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Persian and Greek Invasions

Persian Invasion of India

Cyrus and Achaemenid Empire:

  • Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire in ancient Iran, invaded the North-Western front of India in 550 BCE.
  • The Achaemenid Empire was one of the earliest Persian empires.

Indian Regions and Rulers:

  • During that time, there were many small provinces in the North-West, including Gandhara, Kamboja, and Madra, engaged in constant conflicts.
  • Bimbisara, belonging to the Haryanka dynasty, was ruling over Magadha in the eastern part of India.

Persian Control and Annexation:

  • Cyrus succeeded in bringing under Persian control all the Indian tribes west of the Indus River, such as Gandhara.
  • Punjab and Sindh were annexed by Darius I, the grandson of Cyrus.

Xerxes and Greek Conflict:

  • Darius I’s son, Xerxes, faced challenges in further conquering India due to conflicts with the Greeks.
  • Xerxes had employed Indian cavalry and infantry.
  • The war with the Greeks, notably the Persian Wars, prevented further Persian conquest in India.


  • Persian Invasion: Traced back to 550 BCE under Cyrus.
  • Annexation: Punjab and Sindh annexed by Darius I.
  • Obstacle: Xerxes faced challenges in further conquest due to war with the Greeks.

Effects of Persian Invasion in India

Indo-Iranian Contact:

  • The Indo-Iranian contact resulting from the Persian invasion lasted for about 200 years.
  • This contact had a significant impact on trade and commerce between the two regions.

Trade and Commerce:

  • The invasion gave an impetus to Indo-Iranian trade and commerce.
  • Iranian coins have been discovered in the northwestern frontier, indicating the existence of trade between India and Iran.

Introduction of Kharoshti Script:

  • The Kharoshti script was introduced to northwest India by the Persians.
  • Some of Ashoka’s inscriptions were written in the Kharoshti script in these regions.

Aramaic Influence and Script Direction:

  • The Kharoshti script is derived from the Aramaic script.
  • It is written from right to left, unlike many Indian scripts.

Ashoka’s Inscriptions:

  • Inscriptions of Ashoka, dating back to the 3rd century BCE, were possibly inspired by the Persian king Darius.
  • The rock inscriptions and monuments from Ashoka’s time show a noticeable Iranian influence.
  • Elements such as the bell-shaped capitals and the preamble of Ashoka’s edicts reflect this Iranian influence.

Alexander’s Invasion (327 BCE)


  • Alexander (356 BCE – 323 BCE), son of Philip of Macedonia, became king in 336 BCE.
  • In the 4th century BCE, the Greeks and Iranians were in conflict for world supremacy.

Conquests and Approach to India:

  • Alexander conquered Asia Minor, Iran, and Iraq.
  • He marched into northwest India from Iran, attracted by India’s wealth and driven by a passion for geographical inquiry and natural history.
  • Before his invasion, northwest India had small rulers like Ambhi of Taxila and Porus of the Jhelum region.

Battles and Territories:

  • Alexander defeated Persian King Darius III in the Battle of Arbela (330 BC).
  • Ambhi submitted to Alexander’s sovereignty, but Porus resisted, leading to the Battle of Hydaspes.
  • Impressed by Porus’s fight, Alexander granted him his territory back.
  • After annexing tribes between Ravi and Chenab, Alexander’s army refused to cross the river Beas, leading to his retreat in 326 BCE.

Retreat and Death:

  • Alexander died at Babylon in 323 BCE, aged 32.
  • His dream of an eastern empire remained unfulfilled. He erected twelve stone altars on the northern banks of Beas to mark the farthest point of his advance.
  • Alexander stayed in India for 19 months.

Aftermath and Legacy:

  • After Alexander’s death, the Greek Empire split in 321 BCE.
  • In northwest India, Alexander left four generals in charge, including Seleucus I Nicator.
  • Seleucus later traded his territories in the Indus Valley with Chandragupta Maurya.
  • Eudamas served as the last General of Alexander in India.

Effects of Alexander’s Invasion

Political Unification:

  • Augmented political unification in northern India under the Mauryas.
  • Destruction of small states in northwest India by Alexander facilitated the Mauryan empire’s easy expansion.

Direct Contact and Trade:

  • Established direct contact between India and Greece, opening up four distinct routes.
  • Paved the way for Greek merchants and craftsmen to establish trade between India and Greece.

Historical Records and Chronology:

  • Alexander’s historians left clearly dated records, forming the basis for Indian chronology.
  • Provided information about social and economic conditions, including the sati system, the sale of girls, and flourishing carpentry.

Cultural Impact and Settlements:

  • Indo-Greek rulers emerged in the northwest part of India.
  • Greek settlements continued under both Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka.
  • Notable settlements included Alexandria in the Kabul region, Bonkephala on the Jhelum, and Alexandria in Sindh.

Artistic Influence:

  • Grecian impact evident in Indian art, particularly seen in the Gandhara school of art.




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