From time immemorial, man has always been fighting battles like the famous Battle of Hydaspes between Alexander and Porus. It could be a battle within himself for love, recognition, or survival. The mind and heart are also unconsciously fighting a battle within our body. Surprising isn’t it!
Even as you are reading this article, I am sure there are so many emotions within you. It could be of joy, pain, sadness, or anything.
Many stories, movies, dramas, and musicals are made on battles. In some, they are glorified, and in some, they describe how much pain it leaves behind. It is believed that one of the oldest English stories is “Beowulf.”
This story narrates the tale of a man who once upon a time-travelled across Europe fighting the army of overseas enemies and became one of the first heroes in ancient history.
What is a Battle?
A battle is a well-defined conflict between the army of two or more opposing forces that are defined to an area for a specific duration with restricted resources. Do not get confused between Battle and war.
War is a combination of battles that involves an intense conflict between the army of governments or militaries with a highly aggressive and violent characteristic that can stretch for many months or years.
In a battle, strategies are deployed to help capture vantage points on the battlefield. These strategies are executed keeping in mind the terrain, the limited number of soldiers, and the equipment on each side.
Losing a battle is different from losing a war. If a battle is lost, it does not mean that the entire war is lost. The combatants can still recuperate from a lost battle compared to losing a war.
There are so many battles fought in history, and we have read about all of them with some imprinting an impression on our minds.
Now to find out about two such rulers who fought the famous Battle of the Hydaspes…
Alexander The Great
Alexander III, Alexander of Macedonia, or Alexander the Great, refer to this historic ruler born in 356BCE in Greece. This Macedonian was well known for some of the fabulous stories of his life, and later, he became a full-fledged hero.
Alexander got most of his inspirations in philosophy, scientific investigations, and medicine from his teacher Aristotle who taught him up to 16. After the assassination of his father in 336 BCE, Alexander ascended the throne without any opposition.
During his reign of 13 years, Alexander invaded the Greek and Middle Eastern region just like a meteor firing into space, transforming the face of the ancient world.
The life of Alexander the Great has inspired a lot of people, including Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, and other well-known conquerors of the world.
Despite achieving so many military victories, Alexander failed to win the hearts of his subjects. Even though he had great charisma and the ability to motivate his army to do the impossible, the life of Alexander was filled with contradictions, especially towards his dawning years.
After capturing Greece and the Balkans, Alexander aimed to capture Persia, a burning desire instilled by his parents. Alexander very efficiently won over Persia.
According to the ancient Greek historian Arrian, Alexander himself led from the forefront during the great Battle with Persia. He defeated the combat of 20,000 horse archers and an equal number of foot soldiers.
Arrian mentions the key Battle that Alexander won over Persia in the Battle of Isus. During this Battle, Darius fled from the battlefield along with his army. In his haste of leaving the Battle, Darius left his family behind.
But Arrian writes that Alexander ordered that Darius’ family be honoured and treated with royalty. After capturing the Mediterranean region and Egypt, Alexander managed to take over the whole of Persia after having Darius killed by his satraps.
As per Arrian’s writings, Alexander was greatly influenced by his tutor Aristotle’s teachings. As per Greek ethos, Aristotle had taught Alexander never to force Greek culture on any colonized people.
Hence Alexander would never take away the culture or the lifestyle of his conquered regions. By honouring their culture, he gained the loyalty of these people.
After capturing Central Asia, Alexander moved into Pakistan from where he fought the famous Battle of the Hydaspes against the Porus.
Now, who was King Porus??
King Porus of Paurava was a ruler of Inda during the 4th century BCE. He was one of the last survivors of the Puru dynasty, a clan from Central Asia and known both in India and Iran.
Porus ruled over the region between the Jhelum River (Hydaspes) and the Acesines river of Punjab. As per Greek historian Arrian, Porus was approached by the Persian ruler Darius III for help to defend the Persian empire against the Battle with Alexander the Great.
But Darius’s soldiers, who were tired and sick of losing too many battles, betrayed him by killing him and joining the army of Alexander.
Even though in the Battle of the hydaspes between Alexander and Porus, Porus survived the Battle. But Alexander made peace with him, giving Porus a large chunk from his campaign to rule over.
Surprisingly even though the story of Porus is written in various Green sources by writers like Arrian, Ptolemy, Plutarch and Diodorus, there is hardly any mention about him in Indian history.
