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Punjab History - Classical Antiquity

Some of the existing tribes in the Punjab are believed to be traceable to the early Aryan settlers, as the Bhatti tribe, whose special region is Bhattianv south of the Sutlej, and who have also in the village of Pindi Bhattian a record of their early occupation of a tract of country on the. left bank of the Chinab, west of Lahore. The Dogra, another Aryan clan, belong to a tract of the lower hills betw een the Chinab and the Ravi. Others similarly have their special ancient localities. To the earlier settlers—the dark race (Dasyu) whom the Aryans found in the country, and who are commonly spoken of as aborigines—belonged, as is supposed, the old tribe called Takka, whose name is found in Taksha-sila or Taxila.

Although the rulers of ancient Persia extended their conquests over part of India, and the Indian possessions of Darius Hystaspes, the most valuable of his twenty satrapies, are supposed to have included the Punjab, there are few recorded facts upon this point, and no testimony beyond the authority of Herodotus, and the doubtful voyage of Scylax down the Indus.

The earliest accounts of the Punjab are given by the historians of the expedition of Alexander the Great, in the fourth century before the Christian era. The peculiar character of the country, and the general fidelity and accuracy of the Greek writers, permit tracing the movements of the Macedonian conqueror with more precision than might have been expected, considering the great lapse of time, the loss of the original journal of Megasthenes, and the corruptions of the ancient texts.

Alexander entered India at the very point where it is most easily assailed. He passed the Indus in the district of Peucelaotis (as Arrian writes the name), or Peucolaitis (according to Strabo), and Rennell supposes that he crossed the river at Attock, where it was passed by subsequent conquerors. This territory was then partitioned amongst a great number of petty princes, independent of, and often in hostility with, each other. At this critical period, two of the most powerful of these rajas, named Taxiles and Porus, were at war, and the former, in order to crush his adversary, joined the invader. Porus was defeated and taken prisoner. This was the extreme limit of Alexander's progress eastward, and he marched with his army to Persia by way of Gedrosia (Mekran) and Caramania (Kerman), in September, BC 326.

Alexander had not time to establish any system of government in the vast provinces he conquered in the East; where his authority was acknowledged, it was exercised through military commanders, who, after his death (323 B.C.), became, in the natural course of things, and by the force of circumstances, supreme. Seleucus, governor of Babylon, not only secured that country, but extended his power, by the destruction of his competitors, as far as the Indus, which he crossed, BC 305, to attack Sandracottus (identified with the Chandragupta of Indian history), who had expelled the Greek garrisons from the Punjab, which was thus restored to native rule. Seleucus is said to have passed the Hesudrus (Sutluj), and, after gaining several victories over Sandracottus, being suddenly recalled to defend his own territories, to have concluded a treaty of peace with that monarch, to whom he ceded the Punjab and valley of the Indus as far as Peshawur.

Antiochus the Great, according to the Greek and Roman historians, invaded India B.C. 206, and formed an alliance with Sophagasenes, the sovereign of that country. It is now ascertained, from the evidence before referred to, that this sovereign was Asoka, or Piyadasi, king of Magadha (grandson of Chandragupta), who ascended the throne B.C. 247. He was a zealous Buddhist, and in one of his edicts still extant, engraved on stone, he expressly mentions by name Antiochus, the Greek king {Antiyako Yona Raja), who, it seems, had favoured, if not adopted, the Buddhistic opinions. Eucratides the Great, another Bactrian king, invaded India B.C. 165, and annexed the Punjab to his dominions. Upon his death, his vast empire is supposed to have been broken into several independent kingdoms, one of which, ruled by Menander and Apollodotus, included the Punjab.

The disruption of the empire of Eucratides enabled Mithridates I (the Parthian monarch) to seize upon a large part of his territories; and he made a successful invasion of India, about BC 140, and there is reason to believe that satraps, or governors, were left by him in possession of the Punjab, where coins of Parthian princes have been found, the dates of which are placed between the years 90 and 60 BC. This area appears thereafter to have been overrun by successive hordes of Scythians, whom some mighty revolutions in Tartary had expelled from their native seats. The Chinese historians say that the Yue-te (Getes, or Jits), who occupied a vast country between China and the Teen-shan, or Celestial Mountains, were, after many sanguinary wars, expelled by the Heung-noos, or Huns, and forced into the countries of the Oxus and Jaxartes, whence they extended themselves to Afghanistan and the borders of India. The Indus was only a temporary barrier, and they appear to have occupied the whole country of the Five Rivers.

The great Indian sovereign, Vicramaditya, expelled the Scythian princes from the Punjab, and his era (b.c. 56) is supposed to commence from a great victory obtained by him over the barbarians in that country, which completed his conquest of all Hindustan. His empire, however, fell to pieces after his death, when new hordes of Scythians overran the Punjab, and established, about 20 BC, a dynasty of kings bearing the name of Kadphises. Coins of these kings have been recovered, and their barbarous effigies clearly distinguish them from Greeks or Hindus. This dynasty is supposed to have reigned throughout the whole of the first century of the Christian era, when it was subverted by a fresh swarm of Scythians, under the Kanerki kings. The power of the Kanerki kings in the Punjab must have continued for some centuries.

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