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Alexander Not So Great: When He Met The Fearless Indic Warriors Of India

In terms of historical documentation or records, India acquires a more or less clear shape from the end of the seventh century BCE. At this time there was no single dominant ruling dynasty in north India, with some independent States holding sway. While the existing literature gives names of 16 important such States (the 16 Mahajanpadas), there were likely more in number. These States were a mix of monarchial, republican, and oligarchic types, and the four most important monarchial States (royal dynasties) that stood out prominently at this time were the Haryankas (Magadha, a dynasty founded by Bimbisara after overthrowing the Barhadrathas), Pradyotas (Avanti), Aikshvakus (Kosala), and Pauravas (Vatsa or Kausambi). The famous kingdoms of Kuru-Panchala, Matsya, and Kashi, found mentioned in the Mahabharata as powerful States, still existed at this time, but they had been reduced to minor powers. The non-monarchial States were represented by the Vrijis (Mithila), Sakyas (Kapilavastu), and Mallas (Pava and Kushinagara). Of these, the Vrijis were a confederacy, made of eight different clans, of which the Lichchhavis (Vaishali) was the most famous. The four aforementioned royal dynasties were often at war with each other over establishing supremacy, and by the start of 5th c. BCE the Magadha kingdom (Haryankas under Ajatasatru) reigned supreme in North India. Later Mahapadma Nanda overthrew the Magadha king (Haryankas, or the Sisunaga dynasty as per the Puranas), and established his new dynasty known as the Nanda. Mahapadma Nanda was a military genius and established a kingdom that included most of northern India of those times (except Kashmir, Punjab, and Sindh).

Alexander’s invasion of the Indian subcontinentThe Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is a Roman floor mosaic originally from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia.

Punjab, Sindh, and Afghanistan, which were the border areas of the western part of ancient India, were devoid of any powerful kingdoms at this particular time (around 4th- 5th c. BCE). Among the famous 16 mahajanpadas, the Kamboja and Gandhara States can be said to include areas from these parts, while the region, on the whole, seems to have been divided into around 12 or more independent parts that were either ruled by kings or had democratic or oligarchic governances. Being constantly at war with each other these principalities were vulnerable to invaders from outside, and it is not surprising that the Achaemenian Empire of Persia cast its eyes on this area. By the time of king Darius (522-486 BCE), there was an established rule of the Achaemenians over this part of India, as evident from two inscriptions (518 BCE and 515 BCE) that mention the monarch’s name and his rule over the Hindus, denoting areas east of the Sindhu. The Greek historian, Herodotus, further tells us that Darius had sent a naval expedition to the Sindhu river valley, and some areas in the Indian dominion formed the twentieth Satrapy of Darius’s kingdom, which brought in a whopping revenue (in gold dust) of over a million pounds sterling in those times (equal to one-third of the then Persian empire’s entire revenue). It is believed the Persian domination of parts of northwestern India continued up to about 330 BCE.


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