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The Persian Invasion on India

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This article provides a short essay on the Persian Invasion.

The Iranians or the Persians and the Indians of the Aryan stock were bifurcated in
ancient past, one entering into Persia and the other into India.

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But relations between them were not forgotten. In those days the boundaries of
India and Persia were not well defined and naturally in the bordering areas of the
two countries a mixture of Persian and Indian languages and manners and customs
took place.

In the period of the Sixteen Janapadas the people of Kamboja used to speak the
Iranian Aryan language. Further, the Oxus valley is described in ancient Sanskrit
literature as a part of India. Similarly in the ancient Persian literature the same
area has been described as part of Persia. This was obviously because the boundary
between Persia and India was not well demarcated.

In the sixth century B.C. the north-western region of India (now in Pakistan) was
divided into a number of small independent states. The most noteworthy of these
states were Gandhara, Kamboj and Madra. When Bimbisara was expanding Magadha into
an empire, the north-western parts, i.e. Uttarapatha was still divided into small
independent states with no political unity among them.

It became, therefore, easy for the Achaemenid emperors of Persia to conquer these
small states. It is said that in the Persian religious epic Zendavesta there is
reference to the inclusion of some places of Uttarapatha in the Persian Empire long
before the sixth century B.C. But this is not acceptable to historians for the lack
of corroboration by any other source.

However, from the Greek historians and writers like Herodotus, Ktesias, and
Xenophon etc. we know that the Persian emperors after having established their sway
over Western Asia proceeded towards India. Cyrus is said to have conquered
Gandhara. But it is doubtful. It is also said by Ktesias that Cyrus died of a wound
inflicted by an Indian soldier.

Xenophon refers to the sending of an emissary by an Indian king to the Court of


Cyrus with some money. But in the writings of Nearchus, an admiral of Alexander who
came to India with him we know that Cyrus’ Indian invasion was a failure. There is
also no reference to Cyrus’ invasion of India by Megasthenes.

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On the other hand, Pliny, a Roman writer, refers to the conquest of Kapisa, i.e.
Gandhara by Cyrus. From these conflicting evidences although it is difficult to
come to any definite conclusion yet the historians feel that Cyrus might have
conquered the area between Kabul and the Indus.

Next emperor Cambyses was too much occupied in quelling rebellion in the empire to
think of any invasion of India. He was also unbalanced and ultimately became
completely mad.

Darius who came to the throne (522-486 B.C.) seems to have extended the Persian
Empire upto northern Punjab. About his reign we have reliable evidence. In his
Behistun inscription a list of twenty-three provinces of the Persian Empire is
found, but it does not include the name of India. But in two later inscriptions at
Persepolis and Nakshi-Rustam mention of northern Punjab as a part of his dominion
is found.

This leaves us in no doubt that northern Punjab was included by him in the Persian
Empire (518 B.C.). This part of India was the twentieth Province of the Persian
Empire and the annual revenue earned from this province was gold dust of the value
of ten lakh pound-sterlings. One-third of the total revenue of the Persian Emperor
came from Indian province. In order to have a better idea of the course of the
river Indus, Darius is said to have appointed Scylax to explore the Indus. This we
get from Herodotus.

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It may, however, be mentioned here that in the Behistun inscription of Darius there
is reference to one place called Gadara. It is also mentioned in the Susa palace
inscription of Darius that teak was brought from Gadara for the construction of the
palace. From these references to the place called Gadara historians suppose that
Gadara might have been Gandhara and it might have been conquered by him.

Darius was succeeded by his son Xerxes (under whom the Indian province continued to
be a part of the Persian Empire). This is attested by his claim that he obtained
the military services of an Indian contingent in his war against Greece. The Indian
recruits were called the Gandharians and Indians.

Thus it was in such a remote past that the Indian soldiers fought on the European
soil. The fighting ability of the Indians impressed the Persians and later Darius
III had also recruited Indian soldiers for his army. From Arrian we know that the
Indian soldiers fought for Darius III against Alexander in the battle of Gaugamela.

Herodotus gives an interesting account of the Indian soldiers:

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“The Indian clad in garments made of cotton, carried bows of cane and arrows of
cane, the latter tipped with iron; and thus accoutered the Indians were marshalled
under the command of Pharnazathres, son of Artabates.” With the final defeat of
Darius Hi at the hands of Alexander, the Persian dominance over the Indian province
came to an end (330 B.C.).