Alexander the Great, having completed the subjugation of Bactria, resolved to execute his cherished purpose of emulating and surpassing the mythical exploits of Dionysos, Herakles, and Semiramis by effecting the conquest of India. Toward the close of spring in the year 327 B.C., when the sun had sufficiently melted the snows, he led his army, including perhaps fifty or sixty thousand Europeans, across the lofty Khawak and Kaoshan passes of the Hindu Kush, or Indian Caucasus, and after ten days’ toil amidst the mountains emerged in the rich valley now known as the Koh-i-Daman.
Here, two years earlier, before the Bactrian campaign, he had founded a town, named as usual, Alexandria, as a strategical outpost to secure his intended advance. The governor of this town, whose administration had been a failure, was replaced by Nikanor, son of Parmenion, the king’s intimate friend; the population was recruited by fresh settlers from the surrounding
districts; and the garrison was strengthened by a reinforcement of veterans discharged from the ranks of the expeditionary force as being unequal to the arduous labours of the coming campaign.
The important position of Alexandria, which commanded the roads over three passes, having been thus secured, in accordance with Alexander’s customary caution, the civil administration of the country between the passes and the Kophen, or Kabul, River was provided for by the appointment of Tyriaspes as satrap. Alexander, when assured that his communications were safe, advanced with his army to a city named Nikaia, situated to the west of the modern Jalalabad, on the road from Kabul to India.
Here the king divided his forces. Generals Hephaistion and Perdikkas were ordered to proceed in advance with three brigades of infantry, half of the horse-guards, and the whole of the mercenary cavalry by the direct road to India through the valley of the Kabul River, and to occupy Peukelaotis, now the Yusufzi country, up to the Indus. Their instructions were couched in the spirit of the Roman maxim, – “Parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.”
Most of the tribal chiefs preferred the alternative of submission, but one named Hasti (Astes) ventured to resist. His stronghold, which held out for thirty days, was taken and destroyed. During this march eastward, Hephaistion and Perdikkas were accompanied by the King of Taxila, a great city beyond the Indus, who had lost no time in obeying Alexander’s summons and in
placing his services at the disposal of the invader. Other chiefs on the western side of the Indus adopted the same course, and, with the help of these native potentates, the Macedonian generals were enabled to make satisfactory progress in the task of bridging the Indus, which had been committed to them by their sovereign.
Alexander in person assumed the command of the second corps, or division, consisting of the infantry known as hypaspists, the foot-guards, the Agrianian or Thracian light infantry, the archers, the mounted lancers, and the rest of the horse-guards. With this force he undertook a flanking movement through the difficult hill country north of the Kabul River, in order to subdue the fierce tribes which inhabited, as they still inhabit, that region, and thus to secure his communications, and protect his army from attacks on the flank and rear. The difficulties of the operation due to the ruggedness of the country, the fierce heat of summer, the bitter cold of winter, and the martial spirit of the hill-men, were enormous, but no difficulties could daunt the courage or defeat the skill of Alexander.
Although it is absolutely impossible to trace his movements with precision, or to identify with even approximate certainty the tribes which he encountered, or the strongholds which he captured and destroyed in the course of some five months’ laborious marching, it is certain that he ascended the valley of the Kunar River for a considerable distance. At a nameless town in the hills, Alexander was wounded in the shoulder
by a dart, and the incident so enraged his troops that all the prisoners taken there were massacred, and the town was razed to the ground.
Soon after this tragedy, Alexander again divided his forces, leaving Krateros, “the man most faithful to him, and whom he valued equally with himself,” to complete the reduction of the tribesmen of the Kunar valley, while the king in person led a body of picked troops against the Aspasians, who were defeated with great slaughter.
He then crossed the mountains and entered the valley now called Bajaur, where he found a town named Arigaion, which had been burnt and abandoned by the inhabitants. Krateros, having completely executed his task in the Kunar valley, now rejoined his master, and measures were concerted for the reduction of the tribes farther east, whose subjugation was indispensable before an advance into India could be made with safety.
The Aspasians were finally routed in a second great battle, losing, it is said, more than forty thousand prisoners and 230,000 oxen. The perfection of the arrangements by which Alexander maintained communication with his remote European base is strikingly illustrated by the fact that he selected the best and handsomest of the captured cattle, and sent them to Macedonia for use in agriculture.
