The Man who stood toe to toe with Alexander the Great

A symbolic statue of young Chandragupta Maurya, In the courtyard of Indian Parliament.

By the time the Greeks under Alexander the Great reached India, they had been reduced to a rag tag group of ruffians totally unlike the world class army who had defeated the Persians, occupied Egypt and were on their march eastward to conquer the entire known world. They were the most skilled and experienced army the world had ever seen. Nothing could stop them and as Alexander continued to push them beyond their limits, they continued to obey. No one under any circumstances ever disagreed with him or criticize any of his actions. This is why our story becomes so intriguing when one man did just that and got away with it.

By the time Alexander crossed the Beas River poised and ready to continue his conquest, his men were a shadow of their former selves. They no longer had their Greek military uniforms or much of the equipment they brought with them from Greece those many years ago, but had dressed themselves in whatever was available. Many had taken local wives, others had abandoned their traditional Greek customs and seemed to lose their collective spirit and wanted to give it all up and go home.

The first battle with the Indian people was a success, but nothing to compare with their previous conquests. One ruler was conquered and it seemed by both the Greeks and the people of India that this was the end of it. Not so to a very strange and unusual Indian leader by the name of Chandragupta Maurya who wanted to get a personal feel for Alexander and went out to meet him. History tells that he told him that the Indian people had experienced enough from the likes of Alexander and for him to take his army and go back to where he came from.  Alexander, we are told, was both furious but impressed. How dare anyone speak to him in such a manner? Chandragupta was dismissed and both men began to make preparations for battle. The Indians relied on their elephants and their strong will to protect their land and people. No one seems to have won the battle. Alexander had no skill at fighting elephants His troops were near a state of rebellion. It wasn’t long before he decided to halt his advance and set out on the long journey to return to Greece.

Who was Chandragupta? Where did he come from and more importantly, what happened to him? Very little was known about him other that he was a minor royal figure and from the ruling class. After the departure of Alexander, he set up what came to be known as the Mauryan Empire and began to expand his base and become more and more powerful.

It seems that he was a brilliant person in many areas. He was certainly skilled as a military leader and soon proved himself to have political acumen and the ability to manifest leadership skills. He made observations concerning the social needs of his people and set about to bring about positive changes. He seemed to believe in the need for all people to understand and accept social responsibilities. He was one of the early exponents of non violence in all aspects of life.

Although there in very little absolute history of this period in both the lives of  Alexander and Chandragupta, some say that prior to the confrontation, they had known each other and were even friends. The encounter, none the less has been set down in Indian history.   The people of India will always believe that Chandragupta was not afraid of Alexander the Great and spoke his mind forcefully.

Alfred Jones has a Ph.D in psychology, advance studies in law and education. He is an Egyptian scholar having taught in the UK, USA and China. He is a former consultant to the San Jose California Egyptian Museum. Author of 7 books and over 20 articles for professional journals.
  • Paul Kasky

    Dr. Jones, I wonder what sources have led you to conclude that Alexander the Great and Chandragupta Maurya not only met, but on the battlefield no less? Plutarch makes reference to Chandragupta seeing Alexander at some point early in his life, but in that same passage Plutarch references the fact that the (then) Nanda Empire king was “hated and despised,” certainly not a reference to himself. But even Plutarch’s innocuous line connecting the two leaders has been questions by historians, and far from connects them as adversaries on the battlefield. I would be genuinely interested in knowing the source(s) of your assertion.