This would raise a strand of doubt among historians if the Battle of the Hydaspes did end on a peaceful note.
What was the Battle of Hydaspes like…
The Steps Leading to The Battle of Hydaspes
Alexander’s army swept across Asia and Egypt for almost an epoch number of years.
He had left Macedonia in 334 BCE and his loyal army, and by 326 BCE, when Alexander turned his focus into ancient India, his army raised massive objections.
As per Arrian, a historian, it was here that Alexander met one of his formidable opponents in Porus and his army. The Battle of Hydaspes is supposed to be one of the last major victories for Alexander.
But it proved the most befitting climax to the conquests of Alexander over Persia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece.
The Battle of Hydaspes took place in 326 BC between Alexander and Porus. It was believed to have fought on the banks of the Jhelum River in the Punjab region, which is presently in Pakistan (formerly in India).
This victory of Battle resulted in the surrender of King Porus and gave the Greeks a huge victory. The Alexandrian Empire absorbed huge areas of land in Punjab.
At the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander’s military savvy was challenged by a never before seen unforgiving climate and a fresh large foe, the elephants!
Arrian says that the Battle of Hydaspes can be said to be one of the most ambitious missions of Alexander. Young Alexander would have realized that to march forward across India, and he had to defeat Porus.
Even though he gained a few allies, the initial steps of Alexander into India were unchallenged. This gave Alexander and his Companion cavalry the over-confidence to take over Porus and his army without fighting a battle.
So, Alexander sent a messenger asking Porus to surrender peacefully without getting involved in a battle. But the proud Porus refused to abide and told Alexander that he would meet him at a battle.
King Porus was confident that his greatest defence was the fast-moving river over a mile wide and deep. He knew that by the time Alexander’s army arrived at the river and tried to cross it, it would be fully swollen by the monsoons and the snow melting down from the Himalayas.
Alexander would find it difficult to cross the river with his army.
Preparations over the Hydaspes River
Porus expected Alexander to abandon his quest or wait for the monsoon to end before crossing the river. He even made huge preparations for the arrival of the Macedonians by defensively positioning his army along the river.
Arrian inconsistently mentions the exact number of combat forces, and it is believed that Porus had 20-50,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalries, more than 200 war elephants, and 300 and more chariots.
Alexander would never worry by seeing the outnumbered armed forces and the Indian cavalry he would be facing. Alexander was used to fighting such battles right when he left Macedonia. He camped directly across Porus towards the west of the Hydaspes River.
All indications given by Alexander’s army showed that he would wait for the monsoon to end, including arranging huge grain shipments from the ally King Taxila of India. But surprisingly, Alexander had no intentions to wait!
Alexander was well prepared before marching into India. He recruited and trained additional troops from Persia in the Macedonian fighting style. Anticipating the use of war elephants by Porus, he had included Scythian horse archers too.
Both the armies sat across the side of the Hydaspes facing each other, each king quite visible to the other.
Historian Arrian wrote that Alexander arranged numerous campfires along the side of the river and kept his men marching back to forth to keep Porus and the Indian cavalry confused.
In reality, he was searching for a suitable missing spot to help his army cross the Jhelum River !!
Crossing over the Hydaspes River
After a long, tedious search, Alexander managed to find a location to cross the Hydaspes river. It was a densely wooded area that gave a perfect cover to the forces of Alexander.
During the late evening amidst raging thunderstorms, the army of Alexander got ready to cross the river.
Porus was left guessing on the happenings in the army camp of Alexander as it is believed that Alexander had left a soldier dressed as the king to confuse Porus’s army.
The crossing of the Hydaspes River was planned to be done in three waves. Rafts were made from tents and boats, and galleys used earlier were to be used.
Everything did not go smoothly as planned by Alexander while he crossed the river. His men had to wade across the final leg to reach the other side of the river at dawn.
After the army crossed the river, they were regrouped into the assigned formation and prepared to meet King Porus.
Mounted horse archers were placed as a defence against war elephants ahead of the cavalry. Alexander did not want his cavalry to advance without any protection when the Battle took place.
Sources of Porus had seen Alexander’s men crossing the river and informed the Indian king of their arrival.
Time to prepare for Porus’ retaliation against Alexander’s army.
Finally Battle of the Hydaspes
One of the first attempts of Porus to stop Alexander and his army was to send his son along with 120 chariots and 3000 cavalries. This attempt proved to be a disaster as Alexander killed Porus’ son and destroyed all his forces.
