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Old Aug 19, 2003, 12:15 PM   #1
Kshatriya
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Ancient military of India

With all those people making historical threads, I thought I’d make one on ancient Indian military history There’s really too much stuff to fit into one thread so this won’t be comprehensive at all.

Although divided from the rest of Asia by the Himalayan mountains, India has for most of its history been fighting numerous and violent wars among itself. During its long history, there could be anywhere from 16 to more than a hundred kingdoms, all fighting each other, making and breaking alliances. In the harsh deserts to the northwest were the fierce Rajput (literally sons of kings) kingdoms, who fought on horseback and camelback. In central India were mighty kingdoms descended from the Aryan invaders who invaded India around 1500 BC. In the jungles to the south were other large and formidable kingdoms, more ancient than the Aryan ones, the original inhabitants of India. In the Deccan Plateau, where the Kingdoms of the north and the south met, were other smaller nations, but with some of the fiercest fighters on the subcontinent. To the east were the kingdoms of Bengal and Assam, to the north was the feared kingdom of Nepal.

Warfare in ancient India centered around the chariot. Indian chariots were nothing like the light, sleek chariots of Egypt. They were massive, made of wood and iron, and intricately decorated in gold. They had four wheels, and typically held two men-the charioteer, and an archer who also had a weapon for hand to hand combat. This archer, standing on the chariot, would be a good six or more feet off the ground, giving him a significant advantage over enemy infantry. Some chariots held more men, the largest could hold seven men. Indian chariots were so large and heavy that they required four to six horses to pull them. Unlike Egyptian chariots, which moved quickly and fired arrows into the enemy ranks, Indian chariots often charged right into melee battle. They crushed enemy soldiers under their wheels, trampled them under the horses, all while the soldier(s) on the chariot fired arrows into them, or fought it out hand to hand.

No description of India’s ancient military is complete without mentioning the elephant. India was the first nation to use the elephant in battle (~1500BC) and the last nation to stop using it in battle (1800’s AD). Wars were frequently fought over territories that had a great deal of elephants. Elephants from the tip of south India and Sri Lanka were the most prized as they were considered the fiercest in battle. Often times, a king’s wealth was measured in how many elephants he owned. A single Indian prince might own more elephants than all of Carthage. According to Kautilya, the army of the Indian emperor Chandragupta Maurya had more than 21,000 elephants. War elephants typically were heavily armored. They had a castle like structure on their back where several warriors and a mahout, who guided the elephant, would be housed. The number of warriors varied anywhere from one to six warriors, and would be armed with an arsenal of weapons, bows and arrows, long lances, javelins, tridents, and a variety of polearms. The elephants themselves had long daggers or swords, sometimes several feet long, attached to their tusks.

The way in elephants were used in battle varied widely as well. One common tactic, used by Porus at the Hydaspes, was to place the elephants a distance apart, anywhere from 40 to 100 feet. These elephants would act like mobile fortresses, where the rest of the army could rally around. Another common tactic, probably the most dangerous and effective one, was to use the elephants to directly assault enemy lines. The elephants would be arranged in a wall formation, and be heavily armored in iron or steel from head to foot. Long steel swords, often coated with poison, would be attached to their tusks. The mahouts would then drive them forward in a coordinated charge, wreaking havoc in enemy ranks. Archers or lancers on top of the elephants would pick off enemy soldiers as well. One king even went as far as to train his elephants to swing heavy iron balls on chains with their trunks. The very sight of a wall of heavily armored elephants charging, whirling huge iron balls with their trunks, their tusks tipped with poisoned swords, the soldiers on the elephant wielding enormous lances, would often cause the enemy to break ranks and flee.

