The road to the River Jhelum was
short, flat and easy
• An envoy had been sent to Porus, the king
of the area on the other side of the Jhelum
River, asking him to bring his tribute and
meet Alexander at the river.
• Porus replied that he would meet
Alexander at the river, but his tribute
would be armed men instead of gold.
Alexander moved his men 110
miles to a camp by the river, where
he could see Porus’ army
• The figures quoted say that Porus had 5,000
cavalry and 30,000 infantry, but he probably had
far fewer men than Alexander.
• In between the two armies the river was rising
fast, even before the monsoon season began
properly in June.
• Alexander had neither the time nor the
opportunity to ship his army (including his 200
elephants) across the river.
The river flows fast here, and is
about half a mile wide
As soon as Porus saw Alexander
• he sent men upstream to block the
nearest crossing points with his elephants.
Alexander’s horses were scared of the
elephants, which were trumpeting on the
far side of the river, and he could not risk
crossing the river in front of them.
As at Gaugamela, Alexander began the
battle with a war of nerves
• Daily, parties went onto the river by boat as if to
began an attack, but always kept just out of
• Alexander split his men, and told them to make
such a noise that Porus was continually kept on
the alert. He kept even his own men under a
false impression, as he spread the rumour that
the river was running too high and too fast to
cross, and that the army would camp until
• Food was ostentatiously gathered and stored in
full view of Porus’ scouts.
• Alexander would have his men mount up and
drill on the far side of the river, shouting and
moving up and down the river banks, so that
Porus had to move his own men to cover their
bank in case Alexander should attack.
• Porus’ men were soon exhausted by living under
this strain. As soon as they had the bank
covered where the noise came from it would
stop, only to start again elsewhere.
The Indians were lulled into a false
sense of security
• They had seen Alexander’s stores, they
had defended against countless attacks
which never came, and they trusted in the
• They stopped tracking Alexander’s
movements at night, confident that he
could not mount an attack until the river
• Alexander had been scouting the river
bank, and while his men had been
creating diversions, he had discovered a
slight bend in the river, 17 miles upstream.
• The banks on Alexander’s side were
covered with trees, and the ground rose to
1,000 feet. The river was narrow here,
partly because an island divided it.
Preparations for the battle were
• Boats had been built, then dismantled into
sections and moved to the crossing point
where they were reassembled
• Rafts of animal skin stuffed with hay had
also been readied at the crossing point
On the night of the crossing
• fires were lit at Alexander’s camp to
suggest that the entire army was pitched
• Craterus stayed at the camp with around
1/3 of the army, having been told that,
unless Porus tried to make an escape, he
was to stay on his side of the river
Alexander led the rest of his men
off, as if on another search for
• Quietly, though, he returned to the river
bank a few miles upstream.
• Alexander left 3 mercenary commanders
with all their hired men and ordered them
to cross the river only once the Indians
had been fully engaged
Alexander took some 6,000
infantry and 5,000 cavalry
• The cavalry (where Porus was
weakest) were crucial – the Royal
Squadron of the Companions would
deliver the usual charge, while the
Scythians, mounted archers and
Iranian cavalry would pin down the
enemy from longer range.
In the early evening an electric
storm broke overhead
• While the noise covered the sound of
Alexander’s movements, the clouds
blocked all light from the stars and the
Macedonians had to wait for the clouds to
clear – almost until dawn.
• Finally, Alexander set out across the river
in a 30-oared boat.
• Porus’ men spotted him coming and raced
back to camp 17 miles away to tell the
Alexander’s boats had not found
the opposite bank, however.
• They had reached the island and unloaded
before anyone realised they still had to cross the
rest of the channel.
• Rather than get back into their boats, Alexander
set the example and waded out chest-deep into
the river, leading the ageing Bucephalus.
• All 5,000 cavalry crossed the river this way, and
the infantry with them also managed to clamber
up the muddy banks.
Speed was essential now, as
Alexander needed to have his men
organised by the time Porus’ troops
• When they did, there were 120 4-horse chariots and
• They were too fast for the slippery conditions and
the drivers could not control them. They ran straight
into the Companions and the mounted archers and
were massacred. Their general (some said he was
Porus’ son, some said his brother) was killed.
