Ancient Indian Warfare

The second oldest military tradition

The beginnings: Absence of Warfare of the Indus culture (Bronze age)

The names of Harappa and Mohendjo Daro are perhaps not that commonly associated with India, but they were in truth, the oldest known civilization of the subcontinent. Just like the ancient city-states of Sumer, in Mesopotamia, and later the Nile, the large and generous Indus valley granted the creation of permanent settlements and civilization to flourish, the end of the neolithic hunter-gatherer lifestyle towards agriculture. The next step was the constitution of the city-state model and the invention of war and standing armies. The only problem here, is that these city-states, as advanced as they were, seemed paceful. No fortification, armored gate, towers, arms place or traces of any armament or battles.

Map of ancient Indus valley civilization

Just like the ancient Minoans, this was perhaps at his place and time, a golden age for humanity. This Indus Valley Civilization extended to all the western part of the subcontinent, actual Pakistan. Basically, all the area around the Indus and its tributaries from the foot of the Himalaya to the huge delta in the Indian ocean. There, in an area otherwise dry and desertic, an advanced civilization flourished. Both cities were like capitals of the northern and southern regions of the Indus, thus competed for supremacy.

This was like a haven, with to the northwest, fierce mountaineers of the Helmand culture, pastoralists of the Kuli culture, and to the east, beyond the buffer of the Thar desert, in the temperate cimate were located the Jodhpura and Ganeshwar cultures among the most advanced and the souther semi-jungle culture of the Ahar-Banas and Kayatha, more primitive tribes. This civilization emerged in about 3300 BC and faded away circa 1300 BCE. The language nature is still debated and largely unknown, but attached to the Elamo-Dravidian family. Dholavira, Ganeriwala in Cholistan and Rakhigarhi are other settlements that are just now being rediscovered, excavated and studied. There were a lot of controversies in particular about the so-called Dwarka, mythical sunken city of Krishna. The subject has been long debunked by modern archaeologists and rather than the legendary city of "900,000 royal palaces, all constructed with crystal and silver and decorated with emeralds"n Dwarka was a modest trading port apparently submerged in the IInd millennium B.C. (GoUnesco).

But as far warfare as concerned, this whole area, which is about the size of Mesopotamia is an anomaly. Archaeologists have found little indication of local defense and regional warfare (contrary to Mesopotamia, and Sumerian warfare) and this indicated plentiful resources for all, therefore no competition. There was however strong trade links (by sea) with Mesopotamia. After the end of the Bronze age and the emergence of an iron age in India, things changed. The downfall of the Harappa and Indus Valley culture coincided with potential droughts, and the delta changed shape, leaving practically most of these ancient cities in the desert. The center of civilization swapped to the north-center of India.

Maurya bowmen

Warfare in Vedic Period

The Vedis era started around 1500 BCE, as Indo-Europeans nomads from the Caspian and eastern Black sea migrated to India. Called the Aryans, they spoke a language related to other Western European languages, and it was recorded in Sanskrit. Seen as a warlike elite, these Aryan peoples subjugated the former Indus Valley culture and settled in actual Pakista, before driving eastwards and spreading their own culture to the rest of India, very gradually. Their ancient myths and beliefs were stored in the famous texts called Vedas, which also treated warfare in a specific way, the Mahabarata in particular, with always fascinating, but mis-interpretend in its symbolic essence, tales of arial battles with Vimanas, laser and atomic weapons. These fuelled another wave of "forgotten ancient technology" and some sort of Atlantian myth or an universal and well-advanced civilization, possibly pre-flood.

Beyond the myth and legends that forged the Hinduism, civilizations grew, early warring kingdoms writing in Devanagari. We can guess the ancient nomads used horses and cavalry generously and introduced cavalry and combined tactics to the subcontinent, and created a caste system which is still today in use. At the head of this rigid social order were the Brahmin, the priests, which old the spiritual power, and the military noble caste of the Khsatriya, holding the temporal power (and of white/fair complexion with fair eyes, reddish beards and brownish hair). Beyond were the Vaisyas (indigeneous merchants and craftsmen), Sudras (poor farmers, laborers, workers and servants) and the Dalit (or "untouchable") treated like cattle, generally of dark complexion, outcasts, left to do the worst jobs.

Maurya swordsmen

This caste, which endured for two millenias, structured the army, between Khsathiya elites and officers, cavary corps, charioteers, elephant riders, master bowmen and swordsmen, and the bulk of the army made of enrolled and trained troops driven from the relatively wealthy caste of the Vaisyas, and levies from the Sudras. It is doubtful Dalit were ever part of any armies, other to serve as javelin-fodder on the vanguard, as war was considered a noble activity. Little is know however of warfare in this period, other than the mix of Indo-Europeans and native Indians took about 1000 years, and that large city-states startted to emerge and grow in number.

By 600 BCE these numerous cities coalesced into 16 kingdoms called Maha Janapadas, and a renewal of urbanisation. Siddhartha Gautama at that time gave up his title as prince to search for truth and an end to the suffering. After echieving “enlightenment” as the Buddha (“enlightened one”) he traveled throughout South Asia and this gradually became a new religion, Buddhism. It only was adopted en masse by the Indians from the conversion of the last great Mauryan ruler. But in the meantime, by 520 BCE, the Persians invaded and took control of northern India. Their rule will last until Alexander the Great's conquest. By the time of the gradual conquest by Persia, warfare involved armies led by Khsathiyas noble warriors and immense levied armies, led by war elephants, opposite to early Persian armies (masses of archers protected by Sparabara shield bearers, numerous nomadic auxiliaries like the Sarmatians and Scythians). However battle records of this area are rare. Mauryan conquest

The rise of Taksashila

The next step in this chapter is the well-known (at least in India as it was covered by books, series and films), episode between the rise of Taksashila among northern Indian kingdom, and of the Paurava, with king Porus as a figurehead. This is basically an era between rivalry between petty kings and city-states and Hellenistic India (covered by the Mauryan dynasty). Taxila (Pāli: Takkasilā, Sanskrit: तक्षशिला - "Takṣaśilā" or "City of Cut Stone") is now a well-known, well studied archaeological site in actual Pakistan, Punjab province. It is now surrounded by urbanization, barely 32 km (20 mi) north-west of Islamabad. The city was funded approx. 1000 BC and Persian influence has been considerable as testified the numerous Perisna ruins and artifacts found. Trade superpower, place on the road between the Indus Valley and the mountain passes to the west, it was also the gateway to the subcontinent and a coveted prize for many conquerors such as the Mauryans, Indo-Scythians and Kushan. It was also the center of the Indo-Greek world.

Maurya bowmen

It disappeared completely in the 5th Century after pillage and sacking by the nomadic Hunas. The City was reputed, both for the spreading of Buddhism, but also a center of knowledge not alike Alexandria, through the famous University of Ancient Taxila. Called originally "Rock of Taksha" in reference to the Ramayana, and was associated by one of the Buddha's ancient lives. In 516 BCE, Darius I marched on Ariana and Bactria, and entered northern Pakistan, spending the winter in the Gandhara region, around Taxila. He then invaded the Indus Valley in 515 BCE. Scylax of Caryanda was apointed admiral, to explore the Indian Ocean for the return trip to the red sea. Achaemenid suzerainty lasted until Xerxes I, and over a century. As a consequence, the Persian Armies would later incorporate Indian auxiliaries, and especially war elephants;

Porus The Paurava Indians

The Name "Puru" which gave the conjectural Porus was driven in ancient texts from the Paurava but it might be aprocryphal. It is quite well known in the west and its link with Taxila was through its ruler of the Pauravas, situated around the Jhelum River area up to the Chenab River. His first move was to reclaim Achemenid ruled lands. To his west, the powerful Nanda Empire ruled the northwest of India. All conjectures about Porus armies are likely to be out of place. There are some descriptions of the battle of the Hydapses though Diodorus and Plutarch, where he met Alexander, and largest pitch battle of the Macedonians up to this point since they reached India,after the campaign of Cophen and siege of Aornos.

