Alexander’s Invasion in India

Alexander was born in 356 B.C. in Macedonia, a kingdom of Greece. Philip, his Father, was the ruler of Macedon. He received his education from Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. After the death of his father, Alexander ascended the throne at the age of twenty only. Within a few years following the accession, he conquered Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor and Persia.

The Alexander’s invasion of India is an important event in the history of ancient India. But it created scarcely any impression in Indian mind. The veracity of the statement is established by the fact that the event is not referred to in any branch of ancient Indian literature. It is only from the Greek sources that we come to know of the events relating to Alexander’s invasion in India. The Greek accounts have been corroborated by the archeological evidences (especially numismatic evidences).

On the eve of Alexander’s invasion, the Indus was officially treated as the boundary line between India and the Persian Empire. But nowhere in the Punjab was any trace of Persian rule found. On the contrary, the Greek writings inform us that the north-western portion of India consisted of the Punjab and Sind. They were, again, divided into several small and independent kingdoms. Some of the states had established monarchy, and some tribal republics or oligarchy. The Greek writers named some tribes and kingdoms. Some among these were more important than the rest. The kingdom of Taxila was situated in the region east of the ancient kingdom of Gandhara. The King was Ambhi. The kingdom of Porus covered an extensive area of land lying between the Jhelum and the Chenub. The kingdom of Abhisara lay at the side of the kingdom of Porus. The modern districts of Punch and Nowshera of Kashmir constituted the kingdom of Abhisara. King Porus and King Abhisara were close friends. Another kingdom called Gandari was situated in the land lying between the rivers Chenub and he Ravi. Porus’ nephew ruled the kingdom. He was Porus’ name sake. The fortress of the kingdom of Kathoi was at Sangola. Kathoi was the chief of the confederacy of the independent tribes. They were reputed for their valor and military skill.

Among the tribal republics, mention should be made first of Oxydrakai. The territory was situated on the bank of the river Bitasta or Beas. In the lower valley of the Ravi was situated the Malla kingdom. Abastanoi was situated in the region beside, which the lower course of the Chenub or Chandrabhaga passed. Republican rule was in vogue in that state.

There was no intention of the states mentioned above to form any coalition or get united against the common enemy. On the other hand, mutual jealousy after engaged them in sharp conflicts with one another. We come to know that king Arnbhi of Taxila had quarrels with Porus and Abhisara. Porus was a proud and powerful king. He believed in the pursuit of aggressive policy. Oxydrakai and Malaya always apprehended a possible invasion of their states by Porus. Again, Mousi Kaunas in Sind was an enemy of its neighbouring kingdom of Sambos. The jealousy, quarrels, and disunity the states had developed had been used properly by Alexander to his advantage. Nowhere did he encounter the combined resistance of those states. Of course, in the north-eastern India, we come across a different picture. There Magadha built up an extensive empire and brought under its sway all the kingdoms of the Gangetic and the Chambal valleys. The ruler of Magadha had been referred to by the Greek writers as Agrames (Dhanananda). He was wealthy and powerful. He had under his a vast standing army.

Alter the conquest of Bacteria Alexander crossed the Hindukush Mountain and descended on the Koh-i-Daman valley in 327 B.C. There he founded a city called Alexandria. He left there a Greek garrison and advanced towards Kabul. Thereafter, he effected a division of his army. One division was placed in charge of general Hephaistion, and the other was commanded by general Perdikkas. They were asked to march direct towards India. Alexander himself supervised the position of the Greek army in the flanks. His aim was to suppress the formidable tribes of Swat Bazan.

It was no easy task to conduct war in hilly areas. In the result, Alexander had to spend invaluable period of five months. A hill tribe, called Aspamians, offered him stubborn resistance. Alexander’s first achievement was the conquest of Massaga. It was the capital of the Asakenai and a strong hill fort. Here- Alexander slaughtered 7000 mercenaries. They hailed from India and refused to serve Alexander. They were unwilling to fight on the side of Alexander against their homeland. The greatest achievement of Alexander was the occupation of the impregnable Amos fort. Hence he proceeded slowly towards the Indus. He met the advancing columns of his army near Und (Mind) which was north of Attock. In the battle that followed in the hill area he was completely successful and so suppressed the turbulent hill tribes that they never dared to upset communication lines the Greeks had set up.

In 326 B.C. Alexander crossed the Indus, and moved towards Taxila. Taxila was a prosperous city. King Ambhi of Taxila surrendered without giving fight. He appeased Alexander numerous gifts, because he sought the latter’s help in his war with the neighbouring enemies. These kingdoms were of Abhisara, Porus and Chenub. The king of Abhisara acknowledged loyalty to Alexander, but king Porus, when asked to surrender, refused in contempt to do so.