A fancied connection with Dionysos and the sacred Mount Nysa of Greek legend gave special interest to the town and hill-state called Nysa, which was among
the places next attacked An attempt to take the town by assault having failed by reason of the depth of the protecting river, Alexander was preparing to reduce it by blockade when the speedy submission of the inhabitants rendered further operations unnecessary. They are alleged to have craved his clemency on the ground that they were akin to Dionysos and the Greeks, because the ivy and vine grew in their country, and the triple-peaked mountain which overshadowed their town was no other than Mount Meros. Alexander, who found such fancies useful as a stimulant to his homesick troops, did not examine the evidence for the kinship with Dionysos in too critical a spirit, but was glad to accept the Nysaian appeals and to exercise a gracious clemency.
In order to gratify his own curiosity, and to give some of his best troops a pleasant holiday, he paid a visit to the mountain, now known as the Koh-i-Mor, accompanied by an adequate escort of the companion cavalry and foot-guards. The chants and dances of the natives, the ancestors of the Kafirs of the present day, bore sufficient resemblance to the Bacchanalian rites of Hellas to justify the claims made by the Nysaians, and to encourage the soldiers in their belief that, although far from home, they had at last found a people who shared their religion and might be regarded as kinsmen. Alexander humoured the convenient delusion and allowed his troops to enjoy with the help of their native friends a ten days’ revel in the jungles. The Nysaians, on their part, showed their gratitude for the
clemency which they had experienced, by contributing a contingent of three hundred horsemen, who remained with Alexander throughout the whole period of his advance, and were not sent home until October, 326 B.C., when he was about to start on his voyage down the rivers to the sea.
Alexander now undertook in person the reduction of the formidable nation called the Assakenoi, who were reported to await him with an army of twenty thousand cavalry, more than thirty thousand infantry, and thirty elephants. Quitting the Bajaur territory, Alexander crossed the Gouraios (Panjkora) River, with a body of picked regiments, including, as usual, a large proportion of mounted troops, and entered the Assakenian territory, in order to attack Massaga, the greatest city of those parts and the seat of the sovereign power.
This formidable fortress, probably to be identified with Minglaur, or Manglawar, the ancient capital of Suwat, was strongly fortified both by nature and art. On the east, an impetuous mountain stream, the Suwat River, flowing between steep banks, barred access, while on the south and west gigantic rocks, deep chasms, and treacherous morasses impeded the approach of an assailing force. Where nature failed to give adequate protection, art had stepped in, and had girdled the city with a mighty rampart, built of brick, stone, and timber, about four miles (35 stadia) in circumference, and guarded by a deep moat. While reconnoitring these formidable defences, and considering
his plan of attack, Alexander was again wounded by an arrow. The wound was not very serious, and did not prevent him from continuing the active supervision of the siege operations, which were designed and controlled throughout by his master mind
Commanded by such a general the meanest soldier becomes a hero. The troops laboured with such zeal that within nine days they had raised a mole level with the ground sufficient to bridge the moat, and to allow the movable towers and other engines to approach the walls. The garrison was disheartened by the death of their chief, who was killed by a blow from a missile discharged by an engine, and the place was taken by storm. Kleophis, the consort of the slain chieftain, and her infant son were captured, and it is said that she subsequently bore a son to Alexander.
The garrison of Massaga had included a body of seven thousand mercenary troops from the plains of India. Alexander, by a special agreement, had granted these men their lives on condition that they should change sides and take service in his ranks. In pursuance of this agreement, they were allowed to retire and encamp on a small hill facing, and about nine miles (80 stadia) distant from, the Macedonian camp. The mercenaries being unwilling to aid the foreigner in the subjugation of their countrymen, desired to evade the unwelcome obligation which they had incurred, and proposed to slip away by night and return to their homes. Alexander, having received information of their design, suddenly attacked the Indians while they
reposed in fancied security, and inflicted severe loss upon them. Recovering from their surprise, the mercenaries formed themselves into a hollow circle, with the women and children in the centre, and offered a desperate resistance, in which the women took an active part. At last the gallant defenders were overpowered by superior numbers, and, in the words of an ancient historian, “met a glorious death which they would have disdained to exchange for a life with dishonour.” The unarmed camp-followers and the women were spared.
This incident, which has been severely condemned by various writers, ancient and modern, as a disgraceful breach of faith by Alexander, does not seem to have been, as supposed by Diodorus, the outcome of implacable enmity felt by the king against the mercenaries. The slaughter of the contingent was rather, as represented by Arrian, the tremendous penalty for a meditated breach of faith on the part of the Indians, and, if this explanation be true, the penalty cannot be regarded as altogether undeserved. While the accession of seven thousand brave and disciplined troops would have been a welcome addition to Alexander’s small army, the addition of such a force to the enemy in the plains would have been a serious impediment to his advance; and he was, perhaps, justified in protecting himself against such a formidable increase of the enemy’s strength.
