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Persian and Macedonian Invasions

Persian and Macedonian Invasions

  • The period from the sixth century witnessed close cultural contact of the north-west of India with Persia and Greece.
  • It might be surprising to know that Gandhara and its adjoining regions on the Indus were part of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia.
  • Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, invaded India around 530 BCE and destroyed the city of Kapisha.
  • According to Greek historian Herodotus, Gandhara constituted the twentieth and the richest satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire.
  • The region continued to be part of the Persian Empire till the invasion of Alexander the Great.
  • The inscriptions of Darius I mention the presence of the Persians in the Indus region and include “the people of Gadara, Haravati and Maka” as subjects of the Achaemenid Empire.


  • Takshashila or Taxila is situated in present-day Pakistan.
  • Between the fifth century and fourth century BCE, it was part of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia.
  • Because of its strategic location on the trade route between the East and the West, it emerged as an important centre of learning and culture.
  • Students came from far and wide to Taxila in search of knowledge.
  • The city was brought to light by the excavation carried out in the 1940s by Sir John Marshall.
  • Taxila is considered “one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization”.
  • Panini seems to have compiled his well-known work, Ashtadhyayi, here.

Impact of Persian Contact

  • As the north-western part of India came under the control of the Persian Empire from about middle of the sixth century, the region became a centre of confluence of Persian and Indian culture.
  • The Persian contact left its impact on art, architecture, economy and administration of ancient India.
  • The cultural impact was felt most in the Gandhara region.
  • The most significant impact was the development of the Kharosthi script, used in the northwestern part of India.
  • It was used by Ashoka in his inscriptions in the Gandhara region.
  • The Kharosthi script was derived from Aramaic used widely in the Achaemenid Empire of Persia.
  • Like Aramaic, Kharosthi was written from right to left. Persian sigloi (silver coin) is an imitation from the region.
  • The earliest coins in India are traced to the period of the mahajanapadas.
  • The Indian word for coin karsa is of Persian origin.
  • The coins might have been inspired by the Persian coins.
  • The existence of coins in that period suggests trade links between India and Persia.
  • The Ashokan edicts might have been inspired by the edicts of the Achaemenid king Darius.
  • The Ashokan edicts use the term lipi instead of the Iranian term dipi.
  • The Mauryan art and architecture show traces of Persian influence.
  • Mauryan columns of the Ashokan Pillar are similar to the columns found in the Achaemenid Empire.
  • The bellshaped capital of the columns, especially the lion capital of Sarnath pillar and the bell capital of Rampurval pillar, show resemblance to designs found in the Achaemenid columns.
  • Similarly, the pillared remains of the Palace in Pataliputra display a remarkable similarity to the pillared hall in the Achaemenid capital.
  • However, the craftsmen, though inspired by the Persian art and architecture, gave a definite Indian character to their work.

The word “Hindu” appears for the first time in an inscription of Darius I at Persepolis, Iran. Darius lists “Hindu” as part of his empire. The word “Sindhu”, denoting a river in general and Indus in particular, became “Hindu” in Persian. The Greeks dropped the S and called it Indu, which eventually came to be called Hindu and later India.

Connection between Persian and Sanskrit

There are linguistic similarities between Rig Veda and Zend Avesta. The term Aryas was also used by the ancient Persians. According to Indologist Thomas Burrow, only phonetic change had occurred overtime. The Bogaz Koi (in North-East Syria) Inscription dating back to 1380 BCE records a treaty between a Hittite and a Mitanni King. It mentions the names of a few Rig Vedic gods such as Indara, Uruvna (Varuna), Mitira and Nasatiya (Ashvins).

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