Alexander's Last Battle
June, 326 BCE
Also called the Hydaspes
Macedonians under Alexander III of Macedon, approx. 26,500 (5,800 cavalry, 22,200 infantry)
Indians under Porus, Raja of the Pauravas, approx. 32,000 (2,000 cavalry, 30,000 infantry, 85 elephants, 240 chariots)
Sunrise: 04:43 Sunset: 19:11
(approximate times calculated from NOAA's Sunrise/Sunset Calculator based on location. However as the calculator does not figure for dates prior to 1700, this was based mid May for this year. It may have been a few minutes off.
Weather: Monsoon came early this year, apparently. Very rainy from snowmelt off of the Himalayas. The Jhelum River was swollen and wide. Ground on either side was soggy.
Approx. Location: 32°35'18" N, 73°20'54" E Near modern city of Mandi Bahuaddin, NW Punjab, Pakistan
This was to be Alexander the Great's last major battle, though he didn't know it. (Wait! That's not a spoiler. He wasn't killed here. Geeze! Leap to conclusions, why don't you!) But other factors eventually persuaded him that his youthful pastime of endless slaughter and conquest had reached its nadir. He needed a new hobby.
This story, too, is another example of how ancient history narratives can be bent by ancient propaganda, leading us to doubt their veracity. Once wonders if tales of events in our current times will be understood, or believed in 4349 (the same distance to the future as we are to this battle in the past). That's assuming the human race is still here in 2349 years. But, with that major caveat, let's get to this event...
For eight years since his invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, starting with the Granicus in 334 BCE, the boy king had won battle after battle, suffered innumerable wounds, caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, overthrown the reigning Great King, Darius III, and continued to push farther and farther east, past the Indus River, to the subcontinent of India.
In his youth he had studied at the knee of the great Aristotle, who had told him that the earth ended in the east at the world-encircling Ocean, just past what is now Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountain range. Greek mythology had that both Dionysus and Heracles had conquered this unknown land, and now Alexander wanted to outdo that god and godette by going farther east and, I presume, surfing in that reputed Ocean, preminiscent (OkaymI just made up that word) of Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.
Strategic moves at the River Jhelum prior to the battle. While there doesn't seem to have been an actual settlement at the site of Jalapur (an important place in the narrative below), I have labeled it in a parenthesis.. After the battle Alexander supposedly founded a town there, naming it after his soon-to-be-deceased horse, Bucephalus, Boukephala. Apparently it received its current name, Jalapur Shafir during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar sometime in the 16th century. More than you wanted to know...okay...I'll stop here.
To get us to this particular battle, Alexander had not been back to his home in Macedonia in over eight years. Nor had most of his army, the ones who were still alive, anyway. After his first battle at the Granicus in 334 he spent eight more years conquering all of Darius's empire, defeating the Great King in two big battles (Issus and Gaugamela) and taking a long side trip down through Palestine, conquering city after city (yes, including Gaza—that poor city hasn't had a break in 5,000 years), into Egypt. The Great King Darius III never formally capitulated to Alexander, but withdrew eastward to try and raise yet another army to face him. Darius, though, was treacherously assassinated by a couple of his own satraps in 330, so Alexander never had the satisfaction of having him bend the knee to him, acknowledging him as his successor. Alexander thought that would've somehow given him legitimacy and it pissed him off...royally.
Alexander reaches the far end of the Persian Empire
By the time his army had crossed the Indus River (in the Punjab), Alexander had acquired an Indian ally in one Raja Ambhi of Taxila (near modern Rawalpindi, Pakistan). Taxila was the easternmost satrapy of the empire and after word of Alexander's defeat of Darius and the fall of the Achaemenids reached him, Ambhi had taken this opportunity to make himself raja and set up his own independent kingdom. Ambhi was, at the time, also a mortal enemy of the raja of the Pauvaras, Porus, and saw in his convenient alliance with Alexander a way to defeat his enemy for good. He met Alexander on a plain outside Taxila and offered his army, his elephants, and his hospitality.
The Macedonian king, who had arrived in Taxila in early February, spent the next few months resting his army there, enjoying the bountiful countryside (including some rare wine that was grown in the hills surrounding, apparently unique this east in Asia), and partying in the best Bacchic tradition. Ambhi was a good host.
Nobody counted on the river being so wide, though.
Squashed brains and exploding guts! Cool!
Macedonian phalanx in attack formation, the first five ranks
lowering their sarissas to form an impenetrable barrier.
The following eleven ranks held their sarissas upright, where their
wavering served as a kind of force field to deflect incoming arrows.Illustration by F. Mitchell from Wikipedia article on sarrisas.
Xenophon had pointed out in his Anabasis, while horses would not voluntarily impale themselves on a hedge of pointy pikes, neither would elephants. It must have taken some grit for the Mace-donian infantry to go up against these huge beasts, but their discipline and recent experience with elephants at Gaugamela stood them fast. Soon the big animals had lost most of their human crews to the Agranian and Cretan missiles and they began to back away from the phalanx and into the tight formation of their own infantry and their own cavalry who had taken refuge behind them, with disastrous effect to the Indians.
Indian infantry were not a bunch of drafted peasants, but were more-or-less experienced and professional warriors, so should be also rated high in CE and morale. But they were not trained to fight in dense columns with pikes.
Arrian, James Romm (ed) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, 2012, Anchor Books, ISBN 978-1-4000-7967-4
Connolly, Peter, Greece and Rome at War, 1998, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-303-X
Fuller, J.F.C, The Generalship of Alexander the Great, 1960, Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-81330-0
Green, Peter, Alexander of Macedon 356-323 BC, 2013, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-27586-7