Hello friends, today I am sharing another real war story from ancient times. The war was fought on the river Hydaspes, so the battle is known as the Battle of Hydaspes.
The ancient Indians fought many battles. The Indians started some of the wars, while others resulted from aggression by neighboring states or empires.
The Battle of Hydaspes is one of the fights that a section of Indians fought due to foreign aggression by a neighboring kingdom.
Noteworthy, the battle involved only a section of Indian lands, the Pauravian Kingdom, which was the gateway to the larger Indian territory.
As the name suggests, the battle took place at the banks of Hydaspes River, which is a Greek version of the Jhelum River by the Indians. King Porus and Emperor Alexander the Great were the opponents during the war.
Before the War
The battle of Hydaspes was preceded by many wars. Before reaching the Hydaspes, Alexander, also referred to as Alexander the Great, attacked many cities in the Indian Subcontinent.
Notably, Alexander had just conquered Taxila, formally under King Taxiles (Worldhistory.org). King Taxiles, was King Porus’ enemy hence a major milestone for King Alexander, thanks to Taxiles surrender.
The two, that is, Taxiles and Porus, were later reconciled following the latter’s defeat in the ensuing war at Hydaspes River banks.
But, how did they get here?
Paurava’s conquest represented just a fraction of Alexander’s expansion dream and longtime conquests. The Macedonian King was in an overdrive to invade as many lands as possible to extend the Greek Empire.
Alexander just subdued the Persian Empire. The victory triggered him to consider probing into the northern Indian territories. Historians agree that, initially, the Greeks had limited knowledge of India. The land was still a mystery to Alexander too who viewed it as the world’s edge. Probably, Asia itself.
A good number of historians also believe that King Alexander was after parts of Indian lands initially under Persian control. In his quest, many cities fell to his feet. A lot surrendered while others rebelled, causing Alexander to demolish them.
However, unlike the rest, the Indus land under Porus became fully determined to engage the enemy. And that is how we got to the battle of Hydaspes.
Reasons for War
The Pauravian King Porus decided to fight in an effort to defend his kingdom from an attack by the Macedonian King Alexander. At the time, Alexander was ambitiously attacking and extending his empire across Asia. He was now eyeing to enter and move past India when Porus repulsed him with a formidable force.
Initially, King Alexander asked King Porus to surrender and offer a tribute, but the Indian King heard none of it. He immediately started preparing for war, forcing Alexander to attack.
Among other things, like believe in his army, King Porus was confident that River Hydaspes, which was almost over a mile wide, formed one of the most important forms of defense against the enemy (Worldhistory.org).
However, King Alexander had better ideas. His ambitions did not allow the river to deter him.
As already mentioned, the Battle of Hydaspes took place at the Hydaspes (Jhelum) River banks. The conflict occurred in the year 326 BCE.
The war’s exact location is believed to be in current day Punjab, Pakistan, formerly a part of the Indian Territory in India Subcontinent.
The battle took place across the Hydaspes River, the Indian side because Porus could not deter Alexander’s entry. However, Alexander’s wisdom to cross the river after many backs and forth maneuvers forced Porus to believe that the Macedonian emperor could not cross the river. Porus thought that Alexander was only bluffing.
Alexander’s Surprise Tactic
Alexander knew the difficulty of crossing the Hydaspes River in the open. Porus already prepared his army ready for attack on any individual or group of enemy attempting to cross. With this knowledge in mind, King Alexander decided to use a surprise attack tactic.
The idea was dividing his army into groups to confuse Porus. Similarly, he made war-like maneuvers, forcing Porus to charge back. For example, he attempted to cross the river, moving up and down the river. When moving, or attempting to cross the river, soldiers made lots of noise to attract attention.
Alexander’s maneuvers ended up appearing as a bluff. Porus, thus, ignored King Alexander’s further movement along the river. However, Alexander continuously looked for the best spot to cross the river.
Surprisingly, Alexander divided his army into two units leading one unit 27 kilometers upstream. He left the second unit under one of his general called Craterus.
The strategy caught Porus unawares. He immediately sent his son, also called Porus, to fight Alexander. However, his son was overpowered and killed by Alexander’s army. The war had begun.
Porus led his troops to face Alexanders’ upon realizing the attack. Both kings used various war strategies to face each other.
The Macedonian King Alexander used his renowned Companion cavalry. Tactical formations of elite soldiers on horses’ backs made up the cavalry. The men had solid and long spears. Furthermore, the Macedonian infantry and cavalry were well protected with metal armors.
The Macedonian soldiers were well trained. In addition, King Alexander divided his military under different units and commands, making it easy to attack and respond to Indian defenses better.
The infantry was dispatched to fight from different flanks. They aimed at attacking, backing up, and harassing to neutralize the enemy.
The Indians, on the other hand, had infantry, chariots, and war elephants. The mahouts led the elephants in war times, fiercely and strongly, challenging the enemy. During the battle, the elephants remained in the front. It is believed that King Porus fielded up to 200 elephants during the Battle of Hydaspes.
Apart from the elephants, Porus placed his cavalry on both flanks (left and right sides). In the front were the chariots, which were a key aspect of the Ancient Indian military at King Porus’s time. The infantry were placed at the center to deter the enemy in case they penetrated the elephant defenses.
The Indians Surrounded
Alexander’s surprise attack materialized. As noted, in the heavily pounding rain, Porus’s army scouts did not detect Alexander’s movement north of the River. An Indian scout noticed the Macedonian king’s troops when it was too late. At the time, they were already successfully crossing into Indian’s side.
King Alexander intended to surround the Indian enemies. Apart from leaving Craterus with his army behind, he commanded him to cross as soon as possible and fight the Pauravian soldiers if they continued defending the area. Alexander further planned that if the Indians moved upstream to fight him, Craterus was to follow them up and wage attacks from their rear.
Similarly, Alexander commanded Coenus to attack the defenseless infantry with his calvary. The attack was designed to come from the left side of Indian forces as soon as King Porus realized that his chariots on the right were outnumbered. The Macedonian king envisioned that by having more men on his right, Porus army on the right would be outnumbered. He viewed that in response, Porus had no choice but to bring his chariots from his right to help the overpowered chariots on the left.
As soon as more chariots converged to fight Alexander’s soldiers, Coenus got the opportunity to attack.
The infantry on Porus’s right frank were defenseless. On seeing this, Coenus immediately attacked causing even more confusion to the already demoralized Indian infantry and army in general.
The further charge by Alexander and his cavalry formed hammered the last nail on the coffin. The cavalry attacked elephants and their mahouts, killing many of them. The cavalry also killed many of the chariots. In the end, all chariots were destroyed.
Surrounded and under heavy missile and spear attacks, the elephants got into panic and bewilderment. The war animals responded by tramping both on the enemy and friends causing even more deaths to their owners than foes.
Confronted from all fronts, Porus knew he had few chances. Even so, he remained adamant, fighting bravely until his troops were entirely brought down.
The war was bloody. Among the first casualties were Porus’s son and his men. Alexander’s men further brought many deaths to the Indian soldiers thanks to their better technologies and tactical prowess.
Even so, King Porus was fully determined to engage the enemy. On the contrary, he emerged as a strong opponent against Alexander. For example, unlike previous battles, in the Battle of Hydaspes, the Macedonian King’s Companion cavalry could not fully subdue King Porus’ army.
Notably, the elephants partially broke Macedonian’s phalanx or tactical formation.
The Macedonian tactical forces, nonetheless, managed to repel the elephants. They brought down the mahouts, piercing on elephants’ eyes with spears. As mentioned, the unguided and injured elephants became a threat even to their owners, tramping retreating Pauravian infantry.
Final Defeat of Porus
Following disruption of the Indian war strategy, King Porus tried the last shot. He organized his army into a double tactical formation attacking the enemies from both sides. However, since Alexander’s units attacked from all flanks, the Indian soldiers became confused.
The arrival of Crateus, who was left behind, forced Indians into surrender as they became surrounded.
About 12 000 Indians were killed, and 9,000 soldiers captured by the Macedonians during the Battle of Hydaspes (britannica.com). Also, about 1000 Macedonian soldiers died during the bloody fighting.
