Alexander and Bucephalus

Alexander the Great entered the borders of India in 327 B.C. with his Macedonian army to conquer India, which before that time had been known to the Greeks by reports from Herodotos. The Macedonians found India and the Indians to be far less supernatural than they had been led to expect, although the land was very wealthy and the people ready for war. Despite some victories and a favorable alliance with the powerful king, Poros (Parvataka or Parvatesha), India at last stopped the formerly undefeated Macedonians. [Source: Glorious India ]

In 330-325 B.C., Alexander the Great armies marched though present-day Afghanistan, crossed the Indus and entered India briefly before following the Indus across Pakistan to the Arabian Sea and then made their way back to the Middle East. In 325 B.C. what is now the Punjab and Sind area of Pakistan and India were conquered by Alexander and became the easternmost region of his brief empire. He marched across the Salt Range south of Taxila to the Beas River from where he sailed down the Indus River to the sea and then marched across the Makaran desert and Baluchistan to Baghdad.

According to PBS: Alexander sent his main army through the Khyber Pass, and brought the rest himself on a more northerly route. He met with resistance and battles from some local rulers, while others feared his reputation and met him with gifts and supplies. His expedition reached its most easterly point in September 326 B.C. at the Beas river in the Punjab when his army — now weary of long years spent on the march—came close to mutiny. Alexander then turned back heading southwards down the Indus to the sea, fighting and besieging Indian cities all the way. There he divided his men again, sending a fleet from the mouth of the Indus back to the Persian Gulf, dispatching one army corps over the Bolan Pass, and taking the rest along the inhospitable Makran coast into Iran and back to Babylon. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

Alexander was in India east of the Indus for a brief period of about nineteen months from the spring of 326 B.C. to September 325 B.C.He was mostly busy fighting, and he could not, therefore, get time enough to consolidate his conquests. Alexander would have pushed further into the subcontinent beyond the Punjab but in 325 B.C. his weary troops, fearful of the rumors of the strong king of Magadha, mutinied on the bank of the river Hyphasis. The Macedonian king was forced to return west with India largely unconquered.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Alexander the Great’s Campaign Before India

In 327–325 B.C., Alexander the Great invaded the province of Gandhara in what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India that had been a part of the Persian empire. After conquering Anatolia (334-3 B.C.), Phoenicia, Egypt and Libya (333-2 B.C.) and finally Persia (331-330 B.C.), Alexander the Great set his sights on the lands in northern India conquered by Darius I of Persia 200 years earlier.

After Central Asia, Alexander then headed into present-day Pakistan because he wanted to add India to his empire. His army of 75,000 men (plus a retinue of perhaps 40,000 more people), now included Persian horseman and many subjects of other conquered kingdoms but only 15,000 Macedonians. With the Persians gone, Pakistan fell under the under the control of local rulers, none of whom dared to challenge Alexander. His army was able to advance easily and he was given a warm welcome in Taxila. The local ruler there gave him a generous tribute and provided him with fresh soldiers.

In the mountains areas of Central Asia and present-day Pakistan, Alexanders' armies met fierce resistance from the Dogdians (also known as the Sogdians) and their allies the Masagates (a Saka clan), who retreated to the mountainous areas of the kingdoms and waged guerilla war that halted Alexander’s progress for 18 months. In the Karakorum range, Alexander's men used pitons and ropes to assault a supposedly impregnable fortress built into the side of a cliff by the Dogdians at the Rock of Aornos near modern Pir Sar. The soldiers in the fortress had the previous day laughed: "No one can touch us." When Alexander's force had taken their positions he said: "Come see my flying soldiers." The Dogdians in the fortress eventually surrendered and Alexander claimed Roxanne, the daughter of a nobleman, for his wife. Roxanne was reportedly around 12 and Alexander was reportedly quite taken by her beauty. The Rock of Aornos is believed to somewhere in the Hissar mountains but its exact location is unknown.

The Kafir-Kalash, a tribe that lives today in valleys off the Chistral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, claim to be descendants of five of Alexander the Great's warriors. The tribe is famous for its their pagan beliefs, lewd songs, provocative dances, partying ways and strange costumes. The women wear black robes, red bead necklaces and cowrie-shell head-dresses. The Kalash have Caucasian features — sometimes with blonde hair and blue eyes — which gives some credence to their claim they descended from five warriors in Alexander the Great's army. There are only about 4,000 of them and they have remained pagans despite the fact that everyone around them is Muslim. The Kalash relate a story of Alexander's bacchanal with mountain dwellers claiming descent from Dionysus. They worship a pantheon of gods, make wine, and practice animal sacrifice. Although Alexander’s armies passed through the Chitral region there is little evidence that they reached the remote valleys where the Kalash live today. Other tribes in Pakistan and Central Asia also claim to be descendants of Alexander’s army.

Before Alexander: Persians Conquest of Western India and Pakistan

According to PBS: “Darius I of Persia annexed the states of Sind and Punjab in northern India in 518 B.C. From then the people of the Indus valley ("Hindush" in Persian) paid tribute to the Persian king in textiles and precious local resources. After Alexander the Great overthrew the Persians and conquered the region in 326 B.C., Greek culture would be a major influence for over three hundred years, with Indo-Greek kingdoms founded in the North West Frontier, Afghanistan and the Punjab. But because of the close relation between Old Persian and Sanskrit, the influence of Persian language and culture in the northwest of the subcontinent never really waned until the collapse of the Persian-speaking Mughal Empire in the 19th century. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

In the latter half of the 6th century B.C. the north-western part of India was divided into a number of petty principalities, and there was no great power to curb their mutual strifes and jealousies. Naturally it provided a strong tempting ground to the Imperialism of the Achaemenian monarchy, which „ had arisen in Persia about this time under the leadership of Kurush or Cyrus (e. 558-30 B.C.) He extended the bounds of his empire as far west as the Mediterranean, and in the east he conquered Bactria and Gadara (Gandhara), but it is unlikely he advanced beyond the frontiers of India. His immediate successors, Kambujiya I (Cambyses I), Kurush II (Cyrus II), Kambujiya II (Cambyses II) — 530-22 B.C., — were too busy with affairs in the west to think of the east, but Darius I Darayavaush or Darius I (522-486 B.C.) appears to have annexed a portion of the Indus region, as evidenced by the inscriptions at Persepolis and on his tomb at Naksh-iRustam, mentioning the Hidus or the people of Sindhu (Indus) among Persian subjects. This conquest was made probably some time after 518 B.C., the assumed date of the Behistun record, which omits the Hidus (Indians) from the list of subject peoples, and long before 486 B.C., when Darius I died. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Herodotus tells us how Darius I essayed to achieve his object. He first sent an expedition some time after 517 B.C. under Skylax of Karyanda to explore the possibility of a passage by sea from the mouths of the Indus to Persia. He sailed down the Indus, and in the course of his voyage collected a good deal of information, afterwards utilised with advantage by Darius I. Herodotus also testifies that the conquered Indian territories, which perhaps did not include much of the Punjab, were constituted into the twentieth Satrapy of the Persian Empire; and it yielded the enormous tribute of 360 Euboic talents of gold dust, equal to about one million sterling. Obviously, these tracts were then very fertile, populated, and prosperous.

In the reign of Khshayarsha or Xerxes (486-65 B.C.), the successor of Darius I, Indian mercenaries, “clad in cotton” and bearing “cane bows and arrows tipped with iron,” formed a part of his expeditionary force against Hellas, and so it is certain that he maintained Persian authority intact in the north-western part of India. Presumably it continued for some time more, but we do not know with certitude when the connection between Persia and India finally snapped. There is, at any rate, some evidence to show that Indian auxiliaries figured in the army of Darius III Kodomannos in his fight with Alexander.

Persians in the Indian Subcontinent

By the end of the sixth century B.C., India's northwest was integrated into the Persian Achaemenid Empire and became one of its satrapies. This integration marked the beginning of administrative contacts between Central Asia and India. Much of what is now present-day Afghanistan and most of Pakistan was ruled by the Persian Achaemenid Empire from 520 B.C. during the reign of Darius I. The region of present-day Punjab, the Indus River from the borders of Gandhara down to the Arabian Sea, and some other parts of the Indus plain, became part of the empire later. [Source: Library of Congress, Glorious India ]

Gandhara and Taxila in Punjab region became part of the Achaemenid empire in 518 B.C. During this time, Pushkarasakti was the king of Gandhara. The upper Indus region, comprising regions of Gandhara and Kamboja became the seventh satrapy and the lower and middle Indus comprising Sindh and Sauvira became the 20th satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. This area was the most fertile and populous satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire.

The political contact between the two countries was beneficial to both in several respects. Trade received a fillip, and perhaps the spectacle of a unified empire stirred Indian ambition to strive after a similar end. Persian scribes introduced into India the Armaic form of writing, which in Indian environments later developed into Kharosthi, written from right to left like Arabic. Scholars have even traced Persian influences in Candragupta Maurya’s court ceremonial, and in certain words and the preamble of the edicts and in the monuments, particularly the bell-shaped capitals, of Ashoka’s time.

During the Achaemenid rule, a system of centralized administration with a bureaucratic system was introduced in the region. Famous scholars such as Pan.ini and Kautilya lived during this period. Indus Valley people were recruited to the Persian army and during the rule of Achaemenid emperor Xerxes, they took part in wars against the Greeks. Achaemenid rule lasted about 186 years. By about 380 B.C., the Persian hold on the region was weakening, but the region continued to be a part of the Achaemenid Empire until it was conquered by Alexander.

The Achaemenids used the Aramaic script for the Persian language. After the end of Achaemenid rule, the use of Aramaic in the Indus plain diminished, although we know from inscriptions from the time of Emperor Asoka that it was still in use two centuries later. Other scripts, such as Kharosthi (a script derived from Aramaic) and Greek became more common after the arrival of Alexander.

India at the Time of Alexander’s Conquests

Alexander's route in present-day Pakistan

When Alexander the Great invaded the Indus Valley of Pakistan-India, the South Asian subcontinent had a population of about 30 million, of whom about 20 million lived in the Ganges Basin. One remarkable feature of India at that time was the abundance of towns, such as Massaga, Aornos, Taxila, 37 Glausai towns, Pimprama, Sangala, Pattala, etc., which testified to the material prosperity of the country. Their construction, location, and fortifications give us some idea of the system of town-planning too, then in vogue. Besides these towns, the material progress of the people was reflected in the presents received by Alexander in the course of his campaign. Thus, the envoys of the Oxydrakai, clad in purple and gold, are said to have brought for him a large quantity of cotton goods, tortoise shells, bucklers of ox-hide, and “100 talents of steel;” and Amblii of Taxila presented to Alexander “280 talents of silver and golden crowns.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

North-western India was then, as now, famous for its fine breed of oxen, of which Alexander captured 2.30.000 from the Aspasians and sent them to Macedonia for use in agriculture. He further welcomed a gift of 3.000 “fat oxen” and 10,000 sheep from Ambhi. Evidently, agriculture and cattle-breeding were important occupations of the people in the Punjab and the North-west. Carpenters supplied chariots for the army and carts and other vehicles for trade and traffic. Judging from the existence of several rivers in the Punjab, boat and shipbuilding was perhaps a prosperous industry. It is known that Alexander used a flotilla of boats for crossing the Hydaspes and a part of his troops sailed down the Indus and one may reasonably suppose that for this fleet the invader must have utilized native labour and materials.

The Greek writers yield us some interesting information on the social customs and religious beliefs of the people of those times. For instance, we learn that beauty was so highly appreciated in the kingdom of Sangala that if any child was born defective or deformed he was killed and not allowed to grow. A handsome person was a better passport to marriage than nobility of birth. Among some tribes women observed the custom of Sati, where widows burnt themselves on their husbands funeral pyre. In Taxila the Greeks noted the strange custom of poor parents putting up girls for sale in the market-place, and further we are told that the dead were left to be devoured by vultures. Polygamy was another common practice among the people there. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Despite the prevalence of many unusual customs, Brahmanism appears to have been the dominant religion in that part of India, and Alexander’s historians narrate some unusual practices of Brahmanical ascetics like Mandanis and Kalanos (Kalyana). The Hindus commanded great respect by their learning, lofty conduct, and spirit of self-abnegation; and kings, like Mousikanos, were ready to follow their lead and direction even in political matters. Next, there were the Sarmanes or Sramanas, Buddhist and non-Buddhist recluses, who wore the bark of trees and lived in forests on wild fruits and roots. The river Ganges was then also, as now, venerated, and certain trees were held so sacred that their defilement was considered a capital offence.

Alexander the Great Prepares to Attack India

Before Alexander enter India, he felt it was necessary to reduce the force that he lead through Persia and Central Asia to accommodate the different climate and terrain. He burned all of the baggage wagons of Persian booty slowed him down, and dismissed a large number of his soldiers, reshaping his army with several thousand Persian cavalrymen. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Plutarch wrote: “Alexander now intent upon his expedition into India, took notice that his soldiers were so charged with booty that it hindered their marching. Therefore, at break of day, as soon as the baggage waggons were laden, first he set fire to his own, and to those of his friends, and then commanded those to be burnt which belonged to the rest of the army. An act which in the deliberation of it had seemed more dangerous and difficult than it proved in the execution, with which few were dissatisfied; for most of the soldiers, as if they had been inspired, uttering loud outcries and warlike shoutings, supplied one another with what was absolutely necessary, and burnt and destroyed all that was superfluous, the sight of which redoubled Alexander’s zeal and eagerness for his design. And, indeed, he was now grown very severe and inexorable in punishing those who committed any fault. For he put Menander, one of his friends, to death, for deserting a fortress where he had placed him in garrison, and shot Orsodates, one of the barbarians who revolted from him, with his own hand. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“At this time a sheep happened to yean a lamb, with the perfect shape and color of a tiara upon the head, and testicles on each side; which portent Alexander regarded with such dislike, that he immediately caused his Babylonian priests, whom he usually carried about with him for such purposes, to purify him, and told his friends he was not so much concerned for his own sake as for theirs, out of an apprehension that after his death the divine power might suffer his empire to fall into the hands of some degenerate, impotent person. But this fear was soon removed by a wonderful thing that happened not long after, and was thought to presage better.

“For Proxenus, a Macedonian, who was the chief of those who looked to the king’s furniture, as he was breaking up the ground near the river Oxus, to set up the royal pavilion, discovered a spring of a fat, oily liquor, which after the top was taken off, ran pure, clear oil, without any difference either of taste or smell, having exactly the same smoothness and brightness, and that, too, in a country where no olives grew. The water, indeed, of the river Oxus, is said to be the smoothest to the feeling of all waters, and to leave a gloss on the skins of those who bathe themselves in it. Whatever might be the cause, certain it is that Alexander was wonderfully pleased with it, as appears by his letters to Antipater, where he speaks of it as one of the most remarkable presages that God had ever favored him with. The diviners told him it signified his expedition would be glorious in the event, but very painful, and attended with many difficulties; for oil, they said, was bestowed on mankind by God as a refreshment of their labors.”

Alexander the Great in Pakistan


After Central Asia, Alexander then headed into present-day Pakistan because he wanted to add India to his empire. His army of 75,000 men (plus a retinue of perhaps 40,000 more people), now included Persian horseman and many subjects of other conquered kingdoms but only 15,000 Macedonians.

With the Persians gone, Pakistan fell under the under the control of local rulers, none of whom dared to challenge Alexander. His army was able to advance easily and he was given a warm welcome in Taxila. The local ruler there gave him a generous tribute and provided him with fresh soldiers.

The Kafir-Kalash, a tribe that lives today in valleys off the Chistral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, claim to be descendants of five of Alexander the Great's warriors. The tribe is famous for its their pagan beliefs, lewd songs, provocative dances, partying ways and strange costumes. The women wear black robes, red bead necklaces and cowrie-shell head-dresses.

The Kalash have Caucasian features — sometimes with blonde hair and blue eyes — which gives some credence to their claim they descended from five warriors in Alexander the Great's army. There are only about 4,000 of them and they have remained pagans despite the fact that everyone around them is Muslim. The Kalash relate a story of Alexander's bacchanal with mountain dwellers claiming descent from Dionysus. They worship a pantheon of gods, make wine, and practice animal sacrifice. Although Alexander's armies passed through the Chitral region there is little evidence that they reached the remote valleys where the Kalash live today. Other tribes in Pakistan and Central Asia also claim to be descendants of Alexander's army.

Alexander Receives the Homage of Taxiles

Between May 327 and March 326 B.C., Alexander carried out Cophen Campaign in what is now the Swat valley and the Punjab region in Pakistan. Alexander's goal was to secure his line of communications so that he could conduct a campaign in India proper. To achieve this, he needed to capture a number of fortresses controlled by the local tribes. Cophen was the name of a river.

Alexander the Great was welcomed at Taxila by Omphis or Ambhi, son of the deceased Taxiles, with rich and attractive presents consisting of silver and sheep and oxen of a good breed. Gratified at these gifts, Alexander returned them, adding his own, and thus won not only the loyalty of the ruler of Taxila but also a contingent of 5,000 soldiers from him. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

North-western India was parcelled out into a number of states, monarchies as well as clan oligarchies, engaged in petty internecine feuds and jealousies, in which some of them found their opportunity for seeking alliance with an alien aggressor. Indeed, the gates of India were, so to say, unbarred by the Raja of Taxila, who lost no time in proffering allegiance to Alexander , and who also rendered every assistance to the advance body of the Macedonians under Perdiccas in bridging the Indus and in securing the submission of the tribes and chieftains, like Astes (Hasti or Astakaraja ?), whose territories lay on their route.

Arrian wrote: “After performing this exploit, Alexander himself went to Bactra; but sent Craterus with of the cavalry Companions and his own brigade of infantry as well those of Polysperchon, Attalus, and Alcetas, against Catanes and Austanes, who were the only rebels still remaining in the land of the Paraetacenians. A sharp battle was fought with them, in which Craterus was victorious; Catanes being killed there while fighting, and Austanes being captured and brought to Alexander. Of the barbarians with them horsemen and about , foot soldiers were killed. When Craterus had done this, he also went to Bactra, where the tragedy in reference to Callisthenes and the pages befell Alexander. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“As the spring was now over, he took the army and advanced from Bactra towards India, leaving Amyntas in the land of the Bactrians with , horse, and , foot. He crossed the Caucasus in ten days and arrived at the city of Alexandria, which had been founded in the land of the Parapamisadae when he made his first expedition to Bactra. He dismissed from office the governor whom he had then placed over the city, because be thought he was not ruling well. He also settled in Alexandria others from the neighbouring tribes and the soldiers who were now unfit for service in addition to the first settlers, and commanded Nicanor, one of the Companions, to regulate the affairs of the city itself. Moreover he appointed Tyriaspes viceroy of the land of the Parapamisadae and of the rest of the country as far as the river Cophen. Arriving at the city of Nicaea, he offered sacrifice to Athena and then advanced towards the Cophen, sending a herald forward to Taxiles and the other chiefs on this side the river Indus, to bid them come and meet him as each might find it convenient.

“Taxiles and the other chiefs accordingly did come to meet him, bringing the gifts which are reckoned of most value among the Indians. They said that they would also present to him the elephants which they had with them, twenty-five in number. There he divided his army, and sent Hephaestion and Perdiccas away into the land of Peucelaotis, towards the river Indus, with the brigades of Gorgias, Clitus, and Meleager, half of the Companion cavalry, and all the cavalry of the Grecian mercenaries. He gave them instructions either to capture the places on their route by force, or to bring them over on terms of capitulation; and when they reached the river Indus, to make the necessary preparations for the passage of the army. With them Taxiles and the other chiefs also marched. When they reached the river Indus they carried out all Alexander’s orders. But Astes, the ruler of the land of Peucelaotis, effected a revolt, which both ruined himself and brought ruin also upon the city into which he had fled for refuge. For Hephaestion captured it after a siege of thirty days, and Astes himself was killed. Sangaeus, who had some time before fled from Astes and deserted to Taxiles, was appointed to take charge of the city. This desertion was a pledge to Alexander of his fidelity.”

Alexander the Great and the King Taxiles

Plutarch wrote: “The extent of king Taxiles’s dominions in India was thought to be as large as Egypt, abounding in good pastures, and producing beautiful fruits. The king himself had the reputation of a wise man, and at his first interview with Alexander, he spoke to him in these terms: “To what purpose,” said he, “should we make war upon [235] one another, if the design of your coming into these parts be not to rob us of our water or our necessary food, which are the only things that wise men are indispensably obliged to fight for? As for other riches and possessions, as they are accounted in the eye of the world, if I am better provided of them than you, I am ready to let you share with me; but if fortune has been more liberal to you than me, I have no objection to be obliged to you.” This discourse pleased Alexander so much, that embracing him, “Do you think,” said he to him, “your kind words and courteous behavior will bring you off in this interview without a contest? No, you shall not escape so. I shall contend and do battle with you so far, that how obliging soever you are, you shall not have the better of me.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“Then receiving some presents from him, he returned him others of greater value, and to complete his bounty, gave him in money ready coined one thousand talents; at which his old friends were much displeased, but it gained him the hearts of many of the barbarians. But the best soldiers of the Indians now entering into the pay of several of the cities, undertook to defend them, and did it so bravely, that they put Alexander to a great deal of trouble, till at last, after a capitulation, upon the surrender of the place, he fell upon them as they were marching away, and put them all to the sword. This one breach of his word remains as a blemish upon his achievements in war, which he otherwise had performed throughout with that justice and honor that became a king. Nor was he less incommoded by the Indian philosophers, who inveighed against those princes who joined his party, and solicited the free nations to oppose him. He took several of these also, and caused them to be hanged.”

Battles with the Aspasians

The Aspasians of the Alisang-Kunar valley were the first to be subdued by Alexander, who captured 40,000 men and 230,000 oxen transporting the choicest among the latter to Macedonia for being employed in agriculture. Arrian (IV, 25), however, deposes that with these people “the conflict was sharp, not only from the difficult nature of the ground, but also because the Indians were.... by far the stoutest warriors in that neighbourhood.”

[Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Arrian wrote: “Alexander now took command of the shield-bearing guards, the Companion cavalry with the exception of those who had been joined with Hephaestion’s division, the regiments of what were called foot-Companions, the archers, the Agrianians and the horse-lancers, and advanced with them into the land of the Aspasians, Guraeans and Assacenians. Marching by a mountainous and rough road along the river called Choes, which he crossed with difficulty, he ordered the main body of his infantry to follow at leisure; while he himself took all the cavalry, and of the Macedonian infantry whom he mounted upon horses with their infantry shields, and made a forced march, because he had received information that the barbarians who inhabited that district had fled for safety into the mountains which extend through the land and into as many of their cities as were strong enough to resist attack. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Assaulting the first of these cities which was situated on his route, he routed, at the first attack without any delay, the men whom he found drawn up in front of the city, and shut them up in it. He was himself wounded by a dart which penetrated through the breastplate into his shoulder; but the wound was only a slight one, for the breastplate prevented the dart from penetrating right through his shoulder. Leonnatus and Ptolemy, son of Lagus, were also wounded. Then he encamped near the city at the place where the wall seemed most easy to assault. At dawn on the following day the Macedonians easily forced their way through the first wall, as it had not been strongly built. The city had been surrounded with a double wall. At the second wall the barbarians stood their ground for a short time; but when the scaling ladders were now being fixed, and the defenders were being wounded with darts from all sides, they no longer stayed; but rushed through the gates out of the city towards the mountains. Some of them were killed in the flight, and the Macedonians, being enraged because they had wounded Alexander, slew all whom they took prisoners. Most of them, however, escaped into the mountains, because they were not far from the city. Having levelled this city with the ground, he marched to another, named Audaca, which he got possession of by capitulation. He left Craterus there with the other commanders of the infantry to capture all the remaining cities which would not yield of their own accord, and to set the affairs of the whole country in such order as he should find most convenient under the circumstances.”

Greco-Bactrian kingdom established by Alexander

“Alexander now took command of the shield-bearing guards, the archers, the Agrianians, the brigade of Coenus and Attalus, the royal body-guard of cavalry, about four regiments of the other Companion cavalry, and half of the horse-archers, and advanced towards the river Euaspla, where the chieftain of the Aspasians was. After a long journey he arrived at the city on the second day. When the barbarians ascertained that he was approaching they set fire to the city and fled to the mountains. But Alexander followed close upon the fugitives as far as the mountains, and slaughtered many of them before they could manage to get away into the places which were difficult of access. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Ptolemy, son of Lagus, observing that the leader himself of the Indians of that district was on a certain hill, and that he had some of his shield-bearing guards round him, though he had with himself far fewer men, yet he still continued to pursue him on horseback. But as the hill was difficult for his horse to run up, he left it there, handing it over to one of the shield-bearing guards to lead. He then followed the Indian on foot, without any delay. When the latter observed Ptolemy approaching, he turned round, and so did the shield-bearing guards with him. The Indian at close quarters struck Ptolemy on the chest through the breastplate with a long spear, but the breastplate checked the violence of the blow. Then Ptolemy, smiting right through the Indian’s thigh, overthrew him, and stripped him of his arms. When his men saw their leader lying dead, they stood their ground no longer; but the men on the mountains, seeing their chieftain’s corpse being carried off by the enemy, were seized with indignation, and running down engaged in a desperate conflict over him on the hill. For Alexander himself was now on the hill with the infantry who had dismounted from the horses. These, falling upon the Indians, drove them away to the mountains after a hard struggle, and remained in possession of the corpse.

“Then crossing the mountains he descended to a city called Arigaeum, and found that this had been set on fire by the inhabitants, who had afterwards fled. There Craterus with his army reached him, after accomplishing all the king’s orders; and because this city seemed to be built in a convenient place, he directed that general to fortify it well, and settle in it as many of the neighbouring people as were willing to live there, together with any of the soldiers who were unfit for service. He then advanced to the place where he heard that most of the barbarians of the district had fled for refuge; and coming to a certain mountain, he encamped at the foot of it. Meantime Ptolemy, son of Lagus, being sent out by Alexander on a foraging expedition, and advancing a considerable distance with a few men to reconnoitre, brought back word to the king that he had observed many more fires in the camp of the barbarians than there were in Alexander’s. But the latter did not believe in the multitude of the enemy’s fires. Discovering, however, that the barbarians of the district had joined their forces into one body, he left a part of his army there near the mountain, encamped as they were, and taking as many men as seemed sufficient, according to the reports he had received, as soon as they could descry the fires near at hand, he divided his army into three parts. Over one part he placed Leonnatus, the confidential body-guard, joining the brigades of Attalus and Balacrus with his own; the second division he put under the lead of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, including the third part of the royal shield-bearing guards, the brigades of Philip and Philotas, two regiments of horse-archers, the Agrianians, and half of the cavalry. The third division he himself led towards the place where most of the barbarians were visible.”

Alexander Defeats the Aspasians and Attacks the Assacenians and Guraeans

Arrian wrote: “When the enemy who were occupying the commanding heights perceived the Macedonians approaching, they descended into the plain, being emboldened by their superiority in number and despising the Macedonians, because they were seen to be few. A sharp contest ensued; but Alexander won the victory with ease. Ptolemy’s men did not range themselves on the level ground, for the barbarians were occupying a hill. Wherefore Ptolemy, forming his battalions into column, led them to the point where the hill seemed most easily assailable, not surrounding it entirely, but leaving room for the barbarians to flee if they were inclined to do so. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

Cophen Campaign

“A sharp contest also ensued with these men, both from the difficult nature of the ground, and because the Indians are not like the other barbarians of this district, but are far stronger than their neighbours. These men also were driven away from the mountain by the Macedonians. In the same way did Leonnatus with the third division of the army; for his men also defeated those opposed to them. Ptolemy indeed says that all the men were captured, to a number exceeding ,, and that , oxen were also taken, of which Alexander picked out the finest, because they seemed to him to excel both in beauty and size, wishing to send them into Macedonia to till the soil. Thence he marched towards the land of the Assacenians; for he received news that these people had made preparations to fight him, having , cavalry, more than , infantry, and elephants. When Craterus had thoroughly fortified the city, for the founding of which he had been left behind, he brought the heavier armed men of his army for Alexander as well as the military engines, in case it might be necessary to lay siege to any place. Alexander then marched against the Assacenians at the head of the Companion cavalry, the horse-archers, the brigades of Coenus and Polysperchon, the Agrianians, the light-armed troops, and the archers. Passing through the land of the Guraeans, he crossed the river Guraeus, which gives its name to the land, with difficulty, both on account of its depth, and because its current is swift, and the stones in the river being round caused those who stepped upon them to stumble. When the barbarians perceived Alexander approaching, they durst not take their stand for a battle in close array, but dispersed one by one to their various cities with the determination of preserving these by resolute fighting.”

Siege of Massaga

Continuing his advance, Alexander defeated the Assacenians, who opposed him with an army of 20,000 cavalry and more than 30,000 infantry, besides 30 elephants. Their main stronghold Massaga was considered almost impregnable, being protected on the east by “an impetuous mountain stream with steep banks,” while to the south and the west nature had “piled up gigantic rocks, at the base of which lay sloughs and yawning chasms”. These natural fortifications were reinforced by a deep ditch and a thick wall. The citadel appeared to baffle the military ingenuity of Alexander, but it could not hold out long after its Chief, Assakenos, had been killed by a chance shot. Thinking further resistance useless, his wife, Kleophis, surrendered herself to Alexander, and it is said that as a result of their romance she subsequently gave birth to a son bearing the name of the great conqueror. It is interesting to note here the part played by nearly 7,000 Indian mercenary soldiers in the defence of Massaga. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

We learn that Alexander guarranteed them safe passage if they evacuated the city, but when they had actually retired to a distance he suddenly fell upon them and made “a great slaughter of their ranks”. Diodoros says that the Indian mercenaries at first “loudly protested that they were attacked in violation of sworn obligations, and invoked the gods whom he had desecrated by taking false oaths in their name.” Thereupon, Alexander retorted that “his covenant merely bound him to let them depart from the city, and was by no means a league of perpetual amity between them and the Macedonians”. Undaunted by this unexpected danger, the Indian mercenaries fought with great tenacity and “by their audacity and feats of valour made the conflict, in which they closed, hot work for the enemy.” When many of them had been killed, or were in the agony of deadly wounds, the women took up the arms of the fallen and heroically defended the citadel along with the men. After fighting desperately they were at last overpowered by superior numbers, and in the words of Diodoros “met a glorious death which they would have disdained to exchange for a life with dishonour ”.

Arrian wrote: “In the first place Alexander led his forces against Massaga, the largest of the cities in that district; and when he was approaching the walls, the barbarians being emboldened by the mercenaries whom they had obtained from the more distant Indians to the number of ,, when they saw the Macedonians pitching their camp, advanced against them with a run. Alexander, seeing that the battle was about to be fought near the city, was anxious to draw them further away from their walls, so that if they were put to rout, as he knew they would be, they might not be able easily to preserve themselves by fleeing for refuge into the city close at hand. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“When therefore he saw the barbarians running out, he ordered the Macedonians to turn round and retreat to a certain hill distant something about seven stades from the place where he had resolved to encamp. The enemy being emboldened, as if the Macedonians had already given way, rushed upon them with a run and with no kind of order. But when the arrows began to reach them, Alexander at once wheeled round at the appointed signal, and led his phalanx against them with a run. His horse-lancers, Agrianians, and archers first ran forward and engaged with the barbarians, while he himself led the phalanx in regular order. The Indians were alarmed at this unexpected manœuvre, and as soon as the battle became a hand-to-hand conflict, they gave way and fled into the city. About of them were killed, and the rest were shut up within the walls. Alexander then led his phalanx up to the wall, from which he was soon after slightly wounded in the ankle with an arrow. On the next day he brought up his military engines and easily battered down a piece of the wall; but the Indians so gallantly kept back the Macedonians who were trying to force an entrance where the breach had been made, that he recalled the army for this day.

Cophen Campaign 2

“But on the morrow the Macedonians themselves made a more vigorous assault, and a wooden tower was drawn up to the walls, from which the archers shot at the Indians, and missiles were hurled from the military engines which repulsed them to a great distance. But not even thus were they able to force their way within the wall. On the third day he led the phalanx near again, and throwing a bridge from a military engine over to the part of the wall where the breach had been made, by this he led up the shield-bearing guards, who had captured Tyre for him in a similar way. But as many were urged on by their ardour, the bridge received too great a weight, and was snapped asunder, so that the Macedonians fell with it. The barbarians, seeing what was taking place, raised a great shout, and shot at them from the wall with stones, arrows, and whatever else any one happened to have at hand, or whatever any one could lay hold of at the time. Others issued forth by the small gates which they had between the towers in the wall, and at close quarters struck the men who had been thrown into confusion by the fall.”

Arrian wrote: “Alexander now sent Alcetas with his own brigade to recover the men who had been severely wounded, and to recall to the camp those who were assailing the enemy. On the fourth day he brought up another bridge against the wall in like manner upon another military engine. The Indians, as long as the ruler of the place survived, defended themselves gallantly; but when he was struck and killed with a missile hurled from an engine, and as some of their number had fallen in the siege, which had gone on without any cessation, while most of them were wounded and unfit for service, they sent a herald to Alexander. He was glad to preserve the lives of brave men; so he came to terms with the Indian mercenaries on this condition, that they should be admitted into the ranks with the rest of his army and serve as his soldiers.

“They therefore came out of the city with their arms, and encamped by themselves upon a hill which was facing the camp of the Macedonians; but they resolved to arise by night and run away to their own abodes, because they were unwilling to take up arms against the other Indians. When Alexander received intelligence of this, he placed the whole of his army round the hill in the night, and intercepting them in the midst of their flight, cut them to pieces. He then took the city by storm, denuded as it was of defenders; and captured the mother and daughter of Assacenus. In the whole siege five-and-twenty of Alexander’s men were killed. Thence he despatched Coenus to Bazira, entertaining an opinion that the inhabitants would surrender, when they heard of the capture of Massaga. He also despatched Attalus, Alcetas, and Demetrius the cavalry officer to another city, named Ora, with instructions to blockade it until be himself arrived. The men of this city made a sortie against the forces of Alcetas; but the Macedonians easily routed them, and drove them into the city within the wall. But affairs at Bazira were not favourable to Coenus, for the inhabitants showed no sign of capitulating, trusting to the strength of the place, because not only was it situated on a lofty eminence, but it was also thoroughly fortified all round.

Battle of Arigaem

When Alexander learnt this, he started off to Bazira; but ascertaining that some of the neighbouring barbarians were about to get into the city of Ora by stealth, being despatched thither by Abisares for that very purpose, he first marched to Ora. He ordered Coenus to fortify a certain strong position to serve as a basis of operations against the city of Bazira, and then to come to him with the rest of his army, after leaving in that place a sufficient garrison to restrain the men in the city from enjoying the free use of their land. But when the men of Bazira saw Coenus departing with the larger part of his army, they despised the Macedonians, as not being able to contend with them, and sallied forth into the plain. A sharply contested battle ensued, in which of the barbarians fell, and over seventy were taken prisoners. But the rest, fleeing for refuge into the city, were now more securely shut off from the country by the men in the fort.

After the fall of Massaga, Alexander advanced further, and in the course of a few months’ hard fighting captured the important and strategic fortresses of Ora, Bazira, Aornos, Peukelaotis (Skt. Puskaravatl, modern Charsadda in the Yusufzai territory), Embolima and Dyrta. Arrian wrote "The siege of Ora proved an easy matter to Alexander, for he no sooner attacked the walls than at the first assault he got possession of the city, and captured the elephants which had been left there.” Thus, having subjugated the frontier regions and posted adequate Greek garrisons to maintain his authority there, Alexander felt himself free to press onward. The odds were undoubtedly in his favour. The Punjab and Sind, which were to bear the brunt of his arms, presented the sorry spectacle of a disunited house

Capture of Bazira and Advance to the Rock of Aornus

Arrian wrote: “When the men in Bazira heard this news, despairing of their own affairs, they abandoned the city about the middle of the night, and fled to the rock as the other barbarians were doing. For all the inhabitants deserted the cities and began to flee to the rock which is in their land, and is called Aornus. For stupendous is this rock in this land, about which the current report is, that it was found impregnable even by Heracles, the son of Zeus. I cannot affirm with confidence either way, whether the Theban, Tyrian, or Egyptian Heracles penetrated into India or not; but I am rather inclined to think that he did not penetrate so far; for men are wont to magnify the difficulty of difficult enterprises to such a degree as to assert that they would have been impracticable even to Heracles. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Therefore, I am inclined to think, that in regard to this rock the name of Heracles was mentioned simply to add to the marvellousness of the tale. The circuit of the rock is said to be about stades (i.e. about twenty-three miles), and its height where it is lowest, eleven stades (i.e., about a mile and a quarter). There was only one ascent, which was artificial and difficult; on the summit of the rock there was abundance of pure water, a spring issuing from the ground, from which the water flowed; and there was also timber, and sufficient good arable land for , men to till. When Alexander heard this, he was seized with a vehement desire to capture this mountain also, especially on account of the legend which was current about Heracles. He then made Ora and Massaga fortresses to keep the land in subjection, and fortified the city of Bazira. Hephaestion and Perdiccas also fortified for him another city, named Orobatis, and leaving a garrison in it marched towards the river Indus. When they reached that river they at once began to carry out Alexander’s instructions in regard to bridging it. Alexander then appointed Nicanor, one of the Companions, viceroy of the land on this side the river Indus; and in the first place leading his army towards that river, he brought over on terms of capitulation the city of Peucelaotis, which was situated not far from it. In this city he placed a garrison of Macedonians, under the command of Philip, and then reduced to subjection some other small towns situated near the same river, being accompanied by Cophaeus and Assagetes, the chieftains of the land.

Battle of Massaga

“Arriving at the city of Embolima, which was situated near the rock Aornus, be left Craterus there with a part of the army, to gather as much corn as possible into the city, as well as all the other things requisite for a long stay, so that making this their base of operations, the Macedonians might be able by a long siege to wear out the men who were holding the rock, supposing it were not captured at the first assault. He then took the bowmen, the Agrianians, and the brigade of Coenus, and selecting the lightest as well as the best-armed men from the rest of the phalanx, with of the Companion cavalry and horse-bowmen, he advanced to the rock. This day he encamped where it appeared to him convenient; but on the morrow he approached a little nearer to the rock, and encamped again.”

Siege of Aornus

Arrian wrote: “At this juncture some of the natives came to him, and surrendering themselves, offered to lead him to the part of the rock where it could be most easily assailed, and from which it would be easy for him to capture the place. With these he sent Ptolemy, son of Lagus, the confidential body-guard, in command of the Agrianians and the other light-armed troops, together with picked men from the shield-bearing guards. He gave this officer instructions, as soon as he had got possession of the place, to occupy it with a strong guard, and signal to him that it was held. Ptolemy proceeded along a road which was rough and difficult to pass, and occupied the position without the knowledge of the barbarians. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“After strengthening his position with a stockade and a ditch all round, he raised a beacon from the mountain, whence it was likely to be seen by Alexander. The flame was at once seen, and on the following day the king led his army forward; but as the barbarians disputed his advance, he could do nothing further on account of the difficult nature of the ground. When the barbarians perceived that Alexander could not make an assault, they turned round and attacked Ptolemy, and a sharp battle ensued between them and the Macedonians, the Indians making great efforts to demolish the stockade, and Ptolemy to preserve his position. But the barbarians, getting the worst of it in the skirmish, withdrew as the night came on. Alexander now selected from the Indian deserters a man who was not only devoted to him but acquainted with the locality, and sent him by night to Ptolemy, carrying a letter, in which it was written that as soon as the king attacked the rock, Ptolemy was to come down the mountain upon the barbarians, and not be contented with holding his position in guard; so that the Indians, being assailed from both sides at once, might be in perplexity what course to pursue. Accordingly, starting from his camp at daybreak, he led his army up the path by which Ptolemy had ascended by stealth, entertaining the opinion that if he could force his way in this direction and join his forces with those of Ptolemy, the work would no longer be difficult for him; and so it turned out. For until midday a smart battle was kept up between the Indians and the Macedonians, the latter striving to force a way of approach, and the former hurling missiles at them as they ascended.

Seige of Aornas

“But as the Macedonians did not relax their efforts, advancing one after another, and those who were in advance rested till their comrades came up, after great exertions they gained possession of the pass early in the afternoon, and formed a junction with Ptolemy’s forces. As the whole army was now united, Alexander led it thence against the rock itself. But the approach to it was still impracticable. Such then was the result of this day’s labours. At the approach of the dawn he issued an order that each soldier individually should cut stakes; and when this had been done he heaped up a great mound against the rock, beginning from the top of the hill where they had encamped. From this mound he thought the arrows as well as the missiles launched from the military engines would be able to reach the defenders of the rock. Every one in the army assisted him in this work of raising the mound; while he himself superintended it, as an observer, not only commending the man who completed his task with zeal and alacrity, but also chastising him who was dilatory in the pressing emergency.”

Alexander the Great Arrives at the Indus

Arrian wrote: “On the first day his army constructed the mound the length of a stade; and on the following day the slingers shooting at the Indians from the part already finished, assisted by the missiles which were hurled from the military engines, repulsed the sallies which they made against the men who were constructing the mound. He went on with the work for three days without intermission, and on the fourth day a few of the Macedonians forcing their way occupied a small eminence which was on a level with the rock. Without taking any rest, Alexander went on with the mound, being desirous of connecting his artificial rampart with the eminence which the few men were now occupying for him. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“But then the Indians, being alarmed at the indescribable audacity of the Macedonians, who had forced their way to the eminence, and seeing that the mound was already united with it, desisted from attempting any longer to resist. They sent their herald to Alexander, saying that they were willing to surrender the rock, if he would grant them a truce. But they had formed the design of wasting the day by continually delaying the ratification of the truce, and of scattering themselves in the night with the view of escaping one by one to their own abodes. When Alexander discovered this plan of theirs, he allowed them time to commence their retreat, and to remove the guard which was placed all round the place. He remained quiet until they began their retreat; then taking of the body-guards and shield-bearing infantry, he was the first to scale the rock at the part of it abandoned by the enemy; and the Macedonians ascended after him, one in one place another in another, drawing each other up. These men at the concerted signal turned themselves upon the retreating barbarians, and killed many of them in their flight. Others retreating with panic terror perished by leaping down the precipices; and thus the rock which had been inexpugnable to Heracles was occupied by Alexander. He offered sacrifice upon it, and arranged a fort, committing the superintendence of the garrison to Sisicottus, who long before had deserted from the Indians to Bessus in Bactra, and after Alexander had acquired possession of the country of Bactra, entered his army and appeared to be eminently trustworthy.

Greek-style art from Taxila

“He now set out from the rock and invaded the land of the Assacenians; for he was informed that the brother of Assacenus, with his elephants and many of the neighbouring barbarians had fled into the mountains in this district. When he arrived at the city of Dyrta, he found none of the inhabitants either in it or in the land adjacent. On the following day he sent out Nearchus and Antiochus, the colonels of the shield-bearing guards, giving the former the command of the Agrianians and the light-armed troops, and the latter the command of his own regiments and two others besides. They were despatched both to reconnoitre the locality and to try if they could capture some of the barbarians anywhere in order to get information about the general affairs of the country; and he was especially anxious to learn news of the elephants. He now directed his march towards the river Indus, the army going in advance to make a road for him, as otherwise this district would have been impassable. Here he captured a few of the barbarians, from whom he learnt that the Indians of that land had fled for safety to Abisares, but that they had left their elephants there to pasture near the river Indus. He ordered these men to show him the way to the elephants. Many of the Indians are elephant-hunters, and these Alexander kept in attendance upon him in high honour, going out to hunt the elephants in company with them. Two of these animals perished in the chase, by leaping down a precipice, but the rest were caught and being ridden by drivers were marshalled with the army. He also as he was marching along the river lighted upon a wood the timber of which was suitable for building ships; this was cut down by the army, and ships were built for him, which were brought down the river Indus to the bridge, which had long since been constructed by Hephaestion and Perdiccas at his command.”

Alexander at Nysa

Alexander next advanced on the hill-state of Nysa (Nycaea), which probably occupied a site on the lower spurs and valleys of the Koh-i-Mor. It was governed by a body of aristocracy consisting of 300 members, Akouphis being their chief. The Nyseans readily submitted to Alexander, and placed at his disposal a contingent of 300 cavalry. They claimed descent from Dionysos, and in proof of it pointed out that the ivy grew in their country and that the mountain near the city was the same as Meros. This gratified the vanity of Alexander, and he, therefore, allowed his weary troops to take rest and indulge in Bacchanalian revels for a few days with their alleged distant kinsmen.

Plutarch wrote: “Seeing his men march slowly and unwillingly to the siege of the place called Nysa, because of a deep river between them and the town," Alexander "advanced before them, and standing upon the bank, “What a miserable man,” said he, “am I, that I have not learned to swim!” and then was hardly dissuaded from endeavoring to pass it upon his shield. Here, after the assault was over, the ambassadors who from several towns which he had blocked up, came to submit to him and make their peace, were surprised to find him still in his armor, without any one in waiting or attendance upon him, and when at last some one brought him a cushion, he made the eldest of them, named Acuphis, take it and sit down upon it. The old man, marvelling at his magnanimity and courtesy, asked him what his countrymen should do to merit his friendship. “I would have them,” said Alexander, “choose you to govern them, and send one hundred of the most-worthy men among them to remain with me as hostages.” Acuphis laughed and answered, “I shall govern them with more ease, Sir, if I send you so many of the worst, rather than the best of my subjects.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Arrian wrote: “In this country, lying between the rivers Cophen and Indus, which was traversed by Alexander, the city of Nysa is said to be situated. The report is, that its foundation was the work of Dionysus, who built it after he had subjugated the Indians. But it is impossible to determine who this Dionysus was, and at what time, or from what quarter he led an army against the Indians. For I am unable to decide whether the Theban Dionysus, starting from Thebes or from the Lydian Tmolus came into India at the head of an army, and after traversing the territories of so many warlike nations, unknown to the Greeks of that time, forcibly subjugated none of them except that of the Indians. But I do not think we ought to make a minute examination of the legends which were promulgated in ancient times about the divinity; for things which are not credible to the man who examines them according to the rule of probability, do not appear to be wholly incredible, if one adds the divine agency to the story. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

satyr with women and a mountain goat

“When Alexander came to Nysa the citizens sent out to him their president, whose name was Acuphis, accompanied by thirty of their most distinguished men as envoys, to entreat Alexander to leave their city free for the sake of the god. The envoys entered Alexander’s tent and found him seated in his armour still covered with dust from the journey, with his helmet on his head, and holding his spear in his hand. When they beheld the sight they were struck with astonishment, and falling to the earth remained silent a long time. But when Alexander caused them to rise, and bade them be of good courage, then at length Acuphis began thus to speak: “The Nysaeans beseech thee, O king, out of respect for Dionysus, to allow them to remain free and independent; for when Dionysus had subjugated the nation of the Indians, and was returning to the Grecian sea, he founded this city from the soldiers who had become unfit for military service, and were under his inspiration as Bacchanals, so that it might be a monument both of his wandering and of his victory, to men of after times; just as thou also hast founded Alexandria near mount Caucasus, and another Alexandria in the country of the Egyptians. Many other cities thou hast already founded, and others thou wilt found hereafter, in the course of time, inasmuch as thou hast achieved more exploits than Dionysus. The god indeed called the city Nysa, and the land Nysaea after his nurse Nysa. The mountain also which is near the city he named Meros (i.e. thigh), because, according to the legend, he grew in the thigh of Zeus. From that time we inhabit Nysa, a free city, and we ourselves are independent, conducting our government with constitutional order. And let this be to thee a proof that our city owes its foundation to Dionysus; for ivy, which does not grow in the rest of the country of India, grows among us.”

Arrian wrote: “All this was very pleasant to Alexander to hear; for he wished that the legend about the wandering of Dionysus should be believed, as well as that Nysa owed its foundation to that deity, since he had himself reached the place where Dionysus came, and had even advanced beyond the limits of the latter’s march. He also thought that the Macedonians would not decline still to share his labours if he advanced further, from a desire to surpass the achievements of Dionysus. He therefore granted the inhabitants of Nysa the privilege of remaining free and independent; and when he inquired about their laws, he commended them because the government was in the hands of the aristocracy. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“He required them to send of their horsemen to accompany him, and to select and send of the aristocrats who presided over the government of the State, who also were in number. He ordered Acuphis to make the selection, and appointed him governor of the land of Nysaea. When Acuphis heard this, he is said to have smiled at the speech; whereupon Alexander asked him why he laughed. Acuphis replied:—“How, O king, could a single city deprived of of its good men be still well governed? But if thou carest for the welfare of the Nysaeans, lead with thee the horsemen, and still more than that number if thou wishest: but instead of the hundred of the best men whom thou orderest me to select lead with thee double the number of the others who are bad, so that when thou comest here again the city may appear in the same good order in which it now is.”

Buddha and Hercules

“By these remarks he persuaded Alexander; for he thought he was speaking with prudence. So he ordered them to send the horsemen to accompany him, but no longer demanded the hundred select men, nor indeed others in their stead. But he commanded Acuphis to send his own son and his daughter’s son to accompany him. He was now seized with a strong desire of seeing the place where the Nysaeans boasted to have certain memorials of Dionysus. So he went to Mount Merus with the Companion cavalry and the foot guard, and saw the mountain, which was quite covered with ivy and laurel and groves thickly shaded with all sorts of timber, and on it were chases of all kinds of wild animals. The Macedonians were delighted at seeing the ivy, as they had not seen any for a long time; for in the land of the Indians there was no ivy, even where they had vines. They eagerly made garlands of it, and crowned themselves with them, as they were, singing hymns in honour of Dionysus, and invoking the deity by his various names. Alexander there offered sacrifice to Dionysus, and feasted in company with his companions. Some authors have also stated, but I do not know if any one will believe it, that many of the distinguished Macedonians in attendance upon him, having crowned themselves with ivy, while they were engaged in the invocation of the deity, were seized with the inspiration of Dionysus, uttered cries of Evoi in honour of the god, and acted as Bacchanals.”

“Any one who receives these stories may believe or disbelieve them as he pleases. But I do not altogether agree with Eratosthenes the Cyrenaean, who says that everything which was attributed to the divine agency by the Macedonians was really said to gratify Alexander by their excessive eulogy. For he says that the Macedonians, seeing a cavern in the land of the Parapamisadians, and hearing a certain legend which was current among the natives, or themselves forming a conjecture, spread the report that this forsooth was the cave where Prometheus had been bound, that an eagle frequented it to feast on his inward parts, that when Heracles arrived there he killed the eagle and set Prometheus free from his bonds.

“He also says that by their account the Macedonians transferred Mount Caucasus from the Euxine Sea to the eastern parts of the earth, and the land of the Parapamisadians to that of the Indians; calling what was really Mount Parapamisus by the name of Caucasus, in order to enhance Alexander’s glory, seeing that he forsooth had gone over the Caucasus. He adds, that when they saw in India itself some oxen marked with the brand of a club, they concluded from this that Heracles had penetrated into India. Eratosthenes also disbelieves the similar tale of the wandering of Dionysus. Let me leave the stories about these matters undecided as far as I am concerned.

About the beginning of the spring of 326 B.C. after offering the customary sacrifices and allowing his tired troops a short respite, Similarly, Abhisares, the astute king of Abhisara (Poonch and Nowshera districts), and other neighbouring princes, like Doxares, surrendered to Alexander of their own accord, thinking that resistance would be of no avail.

Alexander Crosses the Indus and Marches to the Hydaspes

Alexander crossed the Indus safely somewhere near Ohind (modern Und, a few miles above Attock), Arrian wrote: "When Alexander arrived at the river Indus, he found a bridge made over it by Hephaestion, and two thirty-oared galleys, besides many smaller craft. He moreover found that talents of silver, oxen, above , sheep for sacrificial victims, and thirty elephants had arrived as gifts from Taxiles the Indian; Indian horsemen also arrived from Taxiles as a reinforcement, and that prince sent word that he would surrender to him the city of Taxila, the largest town between the rivers Indus and Hydaspes. Alexander there offered sacrifice to the gods to whom he was in the habit of sacrificing, and celebrated a gymnastic and horse contest near the river. The sacrifices were favourable to his crossing.” [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“This has been the method of constructing bridges, practised by the Romans from olden times; but how Alexander laid a bridge over the river Indus I cannot say, because those who served in his army have said nothing about it. But I should think that the bridge was made as near as possible as I have described, or if it were effected by some other contrivance so let it be. When Alexander had crossed to the other side of the river Indus, he again offered sacrifice there, according to his custom. Then starting from the Indus, he arrived at Taxila, a large and prosperous city, in fact the largest of those situated between the rivers Indus and Hydaspes. He was received in a friendly manner by Taxiles, the governor of the city, and by the Indians of that place; and he added to their territory as much of the adjacent country as they asked for.

“Thither also came to him envoys from Abisares, king of the mountaineer Indians, the embassy including the brother of Abisares as well as the other most notable men. Other envoys also came from Doxareus, the chief of the province, bringing gifts with them. Here again at Taxila Alexander offered the sacrifices which were customary for him to offer, and celebrated a gymnastic and equestrian contest. Having appointed Philip, son of Machatas, viceroy of the Indians of that district, he left a garrison in Taxila, as well as the soldiers who were invalided by sickness, and then marched towards the river Hydaspes. For he was informed that Porus, with the whole of his army was on the other side of that river, having determined either to prevent him from making the passage, or to attack him while crossing. When Alexander ascertained this, he sent Coenus, son of Polemocrates, back to the river Indus, with instructions to cut in pieces all the vessels which he had prepared for the passage of that river, and to bring them to the river Hydaspes. Coenus cut the vessels in pieces and conveyed them thither, the smaller ones being cut into two parts, and the thirty-oared galleys into three. The sections were conveyed upon waggons, as far as the bank of the Hydaspes; and there the vessels were fixed together again, and seen as a fleet upon that river. Alexander took the forces which he had when he arrived at Taxila, and the , Indians under the command of Taxiles and the chiefs of that district, and marched towards the same river.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2020

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