The "Great Game" describes British and Russian rivalry for influence and control in Central Asia during the period from the mid 19th until the early 20th century.

Much has been written about this period, most notably by Peter Hopkirk in his classic The Great Game, first published in 1990 by John Murray, London. Hopkirk's bibliography is accessible on Surprisingly, and perhaps illegally, the full text of the revised 2006 edition can be accessed on h

I have updated my own chapter on the Great Game from the Odyssey book; it can be dowloaded here. I disagree with some of the emphasis in Hopkirk's book, notably in my conclusions in the following extracts:

1. "The Game was indeed one of high stakes: the players came into close territorial contact and friction was inevitable. The accounts of the main protagonists - and some histories of the period - suggest that this was a fraught and tense period in relations between the two Empires, during which, despite external courteous and 'gentlemanly' behaviour, ruthless intrigue was threatening peace and stability and that war was only narrowly avoided - the blame for which was generally attributed to the other side of the border from that on which the observer was standing.

A dispassionate look at the official record of diplomatic intercourse between the two Powers, however, shows that, during the whole period, each behaved according to fairly clear and consistent rules. Formal and informal contacts were intense and business-like and each was truly concerned to minimise flashpoints. As a consequence, there was never any real danger that their respective inroads in Central Asia would lead to armed conflict between them. The drama lay more in the contest between the 'peace' and 'war' factions within each country than in relations between the central governments themselves. In the British case, the determination of policy was complicated by differences of perception and judgement - sometimes extreme - between the government in London and the administration in Calcutta/Simla, as well as by some vociferous sections of Parliament and public opinion, fed by a jingoistic press." (page 5)

2. "The Great Game was a story of personalities, of whom the most visible were the men on the spot. Seen against the wider canvas of British-Russian relations in the latter part of the 19th century, however, their influence on events was marginal: their actions were the pin-pricks on the edge of empire, frequently provoking temporary flare-ups of tension but rarely achieving any fundamental change of direction. Several of the players were considered by their political superiors as loose cannons and were frequently the object of their wrath – and sometimes even disavowed publicly, as was the darling of the British public, Younghusband, for his appalling massacre of Tibetans in 1904. Their flamboyance and the daring of their adventures has tended to obscure the actions (often out of the public gaze) of their political and military masters at the centre of power, whose decisions determined the outcome of the Game." (page 7)

3. "Few political leaders in Britain (and certainly not all in India) really believed that Russia would be foolish enough to attempt an invasion of India, or that, if she did, she stood any chance of success. This judgement was based, in addition to political assessments, at least in part on the major logistical problems of such an invasion." (page 13)

4. "The outcome of the incidents described shows that, despite public protest and the clamour of many of the players of the ‘Great Game’, cooler heads in both Britain and Russia were at pains to avoid war and to settle their differences by agreement. Both governments appreciated the contribution made by the other to the pacification of their respective frontier regions and recognised what they considered to be the “civilising” influence each brought to bear in regions inhabited mainly by nomads and ‘unruly tribes’. Towards the end of the century, both were concerned by the rise of Germany and foresaw a need to settle their differences with a view to a future alliance." (page 32)

5. "Both Empires exercised considerable restraint in their relations during the period 1828-1907, when their rivalry was at its height. In the end, “the claims of Afghanistan and Badakhshan … reflected, in reality, the interests of Calcutta and Tashkent, tempered only by the expediency of getting their respective protégés reconciled to the bargain that would be struck.” (Chakravarty, pp. 69-70.) Both managed generally to keep their primary objectives clearly in view, although, on balance, the Russians were more consistent in their policies. That the results of their joint negotiations, the Pamir frontiers, stand today is a tribute to the wise counsels that prevailed in their mutual relations." (page 35)

6. "If there was a 'game', it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Russians played it rather better than their competitor. In logistics they were far ahead of the British: by 1898, the Russians had already completed a railway line from the Caspian to Tashkent and Andijan, with a southern branch to Ashgabad ("at the rate of from a mile to a mile and a half in a day"), while the India Council was still arguing about an extension of the railway to the Afghan frontier; it was not until the British realised that Hunza and Chitral were threatened that they started planning improved communications with these distant regions.

The Russians were more successful (and ruthless) in subduing the native population and better able to consolidate their territorial gains than the British with their hybrid system of alliances, financial inducements, threats, arms supply and shows of pageantry." (pages 35-36 )

[See also the section "Historical Photos" here.]

Another classic work is A.V. Postnikov’s book Сxва тка на «Крыше Мир е» - Политики, разведчики и географы в бо рьбе за Памир в XIX веке; (Struggle on the “Roof of the World”: Politicians, spies and geographers in the contest for the Pamir in the XIX century), Moscow 2005, ISBN 5-7905-3465-1.

An interesting list of related documentary resources on the Great Game available from IDC Publishers in the Netherlands can be found here.

Dr. Postnikov’s comprehensive bibliography is divided into two parts:

a) Russian language publications and
b) other languages (principally English, but some French, German and Polish).
The latter is given below with the kind permission of the author N.B. I have added a few relevant and more recent publications.

Abrégé de Géographie Moderne… par S.F. Lacroix, géographie ancienne par J.R. Barbié du Bocage… (Paris, 1811).

Abbott, Capt. James, Narrative of a Journey from Heraut to Khiva, Moscow and St Petersburg, during the late Russian invasion of Khiva 2 Vols. (London, 1843). /3rd Ed. (London, 1884).

Abdurrahman, Amir of Afghanistan. The life of Abdurrahman, Amir of Afghanistan, (London, 1900)

Aberigh-Mackay G.R., Notes on Western Turkistan (Calcutta, 1875)

Adami V., National Frontiers in Relation to International Law Translated by T.T. Behrens, Humphrey Milford (London, 1927).

Adye J.M., Indian Frontier Policy: An Historical Sketch (London, 1897).

Ahmad N.D., The survival of Afghanistan - two imperial giants held at bay in the nineteenth century (Lahore, Pakistan People’s Publishing House, 1973)

Aitchison, Sir Charles Umpherston, Lord Lawrence and the reconstruction of India under the Crown (Oxford, 1897).

Aitchison, Sir Charles Umpherston, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads relating to India and Neighbouring Countries. 4th edn (Calcutta, 1909)

Akiner S., Islamic People of the Soviet Union (London, 1986)

Akiner S., Tajikistan: Disintegration or Reconciliation? (London, 2001)

Albertus I., Die Englisch-Russische Frage und die Deutsche Kolonialpolitik, (Innsbruck Druck und Verlag von Felician Rauch, 1885).

Alder C.J., "British India’s northern frontier, 1865-1985 A study in Imperial Policy". Imperial Studies no. 25, Royal Commonwealth Society. (London: Longmans, 1963).

Alder C.J., “Britain and the defence of India - the origins of the problem, 1798-1815”. Journal of Asian History. 6/1. (1972): 14-44.

Alder C.J., Beyond Bokhara - The Life of William Moorcroft (London, 1985)

Alder L., Dalby R., The Dervish of Windsor Castle. The Life of Arminius Vambéry (London, 1979).

Alexander M., The True Blue. The Life and Adventures of Colonel Fred Burnaby, 1842-1885 (London, 1957).

Allan J. (Ed.)., Cambridge Shorter History of India, (London, 1934).

Allan J.J., “The strategic principles of Lord Lytton’s Afghan policy”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Lucknow, 1886).

Ali Mahfuz, The Truth about Russia and England. From a Native’s Point of View. (Lucknow, 1886).

Allworth E. (Ed),. Central Asia, 130 Years of Russian Dominance. A Historical Overview. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994).

d’Alviella Count U., Les Anglais, les Russes, et les Chinois sur le Toit du Monde. (Brussels, 1894).

Ameer Ali, “England and Russia in Afghanistan”. Nineteenth Century. 57. