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This claim comes from about.com. It references this source which doesn't claim that Porus specifically did it, merely that such a practice was common. It also cites Adrienne Mayor who claims that Alexander's men encountered poisoned arrow heads.
A separate source on the University of Washington website claims that:
Diodorus describes Alexander's Army encountering war elephants of Indian King Porus and the siege of Harmatelia (todays SW Pakistan) in 326 BC. The warriors had smeared their spears swords and arrows with snake venom from Vipera russelli.
The wounded Greeks went numb, exper convulsions, vomited bile and a purple-green gangrene to horr. death. After a plant was found as antidote “by Alex” the Greeks defeated the barbarians.
- Were the swords/elephant tusks/arrows of Porus's army poisoned?
- What was this antidote that Alexander found?
EDIT: It seems that about.com misinterpreted Adrienne Mayor's work, see her comment below.
I am Adrienne Mayor and I never wrote that Porus used any kind of poison weapons, not swords or arrows and certainly not poisoned elephant tusks, as claimed on About.com and the Univ. of Washington sites
See my "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World" (Overlook/Duckworth, 2003, 2009) pp 88-91 and reference notes for information about the poison weapons encountered by Alexander AFTER defeating Porus, at Harmatelia (now Pakistan) and my theory that the poison was Russell's viper venom.
There are certainly references to "poison" and these come from Diodorus, Arrian, Plutarch and Justin.
But these seem more like many of the other fantasies that the Greeks spun- especially if you consider the methods of preparation of the poison and how Alexander was told in a dream about the antidote.
Also, the only reference to anyone being wounded, by these accounts is that of Ptolemy. There is no mention of it being used in the battle of Hydaspes.
All in all it should be discounted as a 'tale'.
The fact that much of the Greek accounts of India were fantasy (while of course much was also authentic) is easy to ascertain today simply due to the ludicrous content.
Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus I Nicator ( / s ə ˈ lj uː k ə s n aɪ ˈ k eɪ t ər / c. 358 BC – September 281 BC Ancient Greek: Σέλευκος Νικάτωρ , romanized: Séleukos Nikátōr, lit. 'Seleucus the Victor') was a Greek general and one of the Diadochi, the rival generals, relatives, and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for control over his empire after his death. [A] Having previously served as an infantry general under Alexander the Great, he eventually assumed the title of basileus (king) and established the Seleucid Empire, one of the major powers of the Hellenistic world, which controlled most of Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, and the Iranian Plateau until overcome by the Roman Republic and Parthian Empire in the late second and early first centuries BC.
After the death of Alexander in June 323 BC, Seleucus initially supported Perdiccas, the regent of Alexander's empire, and was appointed Commander of the Companions and chiliarch at the Partition of Babylon in 323 BC. However, after the outbreak of the Wars of the Diadochi in 322, Perdiccas' military failures against Ptolemy in Egypt led to the mutiny of his troops in Pelusium. Perdiccas was betrayed and assassinated in a conspiracy by Seleucus, Peithon and Antigenes in Pelusium sometime in either 321 or 320 BC. At the Partition of Triparadisus in 321 BC, Seleucus was appointed Satrap of Babylon under the new regent Antipater. But almost immediately, the wars between the Diadochi resumed and one of the most powerful of the Diadochi, Antigonus, forced Seleucus to flee Babylon. Seleucus was only able to return to Babylon in 312 BC with the support of Ptolemy. From 312 BC, Seleucus ruthlessly expanded his dominions and eventually conquered the Persian and Median lands. Seleucus ruled not only Babylonia, but the entire enormous eastern part of Alexander's empire.
Seleucus further made claim to the former satraps in Gandhara and in eastern India. However these ambitions were contested by Chandragupta Maurya, resulting in the Seleucid–Mauryan War (305–303 BC). The conflict was ultimately resolved by a treaty resulting in the Maurya Empire annexing the eastern satraps. Additionally, a marriage alliance between the two empires was formalized with Chandragupta marrying Seleucus' daughter. Furthermore, the Seleucid Empire received a considerable military force of 500 war elephants with mahouts, which would play a decisive role against Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. In 281 BC, he also defeated Lysimachus at the Battle of Corupedium, adding Asia Minor to his empire.
Seleucus' victories against Antigonus and Lysimachus left the Seleucid dynasty virtually unopposed amongst the Diadochi. However, Seleucus also hoped to take control of Lysimachus' European territories, primarily Thrace and Macedon itself. But upon arriving in Thrace in 281 BC, Seleucus was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus,  who had taken refuge at the Seleucid court with his sister Lysandra. The assassination of Seleucus destroyed Seleucid prospects in Thrace and Macedon, and paved the way for Ptolemy Ceraunus to absorb much of Lysimachus' former power in Macedon. Seleucus was succeeded by his son Antiochus I as ruler of the Seleucid Empire.
Seleucus founded a number of new cities during his reign, including Antioch (300 BC) and Seleucia on the Tigris (c. 305 BC), a foundation that eventually depopulated Babylon.
Alexander the Great Died Mysteriously at 32. Now We May Know Why
When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 B.C., his body didn’t begin to show signs of decomposition for a full six days, according to historical accounts.
To the ancient Greeks, this confirmed what they all thought about the young Macedonian king, and what Alexander believed about himself—that he was not an ordinary man, but a god.
Just 32 years old, he had conquered an empire stretching from the Balkans to modern Pakistan, and was poised on the edge of another invasion when he fell ill and died after 12 days of excruciating suffering. Since then, historians have debated his cause of death, proposing everything from malaria, typhoid, and alcohol poisoning to assassination by one of his rivals.
But in a bombshell new theory, a scholar and practicing clinician suggests that Alexander may have suffered from the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), which caused his death. She also argues that people might not have noticed any immediate signs of decomposition on the body for one simple reasonuse Alexander wasn’t dead yet.
The death of Alexander the Great at Babylon in 323 B.C.
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
As Dr. Katherine Hall, a senior lecturer at the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago, New Zealand, writes in an article published in The Ancient History Bulletin, most other theories of what killed Alexander have focused on the agonizing fever and abdominal pain he suffered in the days before he died.
In fact, she points out, he was also known to have developed a “progressive, symmetrical, ascending paralysis” during his illness. And though he was very sick, he remained compos mentis (fully in control of his mental faculties) until just before his death.
Hall argues that GBS, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the nervous system, can explain this combination of symptoms better than the other theories advanced for Alexander’s death. She believes he may have contracted the disorder from an infection of Campylobacter pylori, a common bacterium at the time. According to Hall, Alexander likely got a variant of GBS that produced paralysis without causing confusion or unconsciousness.
While speculation over what exactly killed Alexander is far from new, Hall throws in a curveball by suggesting he might not even have died when people thought he did.
