Nic Fields, The Hydaspes 326 BC (Osprey, 2023)
Even the greatest reach their limits, no matter what they excel in. For Alexander the Great, the Macedonian general that bludgeoned his way through the mighty Persian empire, that limit lay just beyond the River Hydaspes, when his army urged him to turn around even though he had just won another great battle. In this Campaign book from Osprey, Nic Fields describes that battle, the last to showcase Alexander’s tactical genius.
The Campaign series of books are formulaic in their structure, and The Hydaspes does not deviate from that. Fields opens with the necessary background narrative that brings the combatants to the banks of the Hydaspes. He also works through the main sources for the battle; the Greek historians might be familiar but the Indians probably less so. After an annotated chronology of Alexander’s reign, Field comes to the opposing commanders; the still controversial Alexander and the more obscure Poros. Then there are the respective forces; Alexander’s all-conquering phalanx against Poros’ elephants, though obviously there was more to both armies than that simple equation suggests. That brings us to the Hydaspes with Alexander on one bank and Poros on the other, and Poros intended to keep it that way. Alexander had other ideas, however, and crossed downriver overnight to appear on Poros’ flank. The resultant crushing victory for Alexander, though at some cost, opened the gates to India. Fields calls this ‘the triumph of genius in command’, but Alexander’s soldiers were at the end of their rope; so, after this signature victory, the Macedonians turned west not east.
The Hydaspes is an outstanding introductory survey of Alexander’s last great battle. Fields obviously knows his material and writes well, and he is ably supported by Osprey’s usual excellent graphics content in maps, artwork, and photographs. Most books of this kind focus almost exclusively on Alexander, so I particularly enjoyed finding out more on the Indian side of the campaign, and also noted the useful bibliography for further exploration. The Hydaspes is recommended for anyone starting their journey into discovering Alexander’s greatness and for those who knew it already.