Site of Alexandria on the Caucasus – Bagram, Afghanistan - Atlas Obscura
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Bagram, Afghanistan

Site of Alexandria on the Caucasus

The West's first incursion into the Afghan world lies buried beneath a military base. 

The Western world has had a number of troubles with the Afghan world in recent history, but one of the earliest attempts at colonization of the area has been all but forgotten to time.

In 329 BC, Alexander the Great founded a city on what was, for him, the edge of the known world. Called Alexandria on the Caucasus, the city was established at the crossroads of ancient trade routes in the land which was to become modern-day Afghanistan. After the initial conquest, 3,000 veterans of his army remained behind to settle there while Alexander marched east to India. Many cities were founded by Alexander in his brief years of conquest and exploration, most famously Alexandria in Egypt, but Alexandria on the Caucasus has remained one of the most elusive to historians.

A few years after founding this city, Alexander himself was dead in Babylon. His control of Afghanistan had always been fleeting at best and after his death the empire he had ruled over was fragmented. With the fallout of his death Alexandria on the Caucasus was swiftly forgotten by his successors in Babylon, Egypt, and Macedonia. Ancient accounts of this part of the world paint a picture of a wondrous, magical land: where a city founded by the god of wine himself lay nearby, there were men with no heads, and naked philosophers imparted wisdom. However the Alexandrian Caucasus empire gradually retreated into legend and speculation.

The site of Alexandria on the Caucasus lay undisturbed for centuries, until it was rediscovered in July, 1833 by Charles Masson. Masson was an extraordinary character. A deserter from the British army and virtuoso con-artist, he wandered nineteenth-century Afghanistan in a succession of disguises: a faquir, a Frenchman, a spy, a Haji, an American, a healer. Masson recovered thousands of coins and artifacts from the site, many of which are now in the British Museum.

Today there is little to be seen of Alexandria on the Caucasus, its remains mostly buried underneath Bagram Airbase, 65km north of Kabul. Despite its historic importance, there is almost nothing left to mark the site of the West’s first brief adventure in Afghanistan.