Alexander next captured a town called Ora or Nora, and occupied an important place named Bazira, the
inhabitants of which, with those of other towns, had retired to the stronghold of Aornos near the Indus, the great mountain now known as Mahaban. The desire of Alexander to capture this position, believed to be impregnable, was based upon military exigencies, and fired by a legend that the demigod Herakles, whom he claimed as an ancestor, had been baffled by the defences.
The mountain, which is at least twelve miles in circumference, and rises to a height of more than seven thousand feet above the sea, or five thousand above the Indus, is washed on its southern face by that river, which at this point is of great depth, and enclosed by rugged and precipitous rocks, forbidding approach from that side. On the other sides, as at Massaga, ravines, cliffs, and swamps presented obstacles sufficient to daunt the bravest assailant. A single path gave access to the summit, which was well supplied with. water, and comprised arable land requiring the labour of a thousand men for its cultivation. The summit was crowned by a steeply scarped mass of rock, which formed a natural citadel, and was doubtless further protected by art.
Before undertaking the siege of this formidable stronghold, Alexander, with his habitual foresight, secured his rear by placing garrisons in the towns of Ora, Massaga, Bazira, and Orobatis, in the hills of Suwat and Buner.
He further isolated the fortress by personally marching down into the plains, probably through the Shahkot
pass, and receiving the submission of the important city of Peukelaotis (Charsadda) and the surrounding territory, now known as the Yusufzi country. During this operation he was assisted by two local chiefs. He then made his way somehow to Embolima, the modern Amb, a small town on the Indus, at the foot of Aornos, and there established a depot under the command of Krateros. In case the assault should fail, and the siege be converted into a blockade, this depot was intended to serve as a base for protracted operations, should such prove to be necessary.
Having thus deliberately made his dispositions for the siege, Alexander spent two days in careful personal reconnaissance of the position with the aid of a small force, chiefly consisting of light-armed troops. Assisted by local guides, whose services were secured by liberal reward, Ptolemy, the son of Lagos, secured a valuable foothold on the eastern spur of the mountain, where he entrenched his men. An attempt made by the king to support him having been frustrated, this failure led to a vigorous attack by the Indians on Ptolemy’s entrenchments, which was repulsed after a hard fight.
A second effort made by Alexander to effect a junction with his lieutenant, although stoutly opposed by the besieged, was successful, and the Macedonians were now in secure possession of the vantage-ground from which an assault on the natural citadel could be delivered.
The task before the assailants was a formidable one,
for the crowning mass of rock did not, like most eminences, slope gradually to the summit, but rose abruptly in the form of a steep cone. Examination of the ground showed that a direct attack was impossible until some of the surrounding ravines should be filled up. Plenty of timber was available in the adjoining forests, and Alexander resolved to use this material to form a pathway. He himself threw the first trunk into the ravine, and his act was greeted with a loud cheer signifying the keenness of the troops, who could not shrink from any labour, however severe, to which their king was the first to put his hand.
Within the brief space of four days Alexander succeeded in gaining possession of a small hill on a level with the rock, and in thus securing a dominant position. The success of this operation convinced the garrison that the capture of the citadel was merely a question of time, and the negotiations for capitulation on terms were begun.
The besieged, being more anxious to gain time for escape than to conclude a treaty, evacuated the rock during the night, and attempted to slip away unobserved in the darkness. But the unsleeping vigilance of Alexander detected the movement, and partially defeated their plans. Placing himself at the head of seven hundred picked men, he clambered up the cliff the moment the garrison began to retire, and slew many.
In this way the virgin fortress, which even Herakles had failed to win, became the prize of Alexander. The
king, justly proud of his success, offered sacrifice and worship to the gods, dedicated altars to Athene and Nike, and built a fort for the accommodation of the garrison which he quartered on the mountain. The command of this important post was entrusted to Sisikottos (Sasigupta), a Hindu, who long before had deserted from the Indian contingent attached to the army of Bessus, the rebel satrap of Bactria, and had since proved himself a faithful officer in the Macedonian service.
Alexander then proceeded to complete the subjugation of the Assakenians by another raid into their country, and occupied a town named Dyrta, which
probably lay to the north of Aornos. This town and the surrounding district were abandoned by the inhabitants, who had crossed the Indus, and taken refuge in the Abhisara country, in the hills between the Hydaspes (Jihlam) and Akesines (Chinab) Rivers. He then slowly forced his way through the forests down to the bridge-head at Ohind. Although the direct distance is not great, the work of clearing a road passable for an army was so arduous that fifteen or sixteen marches were required to reach Hephaistion’s camp.
