Myth of Alexander Victory in India

Scholars say alexander never won instead he lost to porus

by Kamesh Aiyer

Many years ago I came across a comment in a Usenet posting (to those who don’t remember Usenet, it was the blog of the pre-web world), that said that there was no proof that Alexander won any victories in India and that it might be more appropriate to call him “Alexander the Merely Mediocre”.The comment amused and intrigued me and much later I had an opportunity to read Alexander’s biography by Plutarch. I was surprised to find out that Plutarch wrote his biography over two hundred years after Alexander’s death using oral legends as his source. It is possible that he may also have had access to a personal diary kept by Alexander’s physician, but that is about it. Plutarch wrote the biography of Alexander as part of a series of biographies that contrasted the different styles of great Greek leaders, and in his view, Alexander was possibly the greatest of the greats, flawed only by youthful indiscretions. But otherwise, the tale came from legends spread by Alexander’s friends after he came back from India and died.So the story of how Alexander met and defeated the Puru king (“Porus” to the Greeks) and released him because Puru asked to be “treated like a king” in defeat did not come from any documented source. It was a legend.
The story, then, of Alexander’s triumphant march into India, finally only giving up at the urging of his soldiers who were tired after years of fighting and who wanted to return to their loved ones (in Persia?); the odyssey down the Indus, defeating various kingdoms but sustaining a deadly wound; and, finally splitting his army in two so that they would have a better chance of returning with the news in case of further conflicts; returning with a fraction of his army to the seat of his empire in Persepolis and his death from his wounds; all based on legend. No documents, no sources, just myth.So did Alexander really venture successfully into India and turn back at the urging of his men? Or was it all spin?
I’ve searched what I can access of Usenet now and looked elsewhere for any follow-up to the original comment. I did not find any, so I thought I should follow up, if only with a comment on Boloji!
Alexander’s defeat of the Persian empire and his victory over Egypt are well documented by non-Greek sources. So, I am not saying anything about these. After Alexander’s death the empire was divided into three, corresponding roughly to Greater Greece, Egypt, and Greater Persia, with tributaries to the east commanded by generals, such as Seleucus. No lands east of the Indus were part of this division; and subsequently, under the Mauryas, an Indian empire extended all the way into modern Afghanistan (ancient Gandhara) and modern Baluchistan (ancient Gedrosia). So Alexander did not even leave behind successors who would acknowledge his rule.

So what exactly happened to Alexander in India?Supposedly, Alexander first met some resistance from minor kingdoms in the Northwest, possibly from around Swat. He defeated these rulers. Then he met Ambi of Taxila who welcomed him as a fellow ruler, agreed to be his vassal, and offered him safe transit to the east. Then Alexander laid siege to a city and commited a crime against Athena by promising a safe conduct to mercenaries defending the city and massacring them after they left the city – Plutarch believes that the withdrawal of Athena’s blessing was the reason why he could not complete his victories in India. Then Alexander crosses the Indus into the Punjab and somewhere near modern-day Delhi, perhaps even in the historic battlefields of Panipat or Kurukshetra, he fought Porus and Porus lost. There is a story about how the Indian elephant brigade was winning the day when by cleverly attacking Porus’ elephant, the Greeks managed to un-elephant Porus, and the elephants in disarry retreated rough-shod over their own troops.Porus is captured and brought to Alexander in chains. Alexander looks at the tall (supposedly 6 cubits) Porus and asks him how he wanted to be treated. Porus replied, “Like a king” – his arrogance and pride aroused Alexander’s admiration.Promptly, Alexander released Porus, agreed to be his friend, restored his lost kingdom to him, and added to it lands that were part of Ambi’s Taxila.Huh?
Let’s have that again.Ambi, who fought on Alexander’s side, lost lands to Porus as a result of Porus’s defeat. Some defeat.Then, having established himself as a magnanimous victor, Alexander asked Porus what it would take to win the rest of India. He made the mistake, I guess, of asking this in public with all his generals listening in, and Porus described the entire rest of the Gangetic valley with its multiple kingdoms, and the Magadhan empire downstream. Porus described these in terms of how much bigger they were than his own little kingdom.As a result, there was no more stomach among Alexander’s generals for continuing. They had almost lost to Porus. How could they successfully confront even larger forces?And so Plutarch’s story goes that the army revolted against continuing. And Alexander decides to retreat, but he asks Porus what the best way to return would be. He is told that he should go down the Indus in boats and then go along the Makran coast in boats and ships to Arabia and thence to Persia. And Alexander does something like that – at the Indus delta he splits his force into two and sends one by sea and the other by land and they both return safely after three years.
But, uh-ho?Why couldn’t he just retreat? He had just defeated Porus and obtained his eternal friendship. He had defeated the kingdoms along the way and set up his own warlords to rule them. Ambi was his friend (well, maybe). He knew the way back.There is a simpler explanation that does not require one to strain one’s intelligence. Alexander lost to Puru. Puru imposed a separate peace on Ambi that included the surrender of some Taxilan land to Puru and a withdrawal of support for the Greeks. Alexander negotiated a safe-conduct for his own troops, provided they went down the Indus, and did not trouble Taxila or Puru again.So there’s Alexander, having suffered his first major defeat, set adrift down the Indus with a much reduced army. To get food and supplies, they have to negotiate or fight with the cities they pass. They even pick up some “philosophers” from a city populated and defended by “philosophers”, i.e., Brahmins. Plutarch has some stories about these Brahmins, some of which remind one of prescriptions in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.Along the way, Alexander suffers a wound to the side.They reach the delta of the Indus and make a decision to split – I’d like to imagine that the idea of splitting his force came from his Indian philosopher friends. It was wise advice. Alexander’s most urgent concern would have been for his family and his empire if any Persian enemies or even some fair-weather friends received the news of his defeat. The two halves of his army would be tied by bonds of friendship (and hostages in all but name retained by Alexander in his force). Whichever half returned first, it would serve to spread a different story, a story of the victory and the magnanimity of Alexander the Great.

