Alexander The Great Invasion of India

“The importance of the Indian campaign of Alexander invasion has been both exaggerated and under-estimated.” There are some writers who believe that India was completely Hellenised as a result of the invasion of Alexander and there are others who hold the view that India was not affected at all. The truth lies midway between the two extreme views.

Effects of Alexander Invasion

alexander the great

Alexander Invasion according to his Niece:

All the later development of India depended indirectly upon the institutions of Alexander and Chandragupta Maurya recognized the suzerainty of Seleucus Nikator. This extreme-view is not supported by any other writer.

According to V.A. Smith: 

  • “The campaign (of Alexander), although carefully designed to secure a permanent conquest, was in actual effect no more than a brilliantly successful raid on a gigantic scale, which left upon India no mark save the horrid scars of bloody war. India remained unchanged.
  • The wounds of battle were quickly healed; the ravaged fields smiled again as the patient oxen and no less patient husbandmen resumed their interrupted labors; and the places of slain myriads were filled by the teeming swarms of a population. India was not Hellenised.
  • She continued to live her life of splendid isolation, and forgot the passing of the Macedonian storm. No Indian author, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain, makes even the faintest allusion to Alexander or his deeds.”  Again, “Alexander stayed only nineteen months in India, and, however far-reaching his plans may have been, it is manifestly impossible that during those few months of incessant conflict he should have founded Hellenic institutions on a permanent basis, or materially affected the structure of Hindu polity and society.
  • As a matter of fact, he did nothing of the sort, and within two years of his death, with the exception of small garrisons under Eudemos in the Indus Valley, the whole apparatus of Macedonian rule had been swept away. After the year 316 B.C. not a trace of it remained.
  • The only mark of Alexander’s direct influence of India is the existence of a few coins modeled in imitation of Greek types which were struck by Subhuti (Sophytes), the chief of the Salt Range, whom he subdued at the beginning of the voyage down the rivers.”

According to Dr. R.K. Mookerji:

“Alexander’s invasion promoted the political unification of the country. Smaller States which handicapped unity were now merged in the larger ones, such as those of Paurava, Abhisara or Taxila. These conditions were favorable for the rise of an Indian Empire to be shortly founded by Chandragupta.”

According to Dr. R.C. Majumdar: 

  • “The invasion of Alexander, the Great, has been recorded in minute details by the Greek historians who naturally felt elated at the triumphant progress of their hero over unknown lands and seas.
  • From the Indian point of view, its importance lies in the fact that it opened up a free intercourse between India and the western countries which was big with future consequences.
  • For the rest there was nothing to distinguish his raid in Indian history. It can hardly be called a great military success as the only military achievements to his credit were the conquest of pretty tribes and States by installments.
  • He never approached even within a measurable distance of what may be called the citadel of Indian military strength, and the exertions he had to make against Porus, the ruler of a small district between the Jhelum and the Chenab, do not certainly favor the hypothesis that he would have found it an easy task to subdue the mighty Nanda empire.
  • Taking everything into consideration, a modern historian unprejudiced by the halo0 of Greek name, may perhaps be excused for the belief that the majority of Greek writers did not tell the whole truth  when they represented the retreat of Alexander as  solely due to the unwillingness of his soldiers to proceed any further; nor can he dismiss, as altogether fictitious, the view recorded by more than one ancient Greek historian, that the retreat of Alexander was caused by the terror of the mighty power of the Nandas.”

Alexander The Great

Alexander The Great Ruler

The same writer observes at another place: “The voyage and expeditions planned by Alexander widened the geographical horizon of his contemporaries and opened up new lines of communication and new routes for trade and maritime enterprise. The colonies that the conquerors planted in the Indian borderland do not appear to have been altogether wiped out by the Mauryas. Yavana officials continued to serve the great King of Magadha as they had served the great King of Ecbatana and Persepolis, and Yavana adventurers carved out independent kingdoms in the north west when the sun of Magadha set.”

According to Paul Masson-Oursel and others: 

  • “The importance of this Indian campaign of Alexander has been exaggerated and underestimated. It is true that it had no decisive influence on the destinies of India, for its results were short-lived. Yet the eight years of the Macedonian occupations opened an era of several centuries during which Hellenism was to be a factor not only of civilization but of government on the western confines of the Indian world.
  • Direct contact was established between the Mediterranean civilization and those of the Punjab and of Central Asia :  Semitic Babylonia and the Persian Empire were no longer a screen between West and East.
  • These are facts of immense consequence, not only to Greek or Indian history but to the history of the world, which is the only real History.”

