Alexander’s Conquest of India – A 2ndlook

Posted in European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on January 23, 2009

Indian armies had two great military advantages over Alexander’s armies. War elephants and a cavalry which had invented the stirrup. Could Alexander have defeated such armies?

Alexander – Son of God

Alexander has long been a vital cog in Western history.

Alexander’s halo gave bragging rights – first to the Greco-Romans and then to the Euro-colonialists. The American Department of Defense, in its Legacy Program, has a section on Cultural Heritage Training. The use of Alexander’s mythos there is self evident. Between the Greco-Roman historians and the Euro-Colonialists, has sprung an entire industry, to create a mythos surrounding Alexander.

The troops beg Alexander to allow them to return home from India in plate 3 of 11 by Antonio Tempesta of Florence, 1608 (Courtesy - alexanderstomb.com)

Alexander troops beg to return home from India in plate 3 of 11 by Antonio Tempesta of Florence, 1608 (Courtesy - alexanderstomb.com)

The conquest of India, a super power then, by Alexander was seen as major victory. Much was made of this ‘victory’, as for most of history, India and China accounted for nearly half the world’s economic output.

Modern econometric modelling shows that for much of the last 1000 years (at least), India has been a significant economic power. Till the 1900, China and India, this analysis estimates, accounted for 50% of the world economy. Statistical analyses showed India with a world trade share of 25% for much of the 500 years during 1400-1900.

In modern times, within a short 70 years after British evacuation from India, the decline of the Britain has been slightly faster than the turn around in the Indian economy. Thus, Alexander’s ‘conquest of India’ was the seminal point in Western history. Western time lines of Indian history are ante-post Alexander ‘invasion’ of India. Some Western historians seem to imply that Indian nationhood itself sprang from Alexander’s conquest.

The Porus Red Herring

Modern Western historians use the ‘Porus Red Herring’ to claim conquest over all of ‘India’ – with a single victory against Porus! Indian political class is blamed for “dividing India into small kingdoms, which were hamstrung by infighting.” But when one of these small kings (like Porus) is defeated, India is defeated. Colonial Western historians have maintained a uni-directional focus on the battle with Porus at Hydaspes – to draw attention away from the more glaring aspects of the hagiographic details of the Alexander’s Indian conquest.

“Arrian and other writers clearly recount the special significance to Alexander of the victory in India. Later authors in the West continued to dwell upon the commemoration of this battle. Some of the accounts are quite unbelievable, but their very existence proves that the battle against Porus remained a popular subject in Greece and Rome for many centuries.”

Medieval caricature of the Alexander-Porus battle ("Alexander defeats King Porus in single combat"(West Flanders; c. 1325-1335).

Medieval caricature of the Alexander-Porus battle ("Alexander defeats King Porus in single combat"(West Flanders; c. 1325-1335).

Western Colonial historians implied that after the Battle at Hydaspes, India became a Greek colony, due to the the loss in that one battle! Anyone in the world can have their lucky day – including Alexander! The one important question which is ignored was “Were the Greeks able to retain their Indian conquests?”

Within the next few years, Western history admits that the Indians kings won back all their losses – quite unlike the rest of Alexander’s conquests. For instance the Sassanians, a true-blue Persian dynasty was able to retake Persia, in 223 AD, 500 years after Alexander, from the phil-hellenistic Parthians, who in turn were able to depose the Seleucids after 250 years – by 63 BC. Egypt, Greece never, of course, never recovered.

Accounting for the Porus Red Herring, further analysis of Alexander’s actions,  in fact, seem to show that Alexander aimed at patching up alliances with Indian rulers to secure his borders.


Of course, Indians believe that all are वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम, vasudhaiva kutumbakam (“vasudha” meaning the earth; and “kutumbakam”, “family”) ‘vasudevaih kutumbakam’ and ईसा वास्यो मिदं सर्वंisa vaasyo midam sarvam(meaning we are one family on earth and God is in everyone and everywhere respectively). So, Alexander’s claim that he was son of Zeus would not enthuse Indians – or strike as odd or strange.

Enigmatically, Indian archaeology, writers and history do not know of any Porus or much of Alexander’s Indian campaign. Under the onslaught of a ‘defeatist’ version of Indian history by colonial historians, Indian nationalistic historians admit that at best, Alexander may have conquered some border districts of India. They ask “Why did Alexander’s undefeated troops, after the Indian campaign, suddenly feel homesick?”

Nationalism apart, there are many reasons to examine the plausibility of Alexander’s conquest of India? There are two interesting positions (for me) to examine. For one, it represented “the importance of Alexander as a positive paradigm for European expansionism in India” (from British Romantic Writers and the East By Nigel Leask). Alexander represented the ‘triumphant West’ over the ‘muddling East.’

The other interesting aspect of the Western History is the Colonial device of the ‘divided Indians.’ This device overused the assumption that ‘Indians always lost because Indians were divided – look at Ambhi versus Porus, Jaichand versus Prithviraj Chauhan, Mir Jafar versus Nawab ud Dowlah, Tipu Sultan versus the Marathas, et al.’

Alexander – Hagiography and /or Cultural Dacoity?

Th first step in the propaganda campaign was how a Balkan general, (Macedonian father and Albanian mother) from an obscure part of Eastern Europe, Macedonia, was Hellenized. Alexander, became a Greek conqueror of the world. It would be similar to the Chinese claim to Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Empire.

Since recent history of the Balkans has not been very glorious, Alexander was transported from the Balkans to the Mediterranean region – for propaganda purposes. Truth is, the contribution of the Greek soldiers and the Greek City States, was always a drag on Alexander – rather than a help. Alexander’s release of Greek soldiers after Ecbatana, was also in response to the difficulties that Antipater was having in Macedonia with the Spartan revolt.

The mythos surrounding Alexander calls for serious questioning of the sources themselves. What and who are these sources?

Sources Of Alexander mythos

'Sources' Of Alexander mythos

Our knowledge of Alexander therefore rests on histories produced long after the fact: a late first-century b.c.e. section of a world history written in Greek by Diodorus of Sicily; a Latin History of Alexander published by the Roman author Quintus Curtius Rufus in the first century c.e.; a biography in Greek by Plutarch of Chaeronea, also produced in the first century c.e.; a history written in Greek by Arrian of Nicomedia sometime in the second century c.e.; and Justin’s third-century c.e. Latin abridgment (Epitome) of a lost Greek secondary account by the first-century author Pompeius Trogus. Each of these five narrative treatments of Alexander’s reign claims to be a serious work of history or biography, but all five contradict one another on fundamental matters and cannot be considered absolutely reliable unless somehow corroborated by other evidence. Beyond these texts, we have little except a compilation of legendary material known as the Greek Alexander Romance, a wildly imaginative work filled with talking trees and other wonders that later thrilled the medieval world. (from Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions By Frank Lee Holt).