What was left back in the Gangetic plain? Two “small” kingdoms, Taxila and Puru, that were to be swallowed up by the expanding Magadhan empire. Twenty years later, Chandragupta Maurya would take over the Magadhan empire and the true details of the encounter between these Indian kingdoms and Alexander would be lost to history for ever.Instead, Alexander’s physician and friend who had taken care of him on his deathbed had a journal to write. And his other friends had a story to tell, that would ensure that the myth of Alexander Megalos (the Great) would keep his enemies from attacking him as he lay dying.
Centuries later, Plutarch makes Alexander immortal.Why do I call the legend of Alexander “spin”. Because that is what it is. Alexander could not afford to look like a loser. His successors could not afford to look like losers. Years later, Plutarch could not afford to deflate the Alexandrian bubble.If we took the inhabited portions of all of Alexander’s verified conquests, and excluded the “Indian” provinces of Gandhara and Gedrosia, the resulting empire, “Alexander’s empire”, would be a little bit smaller than the inhabited portions of the Gangetic plain. Yes, Alexander may have been a great warrior and he was surely a lucky one when he defeated the weakened Persian empire, but it would be silly of us to accept without question the thesis that Alexander was all set to conquer the kingdoms of North India. But such is the influence of the “West” on us Indians – and by the “West” I mean the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Europeans, the English, the Americans, and so on, that we accept without question that some tin-pot megalomaniac was about to do just that.


  1. Brother you only have half the story correct. Alexander never lost a battle. His men were tired and probably didn't see any point to continue slaughtering mud hut indeginous people. I really dont think it takes very much intelligence to figure out that Alexander realized what his men were saying. India today is not very far from the indegnous peoples that Alexander once conquered. Given that Europeans were far more intelligent and physically superior to that of the peasants and weaker tribes of India, it just didn't make much since to continue a campaign there! I think one has to be honest to themselves and understand how the world really is and then one will come to accepting history as it really is.

    1. Alexander never won it is discussed in detail in Shah Nama by Firdausi and even if we grant him some respite then it can be called a Phyrric Victory (false victory) he may have won a skirmish (a small fight) but he lost the Battle and WAR
      1.Alexander had to part with around 1000 talents (Few tons) of gold and other booty to Porus.
      2.Territory east of Hydaspes / Jhelum were seceded (given =surrendered) by Alexander to Porus.
      3.Alexander’s favorite horse Beaucephalas was killed in the ferocity of the battle.
      4.Alexander himself was wounded and one of his bodyguard died in the melee another bodyguard was decorated on reaching Babylon.
      5.Macedonian troops lost their morale due to ferocity of the Indian onslaught and mutinied aptly described by Conius one of the accompanying unbiased commentators who has never been quoted.
      6.It is only incident in the world of military conflict where victorious forces have mutinied to fight against those called vanquished.
      7.An incident of such magnitude fails to find merit of mention in Magasthanes book Indica. Magasthanes was Greek ambassador in Emperor Chandra Gupta court within a few years of the battle.
      Please visit:

    2. Alexander lost to Porus, why else he beat hasty retreat after the battle?
      @Armenian: India was and is still superior to you Europeans. If you add all European nations still it will be smaller than India. India was and is, bigger than entire Europe. You people cannot live together and have divided into states smaller than many of India cities now. You dare call Indians "mud-dwellers"?

  2. No Brother You are wrong, about all your assumptions

    1.He lost battle and surrendered with a wound to porus and he was forgiven and sent back to where he came from. His men came back and claimed they have won. People could not fathom forgiveness because that was not in their Vacubulary. Finishing off their victim is the norm.

    2. If it is Mud hut indigenous people why invade india? India was the richest country until 19th century when primitive british looted.

    3.If India is prmitive with no intelligence then what was europe , still monkeys roaming around. Europeons copied all the knowledge from egyptian civiliation, Physical strong- and alexander men pitted themselves against elephants and lost.