Factors that Influenced the War
Several factors impacted the war outcomes. For example, coincidentally, the weather affected both opponents in a positive and negative way. However, the impacts were more dire for the Indians’ whose Chariots almost became useless in the slippery and muddy terrain.
Historians state that Indians deployed about 300 war chariots in the Battle of Hydaspes. Even so, the Porus’ chariots effectiveness was almost negligible during the war.
The war occurred in May. The Monsoon rains were already heavily pounding the ground. The rainfall made the lands slippery and the mud affected the chariots’ movement. They, therefore, failed in withstanding King Alexander’s cavalry attacks.
The Heavy Rains that Deafened Porus’ Ears
The weather further negatively affected Porus’s success chances. During the fateful night, the heavy rainfall pounding the earth deafened King Porus ears. Due to the heavy rains, Porus did not hear the noise of soldiers shifting grounds to move into more strategic locations.
The rains were, thus, an advantage for King Alexander. This is because, under the cover of darkness, and the ongoing storm, they managed to move almost 27 kilometers upstream undetected.
This was the ground for the surprise attack on Porus. It also in a great way helped in King Alexander’s success.
King Alexander Faces Bad Weather
The weather not only adversely affected Porus. In contrast, it affected them both. For example, the heavy rains caused the river to swell. It was difficult to navigate across the river.
Porus also had no choice but to move in bad terrain, worsened by the heavy rain at the moment. Despite building boats and rafts, Alexander and his men needed to wade across sections of the river. This endeavor was risky and life threatening. The water submerged the horses to the neck level.
Nonetheless, Alexander persevered. He crossed the river despite all odds and immediately planned a successful attack against his enemy.
The weather alongside the terrain, was a key factor in the success of both opponents. The success depended on how well they responded to the challenge or how effectively they used it for their advantage.
The River’s Significant Role in the Battle
I already noted how important King Porus viewed River Hydaspes. Ideally, it formed the last line of natural defense for the Pauravian King.
It is, thus, crucial to examine this magnificent barrier that separated the nemesis.
The Hydapses is nothing more than the Indus River’s tributary. Even so, it is no ordinary river. The river spread wide, went deep, and its waters moved fast. Additionally, during monsoon rains’ storms and the melting of Himalayan snow (Worldhistory.org), the river became mad with massive swells.
It is no doubt why King Porus placed much hopes onto it. In fact, the Macedonians were liable to have it rougher if they did not bring ships as well as possess crucial knowledge for assembling rafts.
However, King Alexander appeared adequately prepared to face the river. He did and finally subdued Porus.
Access to Supplies
Exceptional leaders and military commanders understand the importance of efficient logistics in war time. In a similar manner, King Alexander understood this fact.
During the battle of Hydaspes, the provision of supplies determined the war outcomes. Researchers show that King Alexander was very strategic in ensuring his commanders had the necessary supplies. For example, one tactic involved having the soldiers carry their own supplies. In contrast, many military at the time relied on chariots, wagons, pack animals, and other means of transport to deliver the army’s supplies.
Reliance on the above means meant the military people could not move fast enough. On the other hand, Alexander’s military was highly mobile because they already perfected the art of carrying their immediate necessities on their backs. This reduced the needs to move alongside the logistics team.
But, is Carrying own Requirements the only Factor for Alexander’s Logistical Success?
During the Battle of Hydaspes, as during any other battles that Alexander fought, there were perfect plans for supplying the army.
As a norm, King Alexander only brought full army into a new land when he was convinced that there are all the supplies they needed. To achieve this, Alexander took over the newly invaded lands, pursuing the local authorities to provide the necessary supplies to his army.
Alexander also had long supply lines connected to his previous conquests’ bases. Furthermore, supplies were brought from as far as his mother land when necessary.
During the Battle of Hydaspes, Alexander ensured his military of over 40,000 received enough supplies. Essentially, this was possible through forming an alliance with Taxiles the ruler of Taxila (Wikipedia.org). The newly made ally allowed Alexander to use his land as the base of operations.
In addition, Taxiles accepted to offer Alexander all the supplies he needed in the war (livescience.com) with his nemesis King Porus.