Maurya spearmen

The Battle of the Hydaspes

Although we know nothing about Porus's generals, we have some clues about the composition of his armies: From 20,000 to 50,000 infantry, 2,000 to 4,000 cavalry, between 130-200 down to 85 war elephants, and 1,000 chariots. Compared to this, the mixed Alexandrian army was 40,000 infantry strong, with abour 5 to 7,000 cavalry and Asiatic contingents. The bulk of the infantry was made of the phalanx, with greek auxiliaries such as the elite 'Royal Peltasts' and shieldbearers, plus Pezhetairoi of all ages and conditions, lighter infantry such as Thracian peltasts, Greek thureophoroi and classic Psiloi, all of Greek or mixed Balkanic origin.

The bulk of the Indian army was made of archers, of all ranks and social order (like the versatile Kshatriya) either on foot and mounted, or on horseback, and on chariots. Nobles which were mounted on elephants, used to wield javelins, since they can trade the heavier projectile to a smaller distance, well protected by the towering presence of their mount, used in melee. However other less protected elephants used to mount a trio of archers/javelinmen, using the distances to their advantage. The least known are the standard foot infantry, spearmen, javelinmen and assault troops wielding long or short spears and wooden or pelt shields. Among these the true soldiers by trade, presumably the Khsathiyas, were described as usinf "flamboyantly hued outfits with steel helmets, bright scarves and baldrics, and wielded axes, lances and maces". Scale armor was the norm. The Ancient Indians proved to be extremely inventive with weaponry, with steel whips and chakras in particular, but they appeard on a much later stage.

We will not extensively study this battle which was largely debated and described. The only notion to retain from this was for the first time, the unstoppable Alexander found his most brillant adversary yet; Admiration for his foe, even defeated, was reflected in the way he treated him and his armies. Porus as an individual opponent, also refusd to fight from a chariot, surrounded by bodyguards in the tradition, but rather to impress his army, mounted on the tallest elephant, not equipped with a howdah, and so the king was clad in chain mail armour. Defeating the opposing cavalry was a though but necessary job on the flanks to secure the phalanx's rear in the center.

Maurya spearmen

During this fight, the phalanx was outnumbered 1:5 against Indian infantry, but the latter comprised mostly light troops, totally unarmored. They were fast-moving, but not helped (as the Macedonians) by the muddy ground. The phalanx had no problem breaking waves, and resisted as they could to a rain of various projectiles thanks to their armour. When the elephants marched agains the cavalry, it retired to left them facing the Phalanx. Until there, sarissas have impaled wave after waves of opponents, to the point of marching on a ground littler with bodies, blood and mud mixed under the feets. The Elephants did create some confusion among the ranks of the Macedonians. After the encounter with these impressive beasts, their use of impaling men with their steel clad tusks and use their trunk to grab and throw men as well as sarissas, trempling the rest.

At some point the Macedonian line wavered, but held firm despite the mayhem caused by such attack. They eventually used their sarissas against unprotected part of their bodies while the light infantry's javelins targeted the elephants' mahouts to great effect. It is probable that many run amoke and fled in their own lines; Arrian made a first account of losses quite unrealistic, 80 foot soldiers, ten horse archers, twenty Companions and 200 horsemen, mostly Dahae auxiliaries died during the second assault of the Indian cavalry. For Diodorus, 1000 casualties (killed, not wounded) was more appropriate. On Porus's side, this was far more catastrophic, about 12,000 killed, 9,000 captured, two sons of Porus and his relative and ally Spitakes killed, 80 elephants captured and more later given as a surrender tribute by Porus;

Maurya Cavalry

Nanda Empire Armies

It was said that the battle of the Hydaspes was due to a superior use of tactics, discipline and technology on the Macedonian side, whereas the Indian army lacked armour, training, and failed to take the initiative. It was used as an example by later strategist Kautilya during the Mauryan Empire, starting a wave of Hellenistic influence over Indian warfare. "Alexander the Great invaded north-western India at the time of Agrammes or Xandrames,[4] whom modern historians generally identified as the last Nanda king - Dhana Nanda.[24] In the summer of 326 BCE, Alexander's army reached the Beas River (Greek: Hyphasis), beyond which the Nanda territory was located.[25]

According to Curtius, Alexander learned that Agrammes had 200,000 infantry; 20,000 cavalry; 3000 elephants; and 2,000 four-horse chariots.[4][10] Diodorus gives the number of elephants as 4,000.[26] Plutarch inflates these numbers significantly, except the infantry:[27] according to him, the Nanda force included 200,000 infantry; 80,000 cavalry; 6,000 elephants; and 8,000 chariots.[28] It is possible that the numbers reported to Alexander had been exaggerated by the local Indian population, who had the incentive to mislead the invaders.[25]

