Battle of the Hydaspes

For other uses, see Jhelum (disambiguation).
Battle of the Hydaspes
Part of the Wars of Alexander the Great

A painting by Andre Castaigne depicting the phalanx attacking the centre during the Battle of the Hydaspes
DateMay 326 BC
LocationHydaspes River, modern day Punjab Pakistan
Result Decisive Macedonian victory.[1][2]
Alexander controls most of Punjab region.
Greek allies
Persian allies
Indian allies
Commanders and leaders
Alexander the Great,
Craterus, Coenus, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, Lysimachus
Demonicus of Pella
King Porus,
unknown others
40,000 infantry,
5,000[3] to 7,000[4] cavalry,
Asiatic contingents[5]
20,000,[6] 30,000[7] or 50,000[8] infantry,
2,000[6] to 4,000[7] cavalry,
200,[7] 130[8] ("likeliest" according to Green),[9] or 85[10] war elephants,
1,000 chariots.[11]
Casualties and losses
Bucephalus injured in battle, 80[12]–700[13][14] infantry,
230[12]–280[13] cavalry killed. Modern estimates ~1000 killed.[15]
12,000 killed and 9,000 captured,[16] or 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry killed.[12]

The Battle of the Hydaspes (or Jhelum) was fought by Alexander the Great in 326 BC against King Porus of the Paurava kingdom on the banks of the river Hydaspes (now known as the Jhelum) in the Punjab near Bhera, thought to be located at the site of modern-day Mong. The battle resulted in a complete Macedonian victory and the annexation of the Punjab, which lay beyond the far easternmost confines of the already absorbed Persian empire, into the Alexandrian Empire.

Alexander's decision to cross the monsoon-swollen river despite close Indian surveillance, in order to catch Porus' army in the flank, has been referred as one of his "masterpieces".[17] Although victorious, it was also the most costly battle fought by the Macedonians.[18] The resistance put up by King Porus and his men won the respect of Alexander, who asked Porus to become a Macedonian satrap.

The battle is historically significant for opening up India to Greek political (Seleucid, Greco-Bactrian, Indo-Greek) and cultural influences (Greco-Buddhist art), which continued to have an impact for many centuries.


The battle took place on the east bank of the Hydaspes River (now called the Jhelum, a tributary of the Indus) in what is now the Western Punjab. Alexander later founded the city of Nicaea on the site; this city has yet to be discovered.[19] Any attempt to find the ancient battle site is complicated by considerable changes to the landscape over time.[19] For the moment, the most plausible location is just south of the city of Jhelum, where the ancient main road crossed the river and where a Buddhist source mentions a city that may be Nicaea.[19] The identification of the battle site near modern Jalalpur/Haranpur is certainly erroneous, as the river (in ancient times) meandered far from these cities.[19]


After Alexander defeated the last of the Achaemenid Empire's forces under Bessus and Spitamenes in 328 BC, he began a new campaign to further extend his empire towards India in 327 BC. Whilst possessing a much larger army, at the battle, an estimated 40,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry crossed the river in time to engage the enemy.[3] Depending on the source, Alexander was outnumbered somewhere between 3:1 and 5:1.

The primary Greek column entered via the Khyber Pass, but a smaller force under the personal command of Alexander went through the northern route, taking the fortress of Aornos (modern-day Pir-Sar) along the way—a place of mythological significance to the Greeks as, according to legend, Herakles had failed to occupy it when he campaigned to India.

In early spring of the next year, he combined his forces and allied with Taxiles (also Ambhi), the King of Taxila, against Taxiles' neighbor, the King of Hydaspes.


Alexander had to subdue King Porus in order to keep marching east. To leave such a strong opponent at his flanks would endanger any further exploit. He could also not afford to show any weakness if he wanted to keep the loyalty of the already subdued Indian princes. Porus had to defend his kingdom and chose the perfect spot to check Alexander's advance. Although he lost the battle, he became the most successful recorded opponent of Alexander.

Pre-battle maneuvers

Alexander's crossing of the Hydaspes River.
Porus awaits the attack of Alexander July 326 B.C.

Alexander fixed his camp in the vicinity of the town of Jhelum on the right banks of the river.[20] Porus drew up on the south bank of the Jhelum River to repel any crossing in the spring of 326 BC.[20] The Jhelum River was deep and fast enough that any opposition to a crossing would probably doom the attacking force. Alexander knew that a direct approach had little chance of success and tried to find alternative fords. He moved his mounted troops up and down the river bank each night while Porus shadowed him. Eventually, Alexander used a suitable crossing, about 27 km (17 mi) upstream of his camp. His plan was a classic pincer maneuver. He left his general Craterus behind with most of the army, while he crossed the river upstream with a strong contingent, consisting, according to Arrian of 6,000 on foot and 5,000 on horseback, though it is probable that it was larger. Craterus was ordered to either ford the river and attack if Porus faced Alexander with all his troops or to hold his position if Porus faced Alexander with only part of his army.

