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Battle of Hydaspes River, 326 BC

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King Porus versus Alexander the Great: A Macedonian army under Alexander must divide its strength just to cross the river, can it stand up to the larger Pauravan Army under Porus? Also known as the Battle of the Jhelum. Click on images below to view; first image opens video presentation and second image opens PowerPoint presentation. | Legend | 
 
 
 
 This battle is often viewed as a Pyrrhic victory on Alexander’s part because it ended his final campaign but this is not the case. Historically and operationally, the battle changed little; Alexander’s men would have most likely refused to go any further into India. However, the battle once again demonstrated Alexander’s phenomenal tactical ability as a commander and for that, it is a reassuring victory to his legacy.
 
Alexander won this battle by achieving minute successes that contributed to his overall success. By crossing the river, eliminating half of Porus’ cavalry after doing so, neutralizing the Pauravan chariots with horse-archers and trusting his phalanx to hold strong against a war elephant charge, he won a great victory.
 
 
This is only the second animation I completed and to me, it seems primitive although it is much more complex than Marathon. I am always conflicted as to how much of the pre-battle maneuvering should be covered in the animation and in this case I felt Alexander’s method of crossing the river was worth including. One of the first rules I made when I planned the first season of animations was to ensure they were consistent and featured universal standards. Obviously, I have thrown this rule out the window in order to appreciate the unique aspects of individual battles. Otherwise, this site would be called “The Science of Battle” instead of its present title I will always prefer.
 
- Jonathan Webb
 
Works Consulted
 
“Battle of the Hydaspes River {June 326}.” Brigham Young University. http://history.byu.edu/fac/hamblin/ALEX/34%20Hydaspes.htm (accessed Dec. 25, 2007).
 
Chandler, David. The Art of Warfare on Land. Norwich: Jarold & Sons Ltd, 1974.
 
Gabriel, Richard A. “What We Learned . . . from the Hydaspes River.” Military History 24.10 (2008): 17.
 
Tsouras, Peter G. “Wars of Alexander the Great: Battle of the Hydaspes River.” Military History June 2004, http://www.historynet.com/magazines/military_history/3027066.html?page=1&c=y (accessed Dec. 24, 2007).
 
United States Military Academy History Department. “Atlas for Ancient Warfare.” United States Military Academy. http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/AncientWarfare/index.htm (accessed Dec. 24, 2008).
 
Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. London: Salamander, 1980.
 
Images

Alexander the Great: http://www.wpclipart.com/famous/political/
 
King Porus: http://joseph_berrigan.tripod.com/ancientbabylon/id36.html
 
Macedonian heavy infantry: http://scottthong.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/the-macedonian-phalanx/
 
Macedonian cavalry: http://www.elleemmeshop.com/model1/figurini_militari/figurini.htm
 
Pauravan cavalry: http://strategicsimulations.net/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=809
 
Pauravan chariot: http://aryamehr11.blogspot.com/2007/03/300-movie.html
 
Pauravan war elephant: http://www.hellenica.de/Griechenland/LX/Kriegselefanten.html
 

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  1. 22 Comments to “Battle of Hydaspes River, 326 BC”

  2. In regards to the Hydapsis river battle between Alexander and Porus…..

    I am currently writing a high school history essay on Alexanders battles and finding some difficulty in regards to the battle that was fought at the hydapsis river. I would be very grateful if you guys could adress the following issues that I have in regards to the actual battle and final outcome?

    The experts appear to accept that Alexander won the battle at the hydapsis river. Where during the battle he was so impressed with King Porus that he “allowed” the Indian kings to remain ruler of his kingdom whilst Alexander and the remnants of his army returned to Babylon. I just don’t accept this story and my arguments are:

    (1) I appreciate that its based on the accounts of a Greek historian but was his document written 200-300yrs after Alexander’s death and based on the accounts of Alexander’s “spin doctors” of the time. Arians accounts could possibly be heavily influenced by Alexander’s propaganda machine of the time whose main goal was to propagate his “god-like” invincible image.