The Nanda army did not have the opportunity to face Alexander, whose soldiers mutinied at the Beas River, refusing to go any further in the east. Alexander's soldiers had first started to agitate to return to their homeland at Hecatompylos in 330 BCE, and the stiff resistance that they had met in north-western India in the subsequent years had demoralized them. They mutinied, when faced with the prospect of facing the powerful Nanda army, forcing Alexander to retreat from India."

Maurya Axemen

The Mauryan armies

The next step was following the death of Alexander the Great (which toppled the Persian and Hellenized Indian satrapy kingdoms). There was a power-vacuum which lasted until 322 BC when a former ruler settled in Maghada, forging an empire after allying with the prestigious city-state of Takshashila. Thanks to an alliance with the latter ruler, Chandragupta Maurya setup to create an Empire in this region of southwestern India. Specific to the Maurya, the core of the army comprised Uttarapathian warriors (central and western India), such as Kambojas, Yavanas, Sakas and Vardas. Maghadas, Assamese, and Cheras formed another kind of infantry Even the Nagas (literally serpents, because they worshiped cobras), a mystical people to the east, were incorporated into the army.

Maurya archers

The Maurya king (Chadragupta and followers) ruled with the help elder statesmen called the the mantri-parisad, advisors. Outside the great councilor (mantrin), the second most important man was the Purohita (chief priest) and the treasurer (sannidhatr), chief tax collector (samahartr). The minister of military affairs (sandhivigrahika) was assisted by the chief military advisor/general (senapati) and the chief secretary (mahaksapatalika). Superintendents were in charge of various departments and administration at large. The military organisation was contolled by high-ranking civilian superintendents. They managed the armies in peactime, including state armories (manufacturing of weapons and armor), but also the supply depots, cavalry, elephants, chariots and infantry corps supplies and maintenance. Their tasks also included campaign provisions, but also training and combat readiness. Ashoka later had an imperial army run by a committee of thirty superintendents in charge of each army departament. They all reported to the senapati, in turn, chief advisor for the military to the king.

The army officer corps and elite core (professional army) was held by the Ksatriya, the hereditary warrior class. In addition the army could be supplemented with hired mercenaries and freebooters, often well equipped and ranging from grizzly veterans to simple motivated youth attracted by loot and adventure. Corporations and guilds often also had their own private armies, which can be despatched and added to the army. Subordinate allies were also summoned to send troops, of the same level as the Ksatryia, a it like the Roman Socii. Deserters could also be pressed into service. At the bottom were found wild forest and hill tribesmen used as local auxiliaries. Guild warriors were essentially guarding caravan routes and trade stations. However this imperial army did not have any conscripts, levies.

Indian Chariots (Ratha)

Maurya chariotss
Maurya Chariots

Warfare in ancient India, even during the Maurya era, still centered around the chariot. The latter were massive, wooden platforms of iron, and precious metals, massively decorated. Four wheels and four horses, typically holding a charioteer and a trio of archers side to side with close quarter weaponry just in case. Several feet over the ground, they dominated infantry. Some chariots were even larger, up to seven men for six horses. They were melee heavy weapons, crawling around, crushing soldiers and inundating the battlehield with arrows.

Elephants (Gaja)

Maurya elephants
Maurya Elephants

Elephant were used for war in India since the bronze age, about ~1500 BC and the last Nation use these in battle, in the XIXth Century. Elephants were readily available in all territories covered. But those from south India, Sri Lanka were considered the largest and fiercest. Those displayed by kings were measured on ostentatious wealth and numbers. According to Mauryan strategist Kautilya, Chandragupta Maurya fielded 21,000 elephants. Nobles-mounted, first line ones were heavily armored with a castle structure and a mahout. In general three archers took plane on smaller ones, simply seated, the largest up to six. Weaponry included bows, long lances, javelins, tridents and polearms, more against enemy elephants than infantry. The elephant's tusks were given feets-long daggers or swords, sometimes coated with poison.

