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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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A Greek City in Asia

CIRCA 200 BCE
THEMES:

Identity & Perception

Traces & Narratives

Reveal Source

1209-32. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Alexander Mosaic. Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Barrison, Harvey. Temple of Zeus at Olympia. July 6, 2009. Athens. Accessed October 9, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/hbarrison/3857766654/. Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

"Costume-fitting." Digital image. The British Museum. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectId=434391&partId=1.
© Trustees of the British Museum

Dupree, Nancy. Citadel Residence, Ai Khanoum. 1975. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. Kushan Sculpture Found at Lulu Tepe. 1959. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. Members of the Conference at the Administrative Quarters. 1970. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. Pseudo-Corinthian Capital from the Administrative Quarters. 1970. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. Temple outside East Wall. 1975. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. Temple within the Walls of Ai-Khanoum. 1970. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. The Bases in the Hall of the Administrative Quarters, Ai-Khanoum. 1970. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

PHGCOM. "HeraklesStatuette." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HeraklesStatuette.jpg.

"Sculpture of an Old Man, Ai Khanoum." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Philosopher2.JPG.

"Seleuco I Nicatore." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seleuco_I_Nicatore.JPG.
Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/it/deed.en

World Imaging. "AiKhanoumPlateSharp." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AiKhanoumPlateSharp.jpg.

World Imaging. "GorgoyleSharp." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 20, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GorgoyleSharp.jpg.


Producer: Kate Harding

Reveal Transcript

In 1961, the King of Afghanistan went on hunting expedition in the northeast province of Kunduz. During the trip he was shown a Corinthian capital. He recognized the ornate style as being similar to the capitals that topped columns in ancient Greece. This would lead to the discovery of an entire forgotten city

After the King’s discovery, a French team of archaeologists began to excavate the area. What they unearthed was the best-preserved Greek city in all of Asia. Known as Ai-Khanoum, the city’s plan was practically a carbon copy of settlements in the Mediterranean.

It is basically a site that has an acropolis similar to the acropolis in Athens. It has markets that are similar to the markets found in traditional Greek civilization. It shows the dramatic influence of the Greek culture on Afghanistan during this time.

The site also included a gymnasium, a theatre, a fountain – all modeled in the Greek style, as well as a library full of Greek texts.

When Alexander the Great conquered the area now known as Afghanistan in 330 BCE, he initiated a melding of cultures and ideas. When he died, one of his Macedonian officers, Seleucus, conquered the eastern edge of the empire and founded the city of Ai-Khanoum. Seleucus created a Greek metropolis in the heart of Central Asia.

The Greek influence fused with Central Asian traditions and inspired new levels of cultural and artistic fusion.
ROSSABI 037: Ai-Khanoum was a real hybrid. It wasn’t just a Greek settlement although there were Greek features….It was truly integrated with local culture, the local monuments, and the local style of life.

In 145 BCE, Ai Khanoum was invaded by nomadic people of the northern steppes. Evidence suggests that it was completely abandoned.

When it was rediscovered in the 1960s, the archaeology community was aflutter with excitement. For centuries, experts had speculated about Greek influence in Central Asia, but no eastern settlements had been discovered in tact. The discovery put to rest rumors that the Greek influence in Asia was merely a mirage.

But the victory was short-lived. At the onset of the Russian invasion in 1979, Ai Khanoum was looted and used as a battleground.

Nonetheless, several important pieces survived, providing an outstanding glimpse into the cultural fusion that has continually arisen in Central Asia. 

While on a hunting trip in the 1960s, the king of Afghanistan came across an extraordinary find: an ancient Greek city in Afghanistan.

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