She argues that the increasing paralysis Alexander suffered, as well as the fact that his body needed less oxygen as it shut down, would have meant that his breathing was less visible. Because in ancient times, doctors relied on the presence or absence of breath, rather than a pulse, to determine whether a patient was alive or dead, Hall believes Alexander might have been falsely declared dead before he actually died.
"I wanted to stimulate new debate and discussion and possibly rewrite the history books by arguing Alexander&aposs real death was six days later than previously accepted,” Hall said in a statement from the University of Otago. “His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded.”
Elephants in Hellenistic History & Art
Elephants were thought of as fierce and frightful monsters in antiquity, very real though rarely seen until the Hellenistic period. They were deployed on the battlefield to strike terror into the enemy, however, since fear was considered divinely inspired, elephants can be interpreted as religious symbols even in warfare. From the reign of Alexander the Great elephants became associated with Hellenistic military processions and coinage often expressed the symbolic connection between elephants and military victories.
“Behold the wild beasts around you,” God spoke to Job and continued describing a fearsome and mighty monster, literally a Behemoth (lit. “wild beast”), likened to bulls, with ribs made of bronze and a spine of cast iron. (Job 40:15-24.) This beast lies by the papyrus, reed and sedge, it strikes the river to pour water in its mouth and does not fear the flood. Regardless of what animal the biblical Behemoth might reflect, it remains interesting that later, according to Pliny, the Romans would call elephants “bulls” after first encountering them during the campaign against Pyrrhus. The first classical author to write about elephants, Herodotus, mentioned them among various more or less fabulous creatures and wild beasts, such as lions, bears, snakes, serpents, unicorns, dog-headed men, headless men, and savages.
Later in the 5th century BCE, Ctesias, who (unlike Herodotus) must have seen elephants himself, declared that Indians hunt the man-eating martichora (elsewhere called manticore) on elephants a paragraph before discussing griffons that protect the goldmines in the Indian mountains. Next, the venerable Aristotle likewise discussed elephants in the same context as the martichora and believed that they could live for up to 300 years and “can be taught to kneel in the presence of the king.” (History of Animals 2.1, 8.9 and 9.46.)
Greek authors continued to associate elephants with legends and fabulous monsters – that is, for our modern mind non-existing figments of ancient imagination. Diodorus related that Indian elephants were outfitted to strike terror in warfare against the invading Assyrian queen Semiramis. Strabo mentioned elephants about 50 times: citing Onesicritus that elephants could live for up to 500 years Megasthenes who claimed to have seen elephants in a Bacchic chase and Artemidorus who described elephants in Ethiopia along with sphinxes and dragons. Even later authors could be quoted to confirm that in classical Greek and Latin literature, elephants belong to the same order of fierce and frightful fabulous monsters as the martichora, unicorn, griffon, sphinx, dragon, and hippocamp.
From Alexander to Hannibal
During the eastern campaign of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), Greek and Macedonian soldiers first encountered elephants in Assyria, at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE), where they were, however, apparently not deployed. The use of elephants in warfare had spread to Persia in earlier centuries from India where elephants had been used for millennia. After Gaugamela, 15 elephants were captured from the Persian camp, along with the baggage, chariots and camels. As the gates of Susa were opened for Alexander, his forces acquired another twelve elephants.
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Farther along the campaign, another 125-150 elephants were obtained in the Indus Valley as a gift of a local prince and through hunting. The Macedonian army then encountered elephants in the field at the Battle of the Hydaspes (326 BCE the westernmost tributary of the Indus now called the Jhelum) against a king called Porus (perhaps Paurava, i.e., “King of the Purus”). During the ensuing fight, the enemy's elephants trampled foot soldiers indiscriminately in the confusion when attacked from the flank by the Macedonian cavalry. Another 80 elephants were captured after the battle, thus bringing the total to about 250.
The Macedonian army, nevertheless, refrained from advancing into the Ganges Valley – as they received information not only about the vastness of the country but also the alleged strength of its forces (including at least 3000 elephants). Upon their return to Persia (c. 325 BCE), some 200 elephants are mentioned which had arrived via Arachosia and Carmania. When Alexander died, his funeral carriage was decorated among many other things with a tablet of Indian elephants driven by mahouts, followed by Macedonian troops.
During the succession crisis that erupted at Alexander's sudden death, elephants were employed not only when opposing factions were about to engage each other in fighting, but also to execute the death sentence after the rivals were put on ad-hoc trial. When Ptolemy (c. 367-282 BCE), the appointed governor of Egypt, transferred said funerary cortege to Memphis, the Macedonian regent Perdiccas retaliated by invading Egypt with the royal army, including elephants (c. 321/0 BCE). After Perdiccas' disastrous defeat about 50-60 elephants apparently fell to Ptolemy. The latter minted coinage that expressed the symbolic connection between elephants and Alexander's military victories.
His son, Ptolemy Ceraunus, who was passed over for the succession, imitated his father's coinage when he claimed the succession over Lysimachus' kingship. For, after the latter's death at the Battle of Corupedium (280 BCE), Ceraunus had first joined Seleucus, then murdered him as avenger of Lysimachus' death, and issued gold staters with the portrait of Alexander on the obverse and Athena Nikephorus on the reverse along with smaller symbols such as an elephant and a lion's head. Ceraunus famously died on the back of an elephant against the Galatians entering the Greek peninsula from across the Balkans (279 BCE).
When Pyrrhus of Epirus (319-272 BCE) requested support for his upcoming Italian campaign, Ptolemy II could afford to provide him with 50 elephants, among other forces. Pyrrhus already had 20 war elephants (although it remains unclear from where or whom he had obtained them). The ultimately unsuccessful campaign was commemorated on a ceramic plate from Capena (now in the Villa Giulia, Rome), which shows a turreted elephant with a rider and fighters on its back, followed by a cub. It was the first time that the inhabitants of the Italian peninsula had ever seen elephants.
The Pyrrhic campaign inspired the Carthaginians to acquire war elephants by the time of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE). When Hannibal (247 - c. 182 BCE) moved against Rome, he crossed the Pyrenees from Spain with 37 elephants among his vast forces. Although the Carthaginians suffered heavy losses while crossing the Alps, an unspecified number of elephants did enter the Po Valley and then crushingly defeated the Roman consular armies at the Trebia River. While reinforcements of African forest elephants would eventually reach Hannibal, they failed to assert any decisive effect even at the final Battle of Zama (201 BCE). Still, their symbolic importance for Carthage is expressed on a series of Hannibal's coinage, which depict a cloaked rider with a goad in his hand, but no turret.
