Battle of the Hydaspes
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|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
|Commanders and leaders|
|Alexander the Great,
Craterus, Coenus, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, Lysimachus
|20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 infantry,
2,000 - 4,000 cavalry,
200, 130 ("likeliest" according to Green), or 85 war elephants,
|Casualties and losses|
|80 - 700 infantry,
230 - 280 cavalry killed. Modern estimates ~1000 killed.
|12,000 killed and 9,000 captured, or 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry killed,.|
Alexander's tactics to cross the monsoon-swollen river despite close Indian surveillance to catch Porus' army in the flank has been referred as one of his "masterpieces". Although victorious, it was also the most costly battle fought by the Macedonians. The resistance put up by King Porus and his men won the respect of Alexander who asked him to become a Macedonian satrap.
The battle is historically significant for opening up India for Greek political (Seleucid Empire, Indo-Greeks) and cultural influence (Greco-Buddhist art) which was to continue for many centuries.
LocationThe battle took place on the east bank of the Hydaspes River (now called the river Jhelum, a tributary of the river Indus) in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan. Later, Alexander founded a city on the site of the battle, which he called Nicaea; this city has not yet been discovered. Any attempt to find the ancient battle site is doomed, because the landscape has changed considerably. 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 indeed mentions a city that may be Nicaea. The identification of the battle site near modern Jalalpur/Haranpur is certainly erroneous, as the river, in the ancient times, meandered far from these cities.
BackgroundAfter 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. Alexander's army is estimated at about 6,000. Depending on the sources, Alexander was outnumbered somewhere from 3:1 to 5:1.
The main train went into modern day Pakistan through 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, Pakistan) on the way, a place of high mythological significance to the Greeks, as, according to legend, Herakles had failed to occupy it, when he had 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 his neighbor, the King of Hydaspes.
MotivesAlexander 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 sign of 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 maneuversJhelum River, and was set to repel any crossings. The Jhelum River was deep and fast enough that any opposed crossing would probably doom the entire attacking force. Alexander knew that a direct crossing had little chances of success and thus tried to find alternative fords. He moved his mounted troops up and down the river bank each night, Porus shadowing 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 foot and 5,000 horse, though it is probable that it was larger. Craterus was to ford the river and attack if Porus faced Alexander with all his troops, but to hold his position if Porus faced Alexander with only a part of his army.
Alexander quietly moved his part of the army upstream and then traversed the river in utmost secrecy through manufacturing ‘skin floats filled with hay’ as well as ‘smaller vessels cut in half, the thirty oared galleys into three’. Furthermore Craterus engaged in frequent feints that he may cross the river ‘Thus Porus, no longer expecting a sudden attempt under cover of darkness, was lulled into a sense of security’. He 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 to fight off Alexander, hoping that he would be able to prevent his crossing. Alexander had already passed, and easily routed his opponent, the chariots in particular being impeded by the mud near the shore of the river, with Porus' son among the dead. Porus 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 try to cross the river.
 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.
According to Arrian, Macedonian losses amounted to 310. However the military historian J.F.C. Fuller sees as "more realistic" the figure given by Diodorus of about 1,000, 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. 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.
Two sons of Porus were killed during the battle, as well as his relative and ally Spitakes, and most of his chieftains.