Arrian describes that these ancient Indians seeing Alexander in person and his massive cavalry charging against them proved to be no match to the opponents.
After killing the son of King Porus and his Indian army, Alexander moved ahead to wait for his additional forces to arrive from the side of the Hydaspes.
Alexander paused his attack because his men were exhausted and left breathless after crossing the river from the east bank, says Arrian.
Alexander relied on most of the same war techniques that he had used in his previous battles over Greece and Persia. His cavalry was placed in the right to attack the right-wing and left-wing of Porus’ army while arrows were pelted on the war elephants by Alexander’s horse archers.
Porus had tactically placed his cavalry from the right to circle back while waiting for help from his ally, the King of Kashmir. The strong elephants nearly broke down the Macedonian phalanx.
They managed to drive the elephants away but faced the powerful Indian cavalry. Alexander would attack from the right but could not find a gap between the horsemen.
But regrettably, for the Indian army, the elephants panicked and revolted, causing more harm to Porus’ men.
History writer Arrian says that the war elephants got tired with time and were left doing nothing except trumpeting. Taking advantage of this, Alexander surrounded all the combat forces.
Alexander formed a lockshield with his infantry army by moving up as a solid mass. The Indian cavalry was broken by this action and suffered a terrible loss.
Porus was flanked on his left-wing by Coenus, one of the able generals of Alexander. Seeing this Porus army fled straight into the welcoming arms of General Craterus and Alexander’s army, who were waiting along the side of the river Hydaspes.
This great Battle fought in India resulted in 12,000 Indian men and 80 war elephants, all dying against only 1000 Macedonians!
The capture of King Porus by Alexander the Great and its Aftermath
All through the Battle of Hydaspes, Porus remained on his elephant. Despite several wounds and the shock of seeing his army flee, Porus refused to admit defeat and surrender to Alexander.
After the victory of the Macedonian phalanx, Alexander approached the proud and defeated King Porus and asked him how he would like to be treated.
The reply of Porus left Alexander and his entire combat surprised. Porus’s reply that he would like to be treated “Like a King” has gone down history as one of the most convincing replies any king would give.
Alexander retaliated to Porus by respecting his decision and giving him the governance of his kingdom as Satrap (Governor). Porus also governed some additional territory of numerous independent tribes who had surrendered to Alexander.
Historians find it strange that even though Alexander won the Battle of the hydaspes, he allowed Porus to continue rule his territory. It could be because Alexander had run out of resources to maintain his Macedonian phalanx and his stature all over.
Being the loser in the Battle of the Hydaspes, Porus was considered the able and efficient ruler of Alexander.
Alexander’s influence could not spread much in Porus’s domain. Eventually, by 317BC, Alexander’s power started declining and gradually, he lost all completely.
Return of Alexander After the Battle and His Death
After the victory of the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander marched towards the Indian Ocean, defeating many rulers of India.
According to history, Alexander was fascinated by the beauty of India and even wanted to capture the region around River Ganga.
Alexander lost his horse Bucephalus during the final march of his army in India. The great horse took part with him during all the battles he had fought since his youth.
Alexander later built the city Bucaphalia that is in present-day Pakistan.
But his army of Macedonians fatigued by continuous battles and homesickness persuaded him to return to Babylon. According to a source of history, Arrian says that Alexander was at first reluctant to return and shut himself at a tent grieved by his army’s decision.
Finally, Alexander may have given in to the demands of the Macedonia phalanx and agreed to return home. Alexander died in 323 BC in Babylon after reigned for nearly 13 years.
The Battle of Hydaspes is one of the last battles pitched in by Alexander the Great during his conquest in Asia. It was one of the battles of India that Alexander fought in which he faced defeat very closely.
His feared Companion cavalry could not completely subdue the brave and defiant King Porus. This Battle carved the limit of Alexander’s growing conquest of the world, and he died before he could expedite another campaign.
The Battle of the Hydaspes is one of the historically significant battles that resulted in the acquaintances of Greek cultural and political influences over India.
This gave rise to some wonderful and awesome Greco-Buddhist art that continues to influence India over thousands of years.
There is no doubt that Alexander the Great was indeed a “Great” conquerer. Due to his invasion of India, the western world got to know about India and its rich heritage.
I hope you enjoyed reading and had a raging experience of the Battle of Hydaspes.