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Seleucid-Mauryan War

  • Name of the war: Seleucid-Mauryan war
  • Year: 305-303 BC
  • Venue: Northwestern India; mainly the Indus River Valley

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, his military commanders or followers, also known as “the Diadochi”, broke apart his vast empire and began to fight among themselves for 20 long years (322-301 BC), referred to by the historians as the Wars of the Diadochi. One such cavalry commander, Seleucus I Nikator, took control of the eastern lands, from Mesopotamia to Central Asia and India, which were left ignored by others. Seleucus Nikator, became the King of Persia, Syria and Bactria and proclaimed himself as the founder of the Seleucid Dynasty. During that time, after the death of Alexander, Chandragupta Maurya, another great emperor (ruled: 324–301 BC), had established a strong empire in India, “The Mauryan Dynasty”. He expanded his rule westwards to present-day Southern Afghanistan and had driven out the Greeks from the Indian soil. Seleucus, therefore, wanted to restore these territories and move further to the east of Indus.

The reasons that led to the battle

Historians mention that it was Chandragupta Maurya’s love for Helen, the daughter of Seleucus Nikator that led to the war between the two emperors. In Greek History, Chandragupta was referred to as Sandrocottus. He had secretly seen Helen and was mesmerised by her beauty and charm and fell in love with her the moment he saw her and thought of marrying her. For this, he seeked advice from his counsellor and advisor, Chanakya, who suggested that the only way to get married to her was by declaring war against Seleucus. In the meantime, Seleucus, not aware of the power of Chandragupta Maurya, while establishing his empire in Persia and Eastern India, was secretly aiming to take over the Western India as well. This was, however possible, only by conquering North India, which was under the Nanda Empire. And it was Chandragupta Maurya, who conquered the North India, raised an alarm to Seleucus about the growing power of Chandragupta Maurya. Thus, in 305 BC, Seleucus with his huge army advanced to fight against Chandragupta Maurya to conquer India, which he considered his rightful inheritance.

The strength of warring forces

The original strength of Seleucus’ army was 50,000 which expanded by including 10,000 Bactrian recruits. On the other hand, the Indian army led by Chandragupta Maurya had 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, 9,000 war elephants.

Aftermath of the battle: Winner and Loser
  • Winner: Chandragupta Maurya, The Mauryan Empire
  • Loser: Seleucus, The Seleucid Empire

In the terrible Seleucid–Mauryan war on the northwest borders of India, Seleucus and his Greek army could not withstand the destructive attack on them by the valiant Indian fighters of the Mauryan Empire. The army of Chandragupta Maurya defeated the Greek invaders. There were many factors that led to the victory of Chandragupta Maurya. Besides the huge army and cavalry, Alexander's invasion also gave ideas to the Indian about the Greek methods of warfare. Moreover, Chandragupta’s bravery and Chanakya's sharp intelligence led him build up such an extensive empire with a vast well-trained and well-equipped army.

The larger implications of the battle

As soon as Seleucus lost the battle, he was forced to sign the peace treaty, which included the following:
  • Sign a marital treaty, also referred to as “Epigamia” in Greek terminology, in which, Chandragupta Maurya, advised by Chanakya, married the daughter of Seleucus, Helen, as an alliance between the two empires.
  • Seleucus surrendered his territories Herat, Kandhar, and the Kabul valley in Afghanistan to Chandragupta Maurya.
  • Chandragupta also received vast territories on the west of the Indus, like the Hindu Kush, and the Balochistan province of Pakistan.
  • Seleucus also surrendered the satrapies (governors) of Arachosia (Kandhahar), Paropamisade (Kamboja and Gandhara), and Gedrosia (Balochistan).
  • Chandragupta Maurya conquers all of the Macedonian Satrapies in the Indus River Valley.
  • In return, Chandragupta gifted 500 war elephants to Seleucus, which helped him get victory against western Hellenistic kings in the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE.
  • Diplomatic relations were established, which led to trade missions and missionary expeditions as well.
  • Many Greek scholars, historians were invited to the Mauryan court. One special mention was the historian Megasthenes, who wrote a famous book entitled “Indica”, giving a detailed account of his stay at the Mauryan court and of Chandragupta Maurya.
  • Another Greek ambassador to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra was Dimakos.

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

Though not much of detailed accounts of this war are available, but studies reveal that Seleucus faced a crushing defeat against the Mauryan emperor and his dream of conquering India was shattered forever.
  • Meanwhile, Chandragupta Maurya, kept on expanding his empire and established a strong centralised state. In fact, he was the first emperor to annex most of Greater India into one state.
  • According to Megasthenes, this centralised state, the capital of which was Pataliputra, was “surrounded by a wooden wall pierced by 64 gates and 570 towers and displayed the artistic splendours and expertise of Persian sites such as Susa and Ecbatana.”
  • Chandragupta’s son Bindusara extended the rule of the Mauryan dynasty, towards the central and the Southern India. It is mentioned that he conquered the land between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal (the land between the two seas).
  • Mamulanar, the famous Tamil poet of the Sangam literature, also describes how the Deccan Plateau was invaded by the Maurya army.
  • Bindusara’s son, Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, was a brilliant ruler, commander who re-asserted the Mauyan Empire’s superiority in the Southern and Western India. But it was his Kalinga War (262–261 BCE) which proved to be the turning point of his life.

Fifty years or so after Asoka's death, the huge Mauryan Empire began to decline. But, nevertheless, the Mauryan Empire in India was the first great empire in India's long history. The Mauryan dynasty was also one of the great empires of the Ancient World.

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Last Updated on : December 12, 2014