    (2) As far as I am aware, prior to King Porus, every King that had fought against Alexander had either been killed in battled or executed and replaced. His treatment of King Porus seems out of character and appears more like an excuse. Rather the “allowing” Porus to reign can it not be argued that was unable to over throw him!?

    (3) By the time Alexander and his men reached India they had marched thousands of miles and fought numerous battles. From what I read so far, his campaign in the region that is modern day Afghanistan was the most grueling since he was fighting a “guerilla war” against the numerous tribes in that region. I do not believe that no matter how charismatic and great leader he was, his men would not have had the morale or energy to fight an army greater then theirs and also an army that included over a 100 war elephants!

    From what I have read so far, and as discussed in the documentary, their was a stand off between Alexanders army and Porus across the river. Where the widely accepted view is that some how Alexander crossed the river and defeated Porus. I have heard stories passed down from generation to generation from people brought up in Pakistan where Alexander did not in fact cross the river due to protest among his men after seeing the sheer size of Porus army and elephants. Alexander gave in and either returned to Babylon or negotiated a truce between Porus. Do you guys know of any evidence to back this up?

    (4)After the battle, why the Macedonians leave and never ever attempted to conquer India again? Surely, they could have returned with reinforcements to conquer the other Kingdoms in India. In fact, by that time the Macedonians had not only Greek recruits but Persian, Egyptian and even Indians from Taxila, so what stopped them from ever going back?

    (5) There is also the famous conversation between Alexander and Porus, where Alexander asks how he should be treated and Porus replied “like a king”

    Ok, excuse my ignorance but how did they understand each other? Yes it can be argued that they used translators but how long where any Greeks in India prior to the battle learn the language that Porus knew or for any indian to learn Greek?

    These are my arguments and it would be great to get some feedback on your thoughts as an expert? I appreciate that you have better things to do but I would be very grateful since I am unsure whether to include these points in my essay.

    By Mystic on Sep 22, 2009 at 4:59 pm

  3. All the highlighted words are REALLY annoying

    By emily on Jan 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm

  4. The highlighted words occur when you find this page through a search engine. Simply, copy and paste the url web link to a new tab or window and they will be gone.

    By Jonathan Webb on Mar 13, 2010 at 9:53 pm

  5. Hey yeah um i think that Alexander the Great did have respect for Porus because back in Greece generals wouldn’t normally send their sons on the front line. Also, Alexander always had great respect for the people he was fighting against. I see your arguements, but i don’t agree with them. If alexander was as bad as you think he was i would have to disagree with your thoughts. I have always admired Alexander’s bravery in battle. They way he can lead a group into battle against certain defeat and come out victoriously shows that he did not lose this battle. Alo, he pulled out because his men were weary and broken even with their victories. He didn’t go back because he died of malaria when he was in Greece.

    By Adam on Apr 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm

  6. language used was prakrit , many jain scholars wdm went to west for meditation purpose earlier than buddha . prakrit n grantha r sisters . researbh on kanada n tamil jains , u ll get the answer for s.india is wel prepserver

    By navin on Oct 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm

  7. Mystic, the way I know of it being decadents of Puru Rai (Porous as you call it) is that Alexander did defeated Puru in the battle but it was an intense battle which was the fiercest amongst what his army has seen. Please note that the army already had enough of riches which they had gained in Persia. Prosperity and richness initially make you greedy but in wake of hardships, can lead to a content psychology.

    The other important thing was the fear of Magadha which had an army 5-10 times larger than that of Puru. Moreover, crossing Ganges was impossible for his army and defeat would have been inevitable on further advance. As far I know, even Porous has defeated Alexander had he worked out the right tactics that Alexander resorted on suggestions from Taxilla sources.

    The irony is that hostory at times is quite

    By Durgesh Rai on Jan 12, 2011 at 3:08 am

  8. tweaked!

    Hope that helped. Thanks.

    By Durgesh Rai on Jan 12, 2011 at 3:09 am

  9. It certainly doesn’t hurt, Durgesh!

    By Jonathan Webb on Jan 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm

  10. @mystic

    I, too, believe that this battle needs to be examined critically, but before attempting anything further, let us look at the four points you raised.

