This claim comes from about.com. It references this source which doesn't claim that Porus specifically did it, merely that such a practice was common. It also cites Adrienne Mayor who claims that Alexander's men encountered poisoned arrow heads.

A separate source on the University of Washington website claims that:

Diodorus describes Alexander’s Army encountering war elephants of Indian King Porus and the siege of Harmatelia (todays SW Pakistan) in 326 BC. The warriors had smeared their spears swords and arrows with snake venom from Vipera russelli.

The wounded Greeks went numb, exper convulsions, vomited bile and a purple-green gangrene to horr. death. After a plant was found as antidote “by Alex” the Greeks defeated the barbarians.

  1. Were the swords/elephant tusks/arrows of Porus's army poisoned?
  2. What was this antidote that Alexander found?

EDIT: It seems that about.com misinterpreted Adrienne Mayor's work, see her comment below.

  • 1
    WRT the venom: "For most humans, a lethal dose is approximately 40–70 mg." from wikipedia. That would be difficult to carry on the tip of an arrow/spear. My understanding is that these poisons do require a "volume" to be injected.
    – Rajib
    Feb 26, 2014 at 11:38
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    Don't know what the antidote Alexander found was, but it's worth noting that the endemic Ophiorrhiza mungos plant can be effective against viper's venom.
    – yannis
    Feb 26, 2014 at 11:46

2 Answers 2


I am Adrienne Mayor and I never wrote that Porus used any kind of poison weapons, not swords or arrows and certainly not poisoned elephant tusks, as claimed on About.com and the Univ. of Washington sites

See my "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World" (Overlook/Duckworth, 2003, 2009) pp 88-91 and reference notes for information about the poison weapons encountered by Alexander AFTER defeating Porus, at Harmatelia (now Pakistan) and my theory that the poison was Russell's viper venom.

  • 1
    Welcome to History.stackexchange.com! Unfortunately, on the Internet "No-one knows you are a dog." Hopefully you really are the Adrienne Mayor OP's link, but unfortunately your recent arrival in the Stack Exchange universe makes that difficult to verify. I do look forward to your future contributions to the site. Mar 2, 2014 at 23:55
  • 2
    While it's impossible to verify authenticity, the answer itself is good with excellent reference, so it doesn't really matter if the real author was or was not posting it.
    – DVK
    Apr 29, 2014 at 16:54

There are certainly references to "poison" and these come from Diodorus, Arrian, Plutarch and Justin.

But these seem more like many of the other fantasies that the Greeks spun- especially if you consider the methods of preparation of the poison and how Alexander was told in a dream about the antidote.

Also, the only reference to anyone being wounded, by these accounts is that of Ptolemy. There is no mention of it being used in the battle of Hydaspes.

All in all it should be discounted as a 'tale'.

The fact that much of the Greek accounts of India were fantasy (while of course much was also authentic) is easy to ascertain today simply due to the ludicrous content.

  • 2
    In ancient times wounds could fester and kill without requiring any arcane poison, just by normal infection.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 27, 2014 at 1:18

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