The cavalry of Indian armies is, for the most part, not noteworthy. The cavalry of the Middle Eastern and Arab armies were probably superior. There are exceptions though. The Rajput cavalry was extremely skilled, and man for man, was more than a match for the Mughal cavalry, as they proved several times. They were lightly armored, and moved extremely swiftly. Armed with a light curved sword and a small circular shield, they could charge and fight with incredible speed. Many carried bows and arrows, and were expert archers. The Rajput army was almost entirely composed of cavalry, and were powerful enough that they were able to keep the Muslim forces in check for many years. In the other armies of India cavalry were also used, sometimes in large numbers, but rarely were they equipped with bows and arrows. Their role was either to protect the elephants and chariots, or to charge into melee battle.

The bulk of the Indian army, and most other armies in the world, were the infantry, or foot soldiers. The infantry were equipped with a huge variety of weapons, which differed hugely across India. Probably the most common weapon was the sword, but even this came in hundreds of shapes across India. Indian archers used a bow similar to the English longbow, in that it was as tall as the person using it. However, Indian bows were also recurved. Armies in India were typically larger than those of Europe. It was common to see armies of hundreds of thousands fighting on the battlefield, even thought the kingdoms themselves might be small in size. As infantry formed the majority of the army, a typical battle would look like a sea of infantry and cavalry fighting, while the chariots and elephants stood out.

India was one of the first nations to implement tactics, divisions, and formations. Armies did not simply rush out onto the battlefield; there were commanders who carefully put their massive armies in intricate formations. Some formations were: Chakra (wheel) Vyuha, Suchi (needle) Vyuha, Chayana (hawk) Vyuha and Mala (garland), and Garuda (eagle). Another one I read about recently was the lotus formation, where the archers would be on the inside, and the infantry and cavalry would be arranged like a lotus flower, protecting them.

Their armor differed greatly as well. Some kingdoms, especially in south India wore no armor, because of the extreme heat. Others wore tough sturdy armor, made of interlocking iron, steel, and leather plates. Many warriors wore no armor, but instead wore silk clothing. This actually worked to block arrows, which couldn’t penetrate the silk fibers.

Ancient India has been home to many unique weapons. The world’s first all steel bow was made in India. Some other weapons from the subcontinent are the famous kukri knife, the tiger claw weapon used by assassins, tridents, the long handled mace, swords, axes, and spears of all shapes and sizes… I’ll post some pics to give a better idea

Maybe I’ll post some more stuff later. I forgot to write anything about Indian naval warfare, which is also one of the oldest in the world, going back more that 5,000 years. I’ll also post some stuff on Indian diplomacy, spies, assasins…

Here are some pics:
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Old Aug 19, 2003, 12:34 PM   #2
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Here are some pics of warfare in ancient India. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be too many pictures of Indian history on the web so most of these are from the Indian epic the Mahabharata. They are for the most part historically accurate though.












Last edited by Kshatriya; Sep 29, 2003 at 12:48 PM.
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Old Aug 19, 2003, 12:35 PM   #3
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These are from the Battle of Hydaspes:





I think this is from the campaigns of either the Mauryan or Gupta dynasty:



Rajput cavalry:



These are in an Indian festival, but their headpieces and armor are similar to those in ancient India's war elephants:



An ambassador in the earliest Indian civilization, the Indus Valley one:

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Old Aug 19, 2003, 01:02 PM   #4
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Here are some more pics, this time of Indian weapons:

EDIT: I had no idea that they would come out so big. So I'm just posting the links instead of the images.

Weapons from six parts of the subcontinent:

http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/in...spearsaxes.jpg

http://hindunet.org/saraswati/centralindfiaandamans.jpg

http://hindunet.org/saraswati/assam.jpg

http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/nepal.jpg

http://hindunet.org/saraswati/mahratthas.jpg

http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/southindia.jpg

http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/rajputs.jpg

Indian armor:

http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/armourindian1.jpg

Indian shields:

http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/dhal.jpg

Take the time to look at the links if you're interested.

This took a long time to type so please post comments
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Old Aug 19, 2003, 03:46 PM   #5
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very nice
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Old Aug 19, 2003, 05:59 PM   #6
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Always great hearing Indian History!
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Old Aug 19, 2003, 06:04 PM   #7
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Nice article, it explains everything down to the armor!

