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Chapter 12. Iranian and Macedonian Invasions (Old NCERT History Ancient India)

12. Iranian and Macedonian Invasions

Iranian Invasion

In north-east India smaller principalities and republics gradually merged With the Magadhan empire. But the north-west India presented a different picture in the first half of the sixth century B.C. Several small principalities such as those of the Kambojas, Gandharas and Madras fought one Smother, This area did not have any powerful kingdom like that of Magadha to weld the warring communities into one organized kingdom. The area was also wealthy and could be easily entered through the passes in the Hindukush.
The Achaemenian rulers of Iran, who expanded their empire at the same time as the Magadhan princes, took advantage of the political disunity on the north-west frontier. The Iranian ruler Darius penetrated into northwest India in 516 B.C. and annexed Punjab, west of the Indus and Sindh. This area constituted the twentieth province or satrapy of Iran, the total number of satrapies in the Iranian empire being 28. The Indian satrapy included Sindh, the north-west frontier and the part of Punjab that lay to the west of the Indus. It was the most fertile and populous part of the empire. It paid a tribute of 360 talents of gold, which accounted for one-third of the total revenue of Iran from Its Asian provinces. The Indian subjects were also enrolled in the Iranian army. Xerxes, the successor of Darius, employed Indians in the long war against the Greeks. It appears that India continued to be a part of the Iranian empire till Alexander’s invasion of India.

Results of the Contact

The Indo-Iranian contact lasted for about 200 years. It gave an impetus to Indo-Iranian trade and commerce. The cultural results were more important. The Iranian scribes brought into India a form of writing which came to be known as the Kharoshthi script. It was written from right to left like the Arabic. Some Ashokan inscriptions in north-west India were, written in the third century B.C. in this script, which continued to be used in the country till the third century A.D. Iranian coins are also found in the north-west frontier region which points to the existence of trade with Iran. But it is wrong to think that the punch-marked coins came into use in India as a result of contact with Iran. However, Iranian influence on the Maurya sculpture is clearly perceptible. The monuments of Ashoka’s time, especially the bell-shaped capitals, owed something to the Iranian models. Iranian influence may also be traced in the preamble of Ashoka’s edicts as well as in certain terms used in them. For instance, for the Iranian term dipi, the Ashokan scribe used the term lipi. Further it seems that through the Iranians tire Greeks came to know about the great wealth of India, which whetted their greed and eventually led to Alexander’s invasion of India.