400 years after Alexander’s death, Arrian’s hagiography is today seen by the Western world as the last word on Alexander. One man’s word as history? Arrian, of Nicomedia (in modern Turkey, near Istanbul) patterned his own version of ‘history’ on Xenophon’s Anabasis – a propaganda account of 10,000 Greek mercenaries. Arrian’s version of history alleges that Alexander conquered India by defeating King Porus. This is the foundation on which Westerners have based their version of Indian history.

The (deliberate?) trickle of translated material from the Babylonian clay tablets, Astronomical diaries released in the last few years is, of course, filtered and edited, to raise suspicions about the charade of Western history.

Homesick troops – after 7 years of war

Greek ‘historians’ tell us that the main reason for Alexander’s turning back was homesick soldiers. During the (nearly) half-year long siege of Tyre, Alexander received fresh troop reinforcements from Macedonia. Before his India ‘campaign’, at Ecbatana, Alexander cashiered thousands of his Greek troops who wished to return home. After the death of Darius, at Ecbatana (330 BC), to all the Greek officers, wishing to return home, Alexander awarded one talent of gold (approx. 25kg-60 kg).

Also at Ecbatana, Alexander dismissed the allied Greek troops he had requisitioned thus far under the powers granted him by the Greek league. The official goal of the invasion, the destruction of the Persian empire in revenge for its attack on Greece, had now been achieved, so the official duties of these troops were fulfilled. (from Alexander the Great By Arrian, James S. Romm, Pamela Mensch)

At this stage, Alexander also inducted into his army, fresh Persian soldiers, trained in Macedonian style of warfare. Again, after his marriage to Roxanne, a further 10,000 Persian soldiers joined his army. Hence, the troops left with Alexander, were either fresh or those who decided to stay with Alexander.

Homesick … or frightened?

The pleadings of Coenus, that Alexander’s men, “long to see their parents, wives, and children, and their homeland again.” were patently the cries of frightened soldiers. Once back in the folds of the secure Macedonian Empire, the same soldiers joined the mutiny at Opis. These Macedonian soldiers revolted when they were released by Alexander to return to Macedonia, demonstrates that reason for the revolt in India, was not home-sickness.

As per Arrian, the only ‘victory’ celebration by Alexander’s troops was after the battle with Porus. Surprising – that Alexander’s troops did not celebrate any victory, till the very end of the campaign. Was it, instead, a celebration that they had escaped with their lives?

After all, Alexander’s horse, Bucephalus died during the Indian campaign. Before that, in the Battles with the Aspasioi /Asspassi, Alexander (along with Ptolemy and Leonnatos) was wounded. Again in the battles with the Gandaridae /Candaras /Gangaridae Gandridae and then the Massagaetae.

And – a soon after the revolt, he received a large contingent of cavalry and infantry – with military supplies and medicines, through Memnon, from Thrace. As Alexander retreated from India, a Mallian force attacked the Macedonian army. In this Mallian attack, Alexander was himself injured – and his very life was in balance for the next many weeks.

Indian war elephant against Alexander’s troops by Johannes van den Avele, 1685

Indian war elephant against Alexander’s troops by Johannes van den Avele, 1685

So, what frightened Alexander’s army ?

326 BC was the year of the battle with Porus. After that battle, what possibly frightened Alexander’s army was the ‘information’ that further from Punjab, lay places

“where the inhabitants were skilled in agriculture, where there were elephants in yet greater abundance and men were superior in stature and courage

And Plutarch tells us how Alexander’s armies were

told that the kings of the Ganderites and Praesii were awaiting them with eighty thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand fighting elephants. (from The Life of Alexander, Plutarch, The Parallel Lives).

A hundred years later, terrorized Roman armies lost major battles against Hannibal and Pyrrhus. What about Pyrrhus and Hannibal frightened the Roman armies?

Elephants. That is what. War elephants.

Pyrrhus’ army had elephants. That is what. Hannibal’s elephants are better known. If 20 elephants of Pyrrhus, or Hannibal’s 37, frightened the Romans so much, what happened to Alexander’s army, when faced with 100s, if not 1000s of elephants, which were common in Indian armies.

To put that in perspective, Chandragupta Maurya had thousands – figures range between 5,000 to 9,000. And how many elephants did Porus’ army have? 200 of them is the estimate by Greek hagiography.

War elephants in history

In the battle against the Massaga, resulting in the defeat and death of Cyrus, against Queen Tomyris, Indian elephants played a crucial role. Thereafter, Persians (then Zoroastrians) did not use elephants (considered evil by Zoroastrians). Possibly, the outcome against Alexander would have been different, had they used elephants.

The story of Semiramis, the Assyrian Queen and the Indian King Stabrobates by a Greek ‘historian,’ Ctesias (in Diodorus Siculus) is of interest. Apparently, foreign armies used ‘faux’ elephants to frighten enemies.

One of Alexander’s generals, Seleucus Nicator traded in some part of his empire, for 500 elephants. In the ensuing Diadochi wars, at the decisive battle of Ipsus, it were these Indian elephants that gave Seleucus victory.

At this decisive battle of Ipsus, the Seleucid army fielded “the largest number of elephants ever to appear on a Hellenistic battlefield” which turned out to be, as a historian describes as the “greatest achievement of war elephants in Hellenistic military history.” And Pyrrhus learnt his lessons, on using elephants in battle, at Ipsus.

Cyrus The Great

Cyrus The Great

What did the Persians tell Alexander …

Alexander’s newly inducted  Persian advisors would have filled him in, on how a few centuries ago,  Semiramis, Queen of Assyria, and Cyrus the Great, two significant historical figures of the Levant, had failed against the Indians.

Both Cyrus the Great and Semiramis are the subject of many volumes and books written by the Greeks, Persians, Babylonians tablets, etc.

Alexander in fact is said to be eager to capture India precisely because two earlier conquerors-Semiramis and Cyrus-had failed to do so. Here it is worth noting, Alexander apparently views the legendary Assyrian queen as an historical figure, the equal of Cyrus the Great, and strives to outdo them both. (from Warrior Women By Deborah Levine Gera).

The Assyrians, whose trans-Asia Minor Empire and their legendary Queen Semiramis too, had failed in the Indian campaign with faux elephants. Cyrus The Great, too had met his nemesis, trying to conquer India (or an army with significant Indian component). A modernized version of Strabo’s The Geography of Strabo reads,

Alexander … heard that no one had hitherto passed that way with an army and emerged in safety, except Semiramis, when she fled from India. The natives said that even she emerged with only twenty men of her army; and that Cyrus son of Cambyses, escaped with only seven of his men … When Alexander received this information he is said to have been seized with a desire of excelling Cyrus and Semiramis … What credence can we place in these accounts of India … Megasthenes virtually agrees. (from Alexander the Great By Ian Worthington – ellipsis mine).