Last edited by ss3goku; Aug 30, 2003 at 03:01 AM.
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Old Aug 19, 2003, 11:26 PM   #8
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Another good read.

We could use more Indian articles.
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Old Aug 20, 2003, 02:49 PM   #9
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Great read, great pics

I found the part about the war elephants interesting. Maybe the UU should have better stats?
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Old Aug 20, 2003, 09:14 PM   #10
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This explains them having the 3rd largest armed forces today India suffers from too many stereotypes; we can help fix that at CFC
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It would be great/to go through the streets with a green knife/letting out yells until I died of the cold." - Pablo Neruda, "Walking Around"
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Old Aug 26, 2003, 08:52 AM   #11
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Nice to show to the world that all us indians aren't just cab drivers throughout our history!
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Old Sep 26, 2003, 11:12 AM   #12
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I haven't had any time to write more stuff, but I found more pics of ancient Indian warfare for anyone who's interested:







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Old Sep 26, 2003, 11:20 AM   #13
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One last...

This is an authentic suit of armor worn by elephants in ancient India. Right now I think its in a museum in London or something.

As you can see, Indian war elephants were very heavily armored. Even their ears, around their eyes, and their trunk were covered in armor

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Old Sep 27, 2003, 08:57 AM   #14
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I am doing history right know in college and this is hugely informative. Great work
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Old Sep 28, 2003, 09:09 AM   #15
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I should have said this before, but thank you everyone for posting your comments

allhailIndia, glad to hear my article was of some use to someone
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Old Sep 28, 2003, 10:05 AM   #16
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One request. Could you get some maps? I know the mountains to the west (Kush? Hindu Kush?) were significant as a barrior between the two branches of the Aryan invasion, the other branch becoming ancient Persia. Obviously the Tibetian Plateau to the north and northeast. What to the east? Just Jungle?

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Old Sep 28, 2003, 04:41 PM   #17
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My God Indians are cool.....
Anybody know of anyone making Indian units, that aren't Elephants?
Anytime anyone wants to post more info or pictures of Indians please do.
India facinates me...its history and its mythology. And its food. And a certain book:love2:
MORE GIMME MORE
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Old Sep 29, 2003, 05:53 AM   #18
Kshatriya
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Quote:
One request. Could you get some maps?
Sure This site has a pretty comprehensive list of maps all throughout India's history

http://history.mapsofindia.com/ancient-india/index.html

Quote:
I know the mountains to the west (Kush? Hindu Kush?) were significant as a barrior between the two branches of the Aryan invasion, the other branch becoming ancient Persia. Obviously the Tibetian Plateau to the north and northeast. What to the east? Just Jungle?
There were pretty much kingdoms all over India, from the mountain regions, to the deserts, to the jungles.

Here's one map I picked at random from that site:

http://history.mapsofindia.com/ancie...a-in9thAD.html
(it won't let me post the picture because of some copyright thing)

Take a look at it to see what I mean. Each name written in bold is a major kingdom. There were many more minor kingdoms.

Last edited by Kshatriya; Sep 29, 2003 at 06:03 AM.
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Old Sep 29, 2003, 06:15 AM   #19
Kshatriya
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Quote:
My God Indians are cool.....
Anybody know of anyone making Indian units, that aren't Elephants?
Anytime anyone wants to post more info or pictures of Indians please do.
India facinates me...its history and its mythology. And its food. And a certain book
MORE GIMME MORE
*blushes* Thanks

I'll post some more stuff later. My class is ending right now, adn I have to get to the next one
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Old Sep 29, 2003, 11:47 AM   #20
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I still don't have time to write an article, but if anyone else would like to, please do

This is a reenactment of Kshatriya warriors in ancient India.



So in ancient India, the role of infantry was clearly not lacking in honor and prestige. Of course only the elites and royalty would have armor like that, inlaid with gold.



I think this is a picture of the Mongol invasion of Burma (which was then a very 'Indianized' kingdom). The Mongols won, as usual, but still a nice pic.
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