H.G. Rawlinson:  

  • Refers to the meteoric conquest of the Punjab by Alexander and says that his invasion “had no immediate effect, and passed off like countless other invasions, leaving the country almost undisturbed. No mention of it is to be found in contemporary Indian literature.
  • But Alexander was no mere casual raider, like Tamerlane or Nadir Shah, intent on nothing but plunder. A pupil of Aristotle, he conceived it to be his mission to westernize the East. He came with historians and scientists in his train, to keep a careful record of his discoveries. His work was intended to be permanent.
  • At various points along his route, he established a chain of fortified posts, to keep open his communications. Many of these survive today. He meant Indus to be the great military and commercial highway of his Indian provinces and, had he lived, there is little doubt than a second Alexandria would have sprung up at its mouth and, in all probability, the Punjab would have been Hellenised like Asia Minor or Egypt.”

Alexander Invasion of India and its Effects

Alexander Invasion of India

According to V.A. Smith:

  • Alexander “broke down the wall of separation between West and East, opened up four distinct lines of communication, three by land and one by sea. The land routes which he proved to be practicable were those through Kabul, the Mulla Pass in Baluchistan and Gedrosia Nearchos demonstrated that the sea voyage round the coast of Makran offered few difficulties to sailors, once the necessary local information had been gained which he lacked.”
  • However, according to Havel, the expeditions of Alexander did not lead to the opening of new highway between the East and the West. That work had already been done by the Persians who attacked India even before Alexander, and one of the provinces of Persian Empire was in India.

Although the Empire founded by Alexander in India did not last long, it cannot be denied that the Greek settlements of Bactria and Parthia influenced India in many ways. Kanishka invited many Graeco-Bactrian sculptors to Gandhara for making images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas which represent a blending of the Greek and Indian art in image-making.

The influence of the Greeks on the Gandhara school of art cannot be denied. Likewise, Greek influence on Indian astronomy has also to be admitted. It was Alexander who “set little bits of Hellas down in the wilds of Western and Central Asia” which later on exercised tremendous influence on India.

 According to E.R. Bevan:

  • “The European invasion at India was an event of too great magnitude not to have far-reaching consequences. As other over followings of foreign conquests have done, it swept away internal barriers which prevented the unification of the lands concerned.
  • The confederacies of free tribes, which had maintained their proud isolation from other political systems. Were left utterly broken. Smaller principalities were swallowed up in a realm such as that given by Alexander to the Paurava. This, no doubt, made it a simpler matter for the Maurya king a few years later to take these countries into his great Indian Empire.
  • “The contact of Indian with the Greek world did not cease with the disruption of Alexander’s empire. What can be traced of later political connections between Indian and Hellenistic kings will be exhibited in another chapter. Any influences which can ultimately be shown to have reached India from the Greek West, whether through the medium of Seleucid or Bactrian kings or of the Roman Empire, which took up the inheritance of Hellenism in Asia, may be regarded as consequences of the work of Alexander.
  • If they were not consequences of the work which Alexander did in India, they were, in any case, consequences of the work which he did when he established Hellenism in Iran, Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt. India indeed and the Greek world only touched each other on their fringes, and there was never a chance of elements of the Hellenistic tradition to strike root in India, as a part of Hellenism struck root in the Nearer East and was still vital in the Mohammedan, largely Hellenistic. Culture of the Middle Ages.
  • There are, however, the two unquestionable cases of transmission, which will be noted in subsequent chapters the artistic types conveyed by the school of Gandhara, and the Greek astronomy which superseded the primitive native system in the latter part of the fourth century A.D.”
  • There are many reasons why Alexander’s invasion did not leave any permanent results. That was partly due to the fact that he met with a premature death at the age of 33. Had he lived longer, there is every possibility of his maintaining his hold over the territory conquered by him in India.
  • He might have come back again to India with fresh troops as was done by Malik Kafur who attacked the Deccan many a time. Moreover, Alexander’s stay in India was very short. He did not stay in India for more than nineteen months and during all that period he was busy in fighting. He did not find any time to consolidate his position. The rise of Chandragupta Maurya also hastened the overthrow of the Greeks in the Punjab.

 According to Dr. R. S. Tripathi:

“The progress of Alexander’s armies in India was by no means easy or smooth. No doubt, some of the Indian potentates and autonomous communities bowed low before the blast’.

But others fought bravely, and this coupled with the prospect of unending wars in India even created apprehensions in the minds of the Greek veterans who had blown off the mighty Persian forces almost like chaff.

Nor did India ‘plunge in thought again’ after the great meteor had flashed across her political skies and within a few years of Alexander’s departure and death in June 323 B.C., all vestiges of Greek occupation were destroyed and swept away.”

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