Opinions have differed concerning the location of the bridge over the Indus, and most writers have been inclined to place it at Attock (Atak), where the river is narrowest. But the recent investigations of M. Foucher have clearly established the fact that the bridge, probably constructed of boats, must have been at Ohind, or Und, sixteen miles above Attock. Having arrived at the bridge-head, Alexander sacrificed to the gods on a magnificent scale, and gave his army thirty days of much needed rest, amusing them with games and gymnastic contests.
At Ohind Alexander was met by an embassy from Ambhi (Omphis), who had recently succeeded to the throne of Taxila, the great city three marches beyond the Indus. The lately deceased king had met the invader in the previous year at Nikaia and tendered the submission of his kingdom. This tender was now renewed on behalf of his son by the embassy, and was supported by a contingent of seven hundred horse and the gift of valuable supplies, comprising thirty
elephants, three thousand fat oxen, more than ten thousand sheep, and two hundred talents of silver.
The ready submission of the rulers of Taxila is explained by the fact that they desired Alexander’s help against their enemies in the neighbouring states. Taxila was then at war both with the hill kingdom of Abhisara and with the more powerful state governed by the king whom the Greeks called Poros, which corresponded with the modern districts of Jihlam, Gujarat, and Shahpur.
Spring had now begun, and as the omens were favourable, the refreshed army began the passage of the river one morning at daybreak, and, with the help of the Taxilan king, safely effected entrance on the soil of India, which no European traveller or invader had ever before trodden.
A curious incident marked the last day’s march to Taxila. When four or five miles from the city Alexander was startled to see a complete army in order of battle advancing to meet him. He supposed that treacherous opposition was about to be offered, and had begun to make arrangements to attack the Indians,
. when Ambhi galloped forward with a few attendants and explained that the display of force was intended as an honour, and that his entire army was at Alexander’s disposal. When the misunderstanding had been removed, the Macedonian force continued its advance and was entertained at the city with royal magnificence.
Taxila, now represented by miles of ruins to the
northwest of Rawalpindi and the southeast of Hasan Abdal, was then one of the greatest cities of the East, and was especially famous as the principal seat of Hindu learning in Northern India, to which scholars of all classes flocked for instruction.
Ambhi recognized Alexander as his lord, and received from him investiture as lawful successor of his deceased father, the King of Taxila. In return for the favour shown to him by the invader, he provided
the Macedonian army with liberal supplies, and presented Alexander with eighty talents of coined silver and golden crowns for himself and all his friends. Alexander, not to be outdone in generosity, returned the presents, and bestowed on the donor a thousand talents from the spoils of war, along with many banqueting vessels of gold and silver, a vast quantity of Persian drapery, and thirty chargers caparisoned as when ridden by himself. This lavish generosity, although displeasing to Alexander’s Macedonian officers, was probably prompted more by policy than by sentiment.
It purchased a contingent of five thousand men, and secured the fidelity of a most useful ally.
While Alexander was at Taxila, the hill chieftain of Abhisara, who really intended to join Poros in repelling the invader, sent envoys who professed to surrender to Alexander all that their master possessed. This mission was favourably received, and Alexander hoped that Poros would display complaisance equal to that of his ally. But a summons sent requiring him to do homage and pay tribute was met with the proud answer that he would indeed come to his frontier to meet the invader, but at the head of an army ready for battle.
Having stayed in his comfortable quarters at Taxila for sufficient time to rest his army, Alexander led his forces, now strengthened by the Taxilan contingent and a small number of elephants, eastward to meet Poros, who was known to be awaiting him on the farther bank of the Hydaspes (Jihlam) River. The march from Taxila to Jihlam on the Hydaspes, in a south-easterly direction, a distance of about a hundred or a hundred and ten miles, according to the route followed, brought the army over difficult ground and probably occupied a fortnight. The hot season was at its height, but to Alexander all seasons were equally fit for campaigning, and he led his soldiers on and on from conquest to conquest, regardless of the snows of the mountains and the scorching heat of the plains. He arrived at Jihlam early in May, and found the river already flooded by the melting of the snow on the hills.
The boats which had served for the passage of the Indus were cut into sections and transported on wagons to be rebuilt on the bank of the Hydaspes, where they were again utilized for the crossing of that river.