From Rome back to India
Allegedly the cognomen of Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) derived from the Moorish word for “elephant” (caesai), rather than from caesius or caeruleus (pertaining to the color of the sky). (Hist. Aug., Ael. 2.3.) Furthermore, Caesar supposedly entered Britain with an elephant in 54 BCE (Polyaen. 8.23.5.) More historically, Juba of Numidia (approx. present-day northern Algeria) supplied elephants to the Pompeian forces during the Roman Civil War (49-45 BCE). Still, Caesar was able to defeat Metellus Scipio at the Battle of Thapsus in Tunisia (46 BCE) and he captured over 60 elephants after his African victory and displayed 40 in a Roman triumph. Indeed, Caesar's silver denarius coinage of his moving mint (c. 50-45 BCE) significantly employed the elephant trampling a serpent as he crossed the Rubicon River as an allusion to the victory of good over evil.
One of the most precious artifacts among the Boscoreale treasure discovered in 1895 CE (now in the Louvre) – and perhaps one of the most beautiful works of ancient art – is a silver emblema dish with an allegorical portrait attributed to Cleopatra Selene (40-5 BCE), the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. After the death of her parents, Octavian brought her to Rome and subsequently married her to King Juba II of Numidia, son of Juba I. They were established as rulers of Mauretania (approx. present-day northern Morocco) and their son Ptolemy was the last known descendant of the Ptolemaic dynasty. On the emblema, Cleopatra Selene wears an elephant scalp as a headdress and is surrounded by a profusion of religious symbols and attributes particularly associated with Ptolemaic Egypt.
Let us briefly return to the Hellenistic period and quickly make our way back eastwards. Most war elephants deployed in the Hellenistic period derived from India. Seleucus I (c. 358-281 BCE) is said to have obtained 400-500 which he employed against Antigonus I and Lysimachus but then they are never heard of again. Antiochus I (324/3-261 BCE) deployed war elephants against the Galatians who had crossed the Balkans into Greece and then moved into Asia Minor (c. 275/4 BCE). Allegedly, Antiochus' 16 elephants instilled panic among the Galatians, causing great carnage and producing victory in battle. Seleucid coinage regularly propagates the symbolic military importance of elephants as an expression of their power. Incidentally, Eleazar Maccabaeus was crushed by a Seleucid elephant, after piercing it with his spear at the Battle of Beth Zechariah in 162 BCE. (1-Macc. 6:34.)
On many Hellenistic-style coins, signet rings and seal stones from Graeco-Bactria and Graeco-India elephants are depicted – a tradition that dates back to Harappan stamps-seals from the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE. The iconography includes Bactrian kings wearing the elephant scalp as headdress as well as Hindu deities accompanied by an elephant. The founder of the Mauryan kingdom, Chandragupta established his power shortly after Alexander's death (r. c. 322/1-299/8 BCE). He issued punch-marked silver coins with religious symbols featuring an elephant and a bull, the sun and a tree on a hill, as well as the chakra (a “disc” referring to a Tantric nerve nexus). Well into common era the elephant continued to feature frequently on Kushan coinage (1st-4th century CE), including kings riding elephants.
Elephants as Religious Symbols
Elephants were historically deployed on the battlefield to strike terror into enemy troops inexperienced with their sight. Cavalry horses, especially, are frightened even of their smell. However, the animals often turn on their own ranks trampling indiscriminately whoever comes in their way. One should wonder, therefore, why generals would be interested in recruiting these pachyderm monsters in warfare at all when there is little strategic advantage in deploying them against each other. We may take as a clue from the ancient notion that fear, like panic, was divinely inspired, and that elephants should first of all be interpreted as religious symbols – even in warfare.
This suggestion is substantiated by the accounts of the Battle of Raphia (217 BCE) which decisively settled the Fourth Syrian War between the forces of Ptolemy IV and Antiochus III in favor of the former. The encounter was one of the largest pitch battles of the Hellenistic period, and supposedly the only ancient battle in which African elephants fought Indian. Before the fighting, Ptolemy's elephants are said to have raised trunks in prayer to the rising sun. The king commemorated his victory by sacrificing four of his enemy's elephants. When the sun god Helius (Amun-Ra) appeared to him in a dream expressing his anger, Ptolemy set up four bronze elephants as votives to appease the god.
There are, furthermore, evident religious connections and influences between elephants and Hindu deities. For instance, Indra, the Lord of Heaven, rides a white elephant, which symbolizes his victory over the dragon Vritra, his adversary. Incidentally, Indra, like Zeus and even Alexander the Great, wields the thunderbolt. The frightful emanation of Shiva Bhairava and the mother goddess Varahi are depicted seated on an elephant he clad in elephant's skin and tiger's hide, with a drum, corpse, trident, bowl, stick, and deer in his six hands she with a plough, sacred tree, elephant goad, and noose. The Indian elephant god Ganesha, the Lord of Hosts, belongs to the retinue of Shiva. While the worship and iconography of Ganesha only developed from the 4th century CE, the sacred status of the elephant in India is well established since the 3rd millennium BCE.
Alexander's Divine Sonship
Alexander's elephant headdress is generally understood as an emblem of his victory over Porus. It appears frequently as an attribute of military might on Hellenistic bronze figurines and decorative elements (of which several examples are found in museums across the world). One such small-scale statuette (now in New York), perhaps based on large-scale sculpture, depicts Alexander in the act of combat, riding a (now missing) animal, wearing the elephant scalp on his head.
Alexander's posthumous portraiture was first devised under Ptolemy in Egypt and subsequently imitated by Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ceraunus. Alexander's facial features are full of pathos, his diadēma (headband) signifies his royalty, his large bulging eyes intimating his divinity. The portraiture is best-known from early Hellenistic coinage but also appears on engraved gems. Of particular importance is the combination of the elephant scalp with a ram's horn over his temple and the aegis (a sacred goat's fleece) thrown over his shoulder. The combination of these three attributes remains poorly understood, although the portrait as a whole makes little sense from a classical Graeco-Macedonian perspective.
Starting with the association with Alexander's Indian triumph, the exuvia (elephant's scalp) might best be understood as an attribute of an Indian deity, such as Indra, Shiva, or Krishna. Notice particularly the protuberance on the elephant's forehead which is particular to the Indian elephant. The trunk appears to curl as if in prayer in a manner resembling an upright cobra (uraeus). Furthermore, the scalp is worn over the head as Heracles wore the scalp of the Nemean Lion. That is to say, the headdress represents the heroic appropriation of a monstrous attribute as an emblem of victory over a fabled foe.