The Indian elephant contingent had played a significant role in the win of Massaga Queen, Tomyris over Cyrus The Great and the Persians. Were the Massagas from Magadha? The other name for this tribe (referred to by the Greeks) against the Persians was the Derbices or Dahae. Was this name derived from the darbha grass, which Chanakya had used to swear the downfall of the Nanda kings?

The start of the Indian campaign

Alexander’s troubles began soon after Ecbatana (331 BC).

Allied troops were released from the Macedonian army – at Ecbatana and Hecatompylus. Then the veterans decided to leave – with a show of loyalty by veterans like Atenor. Bessus has destroyed the bridge across Oxus river – and that finally took a toll on the veterans – who decided to leave. After the Cyropolis treaty, Alexander ‘released’ the victors at Gaugemela, the Thessalian cavalry, much to the astonishment of Cleitus The Black.

Then began the conspiracies, confrontation and revolts. Even before Bactra, at Artacoana, was the conspiracy at Xerxes’ Gate (or the Persian Gate)  – the first of the many assassination conspiracies. The conspirators’ main grouse was the expansion of Alexander’s military brief to include India. Philotas and others (Dimnus, Nicomachus) were implicated in this affair.Then came The Pages Conspiracy (327 BC) – which saw the indictment of Callisthenes. Next in line was the killing of Cleitus the Black.

If this was not enough, came the constantly shifting battles against the rulers of the Indian North West – especially, the foursome of Satibarzanes, Bessus, Spitamenes and Datafernes.

First, off the block was the ruler of Artacoana, Satibarzanes allied himself with Bessus. He was finally killed in a one-to-one combat with (sources differ) with Erigyius (or with Leonnatus) in 329 BC. Then started the chase for Bessos /Bessus. Bessos, Spitamenes and Datafernes were to take up the next nearly three years with constantly shifting theaters of wars. Spitamenes and his Massagetae soldiers created havoc in Alexander’s army.

Bessos, the mathista, was handed over to Alexander’s army, (only Arrian claims that Ptolemy represented Alexander) by Spitamenes and Dartafernes. Was the handover of Bessos, made as a hostage, upon a guarantee of safekeeping, by Alexander? Did Alexander break a safe-keeping covenant, when Bessos was executed? This scenario acquires credibility when seen in light of the fact that Bessos was finally executed after nearly a year of his surrender.

Did Alexander, finally agree to execute Bessos, to curry favor and gain acceptance with Sisygambis, Stateira and Oxyathres? Was the disfigurement of Bessos, the spark that set off the Bactra-Sogdia War against Alexander by Satibarzanes, Spitamenes and Datafernes?

This was also the grist of the satire mills. A Greek poet, (possibly named Pranikos) with satire, provoked Cleitus Black into insulting Alexander himself. Alexander killed Cleitus.

At Bactra (Bharata?), Alexander did not have to battle the ruler Artaozos. He had a credible story. The stated story – the avenging of the Persian king, by the assassin, Bessos. Or was it the new Persian King, securing his frontiers against the biggest threat – India. Based on this story, Alexander’s armies were allowed to pass through.

Instead of the complete collaboration that Alexander got from the defeated Achmaenid ruling family of Sisygambis, Stateira, Oxathres (brother of Darius III; also written as oxoathres and oxyathres) et al, the foursome of Bessos, Spitamenes, Datafernes and the Scythians made Alexander’s life miserable. At Gaugamela, it was Bessos and his cavalry which broke Alexander’s formation.

The tribes and kshatrapas (satraps) of Indian North West swath, delayed Alexander for nearly three years – before he could step into India. In India, Alexander had to pay the King of Taxiles, Omphis, (Ambi) 1000 talents of gold (more than 25 tons of gold) – to secure an alliance. He had to return the kingdom of Punjab to Porus – purportedly, after winning the battle. His loot and pickings from India were negligible. Thus while, invaders were kept at bay, within the Indic area, borders and crowns kept changing and shifting.

The Greek characterization of Bessos as the killer of Darius III and usurper was out of touch. Bessos was appointed as mathišta – the Achaemenid word for a successor. The appointment of Bessos as the mathišta, also explains the support that Bessos got from the various kings.

Dutch scholars have argued that mathišta (which simply means “the greatest” and can also be used in common expressions like “Ahuramazda is the greatest of the gods”) was the title of the man who had been chosen by the great king as his successor.

As a killer /usurper or a successor, either way, Alexander’s target was Bessos.

Between Bessos, Satibarzanes, Spitamenes and Datafernes, Alexander was tied up in the Bactra-Sogdia region for more than two years. To control this war, Alexander travelled all the way to the Scythian chief, Dravas, agreed to release all Scythian soldiers for no ransom. While he was negotiating a treaty with the Scythians at Jaxartes, Kurushkkat or Cyropolis, the Macedonian army was massacred at Polytimetus. Alexander instructed his surviving troops, at the pain of death, not to discuss the massacre of Polytimetus with other soldiers – ‘to maintain the morale of his own men, and to limit the propaganda value of these losses to his enemy’ (from Alexander the Great:Lessons in Strategy By David J. Lonsdale).

Thus well before, the start of the Indian campaign, Alexander had a first hand experience of the North West buffer that protected India from Western foreign invaders. Added to this experience by Alexander, was the history of costly misadventures by Semiramis and Cyrus, in the Indian realms.

Alexander paid in gold to Indian king …

If the Porus Red Herring is ignored, we can see that an important success of Alexander was his alliance with Ambhi – the ruler of Taxila. To cement this alliance, Alexander ‘gifted’ Ambhi with ‘a wardrobe of Persian robes, gold and silver ornaments, and 30 horses, 1000 talents in cash’. 1000 talents is anywhere between 25,000-60,000 kg of gold – 25-60 tons of gold !

Does this look like Ambhi accepted Alexander as the conqueror of the world – or was Alexander ‘persuading’ Ambhi to seal an alliance – at a huge price? Portrayed as traitor, a sell out, by Colonial historians, Ambhi’s case was a simple case of providing neutrality and supplies (at a fabulous price) to a travelling army, which was securing its own borders.

The payment of 1000 talents in gold to Ambhi aroused much envy and outrage in Alexander’s camp. It prompted Meleager, to sarcastically congratulate Alexander for ‘having at least found in India a man worth 1000 talents.’ What seals this incident is Alexander’s retort to Meleager, “that envious men only torment themselves.” (C 8.12.17 & 18).

In the year 518 BC, a few years after the defeat and death of Cyrus the Great, by a joint force of the Massagetae and the Indians, and more than 200 years before the death of Alexander, Darius-I re-organized his inherited empire into 20 satrapies.

To put these figures in perspective, Babylon and Syria, the richest provinces, paid 1000 talents, while Egypt paid 700 talents. (from Inner Eurasia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire By David Christian).