In spite of the most elaborate preparations, the problem of the passage of the Hydaspes in the face of a superior force could not be solved without minute local knowledge, and Alexander was compelled to defer his decision as to the best feasible solution until he should have acquired the necessary acquaintance with all the local conditions. On his arrival, he found the
army of Poros, fifty thousand strong, drawn up on the opposite bank. It was obvious that the horses of the cavalry, the arm upon which the Macedonian commander placed his reliance, could not be induced to clamber up the bank of a flooded river in the face of a host of elephants, and that some device for evading this difficulty must be sought.
Alexander, therefore, resolved, in the words of Arrian, to “steal a passage.” The easiest plan would have been for the invader to wait patiently in his lines until October or November, when the waters would subside and the river might become fordable. Although such dilatory tactics did not commend themselves to the impetuous spirit of Alexander, he endeavoured to lull the vigilance of the enemy by the public announcement that he intended to await the change of season, and gave a colour of truth to the declaration by employing his troops in foraging expeditions and the collection of a great store of provisions. At the same time his flotilla of boats continually moved up and down the river, and frequent reconnaissances were made in search of a ford. “All this,” as Arrian observes, “prevented Poros from resting and concentrating His preparations at any one point selected in preference td any other as the best for defending the passage.”
Rafts, galleys, and smaller boats were secretly prepared and hidden away among the woods and islands in the upper reaches of the river where it escapes from the mountains. These preliminaries occupied six or seven weeks, during which time the rains had broken,
and the violence of the flood had increased. Careful study of the ground had convinced Alexander that the best chance of crossing in safety was to be found near a sharp bend in the river about sixteen miles marching distance above his camp, at a point where his embarkation would be concealed by a bluff and an island covered with forest. Having arrived at this decision, Alexander acted upon it, not only, as Arrian justly remarks, with “marvellous audacity,” but with consummate prudence and precaution.
He left Krateros with a considerable force, including the Taxilan contingent of five thousand men, to guard the camp near Jihlam, and supplied him with precise instructions as to the manner in which he should use this reserve force to support the main attack. Halfway between the standing camp and the chosen crossing-place three generals were stationed with the mercenary cavalry and infantry, and had orders to cross the river as soon as they should perceive the Indians to be fairly engaged in action. All sections of the army were kept in touch by a chain of sentries posted along the bank.
When all these precautionary arrangements had been completed, Alexander in person took command of a picked force of about eleven or twelve thousand men, including the foot-guards, hypaspist infantry, mounted archers, and five thousand cavalry of various kinds, with which to effect the passage. In order to escape observation, he marched by night at some distance from the bank, and his movements were
further concealed by a violent storm of rain and thunder which broke during the march. He arrived unperceived at the appointed place, and found the fleet of galleys, boats, and rafts in readiness.
The enemy had no suspicion of what was happening until the fleet appeared in the open river beyond the wooded island, and Alexander disembarked his force at daybreak without opposition. But when he had landed, he was disappointed to find that yet another deep channel lay in front, which must be crossed. With much difficulty a ford was found, and the infantry struggled through, breast-deep in the stream, while the horses swam with only their heads above water. The sole practicable road from the camp of Poros involved a wide detour, which rendered prompt opposition impossible, and Alexander was able to deploy his dripping troops on the mainland before any attempt could be made to stop him.
Then, when it was too late, the son of the Indian king came hurrying up with two thousand horse and 120 chariots. This inadequate force was speedily routed with the loss of four hundred killed and of all the chariots. Fugitives carried the disastrous news to the camp of Poros, who moved out with the bulk of his army to give battle, leaving a guard to protect his baggage against Krateros, who lay in wait on the opposite bank. The Indian army deployed on the only ground available, the plain now known as Karri, girdled on the north and east by low hills, and about five miles in width at its broadest part. The surface was a firm
sandy soil, well adapted for military movements even in the rainy season.
A stately force it was with which the Indian monarch moved forth to defend his country against the audacious invader from the west. Two hundred huge elephants, stationed at intervals of not less than a hundred feet from one another, and probably in eight ranks, formed the front in the centre.
From the Ajanta cave paintings
The chief reliance of Pros was on these monsters, who would, it was calculated, terrify the foreign soldiers and render the dreaded cavalry unmanageable. Behind the elephants stood a compact force of thirty thousand infantry with projections on the wings, and files of the infantry were pushed forward in the intervals between the elephants, so that the Indian army presented “very much the appearance of a city, – the elephants as they stood resembling its towers, and the men-at-arms
placed between them resembling the lines of wall intervening between tower and tower.” Both flanks were protected by cavalry with chariots in front. The cavalry numbered four thousand and the chariots three hundred. Each chariot was drawn by four horses, and carried six men, two of whom were archers, stationed one on each side of the vehicle, two were shield-bearers, and two were charioteers, who in the stress of battle were wont to drop the reins and ply the enemy with darts.
