Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath kicked up a storm after claiming that Chandragupta, founder of the ancient Maurya kingdom, is not considered a great monarch by historians despite defeating the Greek King Alexander.
Speaking at an event organised by the BJP's OBC Morcha on November 14, Adityanath said, "History never termed Emperor Ashoka or Chandragupta Maurya great, but it termed Alexander, who was defeated by Chandragupta Maurya, great. Historians are silent on such issues. However, once the countrymen learn the truth, India will change."
Alexander's Indian invasion is famous for the legendary Battle of the Hydaspes where he fought against King Porus in what is presentday Pakistan. Despite winning the battle, the Greeks suffered heavy loses. Even though Alexander wanted to continue east towards the Gangetic plains, his battle-weary troops demanded they should return back home.
BOOM spoke with historians and went through historical records and found that though Alexander may have met Chandragupta, the duo never met on the battlefield as claimed by Adityanath.
Did Alexander And Chandragupta Meet In Battle?
In his book "Political History of Ancient India: From the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty" published in 1923, historian Hemchandra Raychaudhuri notes that there are records that state Alexander met Chandragupta during his Indian campaign.
Raychaudhuri also mentioned that the Greek historian Plutarch as well the Latin historian Justin wrote that Chandragupta visited Alexander and implored the Greek king to continue his conquest and bring an end to the Nanda empire.
"Plutarch says (Life of Alexander, LXII), "Androkottus himself, who was then a lad, saw Alexander himself and afterwards used to declare that Alexander might easily have conquered the whole country, as the then king was hated by his subjects on account of his mean and wicked disposition." From this passage it is not unreasonable to infer that Chandragupta visited Alexander with the intention of inducing the conqueror to put an end to the rule of the tyrant of Magadha," Raychaudhuri wrote. (Political History of Ancient India, first edition, p. 139).
Androkottus or Androcottus is the Latin name for Chandragupta while Sandrákottos or Sandrocottus is the Greek name for the Maurya king.
However, Alexander did not take a liking to Chandragupta and ordered the future monarch to be killed.
"Apparently Chandragupta found Alexander as great a tyrant as Agrammes, for we learn from Justin that the Macedonian king did not scruple to give orders to kill the intrepid Indian lad for his boldness of speech. Chandragupta apparently thought of ridding his country of both the tyrants, Macedonian as well as Indian. With the help of Kautilya, also called Chanakya or Vishnugupta, he overthrew the infamous Nanda," Raychaudhuri wrote. (Political History of Ancient India, first edition, p. 139) Agrammes is a possible Greek name for Dhana Nanda, the last Nanda king.
Dr Nayanjot Lahiri, Professor of History at Ashoka University, concurs with Raychaudhuri's findings.
Dr Lahiri, who has researched and written several books on ancient India including "Ashoka in Ancient India", told BOOM that records state that the two kings met when Chandragupta was young but not in battle.
"Plutarch tells us that Chandraupta met Alexander when he was very young. Since Chandragupta is supposed to have studied in Taxila according to some sources, and Alexander went there, that has been suggested as a possible place where they met. Certainly, this is very different from talking about Chandragupta having defeated Alexander!" Dr Lahiri said.
Raychaudhuri writes that following Alexander's retreat in 325 BCE, Chandragupta overthrew the last Nanda king Dhana Nanda and conquered Pataliputra. He then shifted his focus to the Northwestern territories occupied by the Greeks and brought them under his rule. (Political History of Ancient India, first edition, p. 140)
Even though Chandragupta did not face Alexander in battle, he did come face to face with another Greek king in Seleucus I Nicator. However, the battle ended with Chandragupta and Seleucus forming a pact.
Seleucus was one of Alexander's generals who fought for control over the vast Macedonian empire after Alexander's untimely death in 323 BCE at the age of 32.
The Greek historians Appian of Alexandria, Strabo as well as Plutarch and Justin, writes Raychaudhuri, noted that after conquering Babylon, Seleucus invaded India to recapture the territories from the Maurya empire.
"Appianus says (Ind. Ant. Vol. VI,p.114) that he crossed the Indus and waged war on Chandragupta, king of the Indians until he made friends and entered into relations of marriage with him. Justin also says that after making a league with Chandragupta, and settling his affairs in the east, Seleukos proceeded to join in the war against Antigonus.' Plutarch supplies us with the information that Chandragupta presented 500 elephants to Seleukos," Raychaudhuri wrote. (Political History of Ancient India, first edition, p. 141)
"The Indians, in part, occupied some places that lie along the Indus, although they formerly belonged to the Persians. Alexander took these away from the Arians and established settlements of his own, but Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus, upon terms of intermarriage and of receiving in exchange five hundred elephants," Strabo wrote in his 'Geographica'. (Geographica, Book XV, Chapter 2, pg. 145)
The Debate Around "Greatness"
In his speech, Adityanath also claimed that historians do not consider Chandragupta, an Indian king as great but bestow the title upon Alexander.
Dr Lahiri agrees with Adityanath in questioning the title of 'great' granted to Alexander but for completely different reasons.
"Alexander is not great but not for the reasons that Adityanath mentions. He was considered 'great' because he won every military campaign but what was papered over was his cruelty and the way he bludgeoned people into submission. On his way to the Indus valley, he razed several cities; massacred people by the thousands. By calling him 'Great', you render invisible the killings and pogroms in the trail of his conquests, from Persia to India," she said.
On the question of greatness, Neeladri Bhattacharya, formerly Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that the practice of calling historical figures 'great' is a remnant of nineteenth century historical writing and not followed anymore.
"Calling specific historical figures 'great' was part of a nineteenth century historical tradition that judged historical figures — their failures and success, and the degrees of their greatness. This tradition survived till the 1960s, but most historians (since the 1970s) would not make such judgments," Bhattacharya said.
"Historians explore what a historical actor (king or leader, rebel or thinker) thought and did, how they confronted existing issues and problems, what their actions meant for others, and how she or he was perceived by the people of the time.
"So neither Chandragupta nor Alexander would be referred to as 'great' by historians aware of current historiographical traditions. Their actions would be examined to understand them and their times," he added
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