At least, Darius-I, did not pay anything to the satrapies – unlike Alexander. If Ambhi wanted Alexander to wage a war against Porus, would it not be more logical that Ambhi, the (supposed) feudatory should have paid Alexander? Allegedly, Alexander bribed Ambhi (bribe a satrapy?) to join him and wage war against Porus.

What was Alexander’s response to a ‘sub-continent occupied by a complex network of peoples and states, who viewed Alexander as a new piece to be played in their complex political chess game.’ He had to return the kingdom of Punjab to Porus – purportedly, after winning the battle. His loot and pickings from India were negligible.

To these lean pickings, what was Alexander’s response? Writes a historian, “the Macedonians frequently massacred the defenders of the city, especially in India.” Another modern historian, an expert on Greek history writes that ‘the tale of slaughter told in the ancient sources is unparalleled elsewhere in the campaign.’ ( from Ancient Greece By Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan)

His other famous ‘victory’ was at Jaxartes, over the Scythians over a people which had hitherto been deemed by its neighbours invincible’. Of course, the writer goes onto mention that it was Alexander’s illness (he had the runs, the dysentery, these days known as Delhi belly), which ‘saved the Scythians from extermination.’

But after a few paragraphs, Alexander becomes ‘famous for clemency and liberality.’ After an overnight ride, the next morning, Alexander concluded a friendship pact with the Darvas, the Scythian chieftain with just a handshake – at Alexandria Eschate (The Furthest”) in modern Tajikistan. He also ‘agreed’ to release all Scythian prisoners – without a ransom. Was the reason for this clemency and liberality, or to isolate Bessus, Spitamenes and Datafernes responsible for ‘two years of savage warfare waged across Sogdiana on a scale unequalled anywhere else in Alexander’s anabasis.’

By the way, Scythians are known in India as Sakas or Shakhyas – and Buddha was Shakhya. Scythians were also engaged in Athens to patrol Rome, with clubs. Is that why they were called Massagata = Maha + gada (club), finally becoming known as Magadha? Much like their descendants, the Pathans were used in India, for debt recovery.

Alexander’s marriage

Was Alexander’s marriage, a similar alliance, with the Bactrian (Afghan) King, Oxyartes, whose daughter Rhoxane /Roxana /Roxanne /Roshanak (in Bactrian) was?

For almost the first ten years of his reign Alexander avoided marriage with remarkable success. After Issus the majority of the Persian royal ladies were in his power. Alexander scrupulously cultivated the Queen Mother, Sisygambis as his “Mother’ and promised dowries to Darius’ daughters. Taking over Darius function as son and father he buttressed his claims to be the genuine King of Asia. But he stopped short of actual marriage, contenting himself with a liaison with Barsine, the daughter of Artabazus and descendant of Artaxerxes II. This liaison was protracted and from it came a son, Heracles, born in 327, but there was no question of marriage till the last days of Alexander’s campaign in Bactria /Sogdiana. Then came his meeting with Rhoxane and almost immediate marriage. (from Alexander the Great By Ian Worthington).

How would Greeks pronounce Bharata? Most probably as Bactra (τὰ Βάκτρα)!

And we know that in the Indic context, a marriage is for life – and a marriage alliance is sure way of creating goodwill and positive bias. And the importance given to a son-in-law by Indians is also known! And in the Indian marital tradition (Savitri, Sita and Draupadi), wives did not stay back in palaces.  And Roxane accompanied Alexander, like an Indian wife would.

Other sources

Ekkehard, a 12 century Benedictine monk, a participant in the Crusade of 1101, had many such questions, in his updates of Chronicon Universale, (probably co-written by Frutolf of Michelsberg).

Coming so soon after the schism between the Greek and the Roman Church, Ekkehard must also be seen through the prism of Christian Church politics. After all, how could a monk of the Roman Church let go of such a juicy Greek target? Similarly, in 19th century environment, Alexander’s inflation must also be seen in the context of Western colonialism, which needed to show ‘Western’ superiority.

Alexander’s Indian Conquests

Alexanders shown with elephant headdress

Alexander’s shown with elephant headdress

Apart from the written sources there are ‘other proofs’ also. Subsequent to his Indian ‘conquest’, Alexander minted (possibly only some) elephant coins and his successors minted definitely many coins – for propaganda purposes.

The propaganda purpose of the elephant coins becomes clearer, when the spread of the coins becomes is seen – 21 of the 24 specimens recovered are in the Iraq and Babylonia region. It is in this region that this coinage would have worked – and the local population who would have looked at the Macedonians with respect, as they had ‘conquered’ India.

After all, a few centuries ago, Cyrus The Great had met his nemesis, trying to conquer India (or an army with significant Indian component). Semiramis the Assyrian Queen, whose Empire in Asia Minor, rivalled Alexander, lost her throne (to her son (Ninyas /Ninus) – after her loss to the Indian king, Stabrobates. Many of Alexander’s actions in fact seem to have been aimed at patching up alliances with Indian rulers on his borders – to avoid the fate of his predcessor ‘conquerors’ – Cyrus The Great and Semiramis.

The significance of these coins itself is questionable. Elephant units, managed by Indians, were a common feature in Central Asian region – and later Greek armies also co-opted elephant units. These elephant coins could well have been stuck to  celebrate Alexander’s victory at Gaugemela over Darius.

Alexander’s coinage system itself is very hazy subject, with many sub-plots and qualifications. An expert writes,

There are few series which present more difficulties in the way of chronological classification than the ‘Alexanders.’ The mass of material is so vast and the differences between the varieties so minute, so uninteresting to anyone but the numismatic specialist, and so difficult to express in print, that very little progress has been made since the publication of L. Müllerr’s remarkable work in 1855 … (By Sir George Hill from The Numismatist, American Numismatic Association; page 57)

After Alexander

Alexander’s ‘boasts’ about his conquest of India, a super-power then, did get him mileage. Ptolemy, to create legitimacy for his rule, issued coins showing Alexander wearing a elephant head, looking like a mixed Zeus and Ammon.

It also became the butt of comedies. These Greek comedies survive through Roman writers like Plautus’ Curculio – with an ex-India soldier, Therapontigonus Platagidorus, who boasts of his conquest of

the Persians, Paphlagonians, Sinopians, Arabs, Carians, Cretans, Syrians, Rhodes and Lycia, Gobbleollia and Guzzleania, Centaurbattaglia and Onenipplearmia, the whole coast of Libya and the whole of Grapejusqueezia, in fact, a good half of all the nations on earth, have been subdued by him single-handed inside of twenty days

and wants a golden statue – made with melted gold from Philip (of Macedon’s) gold coins. Other such unbelievable accounts were written in Greece and Rome about Alexander’s victory against Porus – “a popular subject in Greece and Rome for many centuries.”

By 303 BC, less than a 20 years after Alexander’s death (323 BC), Alexander’s greatest general, Seleucos Nicator, sued for peace with Chandragupta Maurya. He ceded large parts of empire, made a marriage alliance with Chandragupta, stationed an ambassador (Megasthenes) in Chandragupta’s court.  – and obtained 500 elephants, which proved invaluable in at the decisive battle of Ipsus.

