2ndlook

Military idiom in the Indus-Saraswati region

Posted in History, India, Media, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on February 25, 2010
Krishna-Balaram kill Kuvalayapida

Krishna-Balaram kill Kuvalayapida

Non-violent Indus Valley

The ‘official’ and ‘accepted’ version of Indian history, that is ‘taught’ starts with Alexander’s invasion. The dates of the Mauryan dynasts, Buddha’s birth have been arbitrarily decided to meet Western dating guidelines – especially the Bible.

By the time Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) was officially announced, (interestingly, to coincide, with Boghazkoi decipherment), colonial history was set – and IVC at that time, was force-fitted into these datelines and ‘structures’. One ‘victim’ of this ‘blindness’ is the military paradigm of the IVC.

The public face of modern research on the Pakistani sites are three American researchers, Steven Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel, (FSW). In the background are RH Meadow and JM Keyoner.

Sitting ducks

“Three portions of the ancient city were surrounded by perimeter walls that served – what function?” asked Meadow, recently, while delivering “a standing-room-only talk at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology”, basking in the glory of Harappa excavations. Writes another specialist on Indus-Saraswati sites,

to the bafflement of scholars, they appear never to have developed any sort of standing army; neither has any evidence been found of militarism, battle damage, or even defensive fortifications in the Harappan domains. Instead, Kenoyer and others believe, the elite seems to have kept order by controlling and promoting trade, commerce and religion.(from Traders of the Plain, Written by Graham Chandler).

The most unnerving aspect, especially for believers in the Desert Bloc, is the complete lack of ‘usual’ markers. No emperors, no victory stele, no palaces, no prisons, very few weapons, no central authority – yet standard, weights, similar script’ signs, parallel evolution of city design and planning. As one writer proclaims, “An entirely peaceful state seems anomalous in the history of world civilization.” This makes the Indus-Saraswati model worthy of deeper study – and not an excuse to go into a catatonic state of denial.

Covering up this nervousness, and out of their depth, all these historians, seemingly want to make out that the Indus-Saraswati peoples were sitting ducks – waiting for ‘Aryans invaders’ to come and massacre them. Unfortunately, for the FSW (and their followers) the imagery of sitting ducks and Aryan invaders is fanciful imagery, based on zero evidence – as we will see.

Quiet neighbourhood!?

India then, like now, was not in the quietest of the neighbourhoods.  The carnage and wars in the neighbouring Elamite region, or in the further Hittite, Assyrian kingdoms, the Kassite wars, the Egyptian wars, to enslave peoples, would give you, Bhai Meadow, an indication of the loot-plunder-enslavement threat.

Indus-Saraswati’s good luck, is very similar to the argument used by Western historians to explain away why Genghis Khan’s armies bypassed India completely. Usually, and realistically, Bhai Meadow, a culture of the scale of Indus-Saraswati basin, does not depend on neighbours’ good-will or good luck for continued success, survival or existence.

Not for 2000 years.

Weapons, arms and armaments

The popular impression given by these ‘historians’ is that there were no weapons found in Indus-Saraswati sites. Archaeologists at Indus-Saraswati sites excavations found

Metal objects such as spearheads, daggers, arrowheads, and axes, were potentially weapons, though Wheeler noted that “a majority may have been used equally by the soldier, the huntsman, the craftsman, or even the ordinary householder”

Marshall writes of “Weapons of war or of chase comprised axes, spears, daggers, bows and arrows, maces, slings, and possibly-though not probably-catapults.” Interestingly, the Vedas refer “to ‘pur charishnu’ or a moving fort which was probably an engine for assaulting strongholds …” which may explain the lack of need for much armaments.

In 1880’s an European writer described how,

“Admirable bows of buffalo horn-small but throwing far, and strong-are still made in the Indus Valley about Multan. For this use the horns are cut, scraped, thinned to increase elasticity; joined at the bases by wooden splints, pegs, or nails, and made to adhere by glue and sinews.” (from The Book of the Sword, By Sir Richard F Burton).

And we know that the buffalo is represented in many of the Indus-Saraswati seals. Is that not right Witzel-bhai?

The volunteer army is the other answer. Large scale alliances, in warfare is the reason. Why is the absence of an extractive state to support an oppressive army, bothering all these historians so much? So, what do Western historians expect? A military-industrial complex? A conscript-slave army? We will see later, in the series, since there was a peaceful migration out of Indus-Saraswati basins, residents carried away all their useful belongings. Leaving behind little for the FSW!

A case of severe cynicismitis? Or is there is a problem because there are no nearby Greeks for 2000 kilometers for the next 2000 years?

Civil fortifications

Let us first look at some other low hanging fruits.

At different sites, fortified walls were an important aspect of various Indus-Saraswati sites. In some places, the city

“was surrounded by a very substantial fortification, as thick as 11 meters at its base (page 68)… (in one case) “a large residential area called the Middle Town was laid out, secured by the second fortification wall. This latter facility was provided with gates, bastions, and drains. (page 69) … Most of the people lived in lower town of Kalibangan. It was surrounded by a fortification wall ranging in thickness from 3.5 to 9 meters … The fortifications protected the town, which was laid out in a gridiron pattern, separating blocks of inhabitants … (page 76) … (At Sutkagen-dor, archaeologists), “unearthed a structure built against the Western fortification wall. This was made of both stone and mud bricks, some of the latter being rather large(50 centimeters long) and made without straw. A trench across the eastern fortification wall demonstrated that the inner face of the wall was vertical. It is estimated that the outer wall at this point would have been about 7.5 meters thick at the base (page 80) … (extracts from The Indus civilization: a contemporary perspective By Gregory L. Possehl, ellipses and underlined text supplied).

Significant measures, in that era, to deter attacking forces. Maybe FSW should study Tharro settlement (c.4000 BC), various Amri cities like Dhillanija Kot, Toji and Mazena-damb in South Baluchistan (of possibly Kulli culture), and at Siah-damb of Jhau. Mughal Ghundai is further evidence of fortifications in Saraswati-Indus belt. At “Kot Diji, some fifteen miles south of Khairpur and 25 miles east of Mohenjo-daro” of pre-Saraswati-Indus cultures.

And usually, Bhai Meadow, fortifications are a defensive feature! The large water storage systems and granaries(?) would have helped the city to weather a siege situation. So, why these numb questions?

Is it the simplicity of the culture or the grandeur of the achievement, which is causing this numbness?

An elephant toy, apparently! (Material: terra cotta Dimensions: 4.8 cm height, 5.4 cm width, 4.6 cm breadth Harappa, Lot 800-01 Harappa Museum, H87-348 ).

A toy elephant, apparently! (Material: terra cotta Dimensions: 4.8 cm height, 5.4 cm width, 4.6 cm breadth Harappa, Lot 800-01 Harappa Museum, H87-348 ).

Elephant seals, bones – and toys

Now, FSW-combine have indulged  in great debates on the mythical ‘Aryan Invader’ horse. Mythical, because there were no Aryan Invaders – and there cannot, therefore be an Aryan horse.

Between the Indian ‘khur’, or the mule, the wild ass and an actual horse. The equine vs asinine debate, about 13 ribs versus 14 ribs, with the false tones of certitude is a non-sequitur.

But, while demanding non-existent evidence, they cannot see the rich lode of markers, to construct credible historiography. For instance, the elephantine evidence.

At the various Saraswati Basin sites, clay seals are the earliest evidence of elephants. Clay elephant toys, copper elephant figures, clay elephants toys are some of the other items found at these sites. Elephant bones have also been found at various Indus-Saraswati sites. And these elephants were not bareback animals, but with a riding blankets on their backs. One seal shows an elephant with a feeding trough.

May I remind you that at one time, these elephants were used to frighten, intimidate people also – as the Kuvalayapida incident, at the time of Kamsa’s death. In the Battle of Mahabharata war elephants were in use. The Kuru capital city was Hastinapur – Elephant fortress.

So, while they demand evidence of the mythical Aryan Invaders’ horse in the Indus- Saraswati haystack, they cannot see evidence of elephantine proportions.

Elephants in later day history

The elephant story continued in post Indus-Saraswati Basin history also.

Semiramis (most probably, the Assyrian Queen, Shammu-ramat) and Cyrus paid heavy price when confronted by Indian elephants. Seleucos Nicator, ceded a large part of his kingdom – in exchange for some 500 elephants, which played a vital role in the Diadochi wars, at the Battle of Ipsus. Hannibal reached the gates of Rome, with his 37 elephants. Roman armies were beaten back by Persian armies, supported by Indian elephant units.

India till the nearly 1000 AD, were the only significant culture to capture, train, and utilize elephants. So, much so, there is an Indian medical treatise on the care and cure of elephants, Hastyayurveda. Or the Matanga-lila, a book on elephant lore and legends. Till about 1600 AD, Indian elephants corps were the envy of the world – and elephant training skills were not independently replicated anywhere else in the world. Did these skills come about as a result of some ‘spontaneous’ frisson of invention?

Or, do you, Mr.Meadow, think that Hastinapur, was named because the city-founders loved elephants, for the sake of elephants? A case of elephas gratia elephantis, you think? Elephants for elephants’ sake? Were these elephants seals proof of military use of elephants? In 2000 BC, were armoured elephants required? Says an old hand at Indus Saraswati sites

“There’s no evidence for armies or war or anything like that,” says archaeologist Jim Shaffer of Case Western Reserve University.

Surprised, Mr.Shaffer? I am not!

After all, wouldn’t the sight of trumpeting and rampaging elephants be enough to deter invaders?

Swing low, sweet chariot

Why would Indus-Saraswati valley people need chariots? To do wheelies? Or for use in Hollywood for Benhur prequel? Or because the Egyptians had them? Or should the Indus-Saraswati people have used horse-drawn chariots, to impress the firm of M/s Farmer, Sproat and Witzel? Talking of vehicles and motive power, “In the Atharvaveda we find that camels drew cars, mules were used … for drawing wagons and carrying loads … to be drawn by a single horse was considered no distinction at all.”Ravana fights Jatayu ... and his mules seem shaken

The reason why we see no ass-drawn or mule drawn chariot images, is because the same had negative associations. Trijata, the sympathetic demoness in Lanka, lifts Sita’s spirits by narrating her dream of Ravana being dragged down to narak, in ass-drawn chariot, by a devi, most probably a personification of Nirrti.

Not to forget the use of khara (khur in modern Hindi), used by Dhumraksha, the asur general, (meaning grey eyed) in Ravana’s army. His chariot drawn by khurs, was smashed by Hanuman, with a huge rock. Ravana’s chariot, in which he was carrying away Sita, was drawn by mules.

But, if it was rational uses like transport of soldiers, weapons, armour, food, camping equipment, bullock carts were good enough. The common Indian zebu bull was a prized possession, with enormous pulling power, can survive on anything, high resistance to diseases, long life – and can be easily trained. From carts to chariots would be, but a small step, with the arrival of horses – whether home-bred in the Asvakan (modern Afghanistan) region – or brought by India-Scythians, from Central Asian steppes. I wonder how many ribs the Marwari breed of horses have?

Remember, Alexander sent back some Indian zebu cattle to improve cattle breeds back home. 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.

A more modern example of this paradigm comes from Jan Hus. The Taborite faction, using ordinary wagons, modified with armour, routed the combined Christian armies of the Vatican, Germany and their European allies, in many battles, during the Hussite Wars. It were these lowly wagons, which put and end to Church tyranny. The only people living in Tabors (meaning mobile camps) at that time (and now) in Bohemia, were the Roma Gypsies, migrants from India to Europe. We will see later in the series, how the Roma Gypises were an important part of the Indus-Saraswati trade equation.

Interestingly, the Vedas refer “to ‘pur charishnu’ or a moving fort which was probably an engine for assaulting strongholds …”

Pashupati seal from one the Indus-Saraswati sites - another name for Shiva

Pashupati - another name for Shiva, in "yogi" pose with animals (seal from one the Indus-Saraswati sites - National Museum, New Delhi)0

Indus-Saraswati worship

Would worshipers of Thor, Mars and Apollo become non-violent protesters in the face of a military threat? Similarly, why do you think that worshipers of Shiva would be passive by-standers. Would they just lay down and die if looter-invaders and slave-raiders came calling?

A matter of co-incidence is how “bone dice have been unearthed at the ancient site of Mohenjo-Daro, ‘the city of the dead’, in the  Indus Valley.” In Mahabharata, Shakuni’s brothers were imprisoned and starved to death by Duryodhana.

Shakuni’s motive! Avenge the death of his brothers. Shakuni’s revenge? Bring about the downfall of Duryodhana! Gameplan? Foster conflict between Pandavas and Duryodhana. The tools – Shakuni’s dice were made from the bones of his brothers. And the dice obeyed his commands.

Unarmed combat

The other thing you must remember is that Balarama, the elder brother of Ghanshyam Krishna can be co-credited as pioneer of Indian wrestling and unarmed combat – and the plough. Bhima’s (the 2nd of the Pandava brothers) was known for his strength – and skills with unarmed combat. As was his primary adversary, Duryodhana. Bhima’s duel with Jarasandha, was again based on skills rather than brute force.

the established modes of wrestling amongst Hindu athletæ. 1. Sannipáta is described ‘mutual laying hold of.’ 2. Avadúta, ‘letting go of the adversary.’ g. Kshepańa, ‘pulling to, and casting back.’ 4. Musht́inipáta, ‘striking with fists.’ 5. Kílanipáta, ‘striking with the elbow.’ 6. Vajranipáta, ‘striking with the fore-arm.’ 7. Jánunirgháta, ‘pressing or striking with the knees.’ 8. Báhuvighat́t́ana, ‘interlacing the arms.’ 9. Pádoddhúta, kicking.’ 10. Prasrisht́á, ‘intertwining of the whole body.’ In some copies another term occurs, Aśmanirgháta, ‘striking with stones,’ or ‘striking blows as hard as with stones;’ for stones could scarcely be used in a contest specified as ‘one without weapons’ (from the Vishnupurana).

The transmission of unarmed combat systems to China, Japan, and the rest of South East Asia thereafter is well documented. On the other hand, the wrestling match between Sugreeva and Bali was based on brute force, as were Hanuman’s  duels.

Krishna and Balarama Fight Kamsa's Wrestlers: Page from a Dispersed Bhagavata Purana (Ancient Stories of Lord Vishnu) India (Madhya Pradesh, Malwa), ca. 1650 Ink and opaque watercolor on paper; 6 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (16.8 x 19.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin N. Haas, 1973 (1973.337)

Krishna and Balarama fight Kamsa's wrestlers: Page from a Dispersed Bhagavata Purana (Ancient Stories of Lord Vishnu) India (Madhya Pradesh, Malwa), ca. 1650 Ink and opaque watercolor on paper; 6 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (16.8 x 19.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin N. Haas, 1973 (1973.337)

Drupad’s city

The Kampilya project shows, the Drupad city was about 2000 years after the Saraswati Basin sites. This site, being handled by ASI and two Italians archaeologists, Gian Giuseppe Filippi, Bruno Marcolongo shows significant continuity with the Dholavira site.

As for Kampilya, maybe Shri Meadow, you do know that Draupadi was born in Drupad. Draupadi’s brother, Dhrishtadyumna, was the general of the Pandava army, in the battle of Mahabharata.

So, instead of basking in the reflected glory, is it not time that you (Farmer and Meadow) got off your … whatever it is … and start doing something useful! Instead of asking such inane questions.

Coming to horse

The FSW school has stampeded Indian historians into a construct that horses and chariots (e.g. Rajaram and Jha) are essential to prove a continuity between ‘Vedic’ Indian and Indus-Saraswati culture. Between post-IVC and pre-Mauryan India. The hub of the FSW logic is the ‘Vedic’ horses.

On the importance of the horse, to ‘Vedic’ aryans, I have wondered why, none of the Vishnu dashavataras (except one) use horse as their ‘vahana’. Looking at the wide variety of  vahanas– animals used by the gods as their ‘vehicle’, is illustrative. Indra is airavata, (even though he owns the  the horse, Uchaishravas), Vishnu is garuda, Skanda is peacock, Durga’s lion, Saraswati rides a swan, Shiva the Nandi bull, Yama on the buffalo, Varuna on a makara, Vayu on a mriga (deer /antelope) or sometimes on a chariot pulled by  a thousand horses, Ganesh on a mouse, Lakshmi on gaja or uluka, Shani on a crow, Manmatha on a suka (parrot), et al. No god (except one) uses the horse as a vahana.

Consider that Indra and Lakshmi both use the airavata. Vishnu saves Indrayumna /Gajendra, as a gaja from the crocodile’s jaws. The eight guardian dieties, who protect the eight directions on the compass sit on an elephant – Kubera (north), Yama (south), Indra (east), Varuna (west), Isana (northeast), Agni (southeast), Vayu (northwest), and Nirrti (southwest).

Western ‘scholar’s’ of Indian texts and literature and historians keep on about the horse, while the horse does not have the centrality that they claim it does! The use of saddled horse in Indian texts is also a major element that goes against the ‘centrality of the horse’. The Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata do not use the saddled horse as a means of transport – which only reinforces that the saddled horse gained popular much later – maybe even a latter day ‘invention’. Unquantified Witzellian claims of Indian Sanskrit texts “teeming with horses as the Rigveda indeed is” are grossly misdirected, if not deliberately exaggerated.

Remember Witzelbhai, the Indian invention of the toe-stirrup, a first in the world, happened probably around 500 BC-300 BC, at the latest by 200BC.  The Indian invention of the toe-stirrup, made horses easy to ride and manage. And made the Parthian cavalry into a fearsome fighting force. In 200BC. Well after the vedas were written.

So, much for the horse being central to ‘Vedic’ India.

Deconstructing Indian dates

All these theories rest on the axle of philological dating. Based on imprecise evidence, tools and estimates, of when various texts were ‘composed’ and ‘reduced’ to writing, and ‘frozen for ever’, which are based on stylistic changes in Sanskrit language. Looking at construction of Sanskrit language and texts, the logic of oral ‘composition’, ‘reduction’ to writing, ‘frozen for ever’ is a wrong model – and creates these false debates and dating models.

Sanskritic compositions were based on team effort, (picture Sage Durvasa travelling with his 1000’s of disciples), a vast body of argument and debate  (Kahoda-Vandin-Ashtavakra debate) over many hundreds – if not thousands, of years. Vishwamitra, Vyasa, Vashishtha, Narada were the most well known of the wandering monks of many Indian texts and scriptures. Appearing and disappearing at various points of time and events.

They could not have been the same person, because they appear at the beginning of Rahgukul (Vishwamitra at the Trishanku incident) and at the end of Raghukul (the marriage of Sita and Ram) – spanning more than 30 generations of kings. Was Vashisht, Vishwamitra and Vyasa, a titular  system, decided by a collegium of peer rishis. The ascension of Vishwamitra from a rishi-to-rajrishi-to-brahmarishi supports this.

FSW deny the theory of evolution

The HARP and FSW combine cannot accept that Indians evolved. Presumably, the evolution of horse usage in Indian geography went through simple four phases – wild-tame-rare-common phases. Why are horses essential to any history? Why do M/s Farmer, Sproat, Witzel assume that the Rig Veda was not ‘updated’.

Why this assumption that there were copyright laws? Where is a law which states that Indians cannot exist without horses – or write about these horses. In fact, in the entire Ramayana, the occurrence of chariots is rare and far in between. Raghu Ramachandra did not fight Ravana while mounted on chariots. Apparently, chariots were not a common occurrence when Ramayana was being written.

Interestingly, Ravana had chariots – as did Dashratha, while fighting Shambara /Samhasura. Sumantara, the minister was asked to prepare a chariot, by Dashratha, for Raghu Ram’s exile – which was sent sent back from the edge of the forest. Presumably because it was rare, considered a luxury and it was valuable. While the rest of the time Raghu Rama walked. While fighting asuras under Vishwamitra, or during his exile or during the campaign against Ravana. So, this basis that chariots were the beginning and the end of Indic texts is simply misplaced.

But in the Mahabaharata, the picture is completely different. We have Nala (of Damayanti fame), who was an expert charioteer. His exchange of ‘charioteering secrets’ for ‘secrets of the dice’ from King Rituparna is interesting – as it displays an understanding of permutations and combinations, and even maybe fractals. Adhiratha, a poor charioteer, was Karna’s foster father. During the 18-day Mahabharata war, chariots had a central place.

The evolution of chariots and horses in Indian society was gradual and slow – and not an ab initio aspect as claimed by ‘Aryan invader’ theoristas.

The face of Indus Valley’ research

Current research on Mohenjo-daro and Harappa  sites in Pakistan is controlled by a joint American-Pakistani project – Harappa Archaeological Research Project – HARP. Three American researchers, Steven Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel, (referred to as FSW) are the public face of this research. In the background are RH Meadow and JM Keyoner.

Any attempts to disagree with the HARP theories or introduction of  any Indic element is met with fierce personal attacks, withering criticism – marshaling, all the resources of the American establishment. At various stages, these three researchers (FSW) have raised the pitch of the debate to a point of shrillness which is puzzling.

So, M/s Farmer, Sproat and Wtzel, your relevance (FSW’s) is directly related to the attention that Indians give you.

Remember that Indian history is your meal ticket.

Elephants - 5000 years of Indian history

Elephants – 5000 years of Indian history (Prize winning photo of elephant from Chamarajendra Zoological Garden in Mysore, by NAGESH PANATHALE, Mysore bureau, Vijaya Karnataka at national photography salon 2008 -Photographic Society of Madras).

Kubera (north), Yama (south), Indra (east), Varuna (west), Isana (northeast), Agni (southeast), Vayu (northwest), and Nirrti/raksasa (southwest).

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.

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.

Reaction

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

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.

Hannibal’s Elephants

Posted in Desert Bloc, European History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on August 7, 2008

War elephants were a uniquely Indian innovation – or skill, if you like. So, how did Hannibal get elephants into his Carthaginian armies that invaded – and came within spitting distance of Rome.

Hannibal's Elephants

Hannibal's Elephants

Hannibal’s Campaign Against Rome

In 218 BC, Hannibal from Carthage (near modern Tunis) crossed over the Alps and attacked Rome. The Roman army was surprised. They did not expect any enemy to cross  frozen Alpine ranges and attack them.

And after the surprise, came the terror. Hannibal brought in elephants with his army. Terrorized Romans had no experience against elephants – and no answer either. And how many elephants did Hannibal have?

Hannibal started with 37 elephants. By the time he crossed the Alps, twenty were left. By the time he reached the outskirts of Rome, he was left with just one – Surus.

But, Rome never overcame the surprise of Hannibal’s attack or the terror of elephants. Over the next few years, Hannibal defeated the Roman army in a number of battles. Hannibal’s allies were the Numidians and other African rulers. For the last 2000 years, Western historians have written reams on Hannibal’s campaign – and his elephants.

Recently, (from 1994-2006) a Stanford University team worked on tracing Hannibal’s Alpine Route. During the 12 years, they asked all the questions.

Except the really important ones.

Epirus Elephant Dish

Epirus Elephant Dish

Where Did Hannibal Get The Elephant Idea From

Plutarch narrates that Hannibal had a high opinion of Pyrrhus – and it is speculated that he may have read Pyrrhus’ manual on generalship.

Pyrrhus (of Epirus and Macedon), Alexander’s cousin, used 20 elephants c.280 BC against the Romans. And won a ‘Pyrrhic’ victory.

Another case of terror inspired by elephants. Pausanias, lets the cat out of the bag. He says:

“… being perfectly aware that he (Pyrrhus) was no match for the Romans, he prepared to let loose against them his elephants. The first European to acquire elephants was Alexander, after subduing Porus and the power of the Indians; after his death others of the kings got them but Antigonus more than any; Pyrrhus captured his beasts in the battle with Demetrius. When on this occasion they came in sight the Romans were seized with panic, and did not believe they were animals. [1.12.4] For although the use of ivory in arts and crafts all men obviously have known from of old, the actual beasts, before the Macedonians crossed into Asia, nobody had seen at all except the Indians themselves, the Libyans, and their neighbours.”

Elephant stories – from The Rest Of The World

The interesting story of Ptolemy’s elephants comes from another Greek ‘historian’ Polybius in Raphia (book V)

few only of Ptolemy’s elephants ventured to close with those of the enemy, and now the men in the towers on the back of these beasts made a gallant fight of it, striking with their pikes at close quarters and wounding each other, while the elephants themselves fought still better, putting forth their whole strength and meeting forehead to forehead. The way in which these animals fight is as follows. With their tusks firmly interlocked they shove with all their might, each trying to force the other to give ground, until the one who proves strongest pushes aside the other’s trunk, and then, when he has once made him turn and has him in the flank, he gores him with his tusks as a bull does with his horns. Most of Ptolemy’s elephants, however, declined the combat, as is the habit of African elephants; for unable to stand the smell and the trumpeting of the Indian elephants, and terrified, I suppose, also by their great size and strength, they at once turn tail and take to flight before they get near them.

Two things we know – which Polybius did not.

One – the African elephant is larger than the Indian elephant – not smaller.

Two – African elephants have never been tamed in large enough numbers to be used in wars. In the rare instances, where African elephants have been trained, it has seen the involvement of Indians – both Indian trainers and Indian elephants. But, we are getting ahead of the story.

More on that later …

Indian elephants in battle history

In the battle against the Massagetae, 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 for a long time (considered evil by Zoroastrians). Possibly, the outcome against Alexander would have been different, had they used more elephants at Gaugamela – instead of 12-15.

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. After Alexander’s death, in the ensuing Diadochi wars, at the decisive battle of Ipsus, the Indian elephant unit won back a larger territory for Seleucus than what he had ceded to Chandragupta for obtaining them. It was the Indian elephant unit, that was “largely responsible for the victory which netted him (Seleucos) the province of Asia”.

At 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, during the Diadochi wars.

At the decisive battle of Ipsus – where it was the Indian elephants that gave Seleucus a victory.

Battlefield value of elephants

If the Roman armies could be frightened by twenty of Pyrrhus’ elephants, or Hannibal’s thirty-seven, these war elephants did have significant military value.

Again, if Roman armies could be frightened by 20 elephants of Pyrrhus, or Hannibal’s 37, what happened to Alexander 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 elephants is the estimate by Greek hagiography.

So, if elephants were so valuable, why did elephant training not take root in other countries? Why were elephant trainers not encouraged? Where did the elephant trainers of Pyrrhus and Hannibal disappear after 100 BC?

Seleucus did set up a centre for elephant training at Apamea, a city named after his Bactrian wife, Apama, manned by Indians. And actually, having learnt their lessons, the Romans, in 163 BC, sent a contingent into Laodicea, Syria, to neutralize this elephant unit and destroy Seleucid navy.

Again there are inconsistent reports about the search for war elephants by the  Greek Ptolemy rulers of Egypt. Ptolemy-I banned the killing of elephants. Ptolemy-II Philadelphus, then supposedly recruited 300 African elephants from modern day Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia – which were delivered to him by the Kushites (Ethiopians).

Supposedly, the Kushites had tamed elephants – though not for war purposes. Apart from the few Kushite elephant riders, Ptolemy II sent special envoys to India to recruit elephant riders. These ill trained elephants and their riders were singularly unsuccessful against the Indian elephants (in the Seleucid army) at Raphia (Polybius in Raphia (book V).

Probably the figure of 300 elephants in Ptolemy’s army was inflated for disinformation purposes. The Kushites did not (possibly) deliver African (usually, larger) elephants, but switched these with small Asian elephants. These smaller animals were probably rejects, going at a discount, from other professional Indian elephant trainers.

Two things that Ptolemy (possibly) did not know – One, elephants (Indian or African) cannot truly be ‘tamed.’ Two, elephants can only be taught to trust and do ‘favors’ for specific elephant trainers. Individual elephants form a life long link with individual trainers.

Alexander – Hagiography and /or Cultural Dacoity?

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

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).

This is the foundation on which Westerners have based their version of Indian history. 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? This version of history alleges that Alexander conquered India by defeating King Porus. Western historians cannot see the contradiction between a ‘disunited’ India with more than a 100 kings – is suddenly ‘felled’ due to the defeat of one King Porus?

Alexanders shown with elephant headdress

Alexander's shown with elephant headdress

Alexander’s ‘boasts’ about his conquest of India, a super-power then, did get him mileage. Subsequent to his Indian ‘conquest’ Alexander minted elephant coins – which modern Western historians ascribe to his conquest of ‘India’ by winning against Porus.

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 Gaugamela over Darius. Elephant coins were also issued by Ptolemy, to lend legitimacy to his rule, showing Alexander wearing an 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.”

Alexander meets Diogenes | Houghton Library. MS Typ 207. from the French medieval Manuscript - Les diz moraulx des philosophes. f. 6, Diogenes speaking to Alexander. | Original page at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:795200?n=5

Alexander meets Diogenes | Houghton Library. MS Typ 207. from the French medieval Manuscript - Les diz moraulx des philosophes. f. 6, Diogenes speaking to Alexander. | Original page at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:795200?n=5

Tired soldiers? More like frightened …

Indian archaeology, writers and history do not know of any Porus – or Alexander. Why did Alexander’s undefeated troops, after the Indian campaign, suddenly feel homesick?

What possibly frightened Alexander’s army was the ‘information’ that further lay places

“where there were elephants in yet greater abundance and men were superior in stature and courage

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 of their ‘Great Escape’ from India – with their lives?

During the (nearly) half-year long siege of Tyre, Alexander’s ‘tired’ soldiers’ were reinforced by fresh troops reinforcements from Macedonia. Before his India ‘campaign’, Alexander cashiered thousands of his Greek troops, at Ecbatana, 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. 25k-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 gaol 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, 10,000 Persian soldiers joined his army.

Hence, the troops left were either fresh or those who decided to stay with Alexander. 326 BC was the year of the battle with Porus. 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 ‘tired’ soldiers, joined the mutiny at Opis and revolted after they were released by Alexander, to return to Macedonia.

This demonstrates that reason for the revolt in India, was not home-sickness.

Consider

Amongst Alexander’s first actions in India were his attempts to cobble up alliances.

His most famous one was with Ambhi – the ruler of Taxila. 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. 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! Does this look like Ambhi accepted Alexander as the conqueror of the world?

Or Alexander ‘persuading’ Ambhi to seal an alliance?

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).

Alexander had to return the territory of Punjab to Porus – purportedly, after winning the battle. The lean pickings and small loot from India provoked a vicious  response from Alexander“the Macedonians frequently massacred the defenders of the city, especially in India.”

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. Greek writers wax about Alexander’s grief at the death of his horse, Bucephalus during the Indian campaign.

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.

After all, colonialism could only work on the basis of ‘Western’ superiority.

After Alexander

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. Megasthenes was Seleucos’ Greek ambassador at the Indian court. Megasthenes’ account of India (which, allegedly does not exist) was widely quoted by other Greek historians. His account of elephant capture using decoy female elephants was (presumably) known in Greece.

So, where did Hannibal and Pyrrhus get their elephants from?

Elephants obviously cannot be transported over sea – cooped in a cage for weeks or months. This is assuming that strong enough to hold an elephant for 2 weeks to 2 monthscages and holds could have been made – 2000 years ago.

The Only Country That Tamed Elephants

Alexanders Coins Boasting Of His Victory Over Porus

Alexander's Coins Boasting Of His Victory Over Porus

The only country in the world to use elephants, significantly, in peace and war were Indians – for more than nearly 5000 years. Alexander’s turning back at Indian borders was symptomatic of the fear that Indian elephants evoked in the rest of the world.

The use of elephants was significant only to Indians. In most of China, elephants became rare by 300 BC. Although the South Han dynasty maintained a small elephant unit in their army, Chinese were never significant users of elephants in armies.

Elephant capture (khedda), training, manuals and terminology originate in India. Elephant riders (mahavats), elephant chairs (howdahs) and elephants in heat (masth) are all Indian terms. From India, elephant management skills, in a limited manner spread, to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and other parts of South East Asia.

Elephant Training

So, who was riding Hannibal’s elephants?

Did Hannibal and Pyrrhus create an elephant training school, get the right recruits, identify the right species, capture wild elephants, tame these wild elephants and induct these elephants into their armies in a short space of a 3-7 years? For a single campaign?

Unlike horses, elephants can’t be ‘broken’ or ‘tamed.’ They cannot also be trained to trust ‘human beings’ as a species – like horses can be trained. In India, elephants have been managed, by skills garnered and conveyed over centuries, for generations, within a small specialized community. The English word, elephant is derived from Sanskrit word for ivory (ibha+danta = elephant+teeth).

Unlike horses, elephants can be ‘ridden’ only by specific individuals. Each elephant has a specific ‘rider(s)’ – and mahavats are not interchangeable. Elephants trust individual mahavats – and this relationship is nurtured for the life time of an elephant.

Did Hannibal and Pyrrhus, create a team of elephant trainers for just a few years? Where were these elephant trainers themselves trained? Where did these trainers subsequently disappear? Since, elephants were such a valuable military advantage, why did Hannibal’s and Pyrrhus’ elephant managers disappear? Why were these skills not transferred considering the obvious commercial value?

African … Libyan … Syrian … decide

Hannibal’s allies were the Numidians (now known as Libyans) and other African rulers. Facilely, Western historians claim that Hannibal used African elephants. We also know that African elephants (even today) are difficult to train. There is the legless theory, that extinct Mesopotamian-Libyan-Syrian breed of elephants, the Elephas maximus asurus, were used, is based on pure speculation. Resting in air, without any archaeological, written, oral, history evidence,

The so-called ‘Syrian elephant’ has been seen by some as a distinct species of the Asian elephant (i.e. E.maximus assurus). However, this identification rests on dubious rounds, namely tusk shape and representations of the animal, e.g. (in the Theban Tomb of Rekhmira, the vizier of Thutmose III (TT100, see below). Osteological work has been limited, but molars found at Ugarit suggest that the elephant of the western Asia was was identical to the living species (E.maximus). (from Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology By Paul T. Nicholson, Ian Shaw).

These Syrian were possibly Indian elephants, obtained by Syrian kings, Seleucus I and Antiochus III – at a high costs. Did this ‘Syrian’ elephant breed, supposedly became extinct, promptly and conveniently, after winning battles and wars, for Pyrrhus and Hannibal around 100 BC?

Another case of a lazy historian, was

paper by John Mathew of the Department of History of Science, Harvard University, in my lap. His paper, titled ‘Nichola Poussin and the vexatious case of the elephants of Hannibal’, wonders why Hannibal chose several Asian elephants for his campaign, including his own Surus. Mathew’s interest in the subject was kindled on seeing a famous painting, from the 1620s, in Harvard’s Fogg Museum. The painting, titled Hannibal Crossing the Alps, was done by a French artist, Nicolas Poussin, and shows Hannibal on an Asian elephant during that epic march.

The reason, Mr.Matthew, why it is Asian elephants (and specifically Indian elephants),  is that war elephants is not everyone’s game. It was a game that only Indians knew how to play! Maybe you (Mr.Matthew) don’t like the answer, but sometimes there are inconvenient answers. Is it the fear, that this answer, may raise many more questions, which possibly stops you from giving the correct answer?

Indus valley seal

Indus valley seal

The Riddle & The Answers …

Question: Quick! What is common between Western (Eurocentric) history and Swiss cheese?

Answer: Easy! They are both full of full of holes.

The simple answer is, Indians (from the sub-continent) or the Hittite stragglers, from the armies and kingdoms of Indo-Aryan Elamite-Hittite-Mittani rulers. The probable source of the Latin word for elephant , luca bos is also derived from the Hittite word, luhabos, meaning ivory. The modern word elephant, is also possibly derived Indic words, ibha+danta – meaning elephant teeth.

These Indians were in Europe with Hannibal and Pyrrhus. Either fighting these battles (as mercenaries) or as elephant riders or training an (improbable) second line of Greek elephant riders. Polybius does mention that it was the Indoi that were riding these elephants – but modern historians take considerable pain to deny this.

John Hoyte on a Indian elephant, Jumbo, through Mount Cenis Pass

John Hoyte on a Indian elephant, Jumbo, through Mount Cenis Pass

The Stanford University has approved a project to work on tracing Hannibal’s Alpine Route. During the 12 years, they asked all the questions – except the really important ones. Another, John Hoyte, British engineering student decided to trace the Alpine route on an elephant – an Indian elephant, called Jumbo, borrowed from the Turin Zoo. Maybe, these questions would be answered if this trek was done on African elephants – clearer answers!

The only country which has a 5000 year history with elephants is India – from Indus Valley to date. In peace and in war. But, Western historians tie themselves in knots denying the Indian connection.

And that strengthens the ‘intellectual export’ from India to Europe theory rather than the ‘Greek miracle’ story.

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