Indian campaign of Alexander the Great

Alexander's Indian campaign
Part of the Wars of Alexander the Great

Campaigns and landmarks of Alexander's invasion of India
Date327–325 BC
LocationAncient India
Result Macedonia conquers the north-western region of Ancient India
Macedonia various
Commanders and leaders
Alexander the Great various

The Indian campaign of Alexander the Great began in 326 BC. After conquering the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, the Macedonian king (and now the great king of the Persian Empire) Alexander launched a campaign into India. The Battle of the Jhelum river against a regional Indian King, Porus is considered by many historians, Peter Connolly being one of them, as the most costly battle that the armies of Alexander fought.

The rationale for this campaign is usually said to be Alexander's desire to conquer the entire known world, which the Greeks thought ended in India. While considering the conquests of Carthage and Rome, Alexander died in Babylon on June 10 or 11, 323 BC. In 321 BC, two years after Alexander's death, Chandragupta Maurya of Magadha, founded the Maurya Empire in India.


After the death of Spitamenes and his marriage to Roxana (Raoxshna in Old Iranian) to cement his relations with his new Central Asian satrapies, in 326 BC Alexander was finally free to turn his attention to India.

Alexander invited all the Chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara, to come to him and submit to his authority. Ambhi (Greek: Omphis), ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Jhelum (Greek: Hydaspes), complied. At the end of the spring of 327 BC, Alexander started on his Indian expedition leaving Amyntas behind with 3,500 horse and 10,000 foot soldiers to hold the land of the Bactrians.[1]

The leaders of some peoples, particularly those known in Hellenic sources as the Aspasioi and Assakenoi, refused to submit to Alexander. These peoples are now believed to be sections of the Kambojas, namely the Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas. (Both names appear to refer to share an Indo-Aryan root meaning "horse" – aśva (cf Sanskrit अश्व) – likely in reference to the equestrian nature of their societies.)

After dealing with the Aspasioi and Assakenoi, Alexander crossed the Indus to engage a ruler known to the Greeks as Πῶρος Pôros (Latin: Porus), whose name suggested that he was a member of the Paurava dynasty (whose founder was supposedly named Puru). The battle of the Hydaspes river, against forces led by Porus, was not only Alexander's last battle; it was also the most costly battle that his armies fought (according to historians such as Peter Connolly).

The Kambojas

"Victory coin" of Alexander the Great, minted in Babylon c.322 BCE, following his campaigns in the subcontinent.
Obv: Alexander being crowned by Nike.
Rev: Alexander attacking king Porus on his elephant.
Silver. British Museum.

Alexander personally took command of the shield-bearing guards, foot-companions, archers, Agrianians and horse-javelin-men and led them against the clans—the Aspasioi of Kunar valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus (Panjkora) valley, and the Assakenoi of the Swat and Buner valleys. Writes one modern historian: "They were brave people and it was hard work for Alexander to take their strongholds, of which Massaga and Aornus need special mention."[2][3] A fierce contest ensued with the Aspasioi in which Alexander himself was wounded in the shoulder by a dart but eventually the Aspasioi lost the fight; 40,000 of them were enslaved. The Assakenoi faced Alexander with an army of 30,000 cavalry, 38,000 infantry and 30 elephants.[4] They had fought bravely and offered stubborn resistance to the invader in many of their strongholds like cities of Ora, Bazira and Massaga. The fort of Massaga could only be reduced after several days of bloody fighting in which Alexander himself was wounded seriously in the ankle. When the Chieftain of Massaga fell in the battle, the supreme command of the army went to his old mother Cleophis who also stood determined to defend her motherland to the last extremity. The example of Cleophis assuming the supreme command of the military also brought the entire women of the locality into the fighting.[5][6] Alexander could only reduce Massaga by resorting to political strategem and actions of betrayal. According to Curtius: "Not only did Alexander slaughter the entire population of Massaga, but also did he reduce its buildings to rubbles".[7] A similar slaughter then followed at Ora, another stronghold of the Assakenoi.

