The Great Game

The term ‘Great Game’ was used to describe the rivalry that occurred between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for most of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century as their spheres of influence in India, Afghanistan and the Tibetan Kingdom moved the two  powers closer to one another in South-Central Asia. It also had direct consequences in Persia(Iran) and British India.


The Great Game is believed to have begun on 12 January 1830 when Lord Ellenborough, the President of the Board of Control for India, tasked Lord Bentinck, the Governor General, with establishing a new trade route to the Emirate of Bukhara. Britain was fearful of Russia invading India to add to the vast empire that Russia was building. Britain intended to gain control over the Emirate of Afghanistan and make it a protectorate, and to use the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Khiva Khanate, and the Emirate of Bukhara as buffer states between both empires. This would have protected India and also key British sea trade routes by stopping the Russian Empire from obtaining a port on the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean. Russia proposed Afghanistan to be the neutral, buffer zone. As a result, there was a deep atmosphere of distrust and the talk of war between the two major European Empires.  Britain made it a high priority to protect all the approaches to India, getting involved in a geopolitical chess and the “great game” is primarily how the British did this. The British Empire used Afghanistan as a buffer state to protect all approaches to British India from a Russian invasion. British concern about the Russian influence on Afghanistan led to the First Anglo-Afghan War (from 1838 to 1842) and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (from 1878 to 1880). The Third Anglo-Afghan War began May 1919 and lasted for a month. British Empire no longer had influence on Afghanistan’s foreign affairs after an armistice was signed on August 8, 1919.

Wakhan Corridor

The Geographical effects of the great game are still felt to this day by the formation of the Wakhan corridor, which was formed by an 1893 agreement between the British Empire (British India) and Afghanistan, creating the Durand Line. This narrow strip was to act as a Buffer zone between the Russian and the British Empires, and this geographical anomaly still exists to this day, as part of Afghanistan.

The end of the Great Game

Many Historians consider the end of the Great Game to be the 10 September 1895 signing of the Pamir Boundary Commission protocols and the border between Afghanistan and the Russian empire was defined.

Categories: Culture and History, Western, World

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