Persian and Greek Invasions in India

During the first half of the sixth century B.C. several small principalities such as Kamboja, Gandhara, and Madras fought one another. The North–West area did not have a powerful kingdom, and it was wealthy and could be easily entered through passes in the Hindukush. The Achaemenian rulers of Iran expanded their empire at the same time as the Magadhan princes and took advantage of this political disunity on the northwest frontier.

The Iranian ruler Darius penetrated northwest India in 516 BC and annexed the Punjab and Sindh.

Persian Invasions

Cyrus (558-530 B.C.):

  • Cyrus was the greatest conqueror of the Achaemenian Empire.
  • He was the first conqueror who led an expedition and entered India.
  • He captured the Gandhara region.
  • All Indian tribes to the west of the Indus river submitted to him and paid tribute.
  • Cambyses the son of Cyrus, had no time to pay attention to India.

Darius I (522-486 B.C):

  • Darius I the grandson of Cyrus conquered the Indus valley in 518 B.C.
  • He also annexed the Punjab and Sindh in 516 B.C. This region became the 20th Satrapy of his empire. It was the most fertile and populous province of the Achaemenian Empire.
  • Darius sent a naval expedition under Skylas to explore the Indus.

Xerxes (465-456 B.C):

  • Xerxes utilized his Indian province to strengthen his position.
  • He deployed Indian infantry and cavalry to Greece to fight his opponents, but he faced defeat in Greece.
  • After his failure in Greece, the Achaemenians could not follow a forward policy in India. However, the Indian province was still under their control.
  • Darius III enlisted Indian soldiers to fight against Alexander in 330 B.C. It is evident that the control of Persian slackened on the eve of Alexander’s invasion of India.
Effects of the Persian Invasion:

The Indo-Iranian contact lasted for about 200 years. It gave an impetus to Indo-Iranian trade and commerce. Some significant effects of Indo-Iranian contact are as follows:

  • The Persian invasion provided an impetus to the growth of Indo-Iranian commerce.
  • It also prepared the ground for the invasion of Alexander.
  • The use of Kharoshti script, a form of Iranian writing became popular in northwestern India and some of Asoka’s edicts were written in this script. It was written from right to left like the Arabic.
  • The influence of Persian art on the art of Mauryas is clearly visible, particularly in the monolithic pillars of Asoka and the sculptures found on them. So Mauryan Art was heavily influenced by Persian art.
  • The very idea of issuing edicts by Asoka and the wording used in the edicts are traced to Iranian influence. The monuments of Ashoka’s time, especially the bell-shaped capitals, owed something to Iranian models.
  • Iranian coins are also found in the northwest frontier region which points to the exchange of goods with Iran.
  • In short, we can say that the Iranian connection with India proved more fruitful than the short-lived Indo-Macedonian contact.


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Greek Invasions

Alexander’s Invasion of India (327-325 B.C.)

Alexander was a Macedonian who invaded India after two centuries after the Persian invasion of India.

Causes of Alexander’s Invasion:

In the fourth century B.C. the Greeks and the Iranians fought for the supremacy of the world. Greeks destroyed the Iranian empire under the leadership of Alexander who belonged to Macedonia. Alexander conquered Minor Asia, Iraq, and also Iran.

Alexander marched to India from Iran, attracted by the wealth of India. Some important causes for invasion are as follows:

  • Alexander ascended the throne of Macedonia after the death of his father Philip in 334 B.C. He conquered the whole of Persia by defeating Darius III in the battle of Arbela in 330 B.C.
  • He also aimed at further conquest eastward and wanted to recover the lost Persian Satrapy of India.
  • According to writers like Herodotus, the fabulous wealth of India attracted Alexander.
  • His interest in geographical inquiry and love of natural history urged him to undertake an invasion of India.
  • He thought that by conquering India, he would also conquer the eastern boundary of the world, according to his knowledge of geography in those days. (ref. Tamilnadu NCERT)

The political condition of India during Alexander’s invasion:

  • On the eve of his invasion, there were a number of small kingdoms in northwest India.
  • Ambhi of Taxila, the ruler of Abhisara, and Porus who ruled the region between the rivers of Jhelum and Chenab were leading rulers.
  • Northwest India remained the most disunited part of India and the rulers were fighting with one another.
  • These rulers of the northwest never came together against common enemies.
Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum):

Alexander crossed the Hindukush Mountains in 327 B.C. and spent nearly 10 months fighting with the tribes. He crossed the Indus in February 326 B.C. with the help of a bridge of boats.

  • Alexander was warmly received by Ambhi, the ruler of Taxila.
  • From Taxila, Alexander sent a message to Porus to submit, but Porus refused and decided to fight against Alexander.
  • Alexander marched from Taxila to the bank of river Hydaspes. Alexander was not able to cross the river because of a heavy flood, but after a few days he got success and crossed the river and the famous battle of Hydaspes was fought on the plains of Karri.
  • Porus lost the war, but Alexander was impressed by his courage and heroism so he treated Porus generously and reinstated on his throne.
  • After the war, Alexander continued his march as far as the river Beas encountering opposition from the local tribes.

Alexander wanted to proceed eastwards towards the Gangetic valley, but his soldiers refused to fight because they wanted to go home after the long war and tiredness. Alexander could not persuade them and therefore decided to return.

Before returning Alexander divided his conquered territories from Indus to Beas in India into three provinces. He put these territories under his governors.

The return journey of Alexander began in October 326 B.C. during this journey he faced many tribal attacks. On his way, he reached Babylon where he fell seriously ill and died in 323 B.C.

Effects of Alexander’s Invasion in India:
  • The immediate effect of Alexandre’s invasion was that it encouraged the political unification of North India under the Mauryas.
  • The system of small independent states came to an end.
  • The invasion of Alexander also paved the way for direct contact between India and Greece.
  • The existing facilities for trade between India and West Asia increased through the routes opened by Alexander and his naval exploration.
  • Due to the death of Alexander, his desire of annexing Northwest India to his empire was not fulfilled. His authority in the Indus valley was a short-lived one because of the expansion of the Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta Maurya.


You can also read:

The Rise of the Magadhan Empire

Sixteen Mahajanapadas

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