2ndlook

What happened to Alexander’s loot from India …?

Posted in European History, Gold Reserves, History, Media, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on February 17, 2009

King Otto of Greece wearing Albanian fustanella

Alexander’s retreat from India … empty handed?

Alexander’s campaign to drum up alliances with Indian kings on the borders of his Persian empire did not yield much gold or wealth. Unlike the Persian Empire, most of the gold and wealth in India was diffused and spread. In raid after raid, Alexander came back empty handed – or almost. While he was managing the fires in Bactra and Sogdia, he had to release Scythian prisoners without a ransom. But, while stitching an alliance with Omphis (Ambi /Ambhi), instead he had to pay Ambhi about 1000 talents of gold – which provoked much envy in his camp.

The talk of an Indian invasion provoked assassination conspiracies, demand for release by soldiers and much expenditure. Many of his soldiers – Greeks units, Macedonian veterans, Thessalian cavalry had to be released, after handsome gratuities and payments. New soldiers had to be recruited again at a significant cost.

In antiquity

Unlike Alexander’s experience of poor pickings in India, the Greek image of India, in history, was different. There were wild tales about Indian ants, big as foxes and jackals, that mined gold. These were tales related by Pliny, Herodotus, Strabo, Arrian – partly, based on reports from Megasthenes. And the very same Greek sources show that with each victory, at kingdom after kingdom, Alexander gained little in terms of gold. Unlike many other subsequent raiders.

The case of missing Indian gold

So, where was the famed Indian gold?

Two possible theories suggest themselves. Alexander was singularly unsuccessful in his Indian campaign and could not, hence, obtain any gold. While this may please Indian jingoists, we will suspend opinion on this in face of overwhelming Western historical opinion – though the truth may be otherwise.

The second theory is more intricate – and also stronger. Unlike the description of Persian cities, the description of Indian cities in all the accounts, is of very simple and plain cities. Not one Indian city is extolled for its beauty, or its buildings, palaces or temples. What gives?

War elephants

War elephants

Extant Indian society

Three elements of the Indian economic system were unique till the 19th century – property ownership by the commoners, widespread ownership of gold and absence of slavery (defined as capture, trade and forced labour by humans – without compensation).

The Indian social structure in pre-Alexandrian Indian had widespread gold and property ownership. With complete absence of slavery, wages could also rise above subsistence levels. This restricted the wealth of Indian rulers – and thus impressive monuments, buildings and palaces are rare or non-existent in pre-medieval India. Thus Indian cities were plain and simple. Royal treasuries were hence, meagre.

Colonial Indian rule dispossessed many Indians of their property – and concentrated wealth in the hands of the few – the Thakurs and the Zamindars. Indians were dispossessed of their gold in the Squeeze Indian Campaign of 1925-1945 – started by Churchill and Montagu Norman and continued by Neville Chamberlain.

Greek clothing

Greek clothing

Monopoly in currency

Royal official coinage was only one of the options even in colonial India. This reduced the concentration of wealth which we see in evidence in the Persian Empire – where Darius’ treasury yielded (Greek estimates) more than 100,000 talents of gold (some exaggeration?).

Indian armies could only scaled up by voluntary services and funding. Hence, these motivated and volunteer armies could inflict so much losses on Alexander.

So, what did the Greco-Macedonians take away …

There were more interesting things that Alexander’s armies  took away from India. The odd and interesting things that Alexander carted away were cattle, elephants and the Macedonian national dress – and possibly kissing.

Persian clothing

Persian clothing

Cattle from Punjab

At the battle against the Asvanyas (Khamboj), called by the Greeks as Aspasioi /Aspasii /Assakenoi /Aspasio /Hipasii /Assaceni/Assacani, Osii /Asii /Asoi, and Aseni in Greek records, Alexander took some 230,000 Asiatic humped zebu cattle to, says Arrian, improve cattle stock in Macedonia. Indian agriculture was well advanced by that time – and exports of spices, textiles, iron and steel were significant.

Elephants from India

War elephants were rule changers – and Indians were the only significant trainers, users, and owners of war elephants. Alexander’s successor, Seleucos Nicator, considered by Ptolemy as the possible true successor of Alexander, ceded his possessions East of Persia – to Chandraupta Maurya. As a part of the treaty, Chandragupta also gifted Seleucos 500 elephants which proved invaluable in settling the Daidochi Wars – at the Batle of Ipsus.

