Alexander’s India as Terra Incognita and as propaganda

In Atopia, Sabine Müller looks at Alexander the Great’s India campaign as work of propoganda.

In 327 B.C. Alexander the Great started his Indian campaign after the conquest of Persia. He was not the first indeed. In the 6th century the Persian king Darius I had ordered to explore this unknown area and to establish a sea trade (Dihle 1998, 2-3). For Alexander the Indian war was a political necessity. First of all the legitimacy of the Macedonian king derived primarily from successes in campaigning. Alexander had to establish his position repeatedly with military triumphs and conquests. The opposition of the Macedonians against his new representation and policy as a king of Asia after the conquest of the Persian empire had increased and was a serious threat to his authority. Alexander had to continue his march, carry on the war and keep his men busy to avoid a widespread inner revolt. Moreover by adapting the Persian kingship he had taken over the duty to secure the Eastern borders of the empire and to establish his reign over the Indian satrapies following the example of the Achaemenid kings. He could not take the risk to ignore the imperial tradition and to leave India unconquered.

Waging war on India he moreover wanted to establish his declining authority. Nevertheless, his contemporaries regarded the campaign as an ambitious adventure to expand his new empire to the very limits of the world. The Athenian orator Aeschines commented: „Meanwhile Alexander had withdrawn to the uttermost regions of the North, almost beyond the borders of the inhabited world“ (Against Ctesiphon 165). So the tales about Alexander’s attempt to break on through to the end of the world were grounded on daily gossip of his very lifetime (Gunderson 1980, 5).

There can be no doubt that Alexander exploited the rumours for his propaganda. He had proved to be a master of creating his own myth in propagandist forms from the beginning of his reign on and he knew very well how to gain profit for his reputation as an invincible new Achilles from the ancient ideal of overcoming the present and conquer the whole world.