Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Was Chandragupta inspired by Alexander?

Chandragupta went down into history as King of India, founder of the Maurya Empire and ruled from 322 till 297 BC; he was the first to unify India as we know it today. His Greek name was Sandracottus or Sandrokottos as is reported by Megasthenes, the Greek envoy of Seleucos Nicator, Alexander’s successor in that part of the world.

Yet Chandragupta’s appearance in history started much earlier when as a youngster he spent time at Alexander’s camp either as a fugitive or as an exile. He was born in 340 BC, making him only sixteen years younger than Alexander. How and under what circumstances both men met is told in different ways. Some say that after his victory over Porus, Alexander had been approached by Chandragupta to help him overthrowing the neighboring Nanda Kingdom which extended from the Punjab to the Bay of Bengal and whose capital was Pataliputra (the Greek Palimbothra), modern Patna. Another theory presented by Plutarch is that Chandragupta, being of lower birth on his mother’s side, sneered at the base origin of his King Xandrames of the Nanda Empire whose father was a barber. The pot calls the kettle black! Dad had murdered his king in order to marry the queen with whom he was romantically involved although Curtius claims that the queen killed her husband with her own hands. Well, if his father did indeed murder the king, this led evidently to the exile of Chandragupta. Whatever version is true, Chandragupta ended up spending time at Alexander’s camp. He must have been 14 or 15 years old at the time, which means that he was about the same age as Philip, Alexander’s father, when he was taken to Thebes as a hostage – in other words, the right age to be influenced to accomplish great deeds (and Chandragupta did not need much conviction, it seems!)   

The fact is that the last king of the Nanda Dynasty was Mahapadma Nanda and that the collapse of his empire – just east of Porus’ realm - was imminent. It seems that Alexander was informed of this situation while he was at the Hyphasis River (modern Beas). The prospect of including this important and powerful country to his conquest may have been the true reason for Alexander’s decision to march further east and not his dream to reach the end of the world as is generally assumed. The mutiny of his army changed the course of history. This is, however, where Chandragupta takes over. As soon as Alexander leaves India, Chandragupta manages to unify the northern tribes and to assemble a formidable force and since Alexander had not overthrown the Nanda Dynasty he decided to do it himself.

When Alexander dies in 323 BC, Chandragupta seizes his chance and sets out to throw the Macedonians out and to successfully conquer the Punjab. The Macedonian successors were too busy and too late to realize that they had neglected India in their cutting up of Alexander’s empire at the Partition of Babylon. Besides, Antigonus, as self-proclaimed master of Asia, showed little interest in the eastern part of his empire and left it pretty much to rule itself.

Chandragupta needs no further encouragements to dethrone the Nanda king and he exterminates every member of his family. As a result, he becomes the first king of the Mauryan Empire in 322 BC. He inherits Nanda’s huge army which, increased with his own forces brings it to a total force of 30,000 cavalry, 600,000 infantry, 9,000 elephants, and a multitude of chariots. By now, there is nothing to stop Chandragupta from further expansion, which is favored by the conference of Triparadeisus held by the Diadochi in 321 BC where they once again fail to make clear provisions for the Indian satrapies. By 317 BC, Chandragupta effectively controls all of northern India, reaching from the Khyber Pass to the Ganges delta, and he then concentrates on a further expansion, becoming eventually the absolute ruler of this new empire that reaches from the Himalayas down to the Arabian Sea.

In 309 BC, Seleucos enters a pitched battle with the 70-years-old Antigonus, who is defeated and withdraws to Syria, leaving Seleucos as sole ruler of Bactria, Sogdia, and India. Four years later, Seleucos attempts to re-conquer the territories west of the Indus which Alexander had occupied some twenty years before, but he obviously lacks the time and the resources. The best he could do was to reach a diplomatic agreement with Chandragupta, along the same line as the settlement he had previously reached with the Sogdians. This happens after both parties faced each other in a fierce battle in 304 BC from which Chandragupta emerged victoriously and where Seleucos ceded the provinces of Arachosia, Gandaris, Paropamisadae, as well as parts of Areia and Gedrosia in exchange for 500 war elephants and their handlers; a marriage alliance completed the compromise.

This settlement of 303 BC could well be inspired by Alexander’s earlier agreement with Porus, and since Antiochus the Great renews this very treaty a century later, indicates that is was the most practical solution for all parties involved. It is important to note that the treaty included a guarantee of connubial rights meaning that the rights of those children born from mixed marriages of Greeks with natives were protected – a small detail but an important one.

None of Alexander’s easternmost territories were ever recovered by any of the Diadochi and after Seleucos’ attempt to that end, nobody ever contemplated it again and all Seleucid kings from Seleucos Nicator I to Antiochus III simply accepted India as semi-independent. This may, in fact, be exactly what Alexander had in mind when he left Porus to rule his own territory and more. Besides, we should not forget the role played by the substantial number of Greek colonists who had to live alongside the native population. The growth of Mauryan power did not mean that the Greek settlers were exterminated or expulsed. It was a matter of simple judgment, they either adapted to local conditions and native rules to become independent from Macedonia and part of India, or they saw themselves purged.

At this point, the Hindu Kush Mountains, the Greek Paropanisos, became Chandragupta’s western frontier, an inglorious end to Alexander’s eastern conquest it may seem. Yet all those who ever fought at Alexander’s side had learned his lessons very thoroughly. Seleucos was one of his outstanding pupils and immediately after the conclusion of the treaty, sent an envoy to the court of Chandragupta. This was Megasthenes, who spent many years at Palimbothra, the capital of the Mauryan Empire. We owe him some excellent reports about the geography, products and institutions of India, for he was a unique source of information from that part of the world. His work about Chandragupta’s civil and military administration is considered to be accurate and trustworthy, although only fragments have survived. Strabo interestingly tells us that Megasthenes said we should not believe the old stories about the Indians simply because they never invaded any country outside India and no foreign army ever invaded India till Alexander. Megasthenes must have been a fine diplomat for he not only had to comply with Chandragupta but also with his capable advisor and minister Kautilya (also named Chanakya) who wrote down the very first laws and the constitution of the Maurya Empire which were strictly enforced. This handbook for effectively running an empire, the Arthashastra, contained extensive information about diplomacy and military strategy, but also careful recommendations on taxation, irrigation, coinage, agriculture and mining, manufacturing and trade, and many other useful topics.

It was this Kautilya who was responsible for the administration of Palimbothra which was headed by a Municipal Commission divided into six boards or committees of five members each entrusted with specific duties. The administration of the distant provinces was in turn placed in the hands of viceroys, usually members of the royal family. The matter of land irrigation was extremely important in India and Chandragupta made sure that everyone got his fair share and a special department was created to oversee the land measurements and the sluice regulations. The roads were well maintained and milestones were set up at regular intervals of ten stadia; a royal road is said to connect the northwest frontier with Pataliputra, 10,000 stadia long! The general honesty of the people was high on the list of duty of every citizen and Megasthenes tells us that crimes like theft or giving false evidence were severely punished. Arrian already reported that elephants, horses, and camels were only used by the king, the wealthy and those pertaining to the king’s entourage. All in all, an organization that is very different from that known in the west or even in Persia.

At the summit of his power, Chandragupta had eliminated all his opponents and ruled over an empire larger than what British India ever would be! He owed his power and empire to his enormous army that was organized and equipped in such a way that it became extremely efficient. Not unlike Alexander’s forces, it was a standing army where each man was on a regular payroll and the government provided horses, arms , and other equipment. From his Nanda campaign, Chandragupta acquired 8,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 8,000 chariots and 6,000 elephants. Just imagine what Alexander would have done with such an army force that exceeded his own by far. He definitely could have marched to the end of the earth!

Reality was that the impressive number of troops from the Nanda Dynasty increased Chandragupta’s own troops, totaling his infantry to 600,000, some 30,000 cavalry and a staggering 9,000 elephants beside an unspecified number of chariots. His men were very well equipped and sources tell us that each cavalry carried two lances (saunia) and a small shield (buckler). All infantrymen were equipped with a broadsword and would additionally have javelins or a bow and arrows. Each elephant, beside his mahout, would typically be manned by three archers – implying a force of 36,000 men. Each chariot, as we have seen during Alexander’s fight at the Hydaspes (see: The Battle of the Hydaspes and the genius of Alexander) would accommodate two soldiers next to the driver – requiring 24,000 men. If we add up all these numbers, Chandragupta’s army would have reached at least 690,000 men, and that is without counting its followers in the baggage train.

It is obvious that no battle could or would be fought implying the whole of this huge army, but portions of it must have been distributed all over the many provinces of Chandragupta’s newly conquered empire.

In spite of such a great achievement, or maybe just because of it, Chandragupta decided to spend his final years in religious devotion as a follower of Jainism. In 298 BC, after a reign of 24 years, he left his throne to his son Bindusara. Chandragupta died shortly afterwards as he starved himself to death; his empire, however, would live on for more than a century.

History or legend has it that Chandragupta liked to tell his Greek guests “I watched Alexander when I was still a young man. Alexander had been within an ace of seizing India because its king was so hated and despised, both for his character and his low birth”. Yes, Alexander might have strolled through Palimbothra’s gardens, admiring its fish-ponds which were not far from the silt-brown fields along the Ganges River. Alexander was only three months away from taking all of India but his soldiers refused to follow him, not realizing how much this would have meant to their king and eventually to their own conquests.

[Picture credits and links
Young Chandragupta from
Map of Nanda Empire
Head of Seleucos from Pompeii
Statue of Chandragupta from Wikimedia
Map of Maurya Empire
Place where Chandragupta died]


  1. Chandragupta Maurya- rags to empire story

    I am dazzled Argyraspid. Such a detailed and well researched posting on Chandragupta Maurya, the founder ( along with his political advisor Kautilya/Charakya) of the first and largest ever Indian empire. An exceptional empire builder in the age of great empire builders. He was just a teenager when he established his empire and administered it remarkably well. A person who fascinated enough some Western historians who wrote on him and thankfully so since there is such a dearth of material on him in the Indian chronicles since for the Indians, the empire of the mind being more to be celebrated- it is Kautilya/ Charakya who has the place of honour. You must have looked into and minutely studied the available Western and Indian material to draft this exceptionally detailed article. Chandragupta’s career is phenomenal, oh so romantic and heroic and it is definitely an addendum to the history Alexander’s foray into India.

    Here are some points that I would request elucidations-

    You write - Dad had murdered his king in order to marry the queen with whom he was romantically involved although Curtius claims that the queen killed her husband with her own hands. Well, if his father did indeed murder the king, this led evidently to the exile of Chandragupta.

    Chandragupta’s humble origin is attested by all sources. As we studied his mother and him were left destitute by the death of his father. I do not recall any story of his father being the queen’s lover. This Hamletsque story is according to the Indian tradition related to the father of the last Nanda king. The boy Chandragupta had to work as indentured laborer ( there were no slaves in India then, this was the undermost social position ) It is Kautilya/Charakya who saw him at play with other children. Impressed by his demeanor and intelligence and he brought the boy with him to Taxila where he was a professor at the renowned Taxila study centre. This explains Chandragupta’s encounter with Alexander at Taxila. The then teenager must have been starry- eyed to meet Alexander. Who would not be? The seed of the idea of establishing a great empire by dint of the sword must have been planted in his head then.

    You write- None of Alexander’s easternmost territories were ever recovered by any of the Diadochi and after Seleucos’ attempt to that end, nobody ever contemplated it again and all Seleucid kings from Seleucos Nicator I to Antiochus III simply accepted India as semi-independent.

    I do not understand the ‘semi- independent’ status of India that you speak of. Here was a mighty empire (with a massive professional army) that was bigger than any of the Diadochi’s and had defeated Seleucos. How would it be semi-independent ? Furthermore Alexander’s agreement with Porus is a totally different matter since the Indian side had lost the battle but the Maurya army was victorious and it is Seleucos who bowed down and ceded very big territories in Macedonian Persia. The Mauryas maintained good diplomatic relations with both Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. Greek ambassadors Megasthenes, Deimakos and Dionysius resided at Pataliputra but that does not confer a semi-independent status to an empire.

    And just a small clarification from my side. You write- In spite of such a great achievement, or maybe just because of it, Chandragupta decided to spend his final years in religious devotion as a follower of Jainism

    To leave one’s domains to one’s inheritors and go into spiritual retreat is a well known practice in India, It was ( and sometimes still is done at around the age of 60. But in Chandragupta’s case, he did it much earlier ( around 40, he died at the age of 41-42 ). The reason according to the Jain chronicles was his grief at not being able to control a famine in part of his empire, hence his ritual of death by progressive starvation in the Jain tradition as atonement. This self-starvation practice is still alive among the Jain community today.

    1. Wow, Kalpana, you have done quite some research from your side too! I can see your fiery admiration for Chandragupta! Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to write this comment. Most of all, thank you for all the additional information!

      As you say: “Kautilya/Charakya who saw him at play with other children. Impressed by his demeanour and intelligence and he brought the boy with him to Taxila where he was a professor at the renowned Taxila study centre”. This is entirely new to me but it does explain a lot, doesn’t it? The story of Chandragupta’s father being the lover of the queen is mentioned by Justin (Epitome of the Philippic by JC Yardley).

      Your question about the Seleucids accepting India as semi-independent is very pertinent. I found the remark in Frank Holt’s book Alexander the Great and Bactria. My interpretation of this statement is that the Seleucids still felt they had some kind of right on the territories previously conquered by Alexander in spite of the treaty concluded with Chandragupta. Their envoys like Megasthenes, Deimakos and Dionysius may have played a role unknown to us – something like the small print attached to the peace treaty that has not really transpired?

      Finally, thank you for clarifying this facet of Jain religion that is still valid today – amazing! Chandragupta’s decision to withdraw into his spiritual retreat comes, in my eyes at a moment of his life where he felt he had accomplished what he set out to do . I am not aware of his grief about the famine his empire as you mention and this may, of course, be another reason to cede the throne to his son. However, I find it hard to believe that he could have abandoned his conquests halfway through.

      Thanks again for bringing all these new elements to my attention!