    1. Was it spin?

    It probably was, but we have no alternative account, so we have to examine what we have critically. We have four classical accounts, and these are (quoting from Wikipedia for convenience):

    # Diodorus Siculus (90-30 BC). Bibliotheca Historica.
    # Quintus Curtius Rufus (60-70 AD). Historiae Alexandri Magni.
    # Plutarch (75 AD). The Life of Alexander the Great, Parallel Lives.
    # Arrian (early 2nd c. AD).

    All gave a more or less similar account. None of them spoke to or was himself a contemporary of Alexander. Inevitably, some distortion may have crept in, some post-ante glorification may have happened.

    2. Does Porus’ different treatment at the hands of Alexander say something about the battle?

    It certainly may, but the matter is not sure. Alexander spared few who opposed him. In the case of the Persian king, Darius III, although Alexander charged straight towards him, and brought on a panic attack and a hasty flight from the battle-field. When Darius was murdered by one of his governors, Alexander seemed greatly regretfully and took a bloody revenge. So this was an exemption.

    What is more peculiar than his act of mercy was his transfer of land from the control of his Indian ally, Ambhi, to Porus, the great rival of Ambhi. He had never done this before; why now?

    3. Would his men have fought an army greater than theirs? Would they have fought war elephants? Did the army see their enemy and their war elephants and actually refuse to cross the river?

    Alexander fought four battles during his Persian campaign, Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela, and finally at Hydaspes. All the other engagements were sieges, not set-piece battles. In all four of these battles, Alexander and the Macedonians were outnumbered.

    The tactics of the Macedonian phalanx was a deepening of the tactical intentions of the Theban phalanx, which was the first formation to kill an hoplite in-line formation. In my personal opinion, the Theban phalanx was an hoplite-killer, the Macedonian phalanx, adding a ‘hinge, the Companions, both elite heavy infantry and elite heavy cavalry, linking the phalanx to the light cavalry, was a Persian-killer. It was designed to kill the large masses of lightly-marked and lightly-armoured Persians in the battles that they would face taking on the Persians in Asia Minor. It worked as planned, and destroyed the Persians in three classic set-piece battles.

    If the Battle of the Hydaspes was fought, and all the evidence is that it was fought, then the phalanx obviously faced war-elephants. Whether it did so from the outset or from some time when the elephants were tired and unable to charge in a disciplined, united manner is not clear from accounts of the battle. Indirect proof that the phalanx faced war-elephants and did not like the experience comes from the fact that almost each and every army belonging to the Diadochi, in the Wars of Succession to Alexander, strove to acquire war-elephants. This line of tactical formation can be traced through the Diadochi, through Demetrios of Macedon and Ptolemy of Egypt, to Pyrrhus of Epirus, brother-in-law of Demetrios and ally of Ptolemy, who lent him war-elephants, to Hannibal Barca, who read Pyrrhus on the art of war, and rated him even higher than Alexander! Elephants were used as late as Hannibal, in Italy. This would not have happened if they had not made a deep and lasting impression on Alexander’s troops at Hydaspes.

    4. Why did the Macedonians never return?

    I am disappointed at this question; a little reading would reveal the answers, which are plentifully available.

    First, the Macedonian Army was totally exhausted. They were not ready to march on.

    Second, on the way home, via the Indus, Arachosia (Baluchistan), Persia, and across to Babylon in Iraq, there were several more battles against hill tribesmen, in one of which Alexander was caught alone within a city wall having charged in impetuously and lost his guards on the way. These were very hard-fought battles and Alexander nearly died on that occasion. The troops were happy to march on in peace after reaching the mouth of the Indus.

    Third, after Alexander’s death, the successors, the Diadochi, battled each other savagely for many decades after that. Three kingdoms and a half survived; Seleukus Nikator and his descendants took charge of the east, Persia and central Asia included. Antigonus and Ptolemy were the other two survivors, as was Demetrios in Macedon. Their internal battles left them with no time to emulate Alexander, and in any case, after Seleukos established his authority, none of the others could bypass him and attack India.

