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History

As a country, Afghanistan’s history is less than 300 years old but it has been playing a key role in the region for over two millennia. The map reveals the reason : Afghanistan sits at the crossroads of Asia, sitting astride the hinterland between Persia, Central Asia and India. These three centrifugal forces have interacted time and again in Afghan history, frequently dividing the country against itself. At other times, Afghanistan has united against invaders and proved a bloody testing ground for for- eign empires, as well as occasionally looking beyond its borders to form empires of its own.

FROM THE PERSIANS TO THE GREEKS

The prehistory of Afghanistan has been little studied, but there is evi- dence of pastoralism and agriculture in the region from around 10,000 years ago. Lapis lazuli from Badakhshan was being traded with Mesopo- tamia and India for at least 7000 years, and around 1500 BC the country became populated by the Indo-Aryans moving in from the west. Af- ghanistan doesn’t enter written history until around the 6th century BC, when it became part of the Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great. The Persians were the world’s superpower of the time, and Afghanistan was divided into satrapies – Ariana (Herat), Arachosia (Kandahar), Bactria (Balkh) and Gandhara (the Kabul Valley). The Bactrians in particular were renowned fighters. At some stage during this period Zoroaster was born in Bactria, giving rise to the Zoroastrian religion that was quickly adopted by the Achaemenids. Persia’s great rival was Greece, and in 334 BC Alexander the Great

launched a huge campaign against Darius III. Just 24 years old, Alexander’s military genius quickly conquered the Mediterranean coast and the Achae- menid capital at Persepolis in modern Iran. His kingdom in ruins, Darius fled to Afghanistan where he was betrayed by the Bactrian satrap Bessus, who in turn proclaimed himself king. Alexander was outraged and led his army deep into Afghanistan, sweeping through the south before crossing the Hindu Kush and driving Bessus towards the Oxus (Amu Darya). He captured Bactria and Bessus, who was executed for his resistance. Afghanistan got deep into Alexander’s blood. He took his bride Rox- anne in Balkh, and founded Bagram as a base for his invasion of India. Moreover he adopted local dress, and tried to set himself up as dictator. Only an eventual troop rebellion quelled his ambition, and he eventually turned for home to die at Babylon in 323 BC, leaving no named heir but having conquered much of the known world. Alexander left behind ten years of chaos in Bactria, with thousands of

Greeks stationed far from home. From the anarchy came Seleucus who began to weld together the foundations of the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom. This Hellenistic state deep in Asia sparked a centuries-long period of profound East-West cultural exchange, disseminating the aesthetics of the Classical world and absorbing the influences of both the central Asian steppe and the Indian subcontinent. Ai Khanoum, the easternmost Greek

TIMELINE 330 BC

Alexander the Great invades Afghanistan

AD 128

Kanishka rules Kushan empire from Kapisa (Bagram)

Nearly half the infantry and 95% of the cavalry in Alexander the Great’s entire empire had to be stationed in Afghani- stan to try and pacify the country.

Martin Ewans’ highly recommended Afghani-

stan – A Short History of its People and Politics

covers the breadth of Afghan history from Alexander the Great to Hamid Karzai with a sure hand and lightness of touch. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
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