The infantry were all armed with a broad and heavy two-handed sword, and a long buckler of undressed ox-hide. In addition to these arms each man carried either javelins or a bow. The bow is described by Arrian as being “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 discharge the arrow, having drawn the string backwards; for the shaft they use is little short of being three yards long, and there is nothing which can resist an Indian archer’s shot – neither shield nor breastplate, nor any stronger defence, if such there be.”
But great as was the power of the Indian bow, it was too cumbrous to meet the attack of the mobile Macedonian cavalry. The slippery state of the surface prevented the archers from resting the end of their weapons firmly on the ground, and Alexander’s horse were able to deliver their charge before the bowmen had completed their adjustments. The Indian horsemen, each of whom carried two javelins and a buckler, were
far inferior in personal strength and military discipline to Alexander’s men. With such force and such equipment Poros awaited the attack of the greatest military genius whom the world has seen.
Alexander clearly perceived that his small force would have no chance of success in a direct attack upon the enemy’s centre, and resolved to rely on the effect of a vigorous cavalry charge against the Indian left wing. The generals in command of the six thousand infantry at his disposal were ordered to play a waiting game, and to take no part in the action until they should see the Indian foot and horse thrown into confusion by the charge of cavalry under Alexander’s personal command.
He opened the action by sending his mounted archers, a thousand strong, against the left wing of the Indian army, which must have extended close to the bank of the river. The archers discharged a storm of arrows and made furious charges. They were quickly followed by the Guards led by Alexander himself. The Indian cavalry on the right wing hurried round by the rear to support their hard-pressed comrades on the left. But meantime two regiments of horse commanded by Koinos, which had been detached by Alexander for the purpose, swept past the front of the immobile host of Poros, galloped round its right wing, and threatened the rear of the Indian cavalry and chariots. While the Indian squadrons were endeavouring to effect a partial change of front to meet the impending onset from the rear, they necessarily fell into a certain amount of confusion.
Alexander, seeing his opportunity, seized the very moment when the enemy’s horse were changing front, and pressed home his attack. The Indian ranks on both wings broke and “fled for shelter to the elephants as to a friendly wall.” Thus ended the first act in the drama.
The elephant drivers tried to retrieve the disaster by urging their mounts against the Macedonian horse, but the phalanx, which had now advanced, began to take its deferred share in the conflict. The Macedonian soldiers hurled showers of darts at the elephants and their riders. The maddened beasts charged and crushed through the closed ranks of the phalanx, impenetrable to merely human attack. The Indian horsemen seized the critical moment, and, seeking to revenge the defeat which they had suffered in the first stage of the action, wheeled round and attacked Alexander’s cavalry. But the Indians were not equal to the task which they attempted, and, being repulsed, were again cooped up among the elephants. The second act of the drama was now finished.
The third and last began with a charge by the Macedonian massed cavalry, which crashed into the broken Indian ranks and effected an awful carnage. The battle ended at the eighth hour of the day in a scene of murderous confusion, which is best described in the words of Arrian, whose account is based on that of men who shared in the fight.
“The elephants,” he writes, “being now cooped up within a narrow space, did no less damage to their
friends than to their foes, trampling them under their feet as they wheeled and pushed about. There resulted in consequence a great slaughter of the cavalry, cooped up as it was within a narrow space around the elephants. Many of the elephant drivers, moreover, had been shot down, and of the elephants themselves some had been wounded, while others, both from exhaustion and the loss of their mahouts, no longer kept to their own side of the conflict, but, as if driven frantic by their sufferings, attacked friend and foe quite indiscriminately, pushed them, trampled them down, and killed them in all manner of ways. But the Macedonians, who had a wide and open field, and could therefore operate as they thought best, gave way when the elephants charged, and when they retreated followed at their heels and plied them with darts, whereas the Indians, who were in the midst of the animals, suffered far more from the effects of their rage.
“When the elephants, however, became quite exhausted, and their attacks were no longer made with vigour, they fell back like ships backing water, and merely kept trumpeting as they retreated with their faces to the enemy. Then did Alexander surround with his cavalry the whole of the enemy’s line, and signal that the infantry, with their shields linked together so as to give the utmost compactness to their ranks, should advance in phalanx. By this means the cavalry of the Indians was, with a few exceptions, cut to pieces in the action. Such also was the fate of the infantry, since the Macedonians were now pressing them from every
side. Upon this, all turned to flight wherever a gap could be found in the cordon of Alexander’s cavalry.”
