The Battle of the Hydaspes River

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 87-89 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Reaches Hydaspes River
Macedonians and Indians Clash
Indians Defeated as Porus Felled
Alexander Reappoints Porus as king

The Story
Chapter 87 marks the start of a new year for Diodorus (July 326 – June 325 B.C.).

At the end of yesterday’s post, I noted Diodorus’ claim that Alexander was ‘much relieved’ when he did not have to fight Mophis, and I wondered why this was.

One of my suggestions was that Alexander might have been aware of a weakness in his army. From what Diodorus says in Chapter 87, it looks like this was indeed the case, for after meeting Mophis, whom he renamed Taxiles, Alexander tarried in his land, where he ‘repaired his army’ before moving on.

Diodorus now brings us to the last great battle of Alexander’s career – against Porus at the Hydaspes River.

The river isn’t named in Diodorus’ text, the author also omits all mention of how Alexander deceived the Indian king into thinking he was still in camp when actually he was crossing the river. Neither does Diodorus mention how difficult a crossing it proved to be. Instead, he launches straight into a consideration of the size of Porus’ army and then the battle itself.

One Porus’ army

    • Infantry ‘more than’ 50,000
    • Cavalry ‘about’ 3,000
    • Chariots ‘more than’ 1,000
    • Elephants 130

In addition to Porus’ army, we are told that the Indian king ‘had enlisted the support’ of another monarch, this one named Embisarus, whose army was ‘little smaller’ than his own.

Two Hearing that Embisarus was on his way, Alexander decided to attack Porus before he could arrive.

Three Upon being told of Alexander’s approach, Porus organised his army in the following manner.

  • Cavalry Situated on both flanks
  • Elephants ‘[I]n a single line’ in front of his infantry
  • Infantry Placed between the elephants

We are not told where the chariots were positioned, although given that they were the first of Porus’ army to engage the Macedonians I assume it was in front of the elephants.

Four Alexander did not organise his own army until he had seen Porus’. Again, we are not told what his arrangement was.

Chapter 88
Five The battle began. The Macedonian cavalry met the Indian chariots and put ‘practically all’ of them ‘out of action’.

Six Next came the elephants. They proved to be rather more effective than the charioteers had been; Diodorus gives a gruesome list of how so. Some Macedonians ‘were trodden underfoot’, while others were lifted up by the elephants’ trunks and ‘dashed back down to the ground’. ‘Many soldiers’, meanwhile, were impaled by the elephants’ tusks.

Seven Critically, however, for all the damage they did, the elephants were not able to break the Macedonian line. The phalanx stood firm and using their sarissas fought back against the Indian infantry, which was advancing between the elephants.

Eight The tide started to turn in the Macedonians’ favour when javelins were thrown at the elephants. The animals were wounded to the point of madness. In an effort to escape to safety, they retreated, trampling over the Indian soldiers as they did so.

Nine Seeing his army begin to falter, Porus – who sat atop ‘the largest of the elephants’ and had a guard of forty others around him – now entered the fray. He and his men ‘inflicted many losses’.

Ten Diodorus comments that Porus was ‘five cubits in height’ which, the Footnotes say, is seven and a half feet. He clearly had the muscles to match for he threw his javelins with all the force of a catapult.

Eleven That might be an exaggeration but the Indian king still amazed the Macedonians with ‘his fighting ability’.

Twelve Determined not to lose ground to Porus, Alexander ‘called up [his] bowmen and other light armed troops and ordered them to concentrate their fire’ on him. They did so, and Porus was struck multiple times.

Thirteen Despite his mounting injuries, Porus fought on until he collapsed as a result of blood loss. He fell off his elephant and upon the ground.

Fourteen Porus’ collapse marked the end of the battle. Word went round the Indian army that he had been killed. As it did so, the soldiers went into a disorganised retreat – Diodorus says simply that they ‘fled’.

Chapter 89
Fifteen Unlike on other occasions, Alexander did not pursue his enemy. Instead, ‘satisfied with his brilliant victory’ he ordered his men to withdraw from the battlefield.

Sixteen Casualty figures
Indian army

  • Dead ‘more than’ 12,000

Macedonian army
Dead

  • Cavalry 280
  • Infantry ‘more than’ 700

Amongst the Indian dead were Porus’ two sons ‘and his best generals and officers’. ‘About’ 9,000 Indians were taken alive as well as 80 elephants.

Seventeen As it turned out, Porus survived the javelin blows and the fall from his elephant. Upon being captured, he was returned to the surviving Indians so that he could receive medical treatment.

Eighteen As per normal practice, Alexander buried his dead, gave rewards to those who had been brave and ‘sacrificed to Helius who had given him the eastern regions to conquer’.

Following the battle (we aren’t told when), Alexander ordered the construction of a naval fleet. He intended to use it to ‘reach the borders of India’ and subdue her people, before sailing ‘downstream to the Ocean’.

He also founded two cities – one a distance from the Hydaspes River and another on the battlefield itself. As the Footnotes tell us, these two cities were Nicaea and Bucephala. The latter, of course, was named after Bucephalus, Alexander’s beloved horse. In Chapter 95, Diodorus says that he died during the battle.

The chapter concludes with Porus’ recovery. In recognition of his bravery, Alexander confirmed him as king over his territory. ‘The Macedonian army rested for thirty days’ before continuing its journey east.

Comments
At the start of the post I noted that Chapter 87 ‘marks the start of a new year for Diodorus’. It seems that his chronology is now correct as his dating of the Battle of the Hydaspes River, to the summer of 326 B.C. is in accordance with scholarly opinion.

What happened to the boats that Hephaestion (and Perdiccas) assembled at the Indus River? I guess they were dismantled after the crossing.

As I look over Diodorus’ text again, I find it more and more plain. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he sucks the life out of what happened but I’m not convinced that his heart was in it. Where was his heart? Why did Diodorus write Book 17? Off the top of my head – I really don’t know. I’m probably only displaying my ignorance but I just don’t know where Diodorus’ focus is. It’s almost like he wrote Book 17 simply because it was history and he had to.

Respect

porus

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