Persian Invasion of India (6th Century BCE): Short Story of Ancient India-Persian Relation

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The northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent had witnessed a series of lethal invasions. The Greeks, and central Asian tribes like Huns, Parthians, Arabs, and Turks all invaded India from the northwestern region.

The list of these invaders might never end. But we will shed light on that part of Indian history that witnessed the rise of the Persian Empire (Achaemenid Empire) and their invasion of the Indian Subcontinent.

The Persian invasion changed the history of the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. For nearly 200 years the Persians ruled the northwestern part of India and brought many changes both culturally and economically.

They recruited Indian troops and even generated revenue from the Indian territories which enriched their empire for many years.

Cyrus & the coming of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire

The Persians invaded India around the late 6th Century BCE. This invasion led to the Cyrus (Khrush)/Cyrus the Great (r-558-530). This man found the Achaemenid Empire and is considered the greatest king of this empire.

Cyrus the Great 
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Persian invasion
Statue of Cyrus

He ruled the region of Media/Medes (region of modern-day Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah), Babylon, and Persis. His empire is believed to have touched the northwestern portion of the Indian subcontinent.

During this time Indian frontiers were not strong enough as most of the kingdoms often fought each other which weakened the stability of the region.

The small and vulnerable kingdoms of Gandhara, Kamboja, and Madra were the prominent kingdoms of the northwestern region during this time.

Classical Greek scholars like Arrian, Stabo, and Herodotus suggested had the Persian king i.e. Cyrus had attacked the regions of Seistan and part of Gandhara.  

He is also believed to have conquered the region west of the Indus River.

However, scholars like Megasthenes and Nearchus suggested that Cyrus could not conquer any of the Indian Territory. Furthermore, it is also believed that Cyrus’s first invasion resulted in a massive failure due to the inhospitable conditions of the desert of the Baluchistan region, while in the second he gained some success and acquired Kabul valley.

Darius (522-486BCE)

The successors of Cyrus had gained some success in the eastern expansion. Darius fully conquered the region of Punjab and Sindh in the year 518 CE. He also subjugated Gandhara which was an important center of commerce and culture.

Furthermore, Darius then marched towards Sindh also known as Hiddus region. Some historians also suggest that the Persians came as far as Jhelum but it is highly doubtful.

The inscription of king Darius mentioned his conquests of Indian frontiers. For example, the famous Behistun inscription mentioned that Gandhara became part of the Persian Empire during his reign.

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Persian invasion
Persian Empire and its conquests of the Northwestern portion of the Indian subcontinent

Also, the Naqsh e Rostam inscription had mentioned Punjab as a part of Darius’s Empire. Later Darius also sent a naval expedition under the leadership of Scylax/Skylas. The main motive behind this naval expedition was to explore the region beyond the Sindhu River.

He also divided his empire into 28 Satrapy for better administration and the Indian region became its 20th Satrapy. It is also true that the Indian region was the wealthiest and most fertile region of the Persian Empire.

It generated one-third of the total revenue of the Persian Empire.

Xerxes (465-456 BCE): Entry of Indian troops into the Persian Army

During the time of Xerxes, the Indians were recruited into the Persian army. The Persians had given special names to the Indian troops namely Gandharians (those troops who were recruited from Gandhara) and Indians (the troops who were recruited from the region east of Sindhu River).

The Indian contingent of the Persian Empire fought many battles on European soil. The battle of Thermopylae, and the Boeotian wars are some campaigns in which Indian troops fought.

Later when Alexander invaded Persia the Indian troops of the Persian army also fought against the former at the battle of Gaugamela.

The Indians carried weapons like bows, spears, and swords. The Indians also supplied chariots, cavalry, and horses to the Persians.

Impact of the Persian Invasion

It is believed that the Persians ruled the Indian territories till 330 BC. Due to this both Persia and India came very close culturally.

One impact of Persian influence which can be seen on the North West region of the Indian sub-continent was the popularization of the Kharoshti Script.

The Kharoshti Script is written from right to left just like the Arabic. Also, Mauryan art was also inspired by Persian art for example the monolithic pillars of Ashoka.   

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