Where did the much vaunted ‘Greek’ sarrisae and Macedonian phalanxes miss out? On the other hand, the 500 elephants that Seleucos Nicator bought from Chandragupta were decisive in the Battle Of Ippsus – which ended the Daidochi wars .

Indo-Greek colonies and kingdoms – at Indian borders

Modern historians refer to the Greek colonies in Bactria, Sogdiana (modern Afghanistan and Baluchistan) as proof of Alexander’s and Greek conquests in the Indian sub-continent. The truth – Herodotus informs us that rebellious Greeks in the Persian kingdoms were exiled to Indian borders – at Susa, Khuzestan (in modern Iran) and Bactria (modern Afghanistan). Among these exiles were citizens of Miletus, who were behind the Ionian revolt in 499 BC.

Alexander continued with this practice. After his death, we are informed by Diodorus of Sicily (World history, 18.7) veteran Macedonians and Greek exiles revolted against their externment – and the Daidochi had to send an expedition, under Peithon, to quell this revolt.

"Alexander Ceding Campaspe to Apelles" by Jéröme-Martin Langlois (1819)

"Alexander Ceding Campaspe to Apelles" by Jéröme-Martin Langlois (1819)

Alexander’s own propaganda machine

Also must be remembered that Alexander had his own in-camp propagandists – like Callisthenes and Aristobolus, who were his camp followers. Alexander was introduced to Xenophon Cyropaedia and Anabasis. These books were excellent propaganda material, which converted a retreat of Greek mercenaries into a heroic saga.

To do his portraits, Alexander commissioned Appelles, the ‘greatest’ Greek painter of the time. Further, Alexander, ‘gifted’ his favorite mistress, Pancaspe (also Campaspe) to Appelles as an added ‘incentive.’ Lysippus was similarly appointed as the official sculptor for Alexander.

Ptolemy (one of Alexander’s inner circle) was himself no mean wielder of the propaganda pen – and Ptolemy’s memoirs of the campaign were used as sources by many subsequent hagiographers. In 321 BC, Ptolemy captured Alexander’s body – and kept it till Alexander’s mausoleum

Soma, was built in midst of the city, at the point where the two main thorough fares crossed each other. Encased in a translucent shroud, it stood there for centuries for all to see.

As a propaganda tool and obtain legitimacy for his rule. In modern times, I am reminded how Lenin’s body was kept embalmed and displayed for the next 7 decades.

Ptolemy, a master propagandist, also subsequently issued many coins showing Alexander as a elephant slayer, as God (Zeus and Ammon). Ptolemy is famous for the set up of the Library of Alexandra, to promote ‘Greek’ learning and propaganda – the precursors to the Alliance Francaise, the British Council and the USIS of today. He ‘imported’ Demetrius of Phalerum, to run the Mouseion an institute of higher learning, or Temple of the Muses.

But, his masterstroke was to circulate rumors about his parentage. Ptolemy I Soter, claimed through these rumors, that he was not the son of Lagos, but in fact one of Phillipp II’s illegitimate children – and thus Alexander’s half brother. Was it therefore strange that his descendant, Cleopatra, surrendered to the Roman usurpers, seeing them as successors to the ‘Greeks’?

Foreign rule in India

Why did Ghenghis Khan avoid India? India, a rich civilization, with massive exports and large gold reserves, was an attractive target. Genghis Khan, whose empire, from Mongolia to Austria, from Central Asia to Russian borders, was larger than Alexander’s – and whose conquests brought Chinese culture to Europe (like abacus, gunpowder, paper, printing) by-passed India completely. Why?

For the same reasons, that Islamic conquerors, by that time, had conquered most of Eastern Europe, had failed in India. By 1000 A.D., Al Beruni’s description of India and its wealth, spread over the Islamic world. By the time of the first significant Islamic raid of Indian heartland, in 1001, when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India, Islam was already entrenched in Europe. Spain was already under Islamic rule by 718 AD. Parts of Italy fell by 902. Crete (part of modern Greece) fell in 961. In Northern Europe, modern day Georgia (on Russian borders) fell to Islamic rule, by 735.

For the next 500 years, Islamic territories continued to expand. India was the last significant conquest of the Islam. Islamic raiders targetted India for plunder and loot – but were not able to establish themselves till the 13th century. The first significant Islamic dynasty in India was the Slave dynasty – only in the 13th century, Qutubuddin Aibak in 1206. From the 1206 to 1526, Islamic rulers struggled to consolidate in India.

The successful invasion of Babur – from in the 1526 established Islamic rule in the Indian heartland. From 1526 onwards, Islamic conquest waned. Islamic empires started consolidating. On the other, the European star, was on the ascendant from 1492, with the voyage of Columbus.

Colonial historians show Central Asian and Levantine raiders as Islamic raiders, but themselves as European. Central Asian and other invaders like Nadir Shah, Timur Lang, Mahmud Ghazni, Muhammed Ghori, traced their extract from non-Indic countries.

As soon as we redefine India, and include Afghanistan as also a part of the Greater India(deriving its very name from up+gana-stan, meaning allies from the North) foreign presence in India is limited to a brief period of 1206-1500 and from 1756-1947. Thus Mughal rule was characterized by Indic values – whereas less than 200 years after Babur, Ranjit Singh, captured most of Afghanistan again. Thus to show Afghan rule as foreign rule, is colonial mischief.

As Britain itself could never capture Afghanistan (neither could Russia and now the USA is unable to). But Afghanistan was ruled by Indian rulers like Chandragupta Maurya, the Gupta Dynasty did, or the Kushans could, as did Ranjit Singh – made the colonial historians separate Afghanistan from India.

India’s line of defence

Unlike what most Western historians would like us to believe, Indian military machine was a successful system – which safeguarded India well.

Timurs Caltrops


What were India’s main military differentiators? It’s main line of defence? In one word – elephants. The first military general to have an answer to elephants was Timur Lane. Timur mined the fields with caltrops – a four headed spike, with one spike always upward.

Then came the guns, cannons and gun powder. Elephants were no longer effective against caltrops or gun powder. Indians were not lagging in gunpowder, cannons, guns or muskets. Indian ships sailed the world – under Indian or foreign flags.

The main reason for India’s military eclipse was the economic reason – slavery. The use of slaves for economic production, gave a temporary edge to slave societies – which India did not have. Indian rulers, with limited options could not wage long term wars – as slave owning cultures could. Indian rulers, were hobbled by a system which dispersed property, wealth – unlike the rest of the world where it was concentrated in the hands of the few. India, which was never a slave-owning culture, could not muster resources to wage a 100 year war, like Europeans could – at a great cost to their societies.