Tactical use varied widely, Porus at the Hydaspes for example place elephants far away from each others, acting as mobile fortresses or task-force centers around which revolved the infantry, protecting them as be protected. The other classic was the "elephant phalanx", a solid mass of beasts in direct elephants to break enemy lines. They could be arranged in gradual layers, with the armoured ones forward, in a wall, wrapped into iron or steel, while the following ones were less armored, until the rear lines. Coordinated charges could be also enhanced by particular tactics if the elephants were trained enough, such as swinging heavy chained iron balls on chains with their trunks. Meanwhile the three mounted warriors behind the Mahout wielded a bow, javelins and a long pike to pick-up soldiers as they go;

Indian cavalry (Turanga)

Maurya cavalry
Maurya Kshatriya Cavalry

Cavalry was more recent and not considered with the same respect. They were given subdisdiary, almost auxiliary duties, and were light, with the exception of Kshatriya cavalry. Their weaponry included a lance, a hammer and a sword, and they were protected by a small circular shield. They were lightly protected and in general well-suited for reconnaissance. Many were simply mounted archers (Sainika). The Kshatriya, elites or warriors, used an armor that differed greatly from each kingdoms. In southern India the heat mad difficult the use of full armor, it was lighter or partial. In the north, tougher metallic armor was commonplace. There were numerous declinations of the "scale armor" which came in all shapes or form, interlocking pieces of iron or steel, even precious metal for Kings and generals. Leather plates were commonplace for the wealthier among the levies, or swordsmen.

But the bulk of the army went into battle in silk loincloth which can in some case block arrows, while turbans and braided hair protected the head from injuries. Metallic weaponry emerged soon, and was plentiful, ranging from hundred of polearms to an all steel bow. Long handled maces were also used, slashing and thrusting swords, all kinds of axes, and spears of all lenght and materials, with spearheads to match in exotic shapes, sometimes typical of a specific kingdom. Needless to say color was also use to make a distinction between combatants. Because only nobles wore color garments to distinguish themselves, commoners having white clothes used war paints, while there were many flagbearers to be recoignised, while officers being mounted most of the time, were also like beacons in the melee. Horns and percussions were used, sometimes mounted on elephants to be heard above the noise and signal tactical retreats and moves.

Mauryan infantry - MTW EB2
Maurya infantry EB2

Indian Infantry (Patti/Kauntika)

The mainstay of all ancient warfare was its infantry. They were given a large variety of weapons which changed along kingdoms and regions. The sword was an area where smiths were particularly inventive. They came in hundreds of shapes across India. Archery was well-developed like anywhere else in the east. The main model was similar to the English longbow, tall and depending on the physical abilities of the bowmen for the range and accuracy. Recurved, composite bows ere also used in drier regions, especialy in the north.

Maurya skirmishers
Maurya Skirmishers

The whole range of light infantry existed, outside archers there were slingers and javelineers, but the bedrock of the infantry was the spearman (Kauntika), a cheap levy that can be trained in a variety of offensive and defensive combinations. In the more exotic realm, religion occupied and important place and warrior fanatics whoch fought ith their faith and clubs were also part of the mix, as well as unusual (the say the least) forms of warfare: Poisoned projectiles but also hornets (with their sting dipped in poison), pots filled with spiders and snakes...

Tactics and Formations

Lotus Formation

Armies were like in China mostly made of levies, and massive in scale. Hundreds of thousands faced on the battlefields between kingdoms. Sometimes, the whole male population joined in the field as it would have seen as a disgrace not to participate. Infantry formed the larger part (70%), the rest distriuted between cavalry, chariots and elephants. Typically also the elite Kshatriya formed less than a small fraction of the infantry (often as officers) but were more commonly mounted. The Mauryan army was always described as very large, Pliny referring to the last Nanda king spoke of 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 2,000 chariots, and 3,000 elephants. Despite of this, the army was beaten by Chandragupta’s force (600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 elephants). At the Hydaspes, the Macedonians were opposed by a fraction of this, 30,000 foot, 4,000 cavalry, 300 chariots, and 200 war elephants, from a minor king, from a minor state. A year later, the Malavas state sent a force of 80,000 well-equipped infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 800 chariots. This prospect doomed any effort of Alexander to press on through India and terminated his dreal to circumnavigating the globe and unify it all under Hellenic rule. The population of India was estimated 120,000,000 to 180,000,000, and this granted the Mauryan empire with a tremendous manpower pool. Despite the strenght of the Seleucids later (in particular Antiochios III), the Greeks never could hope defeating the Empire. India was also rich in gold and metals and did not lacked skills and imagination to produce weapons. They were not short of breeding mounts either, contrary to mainland Greece, however the imperial armies seemed to have been smaller than in later recorded history. Indian formations and divisions was a long standing tradition, which was refined to an art form. Commanders carefully made intricate formations for defence as well as offense, as diversified as the Kama-Sutra in another register: Chakra (wheel) Vyuha, Suchi (needle) Vyuha, Chayana (hawk) Vyuha and Mala (garland), and Garuda (eagle).

