sciences, medicine and art of war. The kingdom extended from the Indus to the river Jhelum. Above Taxila, in the mountainous region, was the kingdom of Abhisara (some of the districts of modern Kashmir). Next was the small kingdom of Arsakes, identified with the modern Hazara district.

Between the rivers Jhelum and the Chenab was situated the kingdom of Puru or Paurava, called by the Greeks as Poros or Porus. According to Greek sources, it had a big army consisting of 50,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, 1,000 chariots, besides elephants. There was yet a small kingdom between the river Chenab and Ravi, which was ruled by the younger Poros, a nephew of the king Poros of the adjacent bigger state. The kingdom of Saubhuti, called by the Greeks as Sophytes, was situated in the east of Jhelum and the kingdom of Mousikanos was situated in the modern Sind.

There were a number of Republican or oligarchical states in the north-west India besides the monarchical states. Among them the most famous states were of the Siboi, the Agalassoi, the Oxydrakai or Kshudrakas who lived between the Ravi and the Beas, the Makoi or Malavas, and the Abastanoi or Ambasthas who lived in the lower Chenab region. Some of these republican tribes had powerful armies, and they were brave fighters.

Such being the political condition of North-West India, it was no wonder that the Macedonians under Alexander found it easy to invade India. Their invasion however proved a bliss in disguise. It paved path for the rise of the first great Indian Empire soon after Alexander’s departure.