Alexander next advanced from Taxila to the bank of the Jhelum. On the other side of the river the army of Porus was getting prepared to withstand the advancing Greek contingents. But the horses of the Greek cavalry regiment could not betransported to the other side of the river. Alexander then espoused a new tactics. Some sixteen miles north of the Greek camp there was a bend of the river, and an islet nearby was deemed strategic. Alexander made secret preparation to cross the river from that position. Then under the cover of a dark, storm-stricken night he crossed the river and reached the destination.

It was beyond Porus’ wildest imagination that Alexander would make such a surreptitious arrangement for an onslaught upon his enemy. But when he saw through Alexander’s tricks, it had become too late for him to provide an effective counter to the Greek king’s move. Despite his being befooled, Porus tried to resist Alexander’s advance with courage and firmness, but he was routed and taken a captive. Alexander, of course, was highly impressed to observe the majestic personality and prowess of king Porus, and gave back his own kingdom with a few small territories being added to the same.

Alexander, next, advanced further. He defeated a martial race called ‘Glancise’ and gave over their kingdom to Porus. Another tribe called `Kathaos’ was also defeated by him. Having proceeded furthermore, he reached the bank of the Beas. The river was the boundary of the powerful Magadhan Empire. Alexander had a strong desire to fight the Magadhans, but his soldiers were weary of war and strongly inclined to return home. They were unwilling to march ahead. Many a writer, of course, says that the Greek soldiers took fright at the hearsay accounts relating to the power of Magadha and the vast army the Magadha emperor had in his command. Thus, Alexander was compelled to stage a return. In his return journey, he got his army divided into two detachments. He sent one to Persia which was to follow the marine route. It was placed in the charge of admiral Nearcos. He himself led the other detachment. They proceeded homeward through Baluchistan. On his way, he suppressed such turbulent and warlike tribes as Sibi, Malava, and Kshudraka. But on reaching Babylon, he died in 323 B.C. at the age of thirty three.

Alexander was not a military adventurer only, his expeditions cannot be identified as predatory incursions. Since the very beginning of his expedition, he developed an intention to annex permanently the Indian provinces lying in the Indus region. The administrative systems he introduced, the cities he founded at strategic places, the havens he constructed and the communications he set up and maintained—all these are expressive of his desire to annex the conquered territories permanently to his empire. The measures he adopted to carry out his plan had no reasons for their being unsuccessful. But premature death baffled his well-thought-out plan.

The direct results of Alexander’s invasion in India were insignificant. India could not be tied in the bondage of Hellenic civilization. She remained unchanged and continued, in this state, to live a life of splendid isolation. She healed soon the wound the war inflicted on her. Very soon did she forget Macedonian incursion. Even the slightest reference to Alexander or his military exploit is not found in any works of the ancient Indian authors.

The establishment of several Greek colonies in the north-west of India can be regarded as the only direct result of Alexander’s invasion. Many Greek cities lasted long. In Asoka’s rock edict there is reference to Yavana settlement in the north-western part of his empire.

But the indirect consequences of Alexander’s invasion are many and diverse.

  • Alexander opened one marine and three overland routes of communication between India and Europe and thus brought India to the vision of European civilization. Thus, the oriental and occidental cultures had an opportunity come close to each other.
  • Secondly, the formation of several Greek kingdoms in West Asia is the indirect result of Alexander’s invasion of India. These kingdoms were situated near the frontier of India, and hence exchange of ideas between the Indians and e Bactrian Greeks followed.
  • Thirdly, this cultural contact led, in course of time, to the growth of a cosmopolitan style of art in Gandhara kingdom. It was largely inspired by Greek influence. But Indian art, apart from Gandhara style, was not influenced much by Greek ideas and style.
  • Fourthly, among the Indian religions, the Buddhist religion was probably influenced by Greek religions ideas. In old Buddhist religion image worship was nowhere seen. In later times, the Buddhists introduced image worship, and this became the indispensible feature of Buddhism. The Greek influence made this development largely possible. Whatever Hellenic elements are seen in the field of Indian culture, are the indirect results of Alexander’s invasion of India.

 The political effects of Alexander’s invasion of India deserve observation. The Alexander’s invasion in India widened the way of political unification of north kingdoms under Chandragupta Maurya. The small kingdoms, and the tribal territories situated in the Indus valley region weakened much as a result of Alexander’s invasion. That is why, Chandragupta did not experience enough strain to bring those kingdoms under the way of his empire.

Nevertheless, Greek influence on India’s social life was not penetrating. Indian society, its body politic and its military skill and strategy remained unaffected by Greek influence.