Alexander's Visit to India
Conquest or Cultural Exchange


Western historian often dismiss ancient Indian history because it does not mention their favorite conquer, Alexander the Macedonian.  Fact is, Alexander made a very brief entry into India’s northwest frontier before floating down the Sindu and marching back to Persia via the Gedrosian desert and Makran.  Why would any historian in central India mention some skirmishes in northwest of the subcontinent that did not last beyond a single monsoon ?  Alexander’s attempt to enter India would have been seen as an irritant more than a conquest.  Lots of tribes tried to India via the Khyber pass and to them, Alexander would have been one in a long line of many. 

Unlike other places that Alexander conquered, he left no satrap, founded no Alexandria and left no permanent monument in India.  One has to wonder, was his journey into India a conquest or just a misadventure that his historians later fancied as a victory ?  Is exaggeration of victories and playing down of defeats the preserve of Indian historians only ?  Can’t we assume the Greeks boasted too loudly and producing no evidence for it ?  Gifting land to conquered king, not founding another Alexandria and not even an Indian princess in marriage to worthies of his large retinue !  What sort of lame "conquest" was that ? 

According to western historians, apparently Alexander went back because his men were missing their wives, sons and home.  How quaint.  Soldiers in those days did not miss wives.  They took women from conquered lands, used them and than abandoned them.  It is the established practice of all armies and can be seen even now wherever war rages or soldiers are posted.  DNA tests of children born after a war is the surest way to establish the path of a conquering army.  We are told the Greek soldiers missed their sons.  But a soldier's son was expected to be a solider in those days and if he was old enough, he would have been shipped out to join his father at the battle front.  So wives and sons are not a good excuses for Alex's army to return.  Last reason - they missed their home sounds more plausible.  Men were tired, getting older and would have preferred to sit back and enjoy their battle loot in peace.  We all work hard during our youth so that our oldage is smooth.  When people retire, they generally want the familiar surroundings of childhood.  BUT, if Alexander wanted to continue, he could have hired new soliders.  He had the treasury of Persia to pay for it.  Though we are told Alexander went back for his men, there is no mention of him or his men going back to Greece, they actually went back to Persia and Babylon.  When he tried to send the older guys back, they protested and said they wanted to continue serving in the army.  So the excuses for leaving India don't really add up.  His departure from India is clouded in controversy and I do not think the glib reasons given by Greek historians are the whole truth.

Any local history from the Indian kings who would have fought with Alexander, were destroyed by subsequent invasions of the Afghans, Mongols, Turks and Mughals.  They wiped out much of the history of that region by burning anything that wasn’t written in Arabic and pulling down any monuments that they had not built.

Indian historians have recorded, in detail, visits by satraps of Bactria.  They have also faithfully recorded the marriage of Greek princess with Indian Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya.  This in itself shows the Greek powers were eager to make a good impression on the Indians and were willing to submit to being the subordinate partner in marriage alliances with India.  It does not boast of a dominent pan-European, pan-Asian empire as some would have us believe.  Indian historical records show the extensive trade that followed between India and the West as a result of Alexander’s new Eurasian empire.  Wine, gemstones, gold, spices and cloth were traded back and forth by land and sea.  Though western historians may marginalize it, Indian historians record this flowering of trade and cultural links in wonderful detail. 

Western historians are happy to accuse Indians of ignoring west's greatest Macedonian general, but they ignore the cultural impact he left in India – idolatry.

Entry of the Greeks into India had a massive cultural impact on India and I am not sure if any historians have researched that in any great detail.  Till the arrival of the Greeks, Indians did not make statues of their Gods.  They worshiped sacred sites, rivers, mountains, fire etc, but created no stone images of their Gods.  After Alexander’s arrival, Indians began to see how the Greeks envisioned their Gods in human forms and carved three dimensional images of them in similar manner.  Buddhists of Gandhara, near Bactria, were the first to copy this trend.  Later this trend spread amongst the Jains and Hindus.  There is plenty of archeological evidence to support this theory though I am not sure if there is any academic research has been carried out to back this up.

Indic religions owe their love of “idols” to the Greeks.  Though 18th and 19th century Europeans collected idols of Greek and Roman gods with great zeal, the same Europeans were shocked to see Buddhist, Jain and Hindu idols and considered idolatry the greatest sin known to man.  With classical European snobbery and hypocrisy, completely naked statues and paintings on western classical themes were considered “high art” and topless statues and paintings of Indic origin were considered licentious. 

Western historians often have a blind spot when considering the historical records of anyone accept themselves.  They often like to date things in reference and relation to their own records.  What they conveniently forget is that the world functioned fine before they thrust their version of civilization on everyone else.  Where possible, they also marginalize the impact of non-European culture on their own culture.  For example, it is a known fact that Sanskrit is the proto language for many European languages.  Yet, the western historians refuse to accept that Indian scholars could have helped devise their languages.  Despite lack of evidence, they insist that a “now-lost” band of nomadic tribes must have existed in the Caucasus’ who spread their pre-Sanskrit language to the Indians and Europeans before conveniently disappearing in the mist of history. 

I would say Alexander’s quick interlude into India impacted the culture on both sides.  I am not sure if either side is fully up to it to acknowledging the full extent of it.   


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