Alexandria on the Oxus

1) Who You’ll Meet

Gandhara_Buddha_(tnm).jpegThat all depends when you’re going. It could be anyone from Alexander the Great and his Macedonian troops, people of the Seleucid Empire, or Bactrian Greeks, all in addition to merchants and various other passersby from other regions. The region is home to practitioners of Greek-style Buddhists. Its location on the steppe of Central Asia and the soon-to-be silk route is a crossroads for humanity.

2) How You’ll Get There

By land, one may make the journey from any given direction, as Alexandria on the Oxus is landlocked, and far inland to boot. You might enjoy hopping onto a Bactrian camel to make the journey, or possibly by boat, if coming down the Oxus River. In modern times, to reach the site of Alexandria on the Oxus, one must brave treacherous terrain and Taliban occupied regions of Afghanistan.

3) Why You’d Come Here

Alexandria on the Oxus was one of the largest cities of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and a meeting point of Hellenistic and Buddhist cultures. There are very few places like it, and its location stood as a test of time and space, of how colonization functioned in antiquity and how people intermeshed with one another and transfused cultures.

4) What Was It Like?

In what is now a modern day border region between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, there once existed a bustling city of antiquity, a transplant of Hellenistic Greece in a valley in far-flung Central Asia. This city was known as Alexandria on the Oxus, or Ai Khanoum (which translates to “Lady Moon” in Uzbek). The city was established on the Oxus River (Amu Darya) during the 4th century BC shortly after Alexander the Great and his men swept through Persia and into Afghanistan. Being at the doorstep of Indian civilization, its location served as a true intersection of eastern and western cultures. This location proved to be a desirable location for a healthy hydraulic city to arise; the nearby mountains were rich in gold, rubies, and lapis lazuli.


From Alexander the Great’s reign, the city later found itself in the hands of the Seleucid Empire, and later the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Most notably the city became an important urban and cultural center for the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, the most distant, isolated, and northeastern extent of the Hellenistic realm. Alexandria on the Oxus boasted a high degree of Hellenistic architecture and culture, just as any city-state in the Mediterranean would have enjoyed. Living up to its identity as a true meeting point for cultural exchange, just as Alexander would have liked to see, Buddhist emissaries found their way from India to Alexandria on the Oxus and disseminated the Buddhist faith into the city as well as the greater surrounding region of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. It is here that some of the oldest known depictions of Buddha have been found, and strikingly influenced by Greek statue crafting techniques. Whereas in traditional Buddhist culture, Buddha

Through archaeological evidence, it is known that Alexandria on the Oxus maintained trade and relations with the Greek world of the Mediterranean, the nearby Indian domains of the Mauryan Empire, and the nomadic peoples within its immediate vicinity to the north.

Alexandria on the Oxus maintained a healthy life up until around 145 BC, when the city fell to Indo-Scythian nomadic invaders.  During this time, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom had been beset with an onslaught of nomadic horsemen to their northern periphery, which had ultimately led to the abandonment of Alexandria on the Oxus and other towns of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Isolated from any chance of assistance from Greek allies, their location on open steppe left them at the whim of these nomadic peoples.

5) Sources



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