Alexander’s Battle in India

Some would say that the title of this post should be “Alexander’s Battle in Pakistan”, but at that time Pakistan didnt exist, and probably thats why historians and these guys (no I am not confusing the two, being poles apart) refer to this battle in India. This is the battle that Alexander, having defeated all the empires on the way from Macedonia, including the mighty Darius, fought as he reached the Indian subcontinent. This was the battle he fought against the King Porus (known as Porus to the Greeks, the traditional name being King Purushottam), the king of Paurava. Paurava was the ancient Indian kingdom between the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. Some historians believe that this was a part of the larger Magadha kingdom, but thats a separate debate.

These guys were discussing about this, and this was a sort of continuation of this post. To cut a long story short, we know that Alexander defeated Porus at the battle they fought by the Hydaspes river (Jhelum). He was so impressed by Porus’ military might that he decided to return his kingdom to him. But could it have happened another way? There is a traditional in the subcontinent which says that it didnt quite play out that way. But how can that be? There are so many historical accounts which say that the Greeks won the battle. But what needs to be kept in mind is that these accounts are written by Greek historians, some of them centuries after the battle was fought.

So lets look at some common sense things to see what could be. Lets look at some of the things which stand out. To begin with, the narrative goes that Alexander used deception to cross the Jhelum, which means that he had a better understanding of the geography of the land than the local king. Then, as his army landed on the bank which Porus was defending, Porus sent his chariouts to ight off the invader but the chariots got stuck in the mud. Would a general not know the lay of the land to make a mistake like this? Porus is depicted in this tale, as having immense personal valour, but being devoid of the tactics of war, if one sees how the battle played out.

The other aspect is the reaction of the Greek troops. Do victorious troops, who have just vanquished an army maybe 5 times their size rebel, and insist on turning back? The army was tired, we are told, but if Porus was indeed defeated, surely the Greek army had his kingdom to recuperate from the wars they had fought, and Porus’ army would surely add their numbers to Alexander’s army, so facing the army of the Nanda empire may not have been a tall order. Yet, that doesnt seem to be what had happened. Instead, the invading army abruptly turned around and left. And this, it seems, could have been because the battle, in fact, wasnt completely won by Alexander. What seems more likely, given continued Greek presence in Taxila, is a deal of some sort which allwed the Greeks to exercise some form of influence in the north-western part of the subcontinent.

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