Alexander’s Invasion of India (327–325 B.C.E.)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Macedonian Greeks under
Alexander the Great vs. various Indian peoples
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): India
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Conquest of India
OUTCOME: Alexander conquered India as far as the
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Alexander’s forces, 90,000; at the Battle of the Hydaspes
(326 B.C.E.), Alexander had 20,000 men, Porus (of India),
CASUALTIES: At the Battle of the Hydaspes, the Macedonia
Greeks lost 1,000, Porus’s army lost 12,000; 9,000 were
taken prisoner, including Porus.
The forces of Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.) invaded
India from their winter camp in the Hindu Kush (the
mountainous borderlands of modern Afghanistan and
Pakistan), marching south to the Indus River, which they
reached in the summer of 327. At the Khyber Pass, near
Aornos, Alexander was resisted by rebel highland tribal
warriors. They took up positions on a forbidding plateau
reaching some 7,000 feet. These refuges seemed impregnable
and certainly were to any conventional siege.
Alexander quietly had an 800-foot-deep ravine filled,
mounted his catapults on the fill, and also used it to access
the north face of the plateau. By night, leading 30 men,
Alexander scaled the cliff. He then stepped aside to give
the men the “honor” of being the first to assault the rebel
position. The rebels, however, killed all 30 men by showering
them with boulders. Alexander let another night
pass and then, when he heard the rebels’ victory drums on
the third night, he knew that the rebels assumed they had
defeated him. He chose this moment to make a surprise
attack, which was overwhelming. This victory achieved,
Alexander continued down the Indus valley.
His next adversary was a powerful Punjab raja, Porus
(fl. fourth century B.C.E.) with some 35,000 men. Alexander
met him in battle at the Hydaspes River in May 326
B.C.E. Once again the natural obstacles seemed insurmountable.
The river was in flood, raging, and Porus commanded
some 200 fierce elephants. Alexander set up his
camp defiantly across the river but in full view of the raja.
He established a camp routine and deliberately avoided
any signs of readying an attack. After some days Porus and
his forces were lulled into lowering their guard. Alexander
left most of his army in camp and slipped out with just
11,000 of his 20,000 men. He boldly crossed the flooding
river and in a spectacular two-pronged attack defeated
Porus’s chariots, then attacked the elephants with infantry,
who wielded axes against the beasts. In defeat Porus so
admired Alexander’s skill that he became a friend and ally,
willingly serving as his guide down the rest of the Indus.
After the battle, Alexander turned down the Beas
River, a tributary of the Indus in northwestern India, eager
to press on with his campaign of conquest. His army, however,
long away from home, yearned to return to Greece
and staged a mutiny in July (see ALEXANDER’S ARMY, THE
JULY MUTINY OF. Alexander backtracked and on his way
home subdued and conquered the Malli people.
Further reading: Flavius Arrianus, The Campaigns of
Alexander (New York: Viking, 1976); Peter Green, Alexander
of Macedon, 356–323 B.C.E.: A Historical Biography
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).