Battle of the Hydaspes

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Battle of the Hydaspes
Part of the Wars of Alexander the Great
The phalanx attacking the centre in the battle of the Hydaspes by Andre Castaigne (1898-1899).jpg
A painting by Andre Castaigne depicting the phalanx attacking the centre during the Battle of the Hydaspes
Date May 326 BC
Location Modern-day Punjab, Pakistan, near the Hydaspes River.
Result Decisive Macedonian victory.[1][2]
Territorial
changes
Alexander controls most of Punjab region.
Belligerents
Macedonian Empire
Greek allies
Persian allies
Indian allies
Paurava
Commanders and leaders
Alexander the Great,
Craterus, Coenus, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, Lysimachus
Demonicus of Pella
Peucestas
King Porus,
unknown others
Strength
6,000 infantry,
5,000 cavalry.[3]
20,000,[4] 30,000[5] or 50,000[6] infantry,
2,000[4] - 4,000[5] cavalry,
200,[5] 130[6] ("likeliest" according to Green),[7] or 85[8] war elephants,
1,000 chariots.[9]
Casualties and losses
80[10] - 700[11][12] infantry,
230[10] - 280[11] cavalry killed. Modern estimates ~1000 killed[citation needed].
12,000 killed and 9,000 captured,[13] or 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry killed,.[10]

The Battle of the Hydaspes River was fought by Alexander the Great in 326 BC against King Porus of the Hindu Paurava kingdom on the banks of the Hydaspes River (Jhelum River) in the Punjab near Bhera, in what is now Pakistan. This battle is considered as Alexander's most costly battle by many historians, Peter Connolly notable amongst them.The battle resulted in a complete Macedonian victory and the annexation of the Punjab, which lay beyond the confines of the defeated Persian empire, into the Alexandrian Empire.

Alexander's tactics to cross the monsoon-swollen river despite close Indian surveillance to catch Porus' army in the flank has been referred as one of his "masterpieces".[14] Although victorious, it was also the most costly battle fought by the Macedonians.[15] The resistance put up by King Porus and his men won the respect of Alexander who asked him to become a Macedonian satrap.

The battle is historically significant for opening up India for Greek political (Seleucid, Greco-bactrian Indo-Greek) and cultural influences (Greco-Buddhist art) which was to continue for many centuries.

Location[edit]

The battle took place on the east bank of the Hydaspes River (now called the river Jhelum, a tributary of the river Indus) in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan. Later, Alexander founded a city on the site of the battle, which he called Nicaea; this city has not yet been discovered.[16] Any attempt to find the ancient battle site is doomed, because the landscape has changed considerably.[16] For the moment, the most plausible location is just south of the city of Jhelum, where the ancient main road crossed the river, and where a Buddhist source indeed mentions a city that may be Nicaea.[16] The identification of the battle site near modern Jalalpur/Haranpur is certainly erroneous, as the river, in the ancient times, meandered far from these cities.[16]

Background[edit]

After Alexander defeated the last of the Achaemenid Empire's forces under Bessus and Spitamenes in 328 BC, he began a new campaign to further extend his empire towards India in 327 BC. Alexander's army is estimated at about 6,000.[3] Depending on the sources, Alexander was outnumbered somewhere from 3:1 to 5:1.

The main train went into modern-day Pakistan through the Khyber Pass, but a smaller force under the personal command of Alexander went through the northern route, taking the fortress of Aornos (modern-day Pir-Sar, Pakistan) on the way, a place of high mythological significance to the Greeks, as, according to legend, Herakles had failed to occupy it, when he had campaigned to India. In early spring of the next year, he combined his forces and allied with Taxiles (also Ambhi), the King of Taxila, against his neighbor, the King of Hydaspes.

Motives[edit]

Alexander had to subdue King Porus in order to keep marching east. To leave such a strong opponent at his flanks would endanger any further exploit. He could also not afford to show any sign of weakness if he wanted to keep the loyalty of the already subdued Indian princes. Porus had to defend his kingdom and chose the perfect spot to check Alexander's advance. Although he lost the battle, he became the most successful recorded opponent of Alexander.

Pre-battle maneuvers[edit]

Alexander's crossing of the Hydaspes River.

Porus drew up on the south bank of the Jhelum River, and was set to repel any crossings. The Jhelum River was deep and fast enough that any opposed crossing would probably doom the entire attacking force. Alexander knew that a direct crossing had little chances of success and thus tried to find alternative fords. He moved his mounted troops up and down the river bank each night, Porus shadowing him. Eventually, Alexander used a suitable crossing, about 27 km (17 mi) upstream of his camp. His plan was a classic pincer maneuver. He left his general Craterus behind with most of the army, while he crossed the river upstream with a strong contingent, consisting, according to Arrian of 6,000 on foot and 5,000 on horseback, though it is probable that it was larger. Craterus was to ford the river and attack if Porus faced Alexander with all his troops, but to hold his position if Porus faced Alexander with only a part of his army.

Alexander quietly moved his part of the army upstream and then traversed the river in utmost secrecy through manufacturing ‘skin floats filled with hay’ as well as ‘smaller vessels cut in half, the thirty oared galleys into three’.[17] Furthermore Craterus engaged in frequent feints that he may cross the river ‘Thus Porus, no longer expecting a sudden attempt under cover of darkness, was lulled into a sense of security’.[17] Alexander mistakenly landed on an island, but soon crossed to the other side. Porus perceived his opponent's maneuver and sent a small cavalry and chariot force under his son to fight off Alexander, hoping that he would be able to prevent his crossing. Alexander had already passed, and easily routed his opponent, the chariots in particular being impeded by the mud near the shore of the river, with Porus' son among the dead. Porus understood that Alexander had crossed to his side of the river and hastened to face him with the best part of his army, leaving behind a small detachment to disrupt the landing of Craterus' force, should he try to cross the river.