Siege of Aornos

The Aornos is located to the north of Taxila, Pakistan

In the aftermath of general slaughter and arson committed by Alexander at Massaga and Ora, numerous Assakenians people fled to a high fortress called Aornos (not definitely identified but somewhere between Shangla, in Swat , and Kohistan region, both in Northern Pakistan). Alexander followed them close behind their heels and besieged the strategic hill-fort. The Siege of Aornos was Alexander's last siege, "the climax to Alexander's career as the greatest besieger in history" according to Alexander's biographer Robin Lane Fox.[8] The siege took place in April 326 BC.[9] It offered the last threat to Alexander's supply line, which stretched, dangerously vulnerable, over the Hindu Kush back to Balkh, though Arrian credits Alexander's heroic desire to outdo his kinsman Heracles, who allegedly had proved unable to take the place Pir-Sar, which the Greeks called Aornis. The site lies north of Attock in what is now the Punjab, Pakistan on a strongly reinforced mountain spur above the narrow gorges in a bend of the upper Indus. Neighboring tribesmen who surrendered to Alexander offered to lead him to the best point of access.

At the vulnerable north side leading to the fort, Alexander and his catapults were stopped by a deep ravine. To bring the siege engines within reach, an earthwork mound was constructed to bridge the ravine. A low hill connected to the nearest tip of Pir-Sar was soon within reach and taken. Alexander's troops were at first repelled by boulders rolled down from above. Three days of drumbeats marked the defenders' celebration of the initial repulse, followed by a surprise retreat. Alexander hauled himself up the last rockface on a rope. Alexander cleared the summit, slaying some fugitives (Fox) inflated by Arrian to a massacreand erected altars to Athena Nike, Athena of Victory, traces of which were identified by Stein (Fox 1973, Arrian). Sisikottos, or Saśigupta who had helped Alexander in this campaign, was made the governor of Aornos.


After reducing Aornos, Alexander crossed the Indus to begin campaigning in the Punjab region.

Battle of the Hydaspes River

Main Article: Battle of the Hydaspes

A painting by Charles Le Brun depicting Alexander and Porus (Puru) during the Battle of the Hydaspes

The Battle of the Hydaspes River was fought by Alexander in July 326 BC against king Raja Purushottama (Poros), a Hindu Kshatriya on the Hydaspes River (Jhelum River) in the Punjab, near Bhera. The Hydaspes was the last major battle fought by Alexander.[10] The main train went into modern day Pakistan through the Khyber Pass, but a smaller force under the personal command of Alexander went through the northern route, resulting in the Siege of Aornos along the way. In early spring of the next year, he combined his forces and allied with Taxiles (also Ambhi), the King of Taxila, against his neighbor, the King of Hydaspes.

Porus wiz Puru was a regional King in India. Arrian writes about Porus, in his own words "One of the Indian Kings called Porus a man remarkable alike for his personal strength and noble courage, on hearing the report about Alexander, began to prepare for the inevitable. Accordingly, when hostilities broke out, he ordered his army to attack Macedonians from whom he demanded their king, as if he was his private enemy. Alexander lost no time in joining battle, but his horse being wounded in the first charge, he fell headlong to the ground, and was saved by his attendants who hastened up to his assistance".

Porus drew up on the south bank of the Jhelum River, and was set to repel any crossings. The Jhelum River was deep and fast enough that any opposed crossing would probably doom the entire attacking force. Alexander knew that a direct crossing would fail, so he found a suitable crossing, about 27 km (17 mi) upstream of his camp. The name of the place is 'Kadee'. Alexander left his general Craterus behind with most of the army while he crossed the river upstream with a strong part of his army. Porus sent a small cavalry and chariot force under his son to the crossing.

According to sources, Alexander first encountered Porus's son in the past, so the two men were not strangers. Porus's son killed Alexanders's horse with one blow and Alexander fell to the ground. Arrian also writing about the same encounter adds that "Other writers state that there was a fight at the actual landing between Alexander's cavalry and a force of Indians commanded by Porus's son, who was there ready to oppose them with superior numbers, and that in the course of fighting he (Porus's son) wounded Alexander with his own hand and struck the blow which killed his (Alexander's) beloved horse Buccaphalus."

The force was easily routed, and according to Arrian, Porus' son was killed. Porus now saw that the crossing force was larger than he had expected, and decided to face it with the bulk of his army. Porus's army were poised with cavalry on both flanks, the war elephants in front, and infantry behind the elephants. These war elephants presented an especially difficult situation for Alexander, as they scared the Macedonian horses.

Alexander started the battle by sending horse archers to shower the Porus's left cavalry wing, and then used his cavalry to destroy the Puru's cavalry. Meanwhile, the Macedonian phalanxes had crossed the river to engage the charge of the war elephants. The Macedonians eventually surrounded Porus's force.

Diodorus wrote about the battle tactics of war elephants - "Upon this the elephants, applying to good use their prodigious size and strength, killed some of the enemy by trampling under their feet, and crushing their armour and their bones, while upon other they inflicted a terrible death, for they first lifted them aloft with their trunks, which they and twisted round their bodies and then dashed them down with great violence to the ground. Many others they deprived in a moment of life by goring then through and through with their tusks"

The fighting style of Porus' soldiers was described in detail by Arriam: "The foot soldiers carry a bow made of equal length with the man who bears it. This they rest upon the ground, and pressing against it with their left foot thus discharges the arrow, having drawn the string far backwards for the shaft they use is little short for three yards long, and there is nothing can resist an Indian archer's shot, neither shield nor breast plate, nor any stronger defence if such there be."

According to Curtius Quintus, Alexander towards the end of the day sent a few ambassadors to Porus: "Alexander, anxious to save the life of this great and gallant soldier, sent Texile the Indian to him (to Porus). Texile rode up as near as he dared and requested him to stop his elephant and hear what message Alexander sent him, escape was no longer possible. But Texiles was an old enemy of the Indian King, and Porus turned his elephant and drove at him, to kill him with his lance; and he might indeed have killed him, if he had not spurred his horse out of the way in the nick of the time. Alexander, however, far from resenting this treatment of his messenger, sent a number of others, last of whom was Indian named Meroes, a man he had been told had long been Porus' friend".(Arrian Page 180)

According to Plutarch this was one of Alexander's hardest battle " The combat then was of a more mixed kind; but maintained with such obstinacy, that it was not decided till the eight hour of the day." Plutarch also wrote that the bitter fighting of the Hydaspes made Alexander's men hesitant to continue on with the conquest of India, considering that they would potentially face far larger armies than those of Porus if they were to cross the Ganges River.

Porus was one of many local kings who impressed Alexander. Wounded in his shoulder, standing over 2 m (6 ft 7 in) tall, but still on his feet, he was asked by Alexander how he wished to be treated. "Treat me, Alexander, the way a King treats another King" Porus responded. Rogers (1970), questions the accuracy of this entire event, writing that Porus would never have said those words.[11]

Alexander did not continue, thus leaving all the headwaters of the Indus River unconquered. Afterwards, Alexander founded Alexandria Nikaia (Victory), located at the battle site, to commemorate his triumph. He also founded Alexandria Bucephalus on the opposite bank of the river in memory of his much-cherished horse, Bucephalus, who carried Alexander through the Indian subcontinent, and died heroically during the Battle of Hydaspes.[12]

Revolt of the army

Asia in 323BC, the Nanda Empire of Ancient India in relation to Alexander's Empire and neighbors.

East of Porus's kingdom, near the Ganges River (the Hellenic version of the Indian name Ganga), was the powerful Nanda Empire of Magadha and Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. Fearing the prospects of facing other powerful Indian armies and exhausted by years of campaigning, his army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (the modern Beas River) refusing to march further east.

Alexander's troops beg to return home from India in plate 3 of 11 by Antonio Tempesta of Florence, 1608.
As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at-arms and horsemen and elephants. For they were told that the kings of the Ganderites and Praesii were awaiting them with eighty thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand fighting elephants.[13]
Gangaridai, a nation which possesses a vast force of the largest-sized elephants. Owing to this, their country has never been conquered by any foreign king: for all other nations dread the overwhelming number and strength of these animals. Thus Alexander the Macedonian, after conquering all Asia, did not make war upon the Gangaridai, as he did on all others; for when he had arrived with all his troops at the river Ganges, he abandoned as hopeless an invasion of the Gangaridai when he learned that they possessed four thousand elephants well trained and equipped for war.[14]

Alexander, using the incorrect maps of the Greeks, thought that the world ended a mere 1,000 km (away), at the edge of India. He therefore spoke to his army and tried to persuade them to march further into India but Coenus pleaded with him to change his opinion and return, the men, he said, "longed to again see their parents, their wives and children, their homeland". Alexander, seeing the unwillingness of his men agreed and turned back.