The Great Unease

Posted in Current Affairs, European History, Feminist Issues, History, India, language, Media, politics, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on February 26, 2008
From the 1954 - 2010 - Indians are the most optimistic

From the 1954 - 2010 - Indians are the most optimistic. Cartoon by RK Laxman, Times of India.

The Great Unease

Global consumer optimism surveys routinely show anxiety, unease, dread in Europe and USA. This sense of unease should be absent considering the prosperity levels, the best health-care systems, a welfare state, guaranteed unemployment benefits, their technology, their currency and their democracy.

The Indians and Chinese routinely are more optimistic – which should not happen considering the low income levels. Fancy theory apart, to my mind, it is the ‘sword fatigue’ in response to constant exposure by Western Governments (to which they are exposed) which causes this low optimism.

Medieval – Renaissance Europe

16th century Europe – specifically, Spain and Portugal. The last of the Moors had been driven out of Spain. The Christian standard was flying high. The Papal Bull divided the Earth (for the Europeans) between Spain and Portugal. White Christian rulers of Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand, set historic standards in persecution and extortion. More than a million Jews were killed, crucified, burnt alive; their properties confiscated and distributed. Columbus returned to enslave the American Natives – and subsequently, work them to death.

New chapters in bloodshed were being written by conquistadors like Vasco Nunez De Balboa, Francisco Pizarro, Juan Ponce de Leon, Hernando de Soto, Hernando Cortez, et al. Not to forget the search for El Dorado led by, “above all, that prince of monsters Lope de Aquirre, colour the pages with the darkest hues of bloody emprise.” In South American memory, Francisco de Carvajal, the “demon of the Andes” remains alive. These real-life monsters set new standards in brutality, slavery and genocide.

Europe in the sixteenth century was “obsessed with questions of language, and especially so in Spain and its recently conquered American Empire“ (emphasis mine). This was driven by

what Marshal McLuhan called “the hypertrophy of the unconscious,” a phenomenon he associated with periods of revolution in media technology: the advent of print in the 16th century created a great need for sensational materials to be broadcast, and this need caused ideas that formerly had been only lurking in the dark recesses of men’s minds to come floating to the surface.

One of the great bestsellers of the 16th century was the Histoires prodigieuses of Pierre Boaistuau (Paris, 1560), a sort of Renaissance Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not containing marvelous tales on everything … Seventeen of the Histoires forty tales are about monsters, a fact that may explain why the book was republished anywhere from ten to twenty two times and translated into Dutch, Spanish and English. (from Popular culture in the Middle Ages By Josie P. Campbell).

Spanish literature of the Renaissance

From this hotbed of ferment, a representative of this period was Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681), the Spanish writer. Growing up in a Spain, a 100 years after the Conquistadors, benefiting from the twin advantages of fresh memory and hindsight “a century of Janus, facing backward, towards the rise of the Spanish Empire … and forward, toward its decline.” His more than a 100 plays and writings represent significantly, 17th century Spain – and even Europe.

There is probably no word that is more characteristic of Calderon de la Barca’s art than monstruo, “monster.” Rare is the play in which the word does not appear several times … (from Celestina’s brood By Roberto González Echevarría).

Calderon’s play about Semiramis, the Assyrian Empire builder, showed her in a monster mode – her hybrid character the most masculine modes and the most feminine, a monster of destruction and creation”. And Calderon was not alone. The fertile growth of monsters gave birth to a new study – teratology, the study of monsters.

“Monster lore truly becomes “popular culture” only with the Renaissance … Fresh works on the subject of teratology are written by Italians, Germans, and Frenchmen. The foreruuner of the modern newspaper, the broadside were bought at street corners and at fairs by the barely literate masses. The great reformers Luther and Melanchthon used the broadside medium to popularize their propagandistic and anti-Catholic versions of two of the most famous monsters of the Renaissance, the Monk-calf of Freiburg and the Pope-ass of Rome. (from Popular culture in the Middle Ages By Josie P. Campbell).

Some of Calderon’s plays dealt with the proselytization of the Native Americans – like his play, La Aurora En Copacabana (Dawn in the Copacabana), described as a play about “the conquest and conversion of the Indians in Peru”

The success of the conquest, therefore, is attributed to (Christian) faith which is valued as mans greatest gift to the world … Thus (Christian) conquest becomes a form of colonisation with the purpose of imposing religion and culture on a land “que habitan inhumanos” (512) and is in need of redemption and education. Finally, the play tries to harmonise irreconcilable contradictions which lie at the bottom of colonial discourse. (texts in parentheses mine).

With this idea, must be seen something important. That is the important element of “the escape of the monster.” In the … Monster Theory, Joel Cohen has remarked that the monster always escapes. Now combine the three elements – the newly acquired colonies of America, the proselytization (or otheriwse, the genocide) and the escape of the monster. These were the ‘monsters’ of colonialism.

A very interesting play by Calderon was La vida es sueño (Life is a dream). It tells the story of Segismundo, the Prince Of Poland, who was destined to be a monster. To forestall the prophecy, Segismundo was imprisoned by his father from the time of his birth. In adulthood, released from prison to test the prediction, Segismundo fulfills the prophecy. As a analyst of Calderon’s work summarizes,

Affirming a “better reality,” Segismundo’s message speaks as well to all of Europe: the “new European man” is the real monster. (from The subject in question By C. Christopher Soufas).

200 years after Calderon, HG Wells, in the The Island of Doctor Moreau, foretold Joseph Menegle’s experiments rather well.

Onshore genocide – The Roma Gypsies

Apart from the Jewish persecution, less known is the the persecution of the Roma Gypsy, which continues till date. In Europe, kidnapping children was considered legal for most of 1500AD-1750AD. On one condition – you had to kidnap Roma Gypsy children! More than 25,000 children kidnapped. No problem. Everybody sleeps peacefully at night. Switzerland was doing this till 1973!

Roughly, between 1500 to 1750, it was legal in Europe to hunt human beings. Yes! Just like hunting for deer in India, or hunting buffalo in Africa or fox-hunting in Britain. Yes! You could hunt human beings. As long as the humans you hunted were Roma Gypsies. In Europe you could be hung to death if you committed the crime of being born – between 1500AD-1750AD! Born as a Roma Gypsy!

Europeans, in the their age of Enlightenment and Renaissance, (1500-1750) could just pick up human slaves – yes, own them like cattle and furniture, if you found one! As long as they were Roma Gypsies. Later you could also sell them for profit!

Ship owners and captains in Europe’s Golden age, (1500-1750) could arrange galley slaves for free. No wages, no salary. You just had to feed them. Use them, abuse them, flog them, kill them, drown them. You could do anything – as long as they were Roma Gypsies.

What set off the Roma Gypsy Genocide

In 1420, a 60 year old man, blind in one eye took charge – and took on the might of the Roman Church and Roman Emperors.

Jan Zizka.

