Composition of Ancient Army in Indian Subcontinent


Chariots was the proudest arm of the Indian forces.

A Rathi (Charioteer) enjoyed the honour of a knight in Medieval Europe.

Charioteer uses four horses to draw each chariot.

It carried six men, namely, a shield-bearer and an archer on each side.

When the chariot could not move and the fighting was at close quarters.

The drivers dropped the reins and hurled dart after dart against the enemy.

But these cumbrous wooden structures had to be built heavy in order to carry six men and their arms.

Ancient Army in Indian Subcontinent
Ancient Army in Indian Subcontinent

They could not move fast like our one-horse ekkas or two-horse tangos, which are two-wheeled and light structure.


The Indian infantry used bows and javelins, but many carried sword and shield only.

Megasthenis thus describes them. “The Indian infantry have a bow equal in length to the man who carries it.

Placing this down to the ground and stepping against it with the left foot,  discharge the arrow, drawing the string far back.

Their arrows are little less then three cubits long, and nothing can withstand one shot by an Indian archer, neither shield nor breastplate.

They carry on their left arm targets of raw ox-hide, narrower than the men
who carry them, but not much inferior in length. Others have javelins instead of arrows.

All wear a sword broad and not less than three cubits in length.

Shield & Armour

Even in defence, the inferiority of equipment seriously handicapped  Indian infantry.

They wore no armour, and thus had no metallic plate to, protect their heads and breasts.

Their shields were made of a coiled cane branch frame, with a cover of raw
ox-hide, but not metal coated.


The cavalry mounted on short country-born ponies, was the weakest arm of Poros’s army.

There were no mounted archers on the Indian side, to match the Scythian bowmen on horses.

The Indian cavalryman carried two darts and a shield smaller than that of the infantry.

These facts decided the issue in the initial cavalry encounter, and prevented any attempt at rear-guard defense by the Indians after their defeat at the end of the day.


Each elephant carried three fighters and only one driver, so that the elephant became uncontrolled like a derelict ship when enemy shot the mahut off its back by long range missiles.

On the other hand, each chariot carried a second driver as a reserve.

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