Alexander was believed to be descended from Heracles, the son of Zeus. Ancient authors recognized Heracles in an unspecified Hindu deity and the identification remains unsettled among modern scholars. Indra, the sky god, who wields thunder and lightning, might be compared with Zeus. Indra, however, is the son of Dyaus Pitrā (“Sky Father”), which parallels Zeus Pater and Jupiter. The supreme deity Shiva is considered both benign and frightful. The frightful Shiva, also understood as an emanation of Indra, is a destroyer, the slayer of demons. He, therefore, embodies aspects of both Heracles and Dionysus, and Alexander was also believed to be descended from Dionysus, through Deianira, the wife of Heracles. Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, is a princely hero. So, he too may possibly have been the Hindu deity identified with Heracles by the Greeks and Macedonians.
Next, the ram's horn that encircles Alexander's temple is understood to be an attribute of Ammon, the Libyan oracular deity, whose cult lies in the desert oasis of Siwah. Ammon was identified both with Zeus and Amun-Ra, the supreme creator god. After his coronation in Memphis, the priest at Siwah confirmed that Alexander was recognized as the son of god.
The third attribute, the aegis belonged to Zeus, who presented it to Athena, who in turn is commonly depicted wearing the fleece. In Alexander's posthumous portraiture, it seems to be tied around his neck by two writhing snakes. The snakes might allude to the legend that Olympias was impregnated by a god in the form of a snake. The snakes may also refer to the uraeus (upright cobra) or the serpents coiling around the head of Medusa.
The three attributes were associated with three supreme deities of three different cultures: the aegis with Zeus the ram's horns with Ammon the exuvia with Indra. All three attributes symbolize Alexander's divine sonship and the attributes portray him as the heroic descendant of the slayer of demons, underlying the associations between the mythic figures of Dionysus and Heracles (both sons of Zeus), Shiva (an emanation of Indra) and Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu), as well as Horus (the reincarnation of Osiris). In other words, Alexander's posthumous portraiture presents him as the rightful ruler over these cultures and the known world.
Triumph of Fame over Death
One of Petrarch's four famous Triumphs, the “Triumph of Fame over Death,” has been frequently illustrated by generations of artists. On an early 16th-century Flemish tapestry (now in New York) the personification of Fame stands in a chariot drawn by two white elephants as they trample death and fate. Fame is accompanied by Plato and Aristotle, Alexander, and Charlemagne. The shape of the elephants' trunks resembles the trumpet Fame sounds. Alexander's undying fame thus owes more than is usually acknowledged to the elephant.
Understood as an emblem of military might, in antiquity and well beyond, I have argued that the elephant was a mythic monster. Employed historically in warfare to strike fear in the enemy, it should be remembered that panic was believed to be divinely inspired. The religious association of the elephant with victory and power is therefore obvious. This association might be compared with the aegis, which served the apotropaic function of warding off evil forces and was itself connected with divine protection and military defense. Even the ram's horn – derived from the god Ammon of Siwah, and Amun-Ra of Memphis – acts to instill terror. In Greek mythology, Pan and the satyrs in the retinue of Dionysus were depicted with ram's horns. The ram's horn was thus a divine attribute associated with panic and madness. In short, in ancient thought elephants were considered mythic monsters that belonged to the same category as fabulous beasts such as the griffon and sphinx, martichora and unicorn, dragon and hippocamp, very real though rarely seen until the Hellenistic period.
Ashoka had a skin disorder. This skin disorder was so unpleasant that Bindusara his father sent him away from Pataliputra, the capital of Mauryas. The story in Bhuddist books goes like this that Ashoka as a child had met Gautam Buddha who asked for alms. Ashoka playfully put dust into his bowl. That is why he was punished with skin disorder in this life. Ashoka even ordered his Queens to be burnt alive as they found it dirty to touch his skin. Ashokas court astrologer declared that Ashokas body wears “inauspicious” marks for which he performed meritious deeds as penance. It was written in books that Ashokas skin emitted bad odour and substance like pus from the skin pores. He may be having Von Recklinghausen’s disease which is a dreaded disease. It is a genetic disorder and characterised by tumors in skin and nerves. These will lie dormant in many but some it shows up again and again. Like it did with Ashoka. It can also cause fainting and mental retardness. But Ashoka was not mentally retarded for sure but a cruel man. Hence named Chand Ashoka by citizens.
Ashoka did not have only skin disease. In Sri Lankas Chronicles on Ashoka, its mentioned that he would faint or go unconscious at various times of his life. Like when Ashoka was on a pilgrimage once to Bhuddist places he fainted at Kushinagar. He had to be revived by his attendants. Same way in Bodh Gaya too he fainted. This is decipted in gates of Sanchi Stupa. Most probably he had epilepsy disease as he fainted now and than.
The third reference on his health condition was during his old age after 50s, he was very unwell and an impure substance was oozing from his pores. His Queen Trishyarakshitha ordered a man with similar substance. After trying various remedies the Queen cured him using onion. Even Ashoka was given same onion treatment and he got cured. Onion was considered unclean vegetable as it grew below soil in those days. Only low caste ate it.
Ashoka was a great emperor but a very cruel warrior and administrator till his late 40s. But he was also a very fragile and sick man as mentioned in books and pillars of that time. It is a wonder how he could be such a good warrior and administrator if he was so sick and had so many health issues. That shows his exceptional will power and determination.
Were the Mauryans vassals of the Seleucids?
Zanis' argument seems to be about the strength of the Indian military and one of the evidence is that the Indians were described as being descendants of the major Greek gods. You disagreed and simply point out that Persia was conquered by Macedon (fully Greeks/Semi-Greeks?) despite being considered the descendants of Perseus. I simply pointed out that Persia should still be considered dominant in a large portion of Greek history if the Greeks were rational.
I agree that this is a weak argument for India being immune to the Greeks, but in the context of this thread that - because a few Indians claimed that Alexander ran away - one can also seriously make a much more ludicrous claim of Mauryan's vassalage, Zanis' argument can be added to the long list of the preponderance of evidence against the claim of the OP. With Alexander running away, there is at least some room for respectful debate along with missing their homes and length of the campaign, Alexander's troops were mentioned to have mutinied right after hearing about the Indian army further East.
With the OP's claim, it is what I would call trolling. It could still be correct because the reality is sometimes really stupid, but the preponderance of the evidence that it would have to move against to be realized is simply crazy.
We have the data. Arrian mentions the number of Alexander's troops that Porus had slain and vice versa. Alex lost 80 infantry and cavalry. Porus lost 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. The Nanda empire lay along the banks of the Ganges, extended south to Kalinga, and east to the Sindhu River (in Madhya Pradesh). It was a small empire, and there were many minor kingdoms co-existing with it as neighbors. Alexander was not really scared of the Nandas. If you read Diodorus you would see that just after the victory against Porus, Alex asked Porus to build some boats. These boats would later be used to return home. Hence, Alex's plan to return home was made even before his further conquests east and the future so-called revolt of his army. Read Curtius and Diodorus. He literally makes his army leaders believe that they want to go home, thus provoking them into so-called revolting. Then after faking a display of anger, he agrees to return home. This essentially retained his glory (as it would be inglorious to himself make a retreat. if his army forced him to retreat, it would be a different scenario), and also allowed him to return home as he initially planned. As Tornada said, he conquered a bit beyond the Hydaspes as he wanted that region (which was once part of the Achaemenid empire) to serve as a buffer zone for his empire, against any invasions from the east. And yeah, I consider Porus a better leader than Chandragupta or the Nandas. Megasthenes believed the same.
They (the Indians) still lost to the Greeks and were ruled over them in Mathura for 116 years. That is longer than the length of the so-called great Mauryan empire (Jaina sources state it lasted for only 108 years).
A small ruler of Afghanistan cannot be called "King of Indians". Do we ever see Porus or Nanda being called "King of the Indians"? You have to own a large empire, with its base in Magadha, extending far east to the Indus to be called the "King of India". Shalishuka does not sound like Sophagasenus. Anyways, according to the Yuga Purana Shalishuka was a pre-Mauryan king. Vishnu Purana mentions Shalishuka as a Mauryan emperor, but due to its late date of origin (earliest date of composition is 450 AD, but more likely around 900 AD). Why would you rely on some unauthentic Puranas over the Greek sources which are mainly contemporary to the Mauryans? Lol.
Uggh. "Likely meant" was used since he doesn't make a direct statement of an invasion. As I said, Seleucus' exploration is placed with Alexander's military exploration. What to conclude? That Seleucus explored in a similar way. That is, through military conquest.
Indian campaign [ edit | edit source ]
Invasion of the Indian subcontinent [ edit | edit source ]
The phalanx attacking the centre in the battle of the Hydaspes by Andre Castaigne (1898–1899)
After the death of Spitamenes and his marriage to Roxana (Roshanak in Bactrian) to cement relations with his new satrapies, Alexander turned to the Indian subcontinent. He invited the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara, in the north of what is now Pakistan, to come to him and submit to his authority. Omphis, ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Hydaspes (Jhelum), complied, but the chieftains of some hill clans, including the Aspasioi and Assakenoi sections of the Kambojas (known in Indian texts also as Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas), refused to submit. ]
In the winter of 327/326 BC, Alexander personally led a campaign against these clans the Aspasioi of Kunar valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus valley, and the Assakenoi of the Swat and Buner valleys. ] A fierce contest ensued with the Aspasioi in which Alexander was wounded in the shoulder by a dart, but eventually the Aspasioi lost. Alexander then faced the Assakenoi, who fought in the strongholds of Massaga, Ora and Aornos. ]
The fort of Massaga was reduced only after days of bloody fighting, in which Alexander was wounded seriously in the ankle. According to Curtius, "Not only did Alexander slaughter the entire population of Massaga, but also did he reduce its buildings to rubble". ] A similar slaughter followed at Ora. In the aftermath of Massaga and Ora, numerous Assakenians fled to the fortress of Aornos. Alexander followed close behind and captured the strategic hill-fort after four bloody days. ]
After Aornos, Alexander crossed the Indus and fought and won an epic battle against King Porus, who ruled a region in the Punjab, in the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC. ] Alexander was impressed by Porus's bravery, and made him an ally. He appointed Porus as satrap, and added to Porus' territory land that he did not previously own. Choosing a local helped him control these lands so distant from Greece. ] Alexander founded two cities on opposite sides of the Hydaspes river, naming one Bucephala, in honor of his horse, who died around this time. ] The other was Nicaea (Victory), thought to be located at the site of modern day Mong, Punjab. ]
Revolt of the army [ edit | edit source ]
Alexander's invasion of the Indian subcontinent
East of Porus' kingdom, near the Ganges River, were the Nanda Empire of Magadha and further east the Gangaridai Empire (of modern day Bangladesh). Fearing the prospect of facing other large armies and exhausted by years of campaigning, Alexander's army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (Beas), refusing to march farther east. This river thus marks the easternmost extent of Alexander's conquests. ]
As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at-arms and horsemen and elephants. For they were told that the kings of the Ganderites and Praesii were awaiting them with eighty thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand war elephants. ]
Alexander tried to persuade his soldiers to march farther, but his general Coenus pleaded with him to change his opinion and return the men, he said, "longed to again see their parents, their wives and children, their homeland". Alexander eventually agreed and turned south, marching along the Indus. Along the way his army conquered the Malhi (in modern day Multan) and other Indian tribes and sustained an injury during the siege. ]
Alexander sent much of his army to Carmania (modern southern Iran) with general Craterus, and commissioned a fleet to explore the Persian Gulf shore under his admiral Nearchus, while he led the rest back to Persia through the more difficult southern route along the Gedrosian Desert and Makran (now part of southern Iran and Pakistan). ] Alexander reached Susa in 324 BC, but not before losing many men to the harsh desert. ]
TASK: What kind of man was Alexander?
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Resource - Ancient Sources on Alexander
What kind of man was Alexander?
(26) To be sure, it is obvious to anyone who makes a fair assessment of the king that his strengths were attributable to his nature and his weaknesses to fortune or his youth. (27) His natural qualities were as follows: incredible mental energy and an almost excessive tolerance of fatigue (28) courage exemplary not just in comparison with kings but even with men possessing this virtue and no other generosity such that he often granted greater gifts than even the gods are asked for clemency towards the defeated returning kingdoms to men from whom he had taken them, or giving them as gifts (29) continuous disregard for death, which frightens others out of their minds a lust for glory and fame reaching a degree which exceeded due proportion but was yet pardonable in view of his youth and great achievements. (30) Then there was his devotion to his parents (he had taken the decision to deify Olympias and he had avenged Philip) (31) then, too, his kindness towards almost all his friends, goodwill towards the men, powers of discernment equalling his magnanimity and ingenuity barely possible at his age (32) control over immoderate urges a sex-life limited to the fulfillment of natural desire and indulgence only in pleasures which were socially sanctioned.
(33) The following are attributable to fortune: putting himself on a par with the gods and assuming divine honours giving credence to oracles which recommended such conduct and reacting with excessive anger to any who refused to worship him assuming foreign dress and aping the customs of defeated races for whom he had only contempt before his victory. (34) But as far as his irascibility and fondness for drink were concerned, these had been quickened by youth and could as easily have been tempered by increasing age. (35) However, it must be admitted that, much though he owed to his own virtues, he owed much more to Fortune, which he alone in the entire world had under his control. How often she rescued him from death! How often did she yield him with unbroken good fortune when he had recklessly ridden into danger! (36) She also decided that his life and glory should have the same end. The fates waited for him to complete the subjection of the East and reach the Ocean, achieving everything of which a mortal was capable.
(37) Such was the king and leader for whom a successor was now sought, but the burden was too great to be shouldered by one man. So it was that his reputation and the fame of his achievements distributed kings and kingdoms almost throughout the world, with those who clung on even to the tiniest fraction of his enormous estate being regarded as men of great distinction.
(Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander, 10.5.26-37)
What kind of man was Alexander?
The statues that gave the best representation of Alexander's person were those of Lysippus (by whom alone he would suffer his image to be made), those peculiarities which many of his successors afterwards and his friends used to affect to imitate, the inclination of his head a little on one side towards his left shoulder, and his melting eye, having been expressed by this artist with great exactness. But Apelles, who drew him with thunderbolts in his hand, made his complexion browner and darker than it was naturally for he was fair and of a light colour, passing into ruddiness in his face and upon his breast. Aristoxenus in his Memoirs tells us that a most agreeable odour exhaled from his skin, and that his breath and body all over was so fragrant as to perfume the clothes which he wore next him the cause of which might probably be the hot and adust temperament of his body. For sweet smells, Theophrastus conceives, are produced by the concoction of moist humours by heat, which is the reason that those parts of the world which are driest and most burnt up afford spices of the best kind and in the greatest quantity for the heat of the sun exhausts all the superfluous moisture which lies in the surface of bodies, ready to generate putrefaction. And this hot constitution, it may be, rendered Alexander so addicted to drinking, and so choleric. His temperance, as to the pleasures of the body, was apparent in him in his very childhood, as he was with much difficulty incited to them, and always used them with great moderation though in other things be was extremely eager and vehement, and in his love of glory, and the pursuit of it, he showed a solidity of high spirit and magnanimity far above his age. For he neither sought nor valued it upon every occasion, as his father Philip did (who affected to show his eloquence almost to a degree of pedantry, and took care to have the victories of his racing chariots at the Olympic games engraven on his coin), but when he was asked by some about him, whether he would run a race in the Olympic games, as he was very swift-footed, he answered, he would, if he might have kings to run with him. Indeed, he seems in general to have looked with indifference, if not with dislike, upon the professed athletes. He often appointed prizes, for which not only tragedians and musicians, pipers and harpers, but rhapsodists also, strove to outvie one another and delighted in all manner of hunting and cudgel-playing, but never gave any encouragement to contests either of boxing or of the pancratium.
(Plutarch, Life of Alexander)
What kind of man was Alexander?
While he was yet very young, he entertained the ambassadors from the King of Persia, in the absence of his father, and entering much into conversation with them, gained so much upon them by his affability, and the questions he asked them, which were far from being childish or trifling (for he inquired of them the length of the ways, the nature of the road into inner Asia, the character of their king, how he carried himself to his enemies, and what forces he was able to bring into the field), that they were struck with admiration of him, and looked upon the ability so much famed of Philip to be nothing in comparison with the forwardness and high purpose that appeared thus early in his son. Whenever he heard Philip had taken any town of importance, or won any signal victory, instead of rejoicing at it altogether, he would tell his companions that his father would anticipate everything, and leave him and them no opportunities of performing great and illustrious actions. For being more bent upon action and glory than either upon pleasure or riches, he esteemed all that he should receive from his father as a diminution and prevention of his own future achievements and would have chosen rather to succeed to a kingdom involved in troubles and wars, which would have afforded him frequent exercise of his courage, and a large field of honour, than to one already flourishing and settled, where his inheritance would be an inactive life, and the mere enjoyment of wealth and luxury.
(Plutarch, Life of Alexander)
What kind of man was Alexander?
“(As soon as he became King) His first care was about his father’s funeral, when he caused all who had been privy to his murder to be put to death at his burial-place. The only one that he spared was Alexander Lyncestes (one of the brothers of Philip’s murderer), preserving in him the man who had first acknowledged his royal authority, for he had been the first to salute him king. (Alexander’s half-) brother Caranus, a rival for the throne, as being the son of his step-mother, he ordered to be slain.”
Marcus Junianus Justinus , Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
“The prevailing account is that Alexander started from Elaeus and put into the Port of Achaeans, that with his own hand he steered the general's ship across, and that when he was about the middle of the channel of the Hellespont he sacrificed a bull to Poseidon and the Nereids, and poured forth a libation to them into the sea from a golden goblet. They say also that he was the first man to step out of the ship in full armour on the land of Asia, and that he erected altars to Zeus, the protector of people landing, to Athena, and to Heracles, at the place in Europe whence he started, and at the place in Asia where he disembarked. It is also said that he went up to Ilium and offered sacrifice to the Trojan Athena that he set up his own panoply in the temple as a votive offering, and in exchange for it took away some of the consecrated arms which had been preserved from the time of the Trojan war.”
What kind of man was Alexander?
“Philonicus the Thessalian brought the horse Bucephalus to Philip, offering to sell him for thirteen talents but when they went into the field to try him, they found him so very vicious and unmanageable, that he reared up when they endeavoured to mount him, and would not so much as endure the voice of any of Philip's attendants. Upon which, as they were leading him away as wholly useless and untractable, Alexander, who stood by, said, "What an excellent horse do they lose for want of address and boldness to manage him!" Philip at first took no notice of what he said but when he heard him repeat the same thing several times, and saw he was much vexed to see the horse sent away, "Do you reproach," said he to him, "those who are older than yourself, as if you knew more, and were better able to manage him than they?" "I could manage this horse," replied he, "better than others do." "And if you do not," said Philip, "what will you forfeit for your rashness?" "I will pay," answered Alexander, "the whole price of the horse." At this the whole company fell a-laughing and as soon as the wager was settled amongst them, he immediately ran to the horse, and taking hold of the bridle, turned him directly towards the sun, having, it seems, observed that he was disturbed at and afraid of the motion of his own shadow then letting him go forward a little, still keeping the reins in his hands, and stroking him gently when he found him begin to grow eager and fiery, he let fall his upper garment softly, and with one nimble leap securely mounted him, and when he was seated, by little and little drew in the bridle, and curbed him without either striking or spurring him. Presently, when he found him free from all rebelliousness, and only impatient for the course, he let him go at full speed, inciting him now with a commanding voice, and urging him also with his heel. Philip and his friends looked on at first in silence and anxiety for the result, till seeing him turn at the end of his career, and come back rejoicing and triumphing for what he had performed, they all burst out into acclamations of applause and his father shedding tears, it is said, for joy, kissed him as he came down from his horse, and in his transport said, "O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee."
(Plutarch, Life of Alexander)
Activity - Alexander Wall
When Alexander Reached the Indus (326-323 BCE)
Advancing with his army towards the great city of Taxila, Alexander chanced upon a group of holy men or sadhus who stamped their feet in front of him. On being asked about their odd behaviour, they addressed Alexander, “O King, every man can possess only so much of the earth’s surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, traveling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and to others. Ah well, you will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of this earth as will suffice to bury you.”