Battle[edit]

Combined attack of cavalry and infantry.
An imaginary Indian war elephant against Alexander's army, by Johannes van den Avele.

When Porus reached the point where Alexander's army was arrayed, he deployed his forces and commenced the attack. The Indians were poised with cavalry on both flanks, their center comprising infantry with elephants towering among or before them in equal intervals. The elephants caused much harm to the Macedonian phalanx, but were eventually repulsed by the dense pikes of the phallangitai, wreaking much havoc upon their own lines.

Alexander started the battle by sending horse archers to shower the Indian left cavalry wing. Then, he led the charge against the weakened Indian wing. The rest of the Indian cavalry galloped to their hard pressed kinsmen but at this moment, Coenus's cavalry contingent appeared on the Indian rear. The Indians tried to form a double phalanx, but the necessary complicated maneuvers brought even more confusion into their ranks making it easier for the Macedonian horse to conquer. The remaining Indian cavalry fled among the elephants for protection, but the beasts were already out of control and would soon retreat exhausted from the field, leaving the rest of Porus's army encircled by the Macedonian horse and phalanx. At this time, the phallangitai locked their shields and advanced upon the confused enemy. Porus, after putting up a brave fight, surrendered and the battle was finally over. According to Justin,[18] during the battle, Porus challenged Alexander, who charged him on horseback. Alexander fell off his horse in the ensuing duel, his bodyguards carrying him off and capturing Porus.

According to Arrian, Macedonian losses amounted to 310.[10] However the military historian J.F.C. Fuller sees as "more realistic" the figure given by Diodorus of about 1,000,[11][19] a large number for a victor, yet not improbable, considering the partial success of the Indian war elephants. Indian losses amounted to 23,000 according to Arrian, 12,000 dead and over 9,000 men captured according to Diodorus.[13] The last two numbers are remarkably close, if it is assumed that Arrian added any prisoners to the total Indian casualties. Around 80 elephants were captured alive.[20][21]

Two sons of Porus were killed during the battle, as well as his relative and ally Spitakes, and most of his chieftains.

Aftermath[edit]

A painting by Charles Le Brun depicting Alexander and Porus during the Battle of the Hydaspes.

The bravery, war skills and princely attitude of Porus greatly impressed Alexander, who allowed him to rule Hydaspes in Alexander's name. Wounded in his shoulder, standing at over 2.1 m (7 feet) tall, he was asked by Alexander how he wished to be treated. "Treat me, O Alexander, like a king" Porus responded.[22] Alexander would indeed treat him like a king, allowing him to retain his kingship. The Macedonian regent founded two cities, one at the spot of the battle called Nicaea (Greek for Victory) in commemoration of his success and one on the other side of the Hydaspes called Alexandria Bucephalus, to honor his faithful steed, which died soon after this battle. In 326 BC, the army of Alexander the Great approached the boundaries of the Nanda Empire. His army, exhausted from the continuous campaigning and frightened at the prospect of facing yet another gigantic Indian army, demanded that they should return to the west. This happened at the Hyphasis (modern Beas), the exact spot being believed to be at 'Kathgarh' in Indora tehsil of Himachal Pradesh with nearest rail head at Pathankot, Punjab. Alexander finally gave in and turned south, along the Indus, securing the banks of the river as the borders of his empire.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fuller, pg 198

    "While the battle raged, Craterus forced his way over the Haranpur ford. When he saw that Alexander was winning a brilliant victory he pressed on and, as his men were fresh, took over the pursuit."

  2. ^ Fuller, pg 181

    "Among the many battles fought by invaders who entered the plains of India from the north-west, the first recorded in history is the battle of the Hydaspes, and in Hogarth's opinion, when coupled with the crossing of the river, together they 'rank among the most brilliant operations in warfare'."

  3. ^ a b Arrian, 5.14
  4. ^ a b Plutarch 62.1:

    "But this last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians' courage, and stayed their further progress into India. For having found it hard enough to defeat an enemy who brought but twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse into the field, they thought they had reason to oppose Alexander's design of leading them on to pass the Ganges, too, which they were told was thirty-two furlongs broad and a fathom deep, and the banks on the further side covered with multitudes of enemies."

  5. ^ a b c Arrian, 5.15
  6. ^ a b Diodorus, 17.87.2
  7. ^ Green, p. 553
  8. ^ Curtius 8.13.6; Metz Epitome 54 (following Curtius)
  9. ^ Plutarch 60.5
  10. ^ a b c d Arrian, 5.18
  11. ^ a b c Diodorus 17.89.3
  12. ^ According to Fuller, pg 199, "Diodorus' figures appear more realistic."
  13. ^ a b Diodorus 17.89.1 17.89.2 17.89.3
  14. ^ Burn 1965, p. 150
  15. ^ Peter Connolly. Greece and Rome At War. Macdonald Phoebus Ltd, 1981, p. 66
  16. ^ a b c d P.H.L. Eggermont, Alexander's campaign in Southern Punjab (1993).
  17. ^ a b Arrian
  18. ^ Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, 12.8
  19. ^ Fuller, p. 199
  20. ^ Diodorus, 17.89.2
  21. ^ Fuller, p.199
  22. ^ Rogers, p.200

References[edit]

Modern[edit]

Ancient[edit]

External links[edit]