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India is no new-discovered land. At a time when our little island was still unknown, still lost in the cold grey mists of the ocean, ships sailed from India’s sunny shores, and caravans wound through the sandy deserts laden with silks and muslins, with gold and jewels and spices. For through long ages India has been a place of trade. The splendors of King Solomon came from out the East. He must have traded with India when he built great ships and sent “his shipmen that had knowledge of the sea” to sail to the far land of Ophir, which perhaps may have been in Africa or equally perhaps the island of Ceylon. From there these ship-men fetched such “great plenty” of gold and precious stones, that “silver was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.” The court, too, of many an ancient heathen king and queen was made rich and beautiful by the treasures of the East. Yet little was known of the land of gold and spice, of gems and peacocks. For beside the merchants, who grew rich with their trafficking, few journeyed to India. But at length, in 327 B.C., the great Greek conqueror Alexander found his way there. Having subdued Syria, Egypt, and Persia, he next marched to invade the unknown land of gold. In the fourth century B.C. the Greeks and the Iranians fought for the supremacy of the world. Under the leadership of Alexander of Macedonia the Greeks finally destroyed the Iranian empire. Alexander conquered not only Asia Minor and Iraq but also Iran. From Iran he marched to India, obviously attracted by its great wealth. Herodotus, who is called father of history, and other Greek writers, had painted India as a fabulous land, which tempted Alexander to invade this country. Alexander also possessed a strong passion for geographical inquiry and natural history. He had heard that on the eastern side of India was the continuation of the Caspian Sea. He was also inspired by the mythical exploits of past conquerors, whom he wanted to emulate and surpass.
The political condition of north-west India suited his plans. The area was parceled out into many independent monarchies and tribal republics which were strongly wedded to the soil and had a fierce love of the principality over which they ruled. Alexander found it easy to conquer these principalities one by one. Among the rulers of these territories, two were well known Ambhi, the prince of Taxila, and Porus whose kingdom lay between the Jhelum and the Chenab. Together they might have effectively resisted the advance of Alexander. But they could not put up a joint front; the Khyber Pass remained unguarded.
After the conquest of Iran Alexander moved on to Kabul, from where he marched to India through the Khyber pass and reached the Indus. Ambhi, the ruler of Taxila, readily submitted to the invader, augmented his army and replenished his treasure. When he reached the Jhelum, Alexander met from Porus the first and the strongest resistance. Although Alexander defeated Porus he was impressed by the bravery and courage of the Indian prince. So he restored his kingdom to him and made him his ally. Then he advanced as far as the Beas river. He wanted to move still further eastward but his army refused to accompany him. The Greek soldiers had grown war weary and disease stricken. The hot climate of India and ten years of continuous campaigning had made them terribly home-sick. They had also experienced a taste of Indian fighting qualities on the banks of the Indus, which made them desist from further progress.
In the art of war the Indians were far superior to the other nations inhabiting the area at that time. Especially the Greek soldiers were told of a formidable power on the Ganga. Obviously it was the kingdom of Magadha ruled by the Nandas who maintained an army far outnumbering that of Alexander. So, despite the repeated appeals of Alexander to advance, the Greek soldiers did not budge an inch. The king who had never known defeat at the hands of his enemies had to accept defeat from his own men. He was forced to retreat, and his dream of an eastern empire remained unfulfilled. On his return march Alexander vanquished many small republics till he reached the end of the Indian frontier. He remained in India for 19 months (326-325 B.C.), which were full of fighting. He had barely any time to organize his conquests. Still he made some arrangements. Most conquered states were restored to their rulers who submitted to his authority. But his own territorial possessions were divided into three parts, which were placed under three Greek governors. He also founded a number of cities to Alexander’s invasion provided the first occasion when ancient Europe came into close contact with ancient India. It produced certain important results. The Indian campaign of Alexander was a triumphant success. He added to his empire an Indian province which was much larger than that conquered by Iran, though the Greek possessions in India were soon lost lo the then Maurya rulers.
The most important outcome of this invasion was the establishment of direct contact between India and Greece in different fields. Alexander’s campaign opened up four distinct routes by land and sea. It paved the way for Greek merchants and craftsmen, and increased the existing facilities for trade. Although some Greeks living on the north-west India even before the invasion of Alexander, the invasion led to the establishment of more Greek settlements in these areas. The most important of them were the city of Alexandria in the Kabul region, Boukephala on the Jhelum, and Alexandria in Sindh. Although the areas were conquered by the Mauryas the settlements were not wiped out, and some of the Greeks continued to live in this area, under both Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka. Alexander was deeply interested in the geography of the mysterious ocean which he saw for the first time at the mouth of the Indus. Therefore he dispatched his new fleet under his friend Nearchus to explore the coast and search for harbours from the mouth of the Indus to that of the Euphrates. So Alexander’s historians have left valuable geographical accounts. They also have left clearly dated records of Alexander’s campaign, which enable us to build Indian chronology for subsequent events on a definite basis. Alexander’s historians also recorded important information about social and economic conditions in India. They gave the records about the sati system, the sale of girls in market places by poor parents, and the fine breed of oxen in north-west India. Alexander sent from there 200,000 oxen to Macedonia for use in Greece. The art of carpentry was the most flourishing craft in India, and carpenters built chariots, boats and ships.
By destroying the power of petty states in north-west India Alexander’s invasion paved the way for the expansion of the Maurya empire in that area. According to tradition Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Maurya empire, had seen something of the working of the military machine of Alexander and had acquired some knowledge which helped him in destroying the power of the Nandas. It was only the north of India through which Alexander had marched. He had not really conquered the people, although he left Greek garrisons and Greek rulers behind him, and when he died the people quickly revolted against the rule of Macedonia. So all trace of Alexander and his conquests soon disappeared from India. His altars have vanished and the names of the cities which he founded have been changed. But for long ages the deeds of the great “Secunder,” as they called him, lived in the memory of the Indians and it is since the time of Alexander that the people of the West have known something of the wonderful land in the East with which they had traded through many centuries.