The Greek fustanella (drawing By Theofilos Chatzimichalis)

The Greek fustanella (drawing By Theofilos Chatzimichalis)

Clothes

While the above two are well known, the other two interesting that Greco-Macedonian armies took back to Europe were more cultural. First was the current Macedonain national dress – the ‘salvaria’. The entire North West Indian sub-continent, from Punjab to Afghanistan wears the salwar – which is tubular leggings.

This is a unisex garment – like the sari /dhoti also is. And popular all over India today. Unlike other parts of the world, where women were forced to conform to a male standards and prescriptions of dressing, Indian women were free and dressed like their men did (Feminists note – Indian men were forced to dress, like their women did, since you insist). Unisex clothing, saris and dhotis dominated the Indian plains, and the salwars, in the North West mountain regions of India. The Indo-Scythians used leather leggings – which were helpful in case of long marches on horse backs.

These leggings even today called the salvaria in Macedonia. The Persians at that time had the robes – and purple robes were the sign of royalty. The Greeks wore chitons - and peplos. The Greek fustanella similarly, is very much like tribal costumes worn even today by Gujarathi rabari tribals.

Kissing … and Kamasutra

Rabari tribesman in modern Gujarat

Rabari tribesman in modern Gujarat

On kissing, Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist at Texas A&M, has traced the first recorded kiss back to India, somewhere around 1500 B.C., when early Vedic scriptures start to mention people “sniffing” with their mouths, and later texts describe lovers “setting mouth to mouth.” From there, he hypothesizes, the kiss spread westward when Alexander the Great conquered the Punjab in 326 B.C.

About these ads

11 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Gullu said, on February 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Please turn off the snap previews. It is very annoying and interfers a lot with the reading. Keep up the fascinating and deep analysis.

  2. Bala said, on February 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    very interesting accounts in your blog – it’s informative and provides perspective.

  3. Jos said, on March 3, 2009 at 8:08 am

    First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

  4. [...] borders, to avoid the fate of his predecessor ‘conquerors’ – Cyrus The Great and Semiramis. His pickings in terms of loot were negligible – unlike, say from, [...]

  5. [...] Against Cyrus the Great, Tomyris, a Scythian Queen was supported to massacre the Persian invaders. Alexander’s nightmare began immediately, as soon as he crossed into the Indic area. Instead of the complete cooperation, that he got from [...]

  6. [...] recently, Alexander’s retreat from India is too well known for me to repeat. The grisly death of Crassus at the hands of Indo-Parthian [...]

  7. aditya said, on October 27, 2009 at 12:37 am

    Well the over whelming Western opinion is based on Roman account by Plutarch which were mostly hear say in the case of Alexander. The problem with western historical perspective is that it is shaped solely by a handful of Greek and Roman accounts which often blatantly mixed truth and legend.

    I disagree that Indian cities were plain and simple. In ancient times Indian cities were the largest in the world and well designed, the ancient ruins of Indus civilization are testimony to this. However the Kings did not build massive tombs unlike the pyramids because the norm was to burn the dead. Secondly India was unique in having an intellectual elite (the Brahmans) who frowned upon lavish luxuries. Hence the palaces of the Emperors were not as big as their wealth warranted. Even so one would be hard pressed to actually come up with archeological evidence to show that Indian palaces were less grand than their counterparts elsewhere. But India’s ancient temples and universities were unrivaled in grandeur and size. Now most (but not all) of India’s big temples were built after the 1st century AD, but this was not because of a redistribution of wealth to the kings(who were the donors for temples) but because of a shift in Indian religious practice that began to emphasize grand rituals (pooja) in temples as opposed to ‘yagnas’. All in all I think we Indians had an awesome civilization and culture and it is underrated by the west and Indians as well.

  8. Sita said, on December 26, 2009 at 11:01 am

    India is the oldest civilization – much of history has been surpressed by the ‘western forces”We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made!”
    Albert Einstein(Man of The Century)

    “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India”
    Max Mueller

    “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.
    - Mark Twain (he was not just a fiction writer, he served in Council of International Affairs, his other hobby was as a historian)

    “http://www.indianchild.com/amazing_facts_of_India.htm

    Takshila University oldest University in th world was established in India, Dwaarka – Krishna’s city & temples have been uncovered, they date to 2800 BC, our temples are ancient- our “Pagan” temples as referred to by outsiders numbered hundreds to west of India and East, whether Buddhist or Hindu (Buddhism dates to 700 BC itself)…

    so have some pride in that…the modern number system did really originate from India, trigonometry and geometry are Sanskrit words.

    Euro languages such as German Italian are new (6th cent BC and after) – because of a newer race (white), India will always be under threat….their perceived and propagated superiority stands on “their invention of everthing”…only after destroying many of the ancient civilizations, are certain countries civil, while India has a 10,000 yr history of never invading other countries. Please Indian Hindus abroad, unite, and do everything you can for your country. goal of foreigners is always to insult our country, call it third world (it became this way mostly upon British either by themselves or conspiring with Muslims or because of a state of un-unified India scarred after repeated Moghul invasions) by depleting and plundering our nation, it happened mostly in those hundred years of Uk entry- as well as numerous expeditions by Moghuls.

    India is in a situation where we can move ahead of thes past horrors, but we need to care about every last individual in our country, to not become those that insult from the outside, whatever is going in our country. There are indeed areas where it is still backwards (in same way you could refer to trailor homes in other countries as backwards or the high rates of child prostitution in Eastern Europe) but if you don’t love your country, no one else will. That is guaranteed. I am passionate about this because in the states, for most part you do not hear racist remarks on constant basis, but here and there it happens. A 24 yr old rejected by her boyfriend for marriage, calling India third world to coworkers, a white hairdresser referring to those from India as living in the ‘south side projects:, or friends know of other coworkers in seemingly prestigious workplaces where bosses demean and belittle “Hinduism”..it is human nature. What isn’t yours and your heritage, you will rate as ‘second best’ or below you.

    all India has is those that love their country because it is theirs, because it is their parents’ country. Don’t think marrying out to foreigners will increase love for India. all the kids of foreign wife we have seen heard one insult about India growing up or from their mothers, and that is all it took to “hate it” in the same way a stranger does. They worship the foreign mother’s country..and all of them are married to foreigners that we know of..so as a grandparent when you allow your 100% Indian Hindu sons from two parents to marry foreigners, alteast know first, that 2 generations down, your kids will all be hybrids of multiple races 90% of the time.

    Jai Hind..God Bless

  9. Prashant G. said, on December 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Aditya, the first University (ruins are being renovated today) Takshila existed in 700 BC, Buddhist temples and ancient Hindu temples throughout all of India existed much earlier than Buddhist temples obviously (Buddhism arose 700 BC)

    Please see these videos:

    INDIA: How Britishers Fooled the Hindus

    Dwaraka: A lost city of Lord Krishnaa (archaelogical proof of the oldest Hindu temples)

    Sita you are very right. There is a misconception that mating with foreigners creates a nice intercultural/racial bridge but in most cases I have seen also it has the consequence of the children from such marriages living in a multiculural/racial limbo loving one more than the other. Take as an example the Roma Gypsies (their blood line is from India) who though were murdered by the thousands in Italy another European countries are such a disenfranchised community in Italy facing so much prejudice & outcast. Yet, they are trying desperately to obtain acceptance from the majority race, enough to want to shed their Hindu heritage and become “full fledged Italians”. This is what happens to children of inter marriages as well, and despite what the foreign parent speaks of India and the half’s heritage & culture, the mere chance the kids are married to foreigners means:

    2x(2 Indian HIndu parents) = 1x (1 Hindu Indian parent) = 1/2x (children of inter-racial) = 1/4x (1/4x children of 1/2x married to foreign race).

    1/4 HIndu Indian child is least likely to care 100%of the heritage as the original 2 Hindu Indian parents. As a male, I would like to see as a grandad 100% Indian Hindu kids. Perhaps this is reason you can find online Greek, Latina, Russian and African dating sites; of course others as well. Many folks do care about the homegenity and passing on of their genes and culture (mostly to protect and preserve).

  10. pawan verma said, on September 7, 2011 at 3:25 am

    thanks to u trillian time

  11. Vyasa (@Vyasa2) said, on January 22, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    /**
    Unisex clothing, saris and dhotis dominated the Indian plains, and the salwars, in the North West mountain regions of India. The Indo-Scythians used leather leggings – which were helpful in case of long marches on horse backs.
    **/

    Do you have any proof scriptural,documents that tubular leggings salwars were Indian rather than the popular belief that Salwars came to India from Muslim invasion?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,053 other followers

%d bloggers like this: