This is an 1839 James Bedford and H.M. Smith 'Great Game' map of Afghanistan, covering from Kandahar to Herat in the first few months of the First Angl-Afghan War (1838 - 1842). This map and the attendant conflicts mark the beginning of the Great Game.
A Closer Look
The expedition's route is detailed from Kandahar to Herat. At the time, only Kandahar was Afghan. Herat was ruled by its own Shah, the brother of a deposed Shah of Afghanistan. Roads cross the mission's route, and several villages are labeled. Unfortunately, little is known about the mission the map highlights, but it was likely related to the Siege of Herat. This mission was part of the Great Game, a historical drama playing out between the Russian and the British Empires in Central Asia.
The Siege of Herat
Herat was an important independent city strategically situated between Persia and Afghanistan. Under Russian influence, the Shah of Persia put forth a claim to Herat, launching an invasion of the 'city-state' in 1837. The siege lasted until 1838, when the arrival of a British naval force in the Persian Gulf, forced the Shah to lift the siege.
The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839 - 1842)
Fought between the British East India Company and the Emirate of Afghanistan, the First Anglo-Afghan War was part of 'The Great Game,' a larger diplomatic confrontation between the British and Russian Empires. While Russia probably never seriously considered invading India, it was actively expanding into Central Asia. The British East India Company, and by extension the British Empire, nonetheless feared that the Russians would move through their central Asian provinces, then through Afghanistan, into India, undermining British hegemony in South Asia.
In order to secure the Afghan frontier, the British sent an embassy to the Emir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammad Khan, with whom they hoped to confirm an anti-Russian alliance. Although Dost Mohammad was interested in a British-Afghan alliance, both sides had conflicting interests. Afghanistan had recently lost Peshawar, its second capital, to the powerful Sikh Empire, with whom the British were allied. Thus, the British had to choose to ally with either the Afghan, Dost Mohammad, or the Sikhs. They believed the Sikh Empire, which maintained a powerful French-trained standing army, the Dal Khalsa
, to be the greater threat, and so took a third path.
Unable to forge an alliance with Dost Mohammad (Barakzai), the British instead turned to the exiled former Emir Shah Shujah (Durrani). Unlike Dost Mohammad, who was fierce, wily, and dogged, Shah Shujah had a reputation for indolence and cruelty, reportedly having a penchant for removing the noses, ears, tongues, penises, and testicles of his courtiers and slaves when they displeased him in the slightest. Nonetheless, the British considered him, for this very reason, to be malleable and thus preferable to Dost Mohammad.
The British mustered the massive 'Grand Army of the Indus', consisting of some 21,000 British, Indian, and Sikh troops, and marched into Afghanistan from Punjab under the command of Baron John Keane. By April 25, 1839, they crossed the 4000-meter-high Bolan Pass and seized Kandahar. Cognizant of the harsh environmental conditions, they waited until the crops ripened in mid-June before advancing further. It was probably during this wait that the present map was compiled. Often at great cost, the British Grand Army won most major engagements. Still, Dost Mohammad simply retreated further into the countryside and continued persistent guerilla attacks.
Eventually, the British decided they had achieved their objective. Most of the Army returned to India, leaving just 8000 troops to support the Shah Shuja puppet regime. When Dost Mohammed escaped from prison in Bokhara and returned to Afghanistan, the fighting again commenced. In January 1842, the main British Indian and Sikh force occupying Kabul, along with their camp followers, was almost completely annihilated while retreating. The British sent an 'Army of Retribution' to Kabul, but by the end of the year, Dost Mohammad resumed his rule. The British called this war 'The Disaster in Afghanistan' and Dost Mohammad is reported to have said:
I have been struck by the magnitude of your resources, your ships, your arsenals, but what I cannot understand is why the rulers of so vast and flourishing an empire should have gone across the Indus to deprive me of my poor and barren country.
. The First Anglo-Afghan War was the opening salvo of the Great Game, which, one might argue, is still being fought over control of Afghanistan.
The Great Game
'The Great Game' was a diplomatic confrontation between the British and Russian Empires over Afghanistan and other territories in Central and Southern Asia. The conflict, rooted in long-standing animosity between Russia and Britain, revolved around Afghanistan, which, while lacking significant resources of its own, was strategically situated. For its part, Russia feared Britain was making commercial and military inroads into Central Asia, an area long within the sphere of influence of St. Petersburg. Britain, conversely, feared Russia making gains in India, 'the jewel in the crown' of British Asia. The escalating tensions led to several wars and proxy wars: The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839 - 1842), the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845 - 1846), the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848 - 1849), and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878 - 1880), along with the Russian annexations of Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand. Then as now, Afghanistan proved a grinding stone upon which the world's great empires diminished themselves, none achieving a definitive victory despite committing staggering resources. The Great Game ended on September 10, 1895 with the signing of the Pamir Boundary Commission Protocols, which stabilized the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire.
Publication History and Census
The original map was drawn by the Surveyor General's Office under the supervision of James Bedford. This example of the map was copied at the Office of the Surveyor General of India on December 11, 1839, by H.M. Smith of the Quartermaster General's Office. We have been unable to find any references to the present map and only one reference to the source map exists. It is listed in A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Reports, Field Books, Memoirs, Maps, Etc., of The Indian Surveys Deposited in The Map Room of the India Office
, published in 1878.
Good. Exhibits some toning and soiling. Closed tear extending thirteen inches into printed area from right border professionally repaired on verso.