    Fourth, Seleukos himself may have attacked India. The matter is not known for certain; at any rate, Chandragupta Maurya, Sandracottos to the Macedonians, married himself or a male descendant with Seleukos’ daughter, and gave the Nikator 300 elephants as a bride-price. So one of the Diadochi did return, and appears to have got short shrift.

    Fifth, after the Diadochi, the very strong nomadic empires of the Scythians, the Pahlavis and the Kushanas took over the Afghanistan-trans Indus areas, penetrating as far as Mathura and Kashmir. They were insuperable barriers on the way to India, to either the Indus Valley or the Ganges Valley. After these, the Parthians and Sassanians blocked the way until the days of the Islamic conquest.

    5. How did the Greeks andthe Indians understand each other?

    A terrible question. The Greeks were adventuring in and around the Persian Empire from before the advent of Alexander. The Indus was explored by a Greek navigator at the behest of the Persian Emperor even earlier than the advent of Alexander.

    My tuppence worth.:-D

    By 'Joe Shearer' on Mar 1, 2011 at 6:24 am

  11. I like this

    By monish on Jul 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm

  12. What really stands out is that there is very little mention of the war from Indian History.

    Porus was not a great king as it is made out to be. He was a local tribal chief. The real kings of India at that time were the Nandas further into the Indian heartland in the Gangetic plains.

    Most Indians believe that Alexander was forced to reconsider the invasion of India after this skirmish. If a tribal chief could come up with the resources to fight the Greeks + Ambi, what then would they come up against the mighty Nandas further East? No wonder the Greeks were unnerved.

    Everything that Alexander did post war was very very unlike him. I dont believe for a moment that Alexander won the war - draw perhaps, but not win. Nevertheless considering the odds against Alexander (Terrain, number of soldiers, elephants etc) - it was indeed very creditable to the Greeks.

    About the language problem - comeon.. the ancients were far more accomplished than we care to admit. They were trading with each other far earlier than 327 BC.

    By Brijesh on Sep 2, 2011 at 4:03 am

  13. The battle between alexander the great and porous was the most expensive battle Alexander has faced.Greeks,Persians and phoenicians knew Alexander as an opponent that cant be defeated…..
    Even Egyptians feared Alexander and didnot wish to fight him……

    But the indian king’s like Porous knew nothing about Alexander or his Greatness……. So when he encountered Alexander’s army everyone was stunned to see a small kingdom of Punjab fight like a lion……. Moreover Alexander was absolutly amazed and king porous won his kingdom……..

    If Alexander’s men followed him till the end, The Macedonians would have ruled the world……….

    By Sriram on Nov 5, 2011 at 5:22 am

  14. Excellent point raised by Brijesh about any mention of this battle in Ancient Indian History (although my knowledge of which is quite ignorant). It should also be considered that Alex et al thought they were approaching the limits of the known world and when this proved otherwise coupled with immensity of the task of conquering what now faced them, it’s no wonder he turned back to re-fit and rest his army. However I disagree that this battle was a draw or was never fought. His decision to grant Porus not only retention of his kingdom but also additional territory was both strategical and diplomatic. This follows with Alex’s overall policy of conquering then adopting each kingdom/empire’s culture and or religion in order to keep his newly acquired subjects happy. In my mind, had he not died, he no doubt would have continued his campaign into India and indeed would have conquered the aforementioned Nandas by his innate ability to combine strategy with tactics, to “read” the terrain and make it work to his advantage, and to make the best use of his available forces at the most critical moment.
    This he did time and again. The battle of Hypdaspes is perhaps more remarkable in Alex’s ability to transfer such a large body of men, horses, and equipment across the river at night and in such short period of time. The number of boats required for this must have resembled some sort of ancient D/Day. Once he’d done so Porus was faced with a simple yet impenetrable dilemma: should he turn his army and face the new threat that was headed by Alexander himself or remain where he was ready to meet force headed by Craterus which was threatening to cross once Alexander made his presence felt (this was done by the complete destruction of 4000 of Porus’ cavalry lead by his son who was also killed). The elephants, although initially were devastating, once wounded, became uncontrollable and wrecked as much havoc upon the Indians as they did the Macedonians.
    Ultimately, once Alexander had lured the rest of Porus’ cavalry away from the safety of the elephants (which he knew he could not charge with his own cavalry because horses have an instinctive fear of elephants - rightly so when all’s said and done) and routed them, he was then able to co-join his cavalry with Craterus and the phalanx who by now had crossed the river to surround the remnants of Porus’ army and force capitulation. I think what Alexander admired in Porus was the fact that he had not fled the battle as Darius had done and rewarded his bravery in kind. Personally, I think this is how Alexander would have liked to have seen himself: i.e. a king who does not abandon his men and dies in battle.
    Needless to say, why then did he turn tail as it were and return to Babylon? At this stage, his empire was a large as the maps his scribes were recording and drawing. Remember there were no known maps available to Alex so in a sense he was traveling blind once he set sail from Greece. It must have been an administrative and logistical nightmare and his presence for major decisions etc. would have been of vital importance in maintain diplomacy on an international scale.
    My 2 cents, anyway.

    By flashman69 on Nov 19, 2011 at 6:22 am

  15. Another great presentation. I just wish you would use better maps and pictures. Every time you show the world map I’m like Gahh, that’s blurry as hell. Try using google earth.

    By Mike on Dec 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm

  16. who the heck cares about ancient battles it was just ancient aliens anyway that formed are soicity :)

    By therandoncow on May 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm

  17. who cares in history stuff it was ancient aliens that did it anyway dont you watch the history channel.

    By therandoncow on May 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

  18. With regard to the Alex-porus battle not appearing in Indian sources, could someone indicate what contemporary Indian sources exist (books, stupas etc) from those years?

    My understanding is that recorded Indian history has a lot of gaps and many of these gaps are filled by non-Indian sources like Megasthenes and much later Fa-hien(china) and alberuni (Arab).

    By RK India on Jul 11, 2012 at 10:19 pm

  19. RK India: I strongly suggest reading Lynn’s chapter on Indian military history records in “Battle: A History of Combat and Culture.” It will answer all your questions and more.

    By Jonathan Webb on Jul 28, 2012 at 7:48 pm

  20. I see an intense amount of discussion above me, although not a debate. And I was impressed by the formal approach and the comprehensiveness each’s arguments gave, especially the Indians, who are famous for spelling errors and cheap writing methods. (Although I could see a sample of it in navin’s comment.
    In order to end this debacle, we must address the following points:

    1) The Greeks and the Indians had trade since ages immemorial, it is not a surprise as to how Alexander was able to talk with Porus. (Also to note that languages in those times had not evolved much and there were similarities in languages)
    2) Alexander had to return due to an illness. Otherwise, he had only the problem to rally back his weary soldiers to finish India. Which he could do easily as when he was able to beat the greatest Army of the Greatest Empire of his time which exceeded him in more significant numbers, it would be quite easy for him to beat the Maghadans.

    Thanks for this informative discussion without a flame war. All of you and a special thanks to Mr. Webb for having made up my History Library so better.
    Tfh.

    By The forgotten hero on Jan 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm

  21. Alexander did end up conquering but he described the battle as said below

    They attacked like gods, They were with the wind (Means allover) and excetra. He had optimum respect to Porus but the only way he was able to win was by violating the law of battle. He attacked at night which is very against the battle where the battle would be called off once the sun starts it’s sunset. This is the reason he had so much respect for Porus and in return he gave away the conquered.

    By Janardhan on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:40 pm

  22. enough enlightment. let me share what we indians think of alexander. he came here with much fanfare but got defeated by the border state of india. the real india was still out of reach for alexander. he might be ‘the great’ for west but in reality he was defeated by then great indian kings who also defeated the huns similarly.

    Also, if you westerners want to know the real truth, read this ,’It is said that when Alexander was defeated at the hands of the great Hindu King Purushottam (Puru) of Punjab, Alexander’s wife tied a Rakhi to Purushottam to protect her husband from being slain.’

    so stop this nonsense of ‘alexander being persuaded not to enter then mighty india’. India was far ahead in culture, maths astrology everything the then west can dream of.

    By shalabh mishra on Jun 14, 2013 at 4:01 am

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