Alexander’s Invasion

In the fourth century B.c the Greeks and the Iranians fought for the supremacy of the world. Under the leadership of Alexander of Macedonia; the Greeks finally destroyed the Iranian empire. Alexander conquered not only Asia Minor and Iraq but also Iran. From Iran he marched to India, obviously attracted by its great wealth. Herodotus, who is called father of history and other Greek writers, had painted India as a fabulous land, which tempted Alexander to invade it. Alexander also possessed a strong passion for geographical inquiry and natural history. He had heard that the Caspian Sea continued on the eastern side of India. He was also inspired by the mythical exploits of past conquerors whom he wanted to emulate and surpass.
The political condition of northwest India suited his plans. The area was parcelled out into many independent monarchies and tribal republics which were strongly wedded to the soil and had a fierce love of the principality over which they ruled. Alexander found it easy to conquer these principalities one by one. Among the rulers of these territories, two were well known — Ambhi, the prince of Taxila and Porus whose kingdom lay between the Jhelum and the Chenab. Together they might have effectively resisted the advance of Alexander. But they could not put up a joint front; the Khyber pass remained unguarded.
After the conquest of Iran, Alexander moved on to Kabul, from where he marched to India through the Khyber pass in 326 B.C. It took him five months to reach the Indus. Ambhi, the ruler of Taxila, readily submitted to the invader, augmented his army and replenished his treasure. When he reached the Jhelum, Alexander met from Porus the first and the strongest resistance. Although Alexander defeated Porus, he was impressed by the bravery and courage of the Indian prince. So he restored his kingdom to him and made him his ally. Then he advanced as far as the Beas River. He wanted to move still further eastward but his army refused to accompany him. The Greek soldiers had grown war-weary and diseased. The hot climate, of India and ten years of continuous campaigning had made them terribly homesick. They had also experienced a taste of Indian fighting qualities on the banks of the Indus, which made them desist from further progress. As the Greek historian Arrian tells us: “In the art of war the Indians were far superior to the other, nations inhabiting the area at that time Especially the Greek soldiers were told of a formidable power on the Ganga. Obviously it was the kingdom of Magadha ruled by the Nandas who maintained an army far outnumbering that of Alexander. So despite the repeated appeals of Alexander to advance, the Greek soldiers did not budge an inch. Alexander lamented: “I am trying to rouse the hearts that are disloyal and crushed with craven fears“. The king who had never known defeat at the hands of his enemies had to accept defeat from his own men. He was forced to retreat and his dream of an eastern empire remained unfulfilled. On his return march Alexander vanquished many small republics until he reached the end of the Indian frontier. He remained in India for 19 months (326-325 B.C.), which were full of fighting. He had barely any time to organize his conquests. Still he made some arrangements. Most conquered states were restored to their rulers who submitted to his authority. But his own territorial possessions were divided into three parts, which were placed under three Greek governors. He also founded a number of cities to maintain his power in this area.

Effects of Alexander’s Invasion

Alexander’s invasion provided the first occasion when ancient Europe came into close contact with ancient India. It produced important results. The Indian campaign of Alexander was. a triumphant success. He added to his empire an Indian province which was much larger than that conquered by Iran, though the Greek possessions in India were soon lost to the Maurya rulers.
The most important outcome of this invasion was the establishment of direct contact between India and Greece in different fields. Alexander’s campaign opened up four distinct routes by land and sea. It paved the way for Greek merchants and craftsmen and increased the existing facilities for trade.
Although we hear of some Greeks living on the north-west even before the invasion of Alexander, the invasion led to the establishment of more Greek settlements in this area. The most important of them were the city of Alexandria in the Kabul region, Boukephala on the Jhelum and Alexandria in Sindh. Although these areas were conquered by the Mauryas, the Greeks continued to live under both Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka.
Alexander was deeply interested in the geography of the mysterious ocean which he saw for the first time at the mouth of the Indus. Therefore he despatched his new fleet under his friend Nearchus to explore the coast and search for harbours from the mouth of the Indus to that of the Euphrates. So Alexander’s historians have left valuable geographical accounts. They also have left clearly dated records of Alexander’s campaign, which enable us to build Indian chronology for subsequent events on a definite basis. Alexander’s historians also give us important information about social and economic conditions. They tell us about the sati system, the sale of girls in market places by poor parents and the fine breed of oxen in north-west India. Alexander sent from there 200,000 oxen to Macedonia for use in Greece. The art of carpentry was the most flourishing craft in India and carpenters built chariots, boats and ships.
By destroying the power of petty states in north-west India, Alexander’s invasion paved the way for the expansion of the Maurya empire in that area According to tradition Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Maurya empire, had seen something of the working of the military machine of Alexander and had acquired some knowledge which helped him in destroying the power of the Nandas.


1 Explain the meaning of:‘satrapy, dipi, lipi.
2 Describe the effects of Iranian invasion on India.
3 Give an account of Alexander’s invasion of India. What, were its effects?
4. On an outline map of Eurasia, show the extent of the Achaemenian empire at its greatest extent.
5 On an outline map of Eurasia, show the empire of Alexander and map the kingdoms, countries, rivers and places mentioned in the text.
6 The records of Alexander’s campaign enable us to build Indian chronology for subsequent events on a definite basis. Explain the statement and discuss why it is true.

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