Meanwhile, Krateros and the other officers left on the opposite bank of the river had crossed over, and with their fresh troops fell upon the fugitives, and wrought terrible slaughter. The Indian army was annihilated, all the elephants were either killed or captured, and the chariots destroyed. Three thousand horsemen, and not less than twelve thousand foot-soldiers were killed, and nine thousand taken prisoners. The Macedonian loss, according to the highest estimate, did not exceed a thousand.
Poros himself, a magnificent giant, six and a half feet in height, fought to the end, but at last succumbed to nine wounds, and was taken prisoner in a fainting condition.
Alexander had the magnanimity to respect his gallant adversary, and willingly responded to his proud request to be “treated as a king.” The victor not only confirmed the vanquished prince in the government of his ancestral territory, but added to it other lands of still greater extent, and by this politic generosity secured for the brief period of his stay in the country a grateful and faithful friend.
The victory was commemorated by the foundation of two towns, one named Nikaia, situated on the battlefield, and the other, named Boukephala, situated at the point whence Alexander had started to cross the Hydaspes. The latter was dedicated to the memory of Alexander’s famous charger, which had carried him
safely through so many perils, and had now at last succumbed to weariness and old age. Boukephala, by reason of its position at a ferry on the high road from the west to the Indian interior, became a place of such fame and importance as to be reckoned by Plutarch among the greatest of Alexander’s foundations. It was practically identical with the modern town of Jihlam (Jhelum), and its position is more closely marked by the extensive elevated mound to the west of the existing town.
The position of Nikaia, which never attained fame, is less certain, but should probably be sought at the village of Sukhchainpur to the south of the Karri plain, the scene of the battle.
Alexander, after performing with fitting splendour the obsequies of the slain, offered the customary sacrifices, celebrated games, and left Krateros behind with a portion of the army and orders to fortify posts and maintain communications. The king himself, taking a force of picked troops, largely composed of cavalry, invaded the country of a nation called Glausai or Glaukanikoi, adjacent to the dominions of Poros. Thirty-seven considerable towns and a multitude of villages, having readily submitted, were added to the extensive territory administered by Poros. The king of the lower hills, who is called Abisares by the Greek writers, finding resistance hopeless, again tendered his submission. Another Poros, nephew of the defeated monarch, who ruled a tract called Gandaris, probably that between the Chinab and Ravi Rivers now known as Gondal Bar,
From a Fifteenth Century MS. in the British Museum. (After McCrindle)
sent envoys promising allegiance to the invincible invader, and sundry independent tribes followed the example of these princes.
Alexander, moving in a direction more easterly than before, crossed the Akesines (Chinab) at a point not specified, but certainly near the foot of the hills. The passage of the river, although unopposed, was difficult by reason of the rapid current of the flooded stream, which was three thousand yards (15 stadia) in width, and of the large and jagged rocks with which the channel was bestrewn, and on which many of the boats were wrecked.
The king, having made adequate arrangements for supplies, reinforcements, and the maintenance of communications, continued his advance eastwards, probably passing close to the ancient fortress of Sialkot. The Hydraotes (Ravi) River was crossed without difficulty and Hephaistion was sent back in order to reduce to obedience the younger Poros, who had revolted owing to feelings of resentment at the excessive favour shown to his uncle and enemy.
Alexander selected as the adversaries worthy of his steel the more important confederacy of independent tribes which was headed by the Kathaioi, who dwelt upon the left or eastern side of the Hydraotes, and enjoyed the highest reputation for skill in the art of war. Their neighbours, the Oxydrakai, who occupied the basin of the Hyphasis, and the Alalloi, who were settled along the lower course of the Hydraotes below Lahore and were also famous as brave warriors,
intended to join the tribal league, but had not actually done so at this time. The Kathaioi were now supported only by minor clans, their immediate neighbours, and the terrible fate which awaited the Malloi was postponed for a brief space.
On the second day after the passage of the Hydraotes, Alexander received the capitulation of a town named Pimprama, belonging to a clan called Adraistai by Arrian, and, after a day’s rest, proceeded to invest Sangala, which the Kathaioi and the allied tribes had selected as their main stronghold. The tribes protected their camp, which lay under the shelter of a low hill, by a triple row of wagons, and offered a determined resistance.