The most notable event in the present connection was Alexander's crossing of the Hydaspes in face of the Indians on the opposite bank. The complex preparations for the crossing were accomplished with the use of numerous feints and other sorts of deceptions. Porus was kept continuously on the move until he decided it was a bluff and relaxed. On every visit to the site of the crossing, Alexander made a detour inland to stay in secrecy. It was also reported that there was an Alexander look-alike who held sway in a mock royal tent near the base.

Alexander quietly moved his part of the army upstream and then traversed the river in utmost secrecy, using ‘skin floats filled with hay’ as well as ‘smaller vessels cut in half, the thirty oared galleys into three’.[21] Furthermore, Craterus engaged in frequent feints that he may cross the river. As a result, Porus, 'no longer expecting a sudden attempt under cover of darkness, was lulled into a sense of security.'[21] Alexander mistakenly landed on an island, but soon crossed to the other side. Porus perceived his opponent's maneuver and sent a small cavalry and chariot force under his son, also named Porus, to fight them off, hoping that he would be able to prevent his crossing. By chance a storm occurred that night which drowned the sounds of the crossing.

Alexander had already crossed the river, however, and his horse archers impeded the young Porus's cavalry. Young Porus also faced an unexpected disadvantage: his chariots were immobilized by the mud near the shore of the river.[15] After his army was routed, young Porus was among the dead.[22] As news reached the elder Porus, he understood that Alexander had crossed to his side of the river and hastened to face him with the best part of his army, leaving behind a small detachment to disrupt the landing of Craterus' force should he attempt to cross the river.


Combined attack of cavalry and infantry.
An imaginary Indian war elephant against Alexander's army, by Johannes van den Avele.

When Porus reached the point where Alexander's army was arrayed, he deployed his forces and commenced the attack. The Indians were poised with cavalry on both flanks, their center comprising infantry with war elephants towering among or before them in equal intervals. The Macedonian heavy infantry phalanx were outnumbered 1:5 against the Indian infantry. The Indian infantry still suffered setbacks due to the reach of the enemy's sarissas and being unarmoured. Even their heavy armour-piercing bows were inaccurate because of the slippery ground.[15] The 200 elephants prevented any frontal attack. Alexander thus launched a mass attack against Porus's left flank. Alexander surmised correctly that Porus would be forced to move cavalry on the right wing across to the left. Alexander foresaw this and placed his cavalry, under the command of Coenus, opposite of them and out of sight. Their job was to break cover and follow the Indian cavalry, which forced the Indians to divide their force and face both ways.

Alexander started the battle by sending his Scythian hired horse archers to shower the Indian right cavalry wing.[15] His armoured Companion cavalry was sent to the outnumbered Indian left cavalry with him leading the charge.[22] The rest of the Indian cavalry galloped to their hard pressed kinsmen but at this moment, Coenus's cavalry contingent appeared on the Indian rear. The Indians tried to form a double phalanx, but the necessary complicated maneuvers brought even more confusion into their ranks making it easier for the Macedonian horse to conquer.

Porus, atop his elephant, led his elephant corps instead of the usual double-horse chariot used by Indian kings. The elephants caused heavy losses to the phalanx, with their tusks fitted with iron spikes and lifting some before trampling them. They were eventually repulsed by the dense pikes of the phallangitai, wreaking much havoc upon their own lines.[15] The mahouts were slain before they could kill their panicked elephants with poisoned rods. The remaining Indian cavalry fled among the elephants for protection, but the beasts were already out of control and would soon retreat exhausted from the field, leaving the rest of Porus's army encircled by the Macedonian horse and phalanx. Alexander sent his phalanx to attack the elephants, which were forced back on their own side. They boxed the Indian infantry and cavalry, many of whom were trampled to death. At this time, the phallangitai locked their shields and advanced upon the confused enemy.

Porus put up a brave fight, got captured and the battle was finally over.[15] According to Justin,[23] during the battle, Porus challenged Alexander, who charged him on horseback. Alexander fell off his horse in the ensuing duel, his bodyguards carrying him off and capturing Porus. Craterus and his force in the base camp crossed the river when the way was clear, and they conducted a chase against those who escaped.[24]

Arrian records that in the final encounter with Alexander, Porus employed all his cavalry, 4,000 strong, all his chariots, 300 in number, 200 of his elephants, and 30,000 of efficient infantry along with 2,000 men and 120 chariots detached earlier in the day under his son's charge.[20]

According to Arrian, Macedonian losses amounted to 310.[12] However the military historian J.F.C. Fuller sees as "more realistic" the figure given by Diodorus of about 1,000,[13][25] a large number for a victor, yet not improbable, considering the partial success of the Indian war elephants. Indian losses amounted to 23,000 according to Arrian, 12,000 dead and over 9,000 men captured according to Diodorus.[16] The last two numbers are remarkably close, if it is assumed that Arrian added any prisoners to the total Indian casualties. Around 80 elephants were captured alive.[26][27]

Two sons of Porus were killed during the battle, as well as his relative and ally Spitakes, and most of his chieftains.

Aftermath and legacy

A painting by Charles Le Brun depicting Alexander and Porus during the Battle of the Hydaspes.

The bravery, war skills and princely attitude of Porus greatly impressed Alexander, who allowed him to rule Hydaspes in Alexander's name. Wounded in his shoulder, standing at over 2.1 m (7 feet) tall, he was asked by Alexander how he wished to be treated. "Treat me as a king would treat another king" Porus responded.[28] Alexander would indeed treat him like a king, allowing him to retain his kingship. The Macedonian king of most of the known world founded two cities in this region, one at the spot of the battle called Nicaea (Greek for Victory) in commemoration of his success and one on the other side of the Hydaspes called Alexandria Bucephalus, to honor his faithful steed, which died soon after this battle. In 326 BC, the army of Alexander approached the boundaries of the Nanda Empire. His army, exhausted from the continuous campaigning and frightened at the prospect of facing yet another gigantic Indian army, demanded that they should return to the west. This happened at the Hyphasis (modern Beas), the exact spot being believed to be at 'Kathgarh' in Indora tehsil of Himachal Pradesh , India with nearest rail head at Pathankot, Punjab, India. Alexander finally gave in and turned south, along the Indus, securing the banks of the river as the borders of his empire.

The main reasons for the Indian defeat were due to Alexander's use of tactics, managerial and technological superiority.[29] The Indians still used chariots which were inferior to the Greek's cavalry and phalanx. They neither had a well supported military infrastructure and nor a standing army. The Indian infantry and cavalry were poorly armoured. Porus himself failed to take any initiative, mainly trying to counter his opponents moves. Greek historians agree that Porus fought bravely till the end unlike Darius who fled after being defeated during the Battle of Gaugamela.[29]

During later rule of the Maurya empire, tactician Kautilya took Hydaspes as a lesson and highlighted the need for military training before battle. The first Mauryan king Chandragupta maintained a standing army. The chariot corps was abolished.[30]


  1. Fuller, pg 198
    "While the battle raged, Craterus forced his way over the Haranpur ford. When he saw that Alexander was winning a brilliant victory he pressed on and, as his men were fresh, took over the pursuit."
  2. Fuller, pg 181
    "Among the many battles fought by invaders who entered the plains of India from the north-west, the first recorded in history is the battle of the Hydaspes, and in Hogarth's opinion, when coupled with the crossing of the river, together they 'rank among the most brilliant operations in warfare'."
  3. 1 2 According to Arrian 5.14, 6,000 foot and 5,000 horse were under Alexander's command in the battle.
  4. Fuller estimates a further 2,000 cavalry under Craterus' command.
  5. Harbottle, Thomas Benfield (1906). Dictionary of Battles. New York.
  6. 1 2 Plutarch 62.1:
    "But this last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians' courage, and stayed their further progress into India. For having found it hard enough to defeat an enemy who brought but twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse into the field, they thought they had reason to oppose Alexander's design of leading them on to pass the Ganges, too, which they were told was thirty-two furlongs broad and a fathom deep, and the banks on the further side covered with multitudes of enemies."
  7. 1 2 3 Arrian, 5.15
  8. 1 2 Diodorus, 17.87.2
  9. Green, p. 553
  10. Curtius 8.13.6; Metz Epitome 54 (following Curtius)
  11. Plutarch 60.5
  12. 1 2 3 4 Arrian, 5.18
  13. 1 2 3 Diodorus 17.89.3
  14. According to Fuller, pg 199, "Diodorus' figures appear more realistic."
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Roy 2004, pp. 19–23.
  16. 1 2 Diodorus 17.89.1 17.89.2 17.89.3
  17. Burn 1965, p. 150
  18. Peter Connolly. Greece and Rome At War. Macdonald Phoebus Ltd, 1981, p. 66
  19. 1 2 3 4 P.H.L. Eggermont, Alexander's campaign in Southern Punjab (1993).
  20. 1 2 3 Sastri 1988, p. 57.
  21. 1 2 Arrian
  22. 1 2 Bose, Partha (2004-04-01). Alexander the Great's Art of Strategy: The Timeless Leadership Lessons of History's Greatest Empire Builder. Penguin. p. 228. ISBN 9781592400539.
  23. Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, 12.8
  24. Montagu, John Drogo (2006). Greek & Roman Warfare: Battles, Tactics, and Trickery. London: Greenhill Books. p. 154.
  25. Fuller, p. 199
  26. Diodorus, 17.89.2
  27. Fuller, p.199
  28. Rogers, p.200
  29. 1 2 Roy 2004, pp. 23–28.
  30. Roy 2004, pp. 28–31.




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Coordinates: 32°49′40″N 73°38′20″E / 32.82778°N 73.63889°E / 32.82778; 73.63889

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