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Battle of the Hydaspes

  • Name of the Battle: Battle of the Hydaspes (Alexander vs King Porus)
  • Venue: Punjab
  • Year: 327-26 BC

Alexander III, the King of Macedonia, always referred to as Alexander the Great, ruled from 336 to 323 BC. One of the greatest military geniuses of all time, his campaign against India began in 326 BC. After conquering the Persian Empire, he entered the north western Indian subcontinent, the present day Pakistan, and launched his campaign there. His invasion against King Porus in Punjab in the Battle of the Hydaspes River is considered as the costliest battle that Alexander fought, amongst all his earlier battles and invasions.

The reasons that led to the battle

During Alexander’s time, the whole of India was the land of Indus. It was a huge and one of the important subcontinents of Central Asia, of which the Greeks did not have much knowledge. According to them, India meant only the area in the North Western part, particularly the Punjab and Sind territories.

According to historical studies, there are many possible reasons as to why Alexander invaded India. Some say that Persia had possessed certain areas of India and Alexander wanted to get back those areas. Others feel that since India was an unknown country for the Greeks, Alexander wanted to conquer it out of curiosity. Another possible reason suggested by the Historians is that Alexander considered India as the end of Asia and invading India would make him a conqueror of the entire Asia.

It was in the summers of 327 BC that Alexander started his invasions. He entered the subcontinent and destroyed one city after the other, like he did in his earlier Persian conquests. There were many cities which did not even fought and surrendered before him. The other cities which did not surrendered vanquished. During such invasions, he made friendly relations with Ambhi, the ruler of Attock, who was also the enemy of King Purushottama, the ruler of the Paurava kingdom of western Punjab, or popularly known as King Porus.

The actual battle of invasion of India by Alexander was with King Porus, who gathered with his army to meet Alexander on the bank of the River Hydaspes. Initially, it was difficult for Alexander to enter the territory as Porus had blocked the entire path with his herd of elephants. It was difficult for Alexander to move along the river as Porus had also blocked him on the opposite side. As a result, Alexander divided his army into various groups all along the river so as to confuse Porus. For many nights, he used to send his army to various locations along the bank and asked them to raise war cries and make noises. Initially, Porus responded but later on realised that those were Alexander's pranks on confusing him. On the main night of attack, Alexander divided his army into three groups. One group of cavalry remained at the original spot to keep Porus off guard, the second group prepared for crossing the river and third group, led by Alexander, to attack Porus. This plan succeeded and Alexander easily defeated the troops of Porus and conquered him.

The strength of the warring forces

Alexander led Macedonian soldiers, Balkan fighters, Greek cavalry, and Persians allies. The total number of fighting men in Alexander’s group was more than 41,000. In the third group of army, which Alexander led on that night, there were 15,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry. On the other hand, King Porus had an army of 20,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry and 200 war elephants. It was mentioned that on that fateful night, Porus had sent an initial group of about 2,000 cavalry, to attack the Macedonians, while they were crossing the river.

Aftermath of the war: winner and loser
  • Winner: Alexander the Great
  • Loser: King Porus

No wonder, the great battle of the Hydaspes River, better known as the Invasion of India, ended in the surrounding of the Indians. Porus was made to surrender. However, it was not a very easy victory. The Macedonian army braced lots of problems while facing the elephants, which ferociously trampled and bruised their soldiers. This was Alexander's last major battle and was also considered one of his greatest conquests.

The larger implications of the invasion

It was strange that even after winning the war, Alexander allowed Porus to continue his rule. The reason behind this is that by the time the battle got over, Alexander had spent quite a lot on the war and ran out of resources to maintain his stature and strong presence at every nook and corner of his territory. Historical studies have revealed that inspite of losing the war, Porus was considered as an able and efficient independent ruler and Alexander could not influence Porus much in his domain. By 317 B.C., Alexander’s power started diminishing and disappeared completely. But, there is no denying the fact that Alexander had led great expeditions to various unknown territories of Asia and was successful in conquering most parts of the Western World.

The overall place and significance of the invasion in the Indian History

After the defeat of Porus in Punjab, Alexander fought many battles while marching through Northern India and discovered many cities and built altars. One special mention here is of a city which he conquered and named it in the honour of his favourite horse Bucephalus. It is said that the horse was buried in that city, which today lies in Pakistan. Another city that he captured was named as Alexandreia, in the honour of his own name. While conquering Indian subcontinent, he came across many new sights, boundless forests, wild peacocks, serpents and many more strange things. He entered the city of Lahore too. History books reveal that he wanted to reach the River Ganga and conquer the people there. But his men were tired of the repeated conquests and wars, and did not want to continue further. Alexander, against his will, turned back. After that, he and his men did not return. He could conquer only the north of India. Slowly, his trace of conquests disappeared from India. The names of the cities which he had captured changed.

But for many, many years, Alexander the Great lived in the memory of the Indians. After this great invasion of India by Alexander, in 321 BC, Chandragupta Maurya of Magadha, founded the Mauryan Empire in India. It was due to Alexander and his conquests that the Western world came to know about the existence of India.

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Last Updated on : December 12, 2014