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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander’s Invasion of India

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The Battle of the Hydaspes was between Alexander the Great and the army of King Porus on the river Hydaspes in Punjab in July 326 BC. Macedonian troops defeated the army of King Porus. He was captured, and then became an ally and vassal of Alexander the Great. The battle was the last major battle in Alexander’s life.

Alexander the Great in 334 BC began his legendary campaign in Asia. After the decisive battle at Gaugamela in 331 BC, the Persian Empire, which existed for more than 200 years, disintegrated. Alexander had to fight the former Persian satraps, who became rulers in the lands under their control. When the entire territory of the Persian Empire was included in the Macedonian Empire, Alexander proceeded to expand the domains of his state at the expense of new countries, following his obsession to become the ruler of the entire civilized world. Eight years into the invasion of Asia, Alexander entered India.

Hearing about the exploits of Alexander, small Indian kings surrendered their cities to the formidable Macedonian army.  After crossing the Indus River, Alexander, moving east, in July 326 BC crossed the river Hydaspes.

Forces

King Porus differed from former opponents of Alexander because of his great determination and courage. His Army didn’t reach the size of the Persian army, but it was fierce. He had more than 30,000 infantry, 4,000 horsemen, 300 chariots and 200 elephants. The most formidable force in the Indian army was combat elephants, “tanks” of the ancient era. In the Battle of Gaugamela, the Macedonians seized 15 elephants from the Persians, but they did not yet have a real fighting encounter with this menacing animal. The light infantry of the Indians served mainly to protect elephants from the side and rear. The Indian cavalry, by all accounts, was inferior. In addition to his considerable strength, Porus counted on the arrival of an ally, the Indian king Abisar, whose army was only slightly smaller than the army of Porus. The strength of Alexander’s army was about 8-10,000 cavalry and 25-30,000 infantry, of which 5,000 were Allied Indians.

Battle

The army of Porus and Alexander separated by the Hydaspes River, wide at this time of year with a strong current. The camps of the commanders were opposite to each other. Porus sent out patrol units to know when the Macedonians would attempt to cross, to prevent it. Alexander, for his part, tried to mislead the enemy. He sent out detachments along the river, imitating crossings until the Indians stopped paying attention to the maneuvers of the Macedonians. Alexander also launched a rumor about plans to wait for a drop in the water level.

Alexander decided to proceed with crossing the river. The army was divided into three parts. Detachments of about 10,000 soldiers under the command of Crater, including 5,000 allied Indians, were left in the camp opposite Porus.

The second part of the army, also about 10,000 in number, was given the order to start crossing about 10-12 km from the camp at the time to engage Porus in battle. Alexander himself, with the 3rd part of the army, was going to cross the river unnoticed. Separation of forces, according to Alexander’s plan, will not allow Porus to concentrate forces and attack the Macedonians at the time of the crossing.

Alexander led selected troops about 5,000 cavalry, and 6,000 infantry. Secret preparations for the crossing were made at night. The infantry crossed the river on rowboats. The crossing was successfully completed before a detachment under the command of Porus’ son arrived.

Course of Battle

The son of Porus arrived at the place of Alexander’s crossing with 2,000 mounted cavalry and 120 chariots. Alexander threw his cavalry at him, the number of which considerably exceeded the number of Indians. The chariots sank in the mud due to the night rain. They could not attack, and it was impossible to retreat.

Porus moved his army to meet Alexander in battle, leaving a few elephants and a small number of troops in the camp to prevent Crater from crossing. Alexander decided to attack Porus’ army, without waiting for the crossing of the remaining parts of his army. He directed the blow of his cavalry to the left flank of the Indians. Macedonians did not dare to attack the elephants head-on. At first, a thousand horse archers attacked with a hail of arrows, then Alexander engaged the left flank of the Indians with his squadron. Indian chariots were quickly disabled by the Macedonian cavalry. Elephants attacked Alexanders army, the weight of the struggle with them fell to the Macedonian infantry. The Indian infantry tried to keep behind the elephants, attacking between them. The battle turned into chaos, where the advantage and victory went to the one who managed his army units better. Soon the army turned into a huge crowd. Indians, mounted and on foot, sought protection from the raging elephants, but suffered more from them than from the enemy.  Soon the elephants turned back. Alexander’s cavalry surrounded the entire army of the Indians, which, squeezed in a narrow place, no longer represented a viable fighting force.

The Outcome of the Battle

After the battle, Alexander gave a month of rest to his army, founded a city on the battlefield, and then moved further east. Some kings voluntarily obeyed him, he attacked the other cities directly. Alexander gave the conquered lands to the authority of the Satraps, chosen among the leaders of the people of the conquered states. However, on the road to the Ganges River, the Macedonians, hearing about the huge armies and thousands of battle elephants behind the Ganges, refused to follow their king. This is the last great open-fieled Battle of the greatest Commander in History.

Sources:

  • Diodorus
  • Arrian, Alexander’s campaign
  • Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander the Great
  • Diodorus Siculus
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