Notably, availability of enough supplies for Alexander’s army enhanced his success in a foreign land far from home.
The use of animals, including horses, donkeys, and elephants goes back to the medieval times. However, the use of elephants in military actions was not a norm in the West in the ancient times. On the contrary, the animals were mainly used in Central Asia, especially in the land of the Indus.
At the time of Alexander the Great’s Indian Invasion, the Greeks were aware of the use of war elephants in different regions. However, they had never encountered them in all their battles until the battle of Hydaspes when Porus fielded hundreds of them.
Consequently, the Macedonians were not sure of how to respond to the animals. Even so, King Alexander knew that there was a possibility of the horses panicking when encountering the beasts in a direct confrontation with the Indians.
Looking for a perfect spot to cross the river ensured the Macedonian army prepared well to avoid immediate direct encounters with the elephants. Alexander decided to attack the Porus’s army wings first.
The Macedonian king later descended on the elephants with javelins and missiles.
The presence of elephants, nonetheless, negatively influenced Alexander’s success. This is because, the beasts massively destroyed some of his cavalry while tramping on the infantry before they were subdued.
The elephants made the war one of the hardest for Alexander and definitely increased Porus’s chances of success.
The Battle of Hydaspes remains one of the greatest battles that Alexander the Great ever fought. It is also the battle that Alexander came closest to a defeat, owing to the brave and tactical defense that King Porus put up.
In admiration of King Porus, the Macedonian King made him an ally, reinstating him as a subordinate ruler of Paurava, following his surrender.
Consequently, all Greek historians appreciated that while the Macedonians won the battle, it was not an easy feat. The Pauravians, under the leadership of King Porus, had put up a great fight.
After the War
The Battle of Hydaspes resulted in a few changes and courses of action including:
Whenever Alexander overtook land, he erected cities with his name there. Consequently, he already founded over 20 cities in the course of his conquest. An important city, bearing his name, was Egypt’s Alexandria.
Similarly, after defeating King Porus, the Macedonian king founded a number of cities.
Following the victory, King Alexander the Great celebrated his success by establishing two cities. These were Nicaea and Alexandria Bucephalus. The latter city was founded as a way of honoring his horse, which fell dead soon after the war.
The cities helped rubber stamp Greek’s authority in the newly acquired regions. Importantly, Alexander used them as administrative centers. The cities, thus ensured that the administrative headquarters also settled the Macedonians. The cities offered settlement especially to the people who served in his military campaigns.
Following the battle, Greece influenced the Indians in diverse ways. For example, some sections of Indian people became exposed to the Greek political as well as cultural aspects. The Greco-Buddhist art, for instance, resulted from the influences of Greeks in the Indian Subcontinent following the Battle at Hydaspes.
The Final Campaigns
After the battle of Hydaspes, Alexander forged forward. He went on conquering new lands and kingdoms. As already mentioned, his aim was to take over the whole of the Indian Territory and Asia.
Even so, his campaigns only went as far as the Ganges River. His army was exhausted already. The troops, therefore, mutinied, requesting their commander and Alexander’s friend to convince the king to return home.
Amid strong resistance, King Alexander gave in after three days of sorrow. He agreed to return home with his men.
A Happy Ending?
During his last days, King Alexander fell in love again. He had already married Roxana, a daughter of one the subdued rulers. The King and Roxana were expecting a child.
Soon after, King Alexander married two Persian wives, one being the daughter of Darius III, the former emperor of Persia, now under the Macedonian king’s command.
The battle of Hydaspes was King Alexander’s most significant war. Later on, he won and lost battles in equal measures.
A battle with Malli, in the southern side of Indus River, left Alexander severely wounded. He later died in 323 BCE of a fever, just as he planned to invade Arabia.
Summarily, the battle of Hydaspes gave Alexander the Great one of the biggest challenges. Overall, his military campaigns were successful. Confrontations and the subduing of King Porus only added to his vast trail of success. While he lost, the Pauravian King Porus remains renowned as a brave king who faced one of world’s greatest ruler and military commander.
Featured Image Credits: Fontebasso, Francesco