Campaign against the Malli

Main article: Mallian Campaign

Along the way his army conquered the Malli clans (in modern-day Multan). During a siege, Alexander jumped into the fortified city with only two of his bodyguards and was wounded seriously by a Mallian arrow.[15] His forces, believing their king dead, took the citadel and unleashed their fury on the Malli who had taken refuge within it, perpetrating a massacre, sparing no man, woman or child.[16] However, due to the efforts of his surgeon, Kritodemos of Kos, Alexander survived the injury.[17] Following this, the surviving Malli surrendered to Alexander's forces, and his beleaguered army moved on, conquering more Indian tribes along the way.


Ptolemy coin with Alexander wearing an elephant scalp, symbol of his conquests in Southern Asia.

Alexander sent much of his army to Carmania (modern southern Iran) with his general Craterus, and commissioned a fleet to explore the Persian Gulf shore under his admiral Nearchus, while he led the rest of his forces back to Persia by the southern route through the Gedrosian Desert (now part of southern Iran) and Makran (now part of Pakistan). In crossing the desert, Alexander's army took enormous casualties from hunger and thirst, but fought no human enemy. They encountered the "Fish Eaters", or Ichthyophagi, primitive people who lived on the Makran coast of Arabian Sea, who had matted hair, no fire, no metal, no clothes, lived in huts made of whale bones, and ate raw seafood obtained by beachcombing. During the crossing, Alexander refused as much water as possible, to share the sufferings of his men.

In the territory of the Indus, Alexander nominated his officer Peithon as a satrap, a position he would hold for the next ten years until 316 BC, and in the Punjab he left Eudemus in charge of the army, at the side of the satrap Porus and Taxiles. Eudemus became ruler of a part of the Punjab after their death. Both rulers returned to the West in 316 BC with their armies. In 321 BC, Chandragupta Maurya of Magadha, founded the Maurya Empire in India and conquered the Macedonian satrapies during the Seleucid–Mauryan war (305-303 BC).


  1. Sastri 1988, p. 46.
  2. Worthington 2003, p. 162
  3. Narain, A. K. (1965). Alexander the Great: Greece and Rome – 12. pp. 155–165.
  4. "Quintus Curtius Rufus: Life of Alexander the Great". University of Chicago. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  5. Majumdar, R. C. (1971). Ancient India. p. 99.
  6. Mukerjee, R. K. History and Culture of Indian People, The Age of Imperial Unity, Foreign Invasion. p. 46.
  7. Curtius in McCrindle, p. 192, J. W. McCrindle; History of Punjab, Vol I, 1997, p 229, Punjabi University, Patiala (editors): Fauja Singh, L. M. Joshi; Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p. 134, Kirpal Singh.
  8. Fox 1973 p343
  9. Sastri 1988, p. 54.
  10. P.H.L. Eggermont, Alexander's campaign in Southern Punjab (1993).
  11. Rogers, p.200
  12. Arrian (2004). Tania Gergel, ed. The Brief Life and Towering Exploits of History's Greatest Conqueror as Told By His Original Biographers. Penguin Books. p. 120. ISBN 0-14-200140-6.
  13. Plutarch, Alexander, 62
  14. Megasthenes. Quoted from the Epitome of Megasthenes, Indika. (Diodorus II, 3542), Ancient India as Described by Megasthenes and Arrian. Translated and edited by J. W. McCrindle.
  15. Plutarch, Alexander. "Plutarch, Plutarch, Alexander (English).: Alexander (ed. Bernadotte Perrin)". Tufts University. Retrieved 2008-05-30. See also: "Alexander is wounded". Main Lesson. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  16. Tripathi, Rama Shankar. History of Ancient India.
  17. "Ancient Surgery:Alexander the Great". Archived from the original on 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2008-07-15.


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