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Afghanistan: The lasting legacy of Alexander the Great

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The classical world came to Afghanistan with Alexander the Great Between 329 BC and 327 he conquered the area before moving into India But he left behind him settlers, cities that he'd founded and of course being Greeks they expressed their culture The Greek legacy is so strong because their art is so divinely beautiful The legacy of Greek art reached Afghanistan by sea and over land and came up into the places where Alexander had formerly ruled Aï Khanum was a city that was founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals in 300 BC It was really the furthest outpost of the Greek Empire We know so much of it from a Greek site, of a big city on the banks of the River Oxus, miles away from Greece as far as Tasmania from London one feels It had Greek statuory, it had a theatre it had a gymnasium This is the director of the gymnasium found at the far end of this building he is very much of the tradition of Greek sculpture and he would have probably paid for the gymnasium in the city of Aï Khanum It was here that the culture of Greece met with the local culture of Bactria and thus formed this fusion between Greece and Bactria This figure here is the statue of Heracles who later became Hercules His body is not as idealised as he would have appeared in Greece These two female figures often accompany Dionysus In Greece they are depicted as very much human two female human figures but here in the far flung corner of Bactria they've become almost bestialised they're almost like little animals, they have horns and they have a skin which is almost like an animal skin We have the single most amazing monument I know the most amazing thing in London at the moment Well it's a big claim but I'll explain why It's the base inscribed of what would have been a display of 150 little one line sayings from the seven wise men of the world on how we should behave They're not very dramatic When you're young study hard When you're a young man be sober, very good advice When you're old be wise, die without pain And that was found in the central shrine of the city Unfortunately the area became involved in the civil war and the war with the Russians And indeed there was a mortar place just by the city lobbing rockets to people on the other side of the River Oxus And when that was over the site was cross-ploughed by people with bulldozers, thinking that they could find treasure This of course is disastrous, it destroys all the stratigraphy and the wonderful things that could have been found for Afghanistan of the future I have been to Afghanistan, I've been three times It breaks my heart to think of what is happening to some of the most wonderful people I've know in my lifetime But you have to see the setting you marvel at how an army thirty, forty thousand strong could have been brought into this area by the Great commander Alexander Once you see the landscape or once you stand as I once stood on the join of the Oxus and ---- river you simply think I'm dreaming