This dramatic encounter, probably more imagined than real, was prophetic. The charge of the Macedonian conqueror, which saw him take over a vast swathe of land from Greece to northwestern India and annihilate the mighty Persian empire, would be brought to an abrupt end in the land the Greeks called Caucasus Indicus or the ‘Hindu Kush’.
At 30, Alexander was spent after years of his gruelling march. His soldiers were even more tired, dejected, confused and desperate to get back home. But the brief encounter that Alexander would have with the land of the Indus would turn out to be a pivotal event in history as the great conqueror turned back, was attacked and humbled, and eventually died.
It was also a point where two great civilizations, that of the Greeks and the Indians, intersected. The encounter left a lasting impression in the way the West saw India – as a land of exotic wealth – and the way the subcontinent viewed the West. It is telling that even today, the very term for foreigners in Sanskrit is Yavana, a word first coined for Ionian Greeks!
The Rise of Alexander
Alexander inherited the throne of the small kingdom of Macedonia, which the Greeks viewed as ‘barbaric’, at the age of 20 after his father Philip II was assassinated in 336 BCE. Philip had been ambitious but he was clearly even more so for his son. Before he breathed his last, he is believed to have said to Alexander, “Carve for yourself another kingdom, because the one I leave for you is too small.” Alexander took his father’s words to heart.
Before the 4th century BCE, Macedonia was a small kingdom outside of the area dominated by the great city-states of Athens, Sparta and Thebes. But even these city-states couldn’t match the might of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Stretching from the Balkans and Eastern Europe in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history.
But the young and ambitious Alexander wasn’t daunted and he led an army against the Persian ruler Darius III and decisively defeated him in 331 BCE. Next, he turned towards the eastern provinces of the Persian Empire. After establishing a series of outposts in Afghanistan, he ventured further into the subcontinent.
Greeks were most definitely aware of the land they called India. The name was first used by them to refer to the country beyond the Indus. The earliest Greek explorer to visit India and write about it was a man named Scylax of Caryanda in 519-516 BCE, on the orders of the Persian emperor Darius I.
At this time, the northern part of the subcontinent was divided into sixteen Mahajanapadas or city-states, quite like those in Greece.
Alexander’s Trail in India
We know a lot about Alexander’s encounter with the subcontinent, thanks to the many Greco-Roman accounts. Some of these had been written by Alexander’s contemporaries who were a part of his military (though most of them don’t survive today). Other accounts came from later Greek historians and scholars who referred to the earlier sources and made notes. These accounts help us stitch together the story of Alexander’s exploits on the subcontinent. There are social commentaries, geographical narrations and interesting observations. Based on these accounts, here’s what happened.
When Alexander arrived in 327 BCE, the north-west of the larger Indian subcontinent was peppered with a number of principalities. Some indulged in long and bitter fighting, while some easily surrendered. For example, the walled city of Astes which was the stronghold of Assakenoi (Ashvakayanas) faced Alexander on the battleground. Another important mention is that of Alexander’s siege of the hill fort of Aornos, which according to Greek tradition, even Greek God Herakles had been unable to take it.
One of Alexander’s more famous encounters was with Ambhi, the King of Taxila. Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus’ 1st-century work Historiae Alexandri Magni describes the encounter. He mentions how Omphis (Ambhi) whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Hydaspes (Jhelum), reached out to Alexander. Omphis, he says ‘brought with him six and fifty elephants, and these he gave to Alexander, with great many sheep of an extraordinary size, and 3000 bulls of a valuable breed, highly prized by the rulers of the country.’ With this, he extended a hand of friendship.
Plutarch (c. AD 46 – c. 120 CE), in his Life of Alexander, writes that after welcoming Alexander, the king of Taxila said to him, “Why should we two fight with one another if you have come to take away from us neither our water not our necessary food – the only things about which sensible men ever care to quarrel and fight. As for anything else, call it money or call in property, if I am richer than you, what I have is at your service, but if I have less than you, I would not object to stand debtor to your bounty.”
Probably, this is why almost all Greek authors mention in their works that no Indian king has ever invaded another country as they consider it not in accordance with their moral values. Alexander is said to have been overwhelmed by Ambhi’s gesture and not only did he return his title and gifts, but also presented him with a wardrobe of Persian robes, gold and silver vessels, 30 horses and 1,000 talents in gold.
It was now time for Alexander to cross the Indus. It was 326 BCE. The rationale for his further campaigns was his desire to conquer the entire world, which the Greeks then thought, ended in India.
The Battle With Porus
Alexander’s army crossed the Indus and advanced into present-day Punjab in 326 BCE. Here he was faced by Porus (Puru or Paurava), who ruled the region lying between what the Greeks called the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and Acesines (Chenab). The Indian ruler was ready with an army to march against the foreign invader. The size of his army threatened the Macedonians.
On seeing the army, Alexander is said to have remarked, “I see, at last, a danger that matches my courage.”
The Battle of Hydaspes was a mighty one. Stormy weather made it worse. But Alexander’s men were able to defeat the Indian forces. When Porus was taken prisoner, the conqueror asked him how he wished to be treated. Porus replied, “Treat me like a king.”
This answer and Porus’s demeanor impressed Alexander so much that he made him an ally. He gave back his kingdom and further appointed Porus as satrap (governor). He also added to Porus’ territory land he did not previously own, towards the south-east, up to the Hyphasis (Beas). Choosing a local ruler helped Alexander control these lands so distant from Greece.
It is believed that Alexander, famed for founding cities in the lands he conquered, most notably Alexandria in Egypt, also founded two on opposite sides of the Hydaspes (Jhelum) river. One was named Bucephala in honour of his horse who had just died and the other was named Nicaea which means ‘victory’.
Arrian mentions that after defeating Porus, Alexander marched eastwards towards the Chenab River, and captured 37 towns: the smallest of these towns had 5,000 or more inhabitants. He also captured the area between the Chenab and Ravi. This, the Greeks thought was the end of the world. They believed that further east lay the Outer Ocean from where they would jump onto their ships, sail through the Indian ocean and return home to Babylon. But when the men were informed about an entirely new portion of the world past the Indus, it came as a shock to them. India was much bigger than any of them had thought!
Onesicritus, who was a helmsman in Alexander’s army, exaggerated and wrote that India was the third of the entire world!
Alexander was filled with a new zeal, to conquer even more land – the great unknown. Unfortunately for him, his army wasn’t. They were exhausted from years of travelling and campaigning. They were worn out and all they wanted was to go back to their families. They refused to go ahead. Also, rumours spread in the camp about the fierce nature of the armies that lay in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
The army that they feared so much was that of Dhana Nanda, ruler of Magadha and head of the Nanda dynasty. Greek accounts call him Agrammes, who ruled over the Prasii (Prachya i.e the eastern people) and the Gangadirae (the people of the lower Ganga valley).
