Alexander in India

What once started as an unquenchable thirst for curiosity soon became a ruthless chain of conquests that brought Alexander far from home to the edge of Asia and on the doorstep of the Indian subcontinent. After his victory over the Achaemenid Empire in 328 BC, he set his eyes on further east. Thus marking the beginning of Alexander’s conquests in India.

Alexander held a special interest in India. He had heard of its riches through the accounts of Herodotus and others. Before marching further , Alexander made sure he had enough security in Bactria with 10,000 infantry and 3000 cavalries left there to enforce his rule along with a Macedonian commander.

Alexander made his approach clear to the rulers of the east. They were asked to either surrender or to take up arms against him. The call for submission garnered a mixed response.Some rulers like Omphis , also known as Ambhi or Taxiles, ruler of Taxila, welcomed him. However other locales like several hill clans of the region, small rulers,along with King Porus of the Paurava dynasty refused to submit to his mighty.

Alexander found a powerful ally in Ambhi. He provided the macedonian with his own army and helped Alexander cross the Khyber pass and lead him to the Indus river.Alexander evaluated the strength of Porus beforehand and decided to take on the small tribes first in order to strengthen his approach.

Alexander headed north to defeat the opposing hill tribes of the region. Alexander won the battle and managed to capture around 40,000 slaves and healthy livestock which he planned on sending to Macedonia in order to obtain a healthy hybrid. Around 7000 people died in those battles and many were taken as prisoners. According to the accounts of Arrian, while Alexander promised to show mercy if they surrendered, the prisoners tried to flee and were put to death for disloyalty.

In May of 326 BC, Alexander crossed the river and faced a strong resistance from Porus, the ruler of the region east of Hydaspes. What followed was the Great battle of River Hydaspes (now known as river Jhelum) fought in 326 BC between Porus (also known as king Purushottam) and Alexander. Alexander won the battle using clever tactics along with the added support of allied armies. He also founded a city named Nicaea in the region.

The audience of Alexander with Porus after battle of Hydaspes in India.
An artist’s rendition of Alexander and Porus after battle of Hydaspes in India.

After the battle, Alexander made Porus the ‘Satrap’ or ‘Kshatrapa’ (governor) of the region while keeping the region under his territory. An interesting account of the interaction between Alexander and Porus is one of the most circulated legendary accounts of Alexander’s life. After the battle Alexander asked Porus about how he should be treated? , he replied, “As a king should be.”. To further test his prisoner’s courage, Alexander said “But what do you want for yourself?” to which Porus replied that his previous answer was all that needed to be said. Such a dignified response created a sense of respect in Alexander’s mind for Porus, because of which he made him the Kshatrapa of his territory. Alexander gave orders to mint silver coins and medallions in order to commemorate this victory.

This battle proved to be quite exhausting for the psyche of the Macedonian army. The resentment of fighting endless wars was starting to take root in the mind of the soldiers. Alexander waited almost a month to rest before furthering his march towards the deeper parts of India.

His army faced tremendous opposition and fought bloody wars in order to keep the winning streak alive. This campaign of the Macedonians started to wear them off. They had to face difficult terrains and harsher climatic conditions. To make matters worse, more news of fierce resistance and attacks were coming from the Macedonian messengers who were monitoring the other generals that were leading small cavalries into battle. Not being able to take it anymore, the soldiers unanimously decided to withdraw themselves from war and declared that they would march no further.

This happened when Alexander was planning to conquer the kingdoms of the Nanda empire and the those situated on the banks of the river Ganges. This region was also referred to as “Gangaridai” by ancient scholars like Diodorus and Plutarch. The revolt took place near the eastern bank of the Hyphasis River or Beas River on the edge of Porus’s kingdom. Alexander became furious and he confined himself in his chambers refusing to meet even the closest of his peers thinking that his isolation would compel his soldiers to give in. It didn’t and Alexander couldn’t find any words inspiring enough to change their minds.

Soon after, Alexander declared that he would march forward with whoever decides to join him and he is not going to force anyone to do anything anymore. His honorable attitude didn’t help him in getting any response from the army. To better his weakening luck, Alexander performed several sacrifices that are meant to please the Greek gods, but these sacrifices failed to carry out successfully and rumors of bad omen spread all around.At last, Alexander gave up and reluctantly turned his army around. According to some experts, Alexander deliberately failed his sacrifices in order to save face and provide an acceptable reason to turn back however no historical source confirms it.

Alexander took the route down south from the river Indus to the ocean with his fleet of around more than 800 ships. He meant to define the eastern boundary of his conquered territory and crushed any opponents that got in his way. He was attacked by the Mallis of Punjab who were militarily strong and had the support of the neighboring rulers. The battle took place between 326 BC to 325 BC.

Alexander devised a strategy known as the ‘pincer’ attack in order to surround the enemy on multiple fronts. His plan succeeded and the Indians were defeated, but Alexander was gravely injured in the process. The reluctance of Alexander’s army towards fighting could be seen here as well when Alexander was forced to attack the enemy himself without any protection of his soldiers around him. In a fit of rage, he jumped inside the fortified wall of a Malli town and charged towards the enemy all alone which resulted in him getting pierced through the shoulder . After much struggle, an alliance was made with the Malli and the battle was over.

After that, Alexander moved forward along the river, killing what came in his way and proceeding to the sea.