• The cavalry waited for the infantry to move in front
of them, and then all 11,000 men moved forward.
Porus was waiting for Alexander
• Craterus was waiting to cross the river
directly opposite if Porus should try to
escape, and Porus wanted to advance
away from Craterus to meet Alexander
• BUT, if he tried that, Craterus could cross
the river and attack his rear – he really
needed to leave some troops to stop
Craterus crossing, but he couldn’t afford to
split his men
• Porus was outnumbered in cavalry by
perhaps 3 -1, but in infantry he
outnumbered Alexander by 5 -1.
• His main advantage was his archers,
who carried bows so long they had to
be dug into the ground at the bottom,
and which fired arrows 4 feet long.
• At close quarters, however,
Alexander had the advantage.
• Porus advanced towards Alexander, and
both armies fanned out.
• His elephants were placed 50-100 feet apart,
with the infantry behind them.
• On the wings, Porus placed his chariots and
cavalry, hoping for a clear run.
top of his
Alexander halted to reorganise
• He had to be clever to make the maximum
use of each element in the army.
– Companions could charge down the light
infantry and beat Porus’ cavalry, but had to be
kept away from the elephants.
– The light infantry could attack the elephants and
the Indian infantry but would be vulnerable to a
– The Indian archers would be hampered by the
conditions, and the Iranian mounted archers
could attack the infantry and cavalry, but again
their horses would not be able to come close to
Alexander decided to rely entirely
on his cavalry
• The battle would be fought in well-defined and
expertly timed stages.
• Because of the Indian elephants they would mass
on the right and attack the Indians’ far left wing with
their usual wedge-shaped angled attack.
• Alexander, the mounted archers, the Iranians and 2
squadrons of Companions led by Hephaistion and
Perdiccas led the attack, with two other Companion
squadrons under Coenus swinging round to attack
the Indian right
• The Indians would see the main force preparing to attack on
their left. As they did not have enough cavalry to defend their
flank, they would send men from both sides to cover the
• This would leave the right flank undefended, and hopefully,
Coenus would attack from the rear just as Alexander broke
through from the left.
• Then, as the cavalry was routed, the infantry would move
forward to engage the elephants.
The plan worked.
• When Alexander moved to the Indian far left
they sent all their cavalry after him,
disregarding Coenus on the other side.
• The mounted archers and the Companions
attacked and the Indians were so harrassed
they had no time to fan out into a formation
to defend themselves.
• Too late, they tried to drop back a squadron
of cavalry to face Coenus’ attack, but the
shock of simultaneous attacks so upset them
that most of the cavalry ducked between the
elephants for safety.
• As the elephants charged forward,
seeking any Companions who were still
chasing Indian cavalry, the Macedonian
infantry and archers swarmed among
• While the archers and javelin throwers
aimed at the elephant riders, 3,000
Macedonian Shield Bearers swung axes
and scimitars at the elephants’ legs and
• Some 50 elephants were put out of action
in this way. The rest stampeded around,
tusking and trampling indiscriminately.
The Indian cavalry began to flee. At last,
Craterus could cross the river, and he
arrived at the same time as the mercenaries
who had crossed further upstream
Porus was unwilling to admit defeat
• He had fought in the middle of the battle
and only when wounded in the shoulder
by an arrow was he willing to retreat.
• Alexander saw his galantry and offered
him his freedom.
• At first Porus stood ready to fight, but he
eventually got off his elephant and
• In the opening skirmish with Porus’ chariots,
Bucephalus had been wounded, and within
hours of the battle, he had died.
• Alexander had already decided to found two
cities on the banks of the Jhelum. The easterly
one he called Nicaea, City of Victory, the
westerly one, close to the site of the river
crossing, was called Bucephala.
• The site was marked with a grave at the town,
and a huge funeral procession was led by
Alexander to the tomb.
• (The site was reportedly washed away, but
Michael Wood seems to have found it.)