    All the glory of Alexander victory is a lie, You have any concrete evidence of alexander victory, let me know, until you can bask on your misconceptions

  3. for your kind information armenian24 alexander never attacked the most important dynasties in india one of which was gangadhritit consisting of around 320000 men, 6000 elephants and around 3700 chariots. now as just 200 elephants and around250 chariots of alexander brought him close to death, what would have been his condition with such a large number, he'd have certainly been chased to macedonia. moreover if you talk about intelligence, indians were the first to invent the chariots with spikes which later passed to persians and brought deadly blows to enemies. so i think its time to reconsider the views.

  4. It is easy to argue and dispute historical accounts that, as the writer has pointed out, could be and probably were colored by varying agendas.

    The same can be seen by the repeated failures of the Romans to defeat the Parthians. They evenually just stopped trying and actually lost and regained provinces to and from the Parthians in an uneasy stalemate. Eventually the historians just ignored this obvious failure of the Romans, but we still refer to their conquest of the known world. Hardly.

    While we question the veracity of these accounts, we must not let our parochial chavunism blind us to weaknesses.
    While the Indian subcontinent might have been rich, it was territory and glory that fueled Alexander. Not gold or riches. It was hegemony over the known world.

    Also, let us not forget that had he been able to use the disunity and rivalries of the extistant Indian states, his conquest surely would have been as easy as that of the British centuries later.
    Whether Alexander's downfall was due to mutiny or defeat, the outcome was the same.

    You might find the theses presented in the books Guns, Germs and Steel, and also Plagues and People interesting as well as controvesial.

  5. While we question the veracity of these accounts, we must not let our parochial chavunism blind us Use your own advice, For all the comments you made , you have not provided a shred of evidence to prove that alexander won in India. Instead what you tell is crap.

    The only victory that Alexander got was against weak and crumbling persian empire , which would have fallen otherwise also.

    For all the conquest you are talking about Alexander is unknown in India. Indian Literature talk about Meander and Selucus ,but not Alexander.

    1. The westerners have failed to take into account that unarmed Indians (the satyagrahis of Mathma Gandhi) could result in down fall of the so called traders empire , imagine what would have happened when they bore arms against them -- Indian steel (Wootz steel = Ukku steel) was so superior that Europeans have not yet been able to make or replicate it or some thing like it

    2. Even modern research claims Alexander was defeated please view this on YouTube:

  6. Friends,
    Points to note,
    Indian Kings , never used to kill the other King who had a war with.

    Your Europeans may be tall. But You are one who lost with the Chengiskhan. Didnot u.

    Most of the places Alexander did not fight and Win.
    He made an image that his army was ruthless powerful( of course we may agree that could be true).
    Most of defenders surrendered unconditionally.

    But the Indians Kingdom would not surrender and They never fight with who approaches with the friendly manner.

    Remember, if ChengisKhan decided to enter idus valley , he would have been burried there itself.

    That was an luck / good decision for even ChengisKhan. Alexander never could fight against with 100,000 elephants.

  7. People advocating Alexander's humble victory present a logic that they tricked Porus' elephant to throw him off its back and then all the elephants were out of control and they crushed Porus' army under their feet.

    I say.. if so many elephants were running wildly, why only the Porus' army (Indians who especially know how to deal with elephants) got crushed under when Alexander's army enjoyed the show standing in the same field ???

    Strange ??

  8. Good Article on Alexander Defeat in India

  9. Any person who believes Alexander defeated Pours and magnanimously spared his life and gave him additional territories is either illogical or dishonest, I suspect the latter.

  10. Don't you even question our ancient Hindu's intelligence.. we single handedly invented every math concept zero upto calculus...(just google Indian mathematics) it declined during Mughal slavery and then subsequent British slavery repercussions of (almost 1000 yrs) which are still evident today among us.We were the only country to have the technology of zinc extraction and the numerous surgical medical technology. So yes not being parochial at all just following where truth can conclude best.
    BTW , your conclusion seems most logical. Love your blog!

  11. "I say.. if so many elephants were running wildly, why only the Porus' army (Indians who especially know how to deal with elephants) got crushed under when Alexander's army enjoyed the show standing in the same field ???"

    Why not? Don't elephants go crazy? Or are you trying to point out that this is a lie written by Greeks?

    "Any person who believes Alexander defeated Pours and magnanimously spared his life and gave him additional territories is either illogical or dishonest, I suspect the latter."

    Really? To be quite honest, even in the 21st century political world, respectable political foes give themselves much respect that what they give to their party men. IF this is how you are trying to debunk the fact that Porus got defeated then I say, sadly you failed.

    "The westerners have failed to take into account that unarmed Indians (the satyagrahis of Mathma Gandhi) could result in down fall of the so called traders empire , imagine what would have happened when they bore arms against them -- Indian steel (Wootz steel = Ukku steel) was so superior that Europeans have not yet been able to make or replicate it or some thing like it"

    Modern day Indians are so stupid that they fail to take into account that ours is still one of the poorest countries. Even China has a 10 times more GDP per capita to add to your information. So much so for crappy Indian chauvinism.


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