After conquering the Persians, Alexander continued his march to the East, eventually turning his attentions to India.
Taxiles, the first native ruler he encountered, preferred an alliance to a fight, and offered to bolster the Macedonian army with troops of his own provided that Alexander cross the Hyspades (Jhelum) river and attack his rival, the Indian King Porus.
Porus was one of the most powerful Indian Kings. He reputedly stood seven foot tall (in sharp contrast to the diminutive Alexander!), and commanded a large army that included substantial numbers of elephants. Defeating him would effectively cede north-eastern India to the Macedonians, and provide the first encounter between pike and pachyderm.
The Macedonians emerged from the Nandana Pass to find Porus’ army blocking the main ford over the Hydaspes river.
After many feints, Alexander eventually decided to attempt a crossing at night and in the middle of a storm. He left 2,000 cavalry and 9,000 infantry under Craterus at the ford, and sent two distinct forces across the river on boats five miles and nine miles upstream. Closest to the ford was Meleager with 1000 cavalry and 16,000 infantry, whilst Alexander led the rest to a spot behind Admana Island (see map 1).
The crossing was not easy, the swollen river proving treacherous in the extreme, but eventually the Macedonian horse struggled over and sent out a cavalry screen to cover the arrival of the boats carrying the infantry.
By this time Porus had realised that something was up, and sent his son with the chariots out to scout. They soon encountered the Macedonian cavalry, but the Indians became bogged down in the muddy ground of the riverbank and were sitting ducks for Alexander’s horse archers. Porus’ son was killed, but survivors alerted the King to the Macedonians’ presence, and his army moved off to intercept them.
Concerned as to what effect the elephants would have on his cavalry, Alexander grouped his horsemen on the right of his main battle line. Next to them were the hypaspists, then the phalanx, then his Greek mercenaries. His front and left flank was protected by light troops (see map 2).
Porus set up his infantry in the centre, with cavalry and the remaining chariots on either wing. The elephants were positioned at regular intervals in front of his infantry line (see map 2).
I have included army sheets for Vis Bellica on a 1:2 basis. This should give a substantial afternoon game. Those wishing to re-fight the battle on a 1:1 scale should double the number of bases shown, adding another level of Officers as appropriate.
For those using other systems, approximate numbers were:
- 14,000 Phalangites
- 3,000 Hypaspists
- 9,000 Greek Mercenaries
- 6,500 Mixed Light Troops
- 2,100 Companions
- 2,500 Mixed Horse Archers
- 1,000 Mercenary Greek Cavalry
- 1,000 Mixed Indian Cavalry
- 30,000 Mixed Infantry
- 4,000 Mixed Horse
- 300 Chariots
- 100 Elephants
These numbers represent the total troops available for each commander from the appearance of the Macedonians at the end of the Nandana Pass. See the “Wargaming Hydaspes” section for more details on which troops are available when.
As battle opened, Alexander quickly shifted half of his cavalry from the right wing to the left wing. The rest charged quickly forward into the Indian cavalry. Seeing his horsemen hard-pressed on the left, Porus sent his right wing cavalry across the front of his army to help them. These were then hit in the rear by Alexander’s other body of horse, and began to collapse back into the elephant line (see map 3).
The Macedonian light troops then pressed forward into the now confused line of Indian elephants and horse, supported by the Macedonian cavalry under Alexander himself. The elephants were rendered useless by the harrying tactics of the lights and, as the Macedonian phalanx moved forward, ran amok.
Now one large confused mass, the Porus’ army was soon broken by a combination of steady phalanx and flank-charging cavalry, suffering huge losses as it attempted to flee (see map 4).
After the Battle
Porus was wounded in the battle and captured by the Macedonians. Supposedly impressed by his demeanor, however, Alexander allowed him to continue to rule his kingdom, albeit as a Macedonian vassal.
The Hydaspes campaign can be wargame-d at several different levels.
The army sheets attached obviously allow the battle to be re-fought using Vis Bellica: either from the moment the Macedonians appear on the field (i.e. including the crossing of the river) or just the final pitched battle itself.
Other, more skirmish-orientated, rules could be used to re-fight the Indian chariots verses Macedonian cavalry encounter that preceded the pitched battle itself, or even a section of the main battle such as a group of Macedonian light infantry taking on a number of Indian elephants.
Also, the Macedonian river crossing could provide an interesting alternative to a pure wargame: with Alexander up against the elements rather than any human opposition.
Finally, there are several “what if” scenarios possible. What if Alexander had tried to force a crossing at the ford: a repeat of the Granicus or a Macedonian defeat? What if Porus had crossed the river and met the Macedonians as they emerged from the Nandana pass? Could the Indians have kept Alexander bottled up?
This article reproduced from Miniature Wargames (issue dated Spring 2005)