Rufus writes that Magadha had 20,000 horsemen, 2,00,000 footmen, 2,000 four-horsed chariots and 3,000 fighting elephants. Plutarch’s numbers go like this – 80,000 horsemen, 2,00,000 footmen, 8,000 war chariots and 6,000 elephants.
Meanwhile, in Alexander’s camp, the soldiers remained adamant. It is said that Alexander sulked for three days in his tent, but he eventually relented.
He turned back after praying to the Gods that no man might be able to overpass the limits which his expedition had reached.
He ordered his fleet to sail along the coast, himself returning by land with the army. Only a fourth of his military force remained.
The Macedonians retreated to the Jhelum and began their journey towards the Indus delta, leaving the territories conquered so recently in the hands of Indian rulers Ambhi, Porus and Abhisara. The areas lying to the west of Punjab were entrusted to satraps (governors) and Macedonian garrisons. On the way back, there were military encounters with ganas (republics) such as the Malloi (Malavas), Oxydrakai (Kshudrakas), Sibae (Shibi) and Agalassoi. Alexander died two years later in Babylon in 323 BCE.
Apart from details of Alexander’s military campaigns, the early accounts give us a fabulous peek into how the Greeks perceived this new land of the Indus, and beyond. The Macedonian army’s first encounter with the inhabitants of the Indus valley shocked them. The people, especially, the skin colour, was nothing like they had seen before. Until then, they only knew of their own kind who had lighter skin and that of the very dark ‘Aethiopians’ whom they had interactions with, in Egypt and North Africa. Interestingly, they settled on the theory that Indians were essentially Ethiopians, but had a significant infusion of Greek blood. This, they argued must have happened when Dionysus, the God of wine, invaded India!
Arrian, in his 2nd century CE work Indica writes, “From the time of Dionysus to Sandracottus (Chandragupta Maurya), the Indians counted 153 kings and a period of 6,042 years.”
He also writes, “In ancient times, Indians were nomads…they girt themselves in the skins of the beasts they killed and ate the bark of trees…until Dionysus arrived in their land. When Dionysus arrived, he founded many cities and established their laws…he also taught them to plow the earth once he gave them seeds himself…He also armed them with weapons for war.”
Legends aside, Alexander’s expedition introduced the Greeks to a whole new world, and their descriptions of it were often peppered with exaggeration. For example, Nearchus, who was the naval commander of Alexander’s army wrote about massive trees under which 10,000 people can lay in the shade. This most probably was a reference to the Banyan. He also spoke about trees that had a sweet bark and sweet fruits, which tasted almost like dates.
On the fauna, he was most impressed by the parrot, never seen by the Greeks until now. He wrote about how parrots have ‘a mysterious ability’ to copy human speech. This left Nearchus floored.
Then there was a mention of ‘gold-digging ants that were larger than foxes in size’.
Nearchus also attests to the advancement of medical science in India. He says that at one point when Greek physicians failed to provide remedies for snake-bite to Alexander, the king gathered Indian healers who were also able to cure other diseases and painful conditions.
Arrian, about 400 years later, quotes Nearchus as saying that Indians dye their beards of one hue or the other according to taste – white, blue, green, purple, red. He also mentions that Indians had seven castes – the highest is that of (1) Sophists or philosophers, followed by the (2) tillers of the soil, (3) herdsmen, (4) handicraftsmen and retail dealers, (5) warriors, (6) superintendents or inspectors and the last caste was of the (7) councillors of the state.
Rufus writes, “…they have men whom they call philosophers…They think it glorious to anticipate the hour of destiny, and arrange to have themselves burned alive when age has destroyed their activity…They regard death if waited for as a disgrace to their life…They think that the fire is polluted unless the pyre receives the body before the breath has yet left it.”
Greek geographer Strabo in his Geographica written in about 20 BCE describes India as a ‘land of the bizarre.’ He writes of ‘horses with a head of a deer’, ‘men without mouths’, ‘men without noses’, ‘men with one eye’ and so on. Perhaps he can be forgiven for he had never actually visited India and fell prey to Chinese whispers, writing about what he had heard about India from travellers and previous accounts.
Around the time when Alexander left, northern India was in a state of political flux. Most of the Mahajanapadas had either collapsed or were a part of the Nanda Empire. The ones that were independent were seen as too weak. The time was ripe to unite the subcontinent.
Only a year after Alexander died, Chandragupta Maurya founded the Mauryan Empire in India in 322 BCE. It is said that the two may even have met! How they met and what impression they carried of each other can only be imagined!
Though Alexander died when he was just 32, unable to rule over the lands he conquered, he left behind a great legacy. First, as the Greek army retreated, his trusted men stayed back to lead new kingdoms and dynasties – from present-day Afghanistan to Egypt. He also took care of assigning his captured kingdoms to able generals. One of them was Seleucus Nicator whose daughter was given in marriage to Chandragupta. His ambassador in the Mauryan court was Megasthenes.
Culture, art, faith and history were shaped as the land that was carved by the sword came to be stitched together by the Greeks who stayed back. In fact, the greatness of Alexander may well lie not just in his ambition, but also his ability to choose the right men, who stayed back and became custodians and ambassadors of the ‘Greek’ way of life.
A thousand years later, the legend of Alexander was still alive in the East, inspiring other ‘Empire Builders’. Allauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, for instance, issued coins by the name ‘Sikandar al Sani’, referring to himself as the ‘second Alexander’.
The Great Alexander of the West had become the Great Sikandar of the land he marched through.
This article is part of our ‘The History of India’ series, where we focus on bringing alive the many interesting events, ideas, people and pivots that shaped us and the Indian subcontinent. Dipping into a vast array of material – archaeological data, historical research and contemporary literary records, we seek to understand the many layers that make us.
This series is brought to you with the support of Mr K K Nohria, former Chairman of Crompton Greaves, who shares our passion for history and joins us on our quest to understand India and how the subcontinent evolved, in the context of a changing world.
Find all the stories from this serieshere.
Dorothea Dix’s Later Life
After the war, Dix returned to her work as a social reformer. She traveled extensively in Europe, evidently disenchanted with her experience during the war, and continued to write and offer guidance to what was now a widespread movement to reform the treatment of the mentally ill. Old hospitals were redesigned and rededicated according to her ideals, and new hospitals were founded in accordance with the principles she espoused. After a long life as an author, advocate and agitator, Dorothea Dix died in 1887 at the age of 85 in a New Jersey hospital that had been established in her honor. She is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.