by Saima Durrani

Alexander the Great and his army had swept across Western Asia and into Egypt, defeating King Darius III and the Persians at the battles of rivers Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. Next he turned his attention to India.

In 327 BC Alexander invaded continental India through the hills of Bajaur and Suwat (Swat), the northwestern region, in an expedition that lasted a full two years. This was a period during which the Greeks overran the Punjab and defeated several Indian rulers including Poros at the battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum). Poros, who ruled the Punjab, the land of five rivers, was the overlord of many other princes in the region. Some of these princes were ready to rebel against him and they gladly welcomed the Greek invader but Poros gathered a great army and came marching against the foreign forces.

After allowing his army a pleasant rest in Taxila, Alexander marched eastwards to attack Poros between Jhelum and Chenab.

The battle at Hydaspes (Jhelum)

The army of Poros consisted of 30,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, 300 chariots and 200 mighty war elephants, yet still it was defeated. All the elephants were captured or killed, all the chariots were destroyed, 12,000 men were slain and 9,000 were taken prisoner. However the entire Macedonian casualties did not exceed 1,000. The primary reason for the Greek victory was the consummate leadership of Alexander, the greatest general in the history of the world.

The elephants which Poros had relied on proved unmanageable in battle and did more harm to his army than to the army of Alexander. The archers in his chariots were no match for Alexander’s mounted bowmen and the slippery ground hindered the Indian infantry from making full use of their formidable bows, which they were accustomed to draw after resting one end upon the earth and pressing hard with the left foot. The Indian infantrymen also carried a heavy two-handed sword slung from the left shoulder, a buckler of undressed ox-hide and sometimes javelins in place of bows. One wonders how they could walk, never mind fight.

Poros, a giant at six and a half feet, fought to the last and received nine wounds before he was taken prisoner. The victor, who willingly responded to his captive’s haughty request that he might be treated as a king, secured the alliance of the Indian monarch by prudent generosity. Alexander eventually appointed Poros to act as his viceroy over the seven nations which shared the territory.
“When Porus was taken prisoner, and Alexander asked him how he expected to be used, he answered, “As a king.” For that expression, he said, when the same question was put to him a second time, comprehended everything. And Alexander, accordingly, not only suffered him to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself, but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he subdued…” – Plutarch, The Age of Alexander (Penguin Classics, 1973)

Alexander was forced to leave when his troops refused to proceed beyond the Beas. The Greeks did not return as they had come, they sailed down the rivers Jhelum and Indus. But because so little was known of India at the time, Alexander and his army believed they were upon the Nile and that they would return home by way of Egypt!

A fleet, numbering 2,000 vessels of all sizes, had been built by the Greek officers on the upper waters of the Jhelum. In early October 325 BC, having spent about ten months on the voyage down the rivers to the sea, Alexander quitted the neighbourhood of modern-day Karachi with his remaining troops.

The young Greek undoubtedly aimed to annexe permanently the Indian provinces in the basin of the Indus and include them in his vast empire which extended all the way across Asia to his homeland in northern Greece. The arrangements which he made to carry out his intentions were both suitable and adequate but his premature death in 323 BC rendered his plans fruitless.

Although the direct effects of Alexander’s expedition to India may appear to be small, his proceedings did have an appreciable influence on the history of the country. They broke down the wall that separated West and East and opened up four distinct lines of communication, three by land and one by sea. The land routes which he proved to be practical were those through Kabul, the Mulla Pass in Baluchistan and Gedrosia. The shock tactics of his cavalry were repeated by Babur in the sixteenth century with equal success.

The author is a staff member at LAFZ Magazine