Over the next 12 months, he became completely blind. In the next 15 years, Zizka (and other Czech generals) defeated, many times, the combined armies of Germany, The Roman Church and others. His military strategy was studied for the next 500 years. Thereafter, the myth of military might of the Church was broken forever.

Jan Zizka allied himself with the Taborites (the radical Hussite wing). Zizka made Tábor in Bohemia into an armored and mobile fortress – the Wagenburgs.

Interestingly, a 100 years after the Hussite Wars, the European persecution of the Roma Gypsies began in full earnest. And during WW2, the Vatican joined with the Nazi collaborators, the Ustashe,  to extort gold and the genocide against the Roma Gyspises.

Military success

Zizka ranks with the great military innovators of all time. Zizka’s army was made up of untrained peasants and burghers (townspeople). He did not have the time or resources to train these fighters in armament and tactics of the time. Instead they used weapons like iron-tipped pikes and flails, armored farm wagons, mounted with small, howitzer type cannons.

Roma Gypsy Wagon Caravan
Roma Gypsy Wagon Caravan

His armored wagons, led by the Taborites, in offensive movements, broke through the enemy lines, firing as they rolled, cutting superior forces into pieces. For defense, the wagons were arranged into a tight, impregnable barrier surrounding the foot soldiers – the Wagenburg (the wagon fort), as they came to be known. The wagons also served to transport his men. Zizka thus fully initiated modern tank warfare. Zizka’s experience under various commanders was useful. At the Battle of Tannenberg (1410), Zizka fought on the Polish side , in which the famed German Teutonic Knights were defeated.

Coming back …

Who were the major users of the wagons in Europe then (and now?) Answer – The Roma Gypsies.

Who were the people who could pose spiritual and ecclesiastical questions to the Vatican? Answer – The Gypsies, with their Indian heritage, were not not new to spiritual dialectics (contests, discourse and debates). For instance, Mani, and his adherents, an Indic teacher of Buddhist thought, known to Christians as Manichean thought, were the nightmare for Christianity till the 15th century. When Mani called for overthrow of slavery, the Vatican at the Council of Gangra, re-affirmed its faith in slavery. European minds were occupied with the questions raised by the Hussite reformers.

Some think they (the Waldensians) had held them for centuries; some think they had learned them recently from the Taborites. If scholars insist on this latter view, we are forced back on the further question: Where did the Taborites get their advanced opinions? If the Taborites taught the Waldenses, who taught the Taborites?

Who were the people who could help the persecuted Waldensians, the Bogomils, the Cathars to escape persecution and spread out across the Europe? Answer – The Roma Gypsies – in their wagons. The same Gypsies, had earlier pioneered the Troubadour culture in the Provence Region, which provoked the Albigensian Crusade by the Vatican.

Prokop Coat Of Arms
Prokop Coat Of Arms

And who was the King of the Taborites? Answer – An entire clan of leaders who called themselves as Prokop (The Shaven /Bald; The Little and The Great) were the military leaders of the Taborites.

The word and name Prokop have no meaning in any European language – except in Sanskrit, where it means vengeance, retribution, violent justice.

Mythology as History

Jan Hus initiated the Reformation in the Vatican Church. It was Jan Zizka who broke the back of Papal authority. On the back of these Czech successes, was laid the foundation of 95 Theses by Martin Luther in 1517. The British break (1533-34) with the Holy Roman Church happened due to favors by the Papal office to the Iberian Empires – in matters of trade and colonial expansion, and the impediments to divorce of Henry-VIII at the behest of the Spanish rulers.

Today, the Germans and the British are loath to be reminded about the Czech Church Reform initiatives and the defeats at the hands of the Poles and Czechs. Western historiography about the Enlightenment and Renaissance, in Britain, France and Germany, leading to the reformation is ‘mythology as history’.

Of course, the role of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Byzantine Empire in the entire Czech saga is also worth re-examining. Were the Hussite Wars, a proxy war waged by the Eastern Church against the Vatican?

Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr.Hyde

In the 19th century came the monster story was dubbed as Gothic – and this form of story-telling matured as a craft.

A significant array of Gothic writers emerged from Ireland (from Charles Maturin, Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, and Oscar Wilde to the contemporary writer Patrick McGrath), in a colonial situation where a Protestant minority was the colonial occupier. (from Late Victorian Gothic tales By Roger Luckhurst)

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797–1851), wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley started writing Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, at the age of 18, and completed it one year later. First published in London, anonymously, in 1818 by small London publishing house of Harding, Mavor & Jones – after previous rejections by bigger publishers like Charles Ollier (Percy Bysshe Shelley’s publisher), and John Murray (by Byron’s publisher). The writer’s name started appearing from the second edition of 1823 onwards. The interesting aspect, lost in popular usge, is that the monster is not named – and Frankenstein was the scientist, who brought the monster to life.

In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde was first published. This explored how ‘normal’ (Dr.Jekyll) human beings could become ‘evil’ (Mr.Hyde).

And in 1887, Bram Stoker, an Irish writer published his Dracula. The character of Dracula is based on Emperor Sigismund and his Order of the Dragon, who waged war against the Hussites – led by Jan Zizka. Infamous for his betrayal of Jan Hus, he sparked of the Hussite Wars, in which the Taborites (the Roma Gypsies) used wagons and gun powder for the first time in Europe. He founded a secret sect,  the “Dracul” called the Order of the Dragon.

Of course, these three are the most famous – but not the only ones. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 “Carmilla“, about a lesbian vampire was another monster book of its time. An associate of Mary Shelley, John Polidori created the character of the “The Vampyre” in 1819 – on which possibly Dracula was based.

Most significantly, in 1896, was HG Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, which presaged Joseph Mengele – when Joseph Mengele had not even started on his higher education. A good 50 years before Joseph Mengele’s experiments were discovered by a shocked world.

The wellspring of these works is H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. In this 1896 novel, a vivisectionist attempts to transform animals into men until the misshapen creatures revert and kill him, the forces of nature overcoming man’s civilizing artifices. From The Boys From Brazil (Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele, alive and well and cloning Hitlers at a secret lab in the Brazilian Amazon) to Jurassic Park (Richard Attenborough alive and well and cloning velociraptors), Wells’ basic formula has become familiar: an island; a Frankensteinian experiment; a Faustian scientist; something gone terribly, terribly wrong. (from Requiem for the Mad Scientist By Arthur Allen, in Slate).

From the 1700-1800, while Spain was in decline, for about a 100 years, Western literary field did not see too much action on the monster front. The main action was in Haiti, where zombies, the ex-murderers, the living dead became a part of the voodoo cult.

The late Victorian era was one of the most expansive phases of the empire. Britain annexed some thirty-nine separate areas around the world between 1870-1900, in competition with newly aggressive America in the Pacific or the European powers in the so-called ‘Scramble for Africa’ after the continent was divided up at the Berlin conference of 1885. (from Late Victorian Gothic tales By Roger Luckhurst)

The last of the true great monster in popular culture came from the East. Soon after WW2, as tales of Japanese atrocities started coming out and as American atrocities in Vietnam started, Godzilla came out of Japan. But a different pressure head was building up, which gave rise to a new genre – detective fiction.


Between 1800-1950, Western powers killed (directly or otherwise) more than 50 million people in America (the Native Americans), Africa (the Native Africans and Afro-Americans), Asia (Indians, Chinese, Arabs). This led to a situation that every other person in the West had participated in murder or massacre. Western ambiguity towards Soviet Russia on one side, Hitler on the other – and to that add, Gandhiji’s resolute opposition to colonialism – and you have a inflammable situation.

The deluge of blood and murder caused moral anxiety and was a matter of ethical dilemma amongst common folks. The pressure valve for this was popular fiction. Identifying murderers became a form of proxy, vicarious entertainment for ordinary folks. Enter the super detectives, who pick out the murderer from a room full of ordinary people. Enter detectives like Auguste Dupin, of ‘The Purloined Letter‘ fame, who “investigates an apparently motiveless and unsolvable double murder in the Rue Morgue.”

The Controversial Tintin In CongoMurder in Popular Image

A trend started by Edgar Allan Poe, whose first detective novel, Murders In Rue Morgue (1841) soon became an avalanche. Writers like Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple solving murders happening by the second), Georges Simenon (and his Inspector Maigret investigating brutal crimes), Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn), GK Chesterton (Father Brown), Raymond Chandler (Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe) dealt with murder. Alfred Hitchcock made horror thrillers in similar themes.

Agatha Christie’s book filmed as Ten Little Indians, based on the book, initially released (the book) in Britain as Ten Little Niggers (later renamed as Then There None) gives the game away. Agatha Christie probably pre-saged the White desire to ensure that there should be none of the Native Americans left to tell the tale. The overt racism in Herge’s ‘Tintin in Congo’ made the world sit-up and note the pervasiveness of racism in detective fiction.

Jerome Delamater, Ruth Prigozy, in an essay compilation, ‘Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction’, observe that Jane Marple, along with Hercule “Poirot becomes an equal opportunity detective who really believes that anyone might commit murder”. Dismissing the jaundiced view of human nature,” the writers of this book, while commenting about the detective fiction genre, do not mention slavery at all – and mention colonialism and racism once each.The History Of Mystery

The Mystery of the Dying Detective

After de-colonisation, as mass murder went underground, the detective-murder mystery books genre faded. This category was replaced by a new theme – the axis of corporation-government international conspiracies.

Conspiracy Theory – Full Steam Ahead

The new category of popular fiction are represented by Ian Fleming, Arthur Hailey, Frederick Forsyth, Irving Wallace, Robert Ludlum, Graham Greene, John Le Carre, et al. More and more contrived, each conspiracy theory writer has been ‘inspired’ by real life incidents.

While Ludlum’s international-conspiracy-plot-CIA-FBI-KGB series have worn thin, the spookiness of Le Carre’s Absolute Friends and Constant Gardner still work as novels representing the West.

Western Twins – Anxiety and Paranoia

To develop this understanding further, there are two classes of films that I wish to draw attention to.

Malignant Nature

Jaws (the shark that eats humans), Jurassic Park (mad scientists, conspiring technicians let loose man eating dinos) Gremlins and Poltergiest (things that go bump in the night). This paranoid fear of nature (and natural laws) seems to be a result of the subterranean knowledge of the way in which ecological damage and pollution is happening. These films produced /directed by Steven Spielberg (who is incomparable because as Time Magazine says, “No one else has put together a more popular body of work”)

Illegal AliensVindictive Humans

The other is the thinly disguised hate and prejudice films against the poor and the victimised. ‘Aliens’ needs just one small change for the films idea to become clear. Instead of LV-426, Nostromo the space ship, receives a distress call from some country in South America or Africa (or India, if you prefer). The meaning is clear when you see the movie while conscious of the fact that alien is is the word the US Government uses for people from other countries.

What Does This Mean

A US commentator Robert Putnam says that

“… We don’t trust each other as much as we used to. Trust in other people has fallen from 58 percent in 1960 to 35 percent in the mid-1990s. Our less trusting atmosphere has led us to recoil from civic life and social ties. We belong to fewer voluntary organizations, vote less often, volunteer less, and give a smaller share of our gross national product to charity (Putnam, 1995a, 1995b; Knack, 1992; 1986; Uslaner, 1993, 96-97). People who trust others are more likely to participate in almost all of these activities, so the decline in trust is strongly linked to the fall in civic engagement (Putnam, 1995a; Brehm and Rahn, 1997; Uslaner, 1997) …The Purloined Letter Drawing

Elephants in the room

Most critics and commentators write about the phenomenon of detective fiction devoid of context – and the detective fiction as entertainment only.

One writer, Franco Moretti did half the job in book Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms By Franco Moretti. He writes,

“The perfect crime – the nightmare of detective fiction – is the feature-less, deindividualized crime that anyone could have committed because at this point everyone is the same.” He further writes,“Yet, if we turn to Agatha Christie, the situation is reversed.Her hundred-odd books have only one message: the criminal can be anyone …”

Detective FictionIn his entire book he does not use the words like slavery, racism, genocide, bigotry even once. The 19th century, which was based on Western bigotry, White racism, Black slavery, and assorted genocides is unrecognised in Moretti’s books.

Running or hiding? Or it a case of feeling squeamish? Perhaps, a case of queasy stomach, Franco?

Another book, The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction, by Ray Broadus Browne, Lawrence A. Kreiser does a better job. This book examines, the detective fiction genre, with some references to slavery and child prostitution.

How was this explained away

As the monsters increased, both in real life and literature, rationalizations were required. A person no less than Immanuel Kant, was pressed into service to deconstruct the ‘monster’, re-invent it and give it a positive spin.

The monster taken up by Kant in an aesthetic sense to refer to those things that exceed representation considers that the monstrous describes an entity whose life force is greater than the matter in which in which it is contained. Thus rather than something that malfunctions during the course of its production, monstrosity is associated during romanticism with “over-exuberant living matter” that extends itself beyond its natural borders in order to affect a much wider sphere. ((from The subject in question By C. Christopher Soufas).

Detective Fiction

In the twentieth century, Kant’s hypothesis finds an echo when Lord Randolph William Churchill, the ‘Bulldog’ declared

“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race has come in and taken their place. (from Minorities, peoples, and self-determination By Nazila Ghanea-Hercock, Nazila Ghanea, Alexandra Xanthaki, Patrick Thornberry)

In another instance, Churchill wrote how ’superior’ Arabs, imposed on the ‘inferior’ negroes.

The stronger race imposed its customs and language on the negroes. The vigour of their blood sensibly altered the facial appearance … (from The River War By Winston Churchill).

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: