Miscellaneous

Battle of Hydaspes and War Elephant Display at Army Museum Lahore

Porus' elephant defended the king and courageously repulsed enemy assailants during the entire battle of Hydaspes. When the king was wounded with arrows, kneeled down and softly lowered Porus with his trunk and gently drew every arrow from his body.

 –Life of Alexander, Plutarch



In the geographical area that constitutes the present day Pakistan, war elephants were first used against the invading Assyrian Army in 800 BC. From Pakistan, this practice spread westwards into the Mediterranean and eastwards towards the South East Asia. The ancient Pakistanis captured wild elephants, tamed them and trained these beasts as a mobile war fighting platform. Specific training courses were charted out to prepare the war elephants for battle:
▪    Flag signal training was imparted so that various orders could be given to the elephant squadrons.
▪    Obstacle courses were organised to train them to negotiate natural or manmade obstacles.
▪    Marching in different formations was practiced in order to employ varied tactics during the battle.
▪    Training to trample enemy cavalry horses and foot soldiers.
▪    Training to encounter and defeat enemy’s war elephants in a direct engagement.
▪    Charging against forts and buildings.
▪    Training the mounted soldiers in the use of stand-off weaponry and close combat.
▪    Training of Mahout (driver). 
Generally, the war elephants were deployed either in front of the army or in the centre. The charge of war elephants could achieve a speed of 30 kilometers per hour and it would become extremely difficult to stop their momentum. Over a period of time, the war elephants were also equipped with integral armour which provided them additional protection in the battlefield. During the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC between Raja Porus and Alexander, Porus deployed elephants in the front column with each elephant at a distance of 40-100 feet, while the remaining fighting echelons rallied around the elephants. After the advent of gun powder, the use of war elephants gradually faded out. 



Battle of Hydaspes 
After capturing Iran, Egypt, and Afghanistan, Alexander invaded ancient Pakistan in 327 BC. Before the invasion, Alexander was informed by the Persians that no one had hitherto entered this country with an army and emerged in safety, except the Assyrian queen Semiramis, when she fled from ancient Pakistan. The natives told him that even she emerged with only 20 men of her Army, and that the Persian King Cyrus, son of Cambyses, escaped with only seven of his men. Alexander was seized with the desire of excelling both Semiramis and Cyrus. To achieve his aim, he also offered Raja Ambhi (Omphis) of Taxila, an avowed enemy of Raja Porus, 25000 kilos of gold. Alexander split his army in two parts; the main force under Ptolemy advanced along Kabul River towards the city of Peshawar, while he led the smaller force through the mountain and entered the area of Bajaur in Swat Valley. In various battles fought throughout 327 BC and into 326 BC, the people of Bajaur and Swat fought back ferociously and Alexander’s army suffered massive loses while trying to overpower these brave people. In retaliation, Alexander’s army deceitfully and ruthlessly killed tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children while destroying many of their cities. The moment he left for Punjab, the inhabitants of Swat renounced the allegiance that was forced upon them by Alexander. In Punjab, Alexander encountered the forces of Raja Porus. On the bank of River Hydaspes (Jhelum), Greek and native armies faced each other in the summer of 326 BC. It was a stupendous spectacle by all means and standards. About 41,000 Greek army (34000 infantry and 7000 cavalry) faced 22000 Porus men (20000 foot soldiers, 2000 horsemen and 200 war elephants). Unfortunately, Ambhi provided full support to invaders from Macedonia. Thus Ambhi became the first known traitor of the land in the battlefield. Being a comparatively small kingdom by local standards, Porus could not have maintained such a large standing army, so it is likely that many of his defenders were hastily armed civilians. Also, the Greeks habitually exaggerated enemy strength. 



After capturing Iran, Egypt, and Afghanistan, Alexander invaded ancient Pakistan in 327 BC. Before the invasion, Alexander was informed by the Persians that no one had hitherto entered this country with an army and emerged in safety, except the Assyrian queen Semiramis, when she fled from ancient Pakistan.


According to Greek sources, for several days the armies eyeballed each other across the Hydaspes. The Greek-Macedonian force after having lost several thousand soldiers fighting in Bajaur and Swat, were terrified at the prospect of fighting the fierce Punjabi army. They had heard about the havoc local war elephants created among the enemy ranks. The modern equivalent of battle tanks, the elephants also scared the wits out of the horses in the Greek cavalry. Another crucial weapon in the Porus armory was the two-meter bow. As tall as man, it could launch massive arrows able to transfix more than one enemy soldier. 
Though majority of the historians state that the battle was won by Alexander, outcome of the battle however still remains vague with many historians stating that Alexander did not win and the battle ended in a truce. All the Greek historians agree that this was the toughest battle Alexander’s armies ever fought. At the end, Raja Porus became the ruler of a region larger than he had previously held. Later, Alexander also laid siege to Sakala (Sialkot). The city was burnt and razed to the ground, and many of its inhabitants were killed. In the spring of 325 BC, Alexander tried to invade the areas between Ravi and Chenab Rivers and caused massive devastation. Alexander’s army also made incursions into Balochistan and Sindh. A great slaughter was carried out yet again and the area was plundered. Arrian and other Greek scholars acknowledge that the locals were relentless in their attacks on the invaders. Alexander’s march through modern Balochistan, during which he lost the majority of his troops, as well as the accompanying women and children, shows he was willing to take a punt on the merciless desert rather than face the locals in the northwest all over again. Macedonians ate their horses and mules. Their soldiers were sick and tired. Many of them were left behind and they died on the way hungry and thirsty. 
A spirited and brave resistance was put up by the Baloch and Sindhi fighters who did not only resist the foreign army, but also inflicted heavy losses and many a defeat and continued to resist till Alexander’s forces left and the army was reclaimed. He remained in ancient Pakistan for 19 months (326-325 BC) and died in Babylon (323 BC) at the age of 33. 
The Myth of Alexander’s Victory in Ancient Pakistan 
Georgy Zhukov’s Opinion. In 1957, while addressing the cadets of the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, Russian Marshal Georgy Zhukov stated that Alexander’s actions after the Battle of Hydaspes suggest he had suffered an outright defeat. In his view, Alexander had suffered a greater setback in Punjab than Napoleon in Russia.
Arrian’s Opinion. According to Arrian, “When they met, Alexander reined in his horse and looked at his adversary with admiration. He was a magnificent figure of a man, over seven feet high and of great personal beauty; his bearing had lost none of its pride; his air was of one braveman meeting another, of a king in the presence of a king with whom he had fought honorably for his kingdom” and “the men were superior in stature and courage”. He further adds, “Moreover, they discovered that they were tall in stature, in fact as tall as any men throughout Asia, most of them being five cubits in height, or a little less. They were blacker than the rest of men, except the Ethiopians; and in war they were far the bravest of all the races inhabiting Asia at that time.”
Dr. Frank Lee’s Opinion. According to Dr. Frank Lee Holt, a professor of history at the University of Houston, “The only reference in Arrian’s history to a victory celebration by Alexander army was after the battle of Porus. The fact they celebrated after the battle of Hydaspes suggest that they considered themselves extremely lucky to survive after the clash with the Porus army, with this feared elephant corps.”
John McCrindle’s Opinion. According to McCrindle, “Most of Alexander’s historians admit that all the hardships which his army suffered in Asia are not to be compared with the miseries which it here experienced”. About the move back to Macedonia, he opined, “The majority perished in the sand like shipwrecked men at sea”. 


The Greek-Macedonian force after having lost several thousand soldiers fighting in Bajaur and Swat, were terrified at the prospect of fighting the fierce Punjabi army. They had heard about the havoc local war elephants created among the enemy ranks. The modern equivalent of battle tanks, the elephants also scared the wits out of the horses in the Greek cavalry. 


Army Museum-War Elephant Display
In the initial design of Army Museum Lahore, History of Pakistan, Rebirth of a Nation, and Evolution of Warfare galleries were not planned. The idea emerged after a discussion between Brigadier Sufyan and I, when the museum’s history theme was changed from 1947 to ancient history of the land (9000 years old urbanized history). One of the major reasons was a discussion on a book, Historic Battlefield of Pakistan by Johnny Torrens-Spence. During the first phase, 1948 and 1965 war galleries were readjusted and History of Pakistan and Rebirth of a Nation galleries were designed. In next phase, Army Accolades, Nation Building, and Tribute to the Nation galleries were converted into wall displays. Resultantly, space was created in the central aisle. The central aisle was titled as Evolution of Warfare. It was decided to display the following side by side:
▪  A war elephant, a horse, and a tank.
▪  A chariot and an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier). 
▪  An archeror and an artillery gun. 
▪  An ancient infantry soldier and a modern infantry soldier. 
Due to the lack of resources and limited available time, the making of war elephant seemed impossible. However, detailed discussion with Mr. Aftab Changezi became fruitful and he agreed to create a war elephant. A lot of research was carried out for referencing the exact details of Porus’ elephant. Brigadier Sufyan, Aamna Nadeem and Sammar Akram carried out a comprehensive research on war elephants, bows, and arrows etc. After research work, Aftab Changezi, Miss Bushra and I went to Lahore Zoo and took more than 300 photographs of Elephant Suzi. Lahore Zoo administration was highly cooperative and their veterinary doctor remained available throughout with the team for photography. Each and every body part of the elephant was photographed from all the angles and various distances. After referencing, a real size pattern was displayed on the wall. 
Later on, a full scale iron skeleton was created and making of the war elephant began. Meanwhile, an incident happened. When the elephant sculpture was nearly complete, it fell down and broke into pieces due to the load of iron skeleton. Though dejected and disappointed, a second effort started and it took months to complete the war elephant. After completion, another task was to move it from (old AS&RC Building-Museum project office) to the current location of Army Museum Lahore. By midnight, it was moved into three pieces and finishing took place at the present location. After inauguration, the war elephant has become one of the iconic displays of Army Museum Lahore. 
This War Elephant shows the resilience of local brave people against the invading armies. 


The writer holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Education Administration.
E-mail: [email protected]


Johnny Torrens-Spence, Historic Battlefields of Pakistan.
Rapson, The Cambridge History of India. vol.1.
Majumdar and Pusalker, The Imperial Unity of India: The History And Culture of Indian People
Ahmad Hasan Dani, PAKISTAN - History through the Centuries
Quintus Curtius, ‘History of the Wars of Alexander, (Book XIII, 17). 
Arrian, The Anabasis of Alexander (Book IV, 25). 
Arrian (Book 15, 14, 4). 
Plutarch, The Life of Alexander. 
Frank Lee Holt, Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions. 
Nigel Cawthorne, Alexander the Great, p. 115. 
Diodorus Siculus, ‘Bibliotheca Historica’, XVII. 95. 
David J. Lonsdale, Alexander the Great: Lessons in Strategy.

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