Maurya war elephants
Maurya War Elephants

Warfare in Imperial Period

In Vedic times, war was the responsibility of an entire tribe. But the Mauryas, which used conscription at the beginning, soon discarded it, notably after the lessons of the fight with the much better trained and disciplined Macedonians. The imperial armies, influenced by Hellenistic warfare, comprised mainly warrior aristocrats and other professionals maintained by the state. Of course, until the end of the Hellenistic era (most Historians marked the end of it by the battle of Actium, which saw the end of the Prolemaic Empire, the last semi-independent power from Rome around the Mediterranean. Now the borders of the Empire were fixed for long, as the large Greek-Bactrian Kingdom also ended circa 125 BC, ended by the Parthian king Mithridates I. Now only Rome and Parthia remained. Adrerwards, the Yuezhi and later Wusun influence over the region was considerable. Bactrian armies were composed of mainly cavalry at the beginning, and later, integrated assive amount of Scythians, Dahae, Indians and Parthian mercenaries.

Of course Ashoka imprinted a deep mark on the affairs of the subcontinent. He ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c.268 to 232 BCE, as the grandson of the famed Chandragupta Maurya, the funder of the new dynasty, and is revered as Ashoka "the great". India reached its maximum extent by that time (but the southern tip), and never reached this level before the forced unification of the XVIIIth Century under British rule, thousands of years after. Among othrer things, gifted general and succesful strategist, Ashoka promoted the spread of Buddhism after a conversion, disgusted by the strain of the war against the state of Kalinga and the associated sufferings and mass death.

Ashoka's armies were stright away derived from the Maurya, with the same organization and traditions, and also had great knowledge of the Hellenistic warfare, maintaind by strong links with the Seleucids, notably after a marriage with Seleucus's daughter. Armies were considerable and the war long and protracted, with skilled generals. Maha Padmanabha was the last "rebel", commander in chief of the Kalinga's armies. The war in total costed both sides each 100,000 men, which even by the time standard were enormous. We can deduce both armies were very similar and probably used the same tactics, with an advantage of the Mauryan side of more elephants. However the Kalinga navy was considerable and reputed. However, the war ruined whole area of Kalinga, which was systematically plundered and destroyed, 300,000 capital inhabitants killed or enslaved and the strain on the overall population early reached genocide. Ashoka famously was already open to Busshist ideas and believe, and he embraced afterwards ahimsa (non-violence) and dharma-vijaya (victory through dharma).

After Ashoka, the empire was divided again, under Dasharatha Maurya (232-224 BCE), and succeeded by other rulers until the dynasty, weakened, died out in 180 BCE. Afterwards, what is called, still the Early classical period saw the emergence of the Shunga Empire (Pushyamitra Shunga), which ended the Maurya, but only had partial control over central and eastern India, patronising Indian culture and promoting Hinduism. This Empire existed from 187 to 78 BCE, so almost until the end of the Hellenistic era. The Satavahana Empire proceeded from there, but having to compete with the remnants of the Shunga and the Kanva dynasty of Magadha. It was also n constant state of war, defending bordered against invading bands from the northwest, the Sakas, Yavanas (possible Yuezhi) and Pahlavas (Parthians). Little is known about army composition though, but Parthian warfare certainly left some influence (notably in heavy cavalry of the cataphract style among the elites Ksatryas).

