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Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan

Frank L. Holt
Foreword by Peter Green
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Into the Land of Bones
    Book Description:

    The so-called first war of the twenty-first century actually began more than 2,300 years ago when Alexander the Great led his army into what is now a sprawling ruin in northern Afghanistan. Frank L. Holt vividly recounts Alexander's invasion of ancient Bactria, situating in a broader historical perspective America's war in Afghanistan.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95375-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Peter Green

    In the spring of 328 b.c.e., near the heavily silted Oxus River in Bactria, Alexander’s friend and senior officer Ptolemy, having been commanded to sink a well for safe fresh water, instead struck a dark, odd-smelling, viscous liquid that neither he nor his men had ever seen. Feeling that this strange phenomenon might be ominous, he summoned both the king and the royal soothsayers, who duly pronounced “that the effusion was indeed a gift from heaven, but that it portended troubled times.” Here, says Professor Holt, is an ancient prophecy that we may well endorse, since the liquid was petroleum,...

    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Afghanistan, the world’s inexhaustible wellspring of warlords and terrorists, cannot escape the crosshairs of history. In each of the last three centuries, superpowers have trained their sights on this tragic land, determined to impose upon it a new world order successively British, Soviet, and American.¹ Such endeavors usually begin with confidence and end with catastrophe. First, with exuberant expectations, the British Empire gathered in 1838 a grand army to quell the unruly Afghans.² The goal was simply to replace one ruler (Dost Muhammed) with another (the exiled Shah Shuja) more amenable to British interests. “There have been few military campaigns...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Hunting the Enemy
    (pp. 23-44)

    In the spring of 329 b.c.e., at the age of twenty-six, Alexander set up camp in a city rumored to be the oldest in the world. Zariaspa lay beside the Bactrus River and served as the administrative capital of Bactria, an old province of the Persian Empire; for these reasons, the city itself was generally referred to simply as Bactra (without ani). Today the site, called Balkh, is a sprawling ruin in northern Afghanistan with miles of crumbling walls enclosing a small village in a dusty tract.¹ In Islamic tradition, old Noah himself founded this city after floating through...

  8. CHAPTER THREE A Desperate Struggle
    (pp. 45-65)

    In the summer of 329 b.c.e., a strange calm settled over Bactria and Sogdiana. The threat of war had passed. A compliant Persian held the post of Bactrian satrap; the dangerous Bactrian cavalry had demobilized; farmers and herdsmen had returned to their ancient tasks. The last of the warlords had backed down and betrayed their leader. As a result, no rival contested Alexander’s right to rule the empire of Darius III. This first invasion of Bactria-Afghanistan by a punitive superpower could hardly have seemed easier.¹ Except for the horrid weather and challenging terrain, the operation involved fewer risks, surely, than...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Hydra Heads of Bactria
    (pp. 66-84)

    In the early spring of 328 b.c.e., Alexander’s veteran army and its twenty-two thousand Greek reinforcements embarked on another attempt to subjugate Bactria. Given the widespread danger, the king could not hope for much success using conventional strategies. To march his huge army from place to place, as he had done to overthrow Persia, would be an aimless exercise in central Asia. There were no enemy palaces to storm and pillage, no great concentrations of hostile troops to engage, and no single head of state to capture or kill. The opposition moved and melted all around the invaders, testing Alexander’s...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Love and War
    (pp. 85-104)

    As the twenty-eight-year-old king rested his army at Nautaca, in the vicinity of modern Karshi, his troops shivered, famished and fatigued after another brutal year of fighting. For some, this was their seventh winter away from the beaches of Greece, their third since invading Afghanistan. Icy Nautaca made even Bactra seem inviting, but Alexander’s troops would have preferred the attractions of earlier winter quarters in posh places such as Egypt and Persepolis. There were no fine palaces here to promote long evenings of rest and relaxation. Cold nights seemed haunted by fresh memories of disaster: the failures of leadership against...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Dark Shadows
    (pp. 105-124)

    Alexander the Great never again set foot on the soil of Afghanistan. For the remainder of his short life, the king skirted the country in a destructive march down through Pakistan and back along the coast to Babylon in Iraq. Every miserable step of the way, the effects of the Bactrian war harassed Alexander and his exhausted army like one of the Devourer dogs. The troops grew tired and testy; they lost the will for further conquests. Men turned mutinous as the toil and bloodshed took their toll. They had been hating and hunting warlords for so long that systematic...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Legacy
    (pp. 125-148)

    In the historical rather than hypothetical year 287 b.c.e., Alexander the Great was thirty-six years gone and a new generation stood ready to rule the various fragments of his empire. In Bactria, Antiochus, the son of Seleucus and Apama, served his parents’ interests by rebuilding and resettling the region as viceroy, from about 295 to 281.¹ The death of Seleucus then inaugurated a twenty-year reign, during which King Antiochus I never returned to his mother’s Afghan homeland. Nor apparently did his successor, King Antiochus II (261–246),hisson King Seleucus II (246–225), orhisson King Seleucus III...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 149-164)

    When Lord Tennyson’s lines from “Lucretius” first appeared inMacmillan’s Magazine(May 1868), the public never asked which Plato the poet meant.¹ Readers thought only ofthePlato, one of the greatest figures in the history of philosophy. A disciple of Socrates and mentor of Aristotle, this Plato (ca. 429–347 b.c.e.) founded the academy in Athens and wrote such classic texts asThe RepublicandThe Laws. His works gave the world the elaborate legend of lost Atlantis, and his name became the very byword for spiritual love. Plato’s thoughts weighed on the minds of other greats, including Copernicus,...

    (pp. 165-172)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 173-212)
    (pp. 213-230)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 231-242)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-246)