Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism started when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor, the Achaemenid Empire and ancient Pakistan in 326 BCE, defeating Porus at the Battle of the Hydaspes (near modern-day Jhelum) and conquering much of the Punjab region. Alexander’s troops refused to go beyond the Beas River — which today runs along part of the Indo-Pakistan border — and he took most of his army southwest, adding nearly all of ancient Pakistan to his empire. Alexander created garrisons for his troops in his new territories, and founded several cities in the areas of the Oxus, Arachosia, and Bactria, and Macedonian/Greek settlements in Gandhara, such as Taxila, and Punjab. The regions included the Khyber Pass — a geographical passageway south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountains — and the Bolan Pass, on a trade route connecting Drangiana, Arachosia and other Persian and Central Asia areas to the lower Indus plain. It is through these regions that most of the interaction between South Asia and Central Asia took place, generating intense cultural exchange and trade.
Since Alexander was determined to reach the eastern-most limits of the Persian Empire he could not resist the temptation to conquer Pakistan, which at this time was parcelled out into small chieftain- ships, who were feudatories of the Persian Empire. Alexander entered Pakistan from the northern route at Swat but was given a tough fight by the local forces in which he himself is said to have been injured. Next, he reached Indus which was crossed at a place called Ohind, fifteen miles above Attock. The first local ruler he encountered was that of Taxila, Raja Ambhi, with his territories lying between Indus and Jhelum. This raja, because of the geographical position of his kingdom, kept himself well informed of developments across Indus and beyond, and was shrewd and pragmatic in his approach. Having received the information that the Achaemenian Emperor Darius III was ignominiously defeated by Alexander and that entire Iran had been over-run and devastated by his armies, Ambhi considered it prudent to conclude peace with the Greek dictator. Alexander was extended a glorious welcome at Taxila where he stayed for some time and held discussions with the learned people of the city. He was so pleased with the raja that he confirmed the latter as ruler of the area and gave him costly presents.
Further east, however, Alexander’s advance was halted by the famous Raja Porus who inflicted considerable losses on the Greek forces. Porus was the ruler of territories east of Jhelum. The local armies fought valiantly and but for some tactical mistakes might have won the war. In spite of the defeat, Porus was confirmed as ruler in his principality in recognition of his prowess and patriotism. Moreover, Alexander did not want to antagonise the local people and rulers in view of their potentialities and also in view of his own limited resources. “It is clear from classical accounts of Alexander’s campaign that the Greeks were not unimpressed by what they saw in Pakistan. They much admired the courage of the Pakistani troops, the austerity of the ascetics whom they met at Taxila and the purity and simplicity of the tribes of the Punjab and Sind The Greeks were impressed by the ferocity with which the women of some of the Punjab tribes aided their menfolk in resisting Alexander.”
“The Greeks who were much impressed by the high stature of the men in the Punjab acknowledged that in the art of war they were far superior to the other nations by which Asia was at that time inhabited. The resolute opposition of Porus consequently was not to be despise.”
Alexander went up to the bank of the Beas somewhere near Gurdaspur where his army, according to historians, refused to move further. What- ever the immediate cause, by reaching Beas Alexander had almost touched the eastern-most frontier of the traditional boundaries of Pakistan and accomplished his mission. It was but logical that he should return. He came down through the entire length of Pakistan, crossed the Hub River near Karachi and departed for home dying on the way. It should not be overlooked that during his 10-month stay in Pakistan and during his movements from one end to the other he did not have smooth sailing. He had to fight small rulers almost everywhere in the N.W.F.P., Punjab and Sind. The Mallois of Mullistan (Multan) inflicted considerable losses on his forces.
Alexander’s invasion of this area and the extent of his journey again boldly highlight the fact that Pakistan’s present boundaries were almost the same in those days. From Hindu Kush, Dir and Swat to the banks of the Beas and down to Karachi – this entire area was one single geographical, political and cultural bloc under the suzerainty of the Persians. It will also be recalled that this was the same area as covered by the Indus Valley Civilization which continued to remain separate from India through the ages. Alexander’s halt and return from the bank of the Beas is not without significance in this context. “The sphere of Persian influence in these early times can hardly have reached beyond the realm of the Indus and its affluents. We may assume, accordingly, that when Alexander reached the river Hyphasis, the ancient vipac, and modern Beas, and was then forced by his generals and soldiers to start upon his retreat, he had touched the extreme limits of the Persian dominion over which he had triumphed throughout.” (The Cambridge History of India, Vol.1, Edited by E.J. Rapson)