Indo Scythians

Indeed, there was the rule of the Indo-Scythians from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century BCE, settling on the northwest part of India, from Gandhara to Mathura. The Saka were supremely competent rider, masters of the cavalry warfare, and an amready ancient and prestigious civilization. Called the "Royal Scythians" they were rich, feared and respected, and the only Scythian civilization left after the defeat and gradual assimilation of the western scythians into the Sarmatian Empire. The Saka mostly fought on horseback, with the horse archer forming the bulk of the armies, and elites, nobles riding havily cladded cataphract, wielding lances and maxes, axes for close combat. No doubt they were fought by the Satavahana Empire and Shunga and keft influenced in their own management of cavalry. They were crushed eventually by the Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni and definitively chased out by Chandragupta II of the Gupta Empire in around 400 CE.

Indo Parthians

Indo-Parthians were ruled by the Gondopharid dynasty (Gondophares). They ruled over the former Indo-Greek kingdom and northwestern India, all hellenistic regions before the 1st century CE. Taxila was their main base in India, ruling from here. Indo-Parthians coinage was often inspired by the Arsacid dynasty, and as Iranic tribes they shared some silimarities with the Sakas. They also embraced Buddhism. About their warfare, we can only guess the kind of mix between a mostly Parthian cavalry and Indian infantry looked like. This Empire was invaded and crshed by the Kushan, another powerful nomadic tribe from the north, around 240 CE.

Kushan Empire

They ruled nowadays Afghanistan and the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. Their first Emperor was Kujula Kadphises, in the mid-1st century CE. A Tocharian speaking tribe they were one of the five branches of the Yuezhi confederation. Kanishka the Great achieved the greatest extension of the empire and was also a great patron of Buddhism. When Kushans expanded southward however, Hinduism progressed, but they played overall an important role in the establishment of Buddhism in India and its spread to Central Asia and China. They also encouraged trade and the silk road, which passed through the Indus valley. They prepared Indian for its "golden age", in the the "classic era", under the Gupta Empire, which if contemporary of the late Roman Empire. Again, without precise depiction of the armies of the time, we can only guess the mixed style of elite and levied cavalry with local levies for infantry. Contrary to the Maurya Indians, which privileged infantry with some part of it, made of elite Ksatriya, the elites were probably all cavalry with the Kushans. The latter were eclipsed locally by the Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom, while Indian proper was ruled by the Gupta Empire.

The coins of Kajula, Vima Takto, Vima Kadphises and Kanishka show the early kings usually unarmored, carrying a bow, but this interpretion is debatable. Armored horses were shown, with Cataphract lancers. Battle tactics were deduced from dubious Buddhist texts and traditions. They shown the Indo-Kushans preceded their attack with elephants leading the charge and chariots. The Chinese sources also indicated a mixed force. But light horse archers formed the backbone of any operations. In later period, elephants became more heavily armored with towers and a covering while infantry were used to support these elephants. Bactrians made the bulk of the Kushan manpower. Later kings become increasingly heavily armored and heavy cataphracts more numerous. Nobles and minor nobles fromed an heavy cavalry, mych of it was still riding unarmored horses. Indian chariots and elephants formed the vanguards, and the back was made of infantry, Bactrian mountain tribes, Greek-decsendent and still living Saka of northern India, and Iranian swordsmen mercenaries. This army was as diverse as the ones commanded by Hannibal. Mounted/Dismounted guards were called the Kushan Gaulmikas. The armies were completed by Bactrian Hillmen and Ambushers as stated above, but also Gandahar Avavarskars infantry, spearmen and Archers, Gandaharan Elephants, Chuban Warrior horsemen, and Yueban Horselords.

More on Mauryan warfare

Sources/Read More indus valley civ - Ancient India
Indian on
Maurya_Empire - Indian Formations
ancient history of india
Fall of the Maurya Empire
About ancient indian siege warfare
Customs of warfare in ancient india
Elephants in ancient indian warfare
Kushan warfare
Forum discussion about ancient indian warfare
Oxford Lib. ancient indian warfare
The maurya on weapons & warfare
Women in indian warfare & traditions
About ancient indian warfare
Book - Art of War in Ancient India R.K. Sachdeva, Mohit Publications
About the Kushan not related to the Yuezhi (recent discoveries)

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