5 – Battle of Hydaspes (326 BC)
By now, Alexander and his army had been fighting almost continuously since they left Macedonia in 334 BC. For most commanders, conquering vast swathes of territory would have been enough, and they would have returned home; but not Alexander. Despite the objections of his loyal and weary men, he turned his attention to India in a bid to add to his conquests of Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and Persia. When he reached the Hydaspes River in 326 BC, he was to meet one of his greatest foes; King Porus.
As Alexander marched through Asia, he ignored the protestations of his army and pressed onwards until he reached a place that the Greeks called India but is actually modern day Pakistan. He met a local leader called Taxiles in a place called Taxila and made an alliance whereby Taxiles allowed Alexander to use his city and take his supplies in exchange for defeating another local ruler called Porus who reigned in what is now known as Punjab, India. Alexander sent an agent to the Indian leader where he offered a peaceful resolution. Porus refused to pay tribute and announced that he would meet his enemy in battle.
The combatants met at Hydaspes River in what was the fourth and final pitched battle of Alexander’s amazing career. Historians often refer to this battle as Alexander’s masterpiece as it is arguably his best victory; it was also the triumph that cost him the most. As well as suffering over 1,000 casualties, Alexander’s beloved horse Bucephalus was mortally wounded.
Alexander and his army of around 50,000 men set up directly across the river from Porus’ army of 60,000 men and up to 200 elephants. Porus quite reasonably assumed that his rival would be forced to wait until the monsoon season ended and created a defensive position along the river. Alexander knew his opponent expected him to remain in his location for several months and played along by ordering huge grain shipments from Taxiles.
Porus believed he had an ace up his sleeve with his elephants which had never been seen by Western armies before. The sight of these huge beasts did not worry the Macedonian who ordered his men to find a suitable place to cross the river. Eventually, they found a heavily wooded area at a bend in the river around 18 miles from the camp. In the midst of a thunderstorm, Alexander and around 26,000 of his men attempted the crossing. Instead of finding the shore on the other side of the river, they found a small island first which almost certainly aided their journey.
Porus knew of the crossing but made an error in judgment by sending his son with 3,000 cavalry and around 120 chariots. They were destroyed but instead of pushing on, Alexander wisely waited for the rest of his men to cross. Eventually, the enemies met in battle, and Alexander used his familiar tactic of attacking the flanks with cavalry. His horse archers bombarded the Indian elephants with arrows; the large animals became frightened and revolted and ended up causing more damage to their side.
Alexander’s generals swarmed the enemy from the sides, and by the end of the battle, some 12,000 Indians were dead compared to just 1,000 Macedonians. According to legend, Alexander asked his fallen rival how he wanted to be treated, and Porus replied âlike a king.’ The victorious commander was impressed by his defeated enemy and not only spared him; he gave Porus his own kingdom as Alexander’s satrap along with additional territory.
Hydaspes River was to be Alexander’s last great triumph. He finally agreed to return home at the behest of his men but came back to Babylon a few years later. Alas, he was apparently succumbed to fever and died in 323 BC while planning yet another campaign. Some historians claim that the Macedonians were attacked numerous times while traveling south towards the sea after defeating Porus. Alexander was supposedly hit with an arrow, and the wound he suffered may ultimately have contributed to his premature death a few years later.