Meantime, the elder Poros arrived with a reinforcement for the besiegers of five thousand troops, elephants, and a siege-train, but before any breach in the city wall had been effected, the Macedonians stormed the place by escalade, and routed the allies, who lost many thousands killed. Alexander’s loss in killed was less than a hundred, but twelve hundred of his men were wounded – an unusually large proportion. San-gala was razed to the ground, as a punishment for the stout resistance of its defenders.
Yet another river, the Hyphasis (Bias), lay in the path of the royal adventurer, who advanced to its bank and prepared to cross, being determined to subdue the nations beyond. These were reputed to be clans of brave agriculturists, enjoying an admirable system of aristocratic government, and occupying a fertile territory
well supplied with elephants of superior size and courage.
Alexander, having noticed that his troops no longer followed him with their wonted alacrity, and were indisposed to proceed to more distant adventures, sought to rouse their enthusiasm by an eloquent address, in which he recited the glories of their wondrous conquests from the Hellespont to the Hyphasis, and promised them the dominion and riches of all Asia. But his glowing words fell on unwilling ears, and were received with painful silence, which remained unbroken for a long time.
At last Koinos, the trusted cavalry general, who had led the charge in the battle with Poros, summoned up courage to reply, and argued the expediency of fixing some limit to the toils and dangers of the army. He urged his sovereign to remember that out of the Greeks and Macedonians who had crossed the Hellespont eight years earlier, some had been invalided home, some were unwilling exiles in newly founded cities far from their own land, some were disabled by wounds, and others, the most numerous, had perished by the sword or by disease.
Few indeed were those left to follow the standards, and they were weary wretches, shattered in health, ragged, ill-armed, and despondent. He concluded his oration by saying:–
“Moderation in the midst of success, 0 king! is the noblest of virtues, for, although, being at the head of so brave an army, you have naught to dread from mortal
foes, yet the visitations of the Deity cannot be foreseen or guarded against by man.”
The words of Koinos were greeted with loud applause, which left no doubt about the temper of the men. Alexander, deeply mortified and unwilling to yield, retired within his tent, but emerged on the third day, convinced that farther advance was impracticable. The soothsayers judiciously discovered that the omens were unfavourable for the passage of the river, and Alexander, with a heavy heart, gave orders for retreat, in September, 326 B.C.
To mark the farthest point of his advance, he erected twelve huge altars, built of squared stone, and each fifty cubits in height, dedicated to the twelve great gods. Although the army had not passed the river, these massive memorials were erected on the farther bank, where they long remained to excite the wonder and veneration of both natives and foreigners. Traces of them may still exist, and should be looked for along the oldest bed of the Bias, near the hills, in one or other of the three districts – Gurdaspur, Hoshyarpur, or Kangra – where nobody has yet sought them.
The judicious Arrian simply records: –
“Alexander divided the army into brigades, which he ordered to prepare twelve altars equal in height to the loftiest military towers, while exceeding them in breadth, to serve both as thank-offerings to the gods who had led him so far on the path of conquest, and as a memorial of his achievements. When the altars had been constructed, he offered sacrifice upon them with
the customary rites, and celebrated gymnastic and equestrian games.”
The structures thus solemnly dedicated were well designed to serve their double purpose, and constituted a dignified and worthy monument of the piety and labours of the world’s greatest general. Their significance was fully appreciated by the Indian powers which had been compelled to bend before the Macedonian storm. We are told that Chandragupta Maurya, the first Emperor of India who succeeded to the lordship of Alexander’s conquests, and his successors for centuries afterward, continued to venerate the altars, and were in the habit of crossing the river to offer sacrifice upon them.
But, if Curfius and Diodorus are to be believed, the noble simplicity of the monumental altars was marred by a ridiculous addition designed to gratify the king’s childish vanity. The tale is given in its fullest form by Diodorus, who gravely informs us that, after the completion of the altars, Alexander caused an encampment to be made thrice the size of that actually occupied by his army, encircled by a trench fifty feet wide and forty feet deep, as well as by a rampart . of extraordinary dimensions. “He further,” the story continues, “ordered quarters to be constructed as for foot-soldiers, each containing two beds four cubits in length for each man, and besides this, two stalls of twice the ordinary size for each horseman. Whatever else was to be left behind was directed to be likewise proportionately increased in size.” We are asked to believe that
these silly proceedings were intended to convince the country people that the invaders had been men of more than ordinary strength and stature.
It is incredible that Alexander could have been guilty of such senseless folly, and the legend may be rejected without hesitation as probably based on distorted versions of tales told by travellers who had seen the altars.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage