Alexander’s Invasion in India

North-West India During Alexander’s Invasion

  • North-Western India was fragmented into a number small principalities of Kamboja, Gandhara & Madra. There was an absence of one overarching powerful kingdom. However, there was continuous conflict among them and they often fought each other.
  • Taking the benefit of this situation, Achaemenian kings of Persia (Iran) Darius invaded the region and annexed the region west of Indus river in Punjab and Sindh. This territory of India was made a satrapy of Persia. The region was accounted for large revenues to Persia and also provided mercenaries for Persian armies fighting against the Greeks in 5th century BC.
  • Significance: Due to invasions by Iranian, there was significant influence of Iranian culture in North-Western regions of India. Kharosthi script was introduced in the region which is written from right to left like Arabic. Trade also flourished between these regions and Persia evidenced by findings of various Persian coins in these regions.

Sources of History about Alexander’s Campaign

A number of Greek and Roman authors give an elaborate account of Alexander’s campaign in Asia. Ptolemy, Aristobulus and Nearchus joined Alexander in his campaign.

  • Nearchus: An officer in Macedonian army under Alexander. He sailed from Hydapses River in western India to Persian Gulf.
  • Aristobulus: Served as an architect and military engineer in Alexander’s campaign.
  • INDIKE by Arrian: Arrian’s account of Alexander’s campaign is considered to be the most sober account of Alexander’s reign. Arrian was a simple soldier and he compiled the book by selecting the best possible sources and reproducing them faithfully. His book ‘History of Alexander’ was based on Ptolemy, Aristobulus, Nearchus and Eratosthenes. Indike is a companion work that deals with India and voyage of Alexander’s fleet in southern ocean.
  • Curtius Rufus: Author of only extant Latin monograph on Alexander called Historiae Alexandri Magnii. Considered to be the liveliest account of Alexander’s campaign in Asia.
  • Plutarch (46 AD): Greek biographer and historian whose works strongly influenced the tradition of history writing in Europe.
  • Strabo (64 AD): Greek geographer and historian whose book ‘Geographia’. This book gives a comprehensive account of people and countries known to Greeks and Romans. Substantial portion of this book deals with Alexander’s campaign.
  • Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC): Greek Historian who authored Bibliotheca.
  • Erastothenes (276 BC): Greek sciestist, astronomer and poet.

However, the accounts of contempories of Alexander are lost. Arrian’s Indike based on Ptolemy, Aristobulus, Nearchus and Erasthonese is considered to be the most authentic account about Alexander’s campaign.


This work is written in Ionic dialect and consists of three parts:

  • Part I: Gives a general description of India based on accounts of Megasthenes and Erastothenes.
  • Part II: Based on Nearchus’s journey on Indus.
  • Part III: Contains proofs showing that southern parts of world were inhabitable due to extreme heat.
  • This part describes the boundaries of India as Hindukush in north, Indus River in West and Pattala (Pattasila) in south.
  • Arrian gives detailed account of rivers and tributaries of India (Indus & Ganga), barbarous Indians of old times, their dependence of nomadism. He describes Pataliputra which calls the great city of Palimbothra.
  • He also describes slavery in India, modes of hunting elephants, and gold-digging ants.

Alexander’s Invasion

  • Alexander was prince of the Macedonian kingdom in Greece. His father Phillip II had consolidated many smaller Greek Republics by creating union called the ‘League of the Corinth’.
  • Phillip II wanted to attack Persia to avenge destruction of temples and sufferings of Athenians during the Persian War and liberate the Greek cities of Asia Minor. However, he was assassinated in 336 BC.
  • Later, Alexander became the king of Greeks and defeated king Darius of Persia. Upon completion of his conquest of Persia, Alexander continued his march to the eastern frontier of Persian empire and crossed the Indus River (easternmost boundary of Persia) and marched to Taxila where prince Ambhi welcomed him with lavish gifts. Alexander then marched forward after appointing Phillipus as a Satrap and left a garrison there.
  • At this time North-West India was divided into small independent monarchies and tribal republics. The most famous among them was the republic ruled by king Porus between Jhelum (Hydapses) and Chenab.
  • Porus did not submit to Alexander and there was a war between the armies of Alexander and Porus. Porus posed a stiff resistance to the armies of Alexander but Porus was forced to retreat. However, Alexander was very impressed by the military prowess of Porus and decided to reinstate him.
  • Alexander celebrated the victory over Porus by founding two cities of Nicaea and Bucephala. Bucephala was named after the horse of Alexander, Bucephalus, who had died in the battle. Alexander also issued a commemorative coinage at a mint in  Babylon.
  • Alexander then crossed the Chenab (Acesines) and Ravi (Hydroates) and defeated many small principalities. He fought a fierce battle against the Kathas of Punjab. However, Kathas were defeated.
  • Upon reaching the banks of Beas (Hyphasis), he came to know about the might of Nanda dynasty. Alexander wanted to proceed but his forces refused to advance.
  • He handed all the territory between Jhelum and Beas to Porus and returned by sailing down the Jhelum for his return journey. He fought his last battle against the Malavas (Malloi) at the confluence of Jhelum and Chenab. Alexander succesfully prevented the formation of alliance between Malavas and Kshudrakas..
  • Alexander died in Babylon in 324 BC. Thereafter, there was a series of struggles between his generals and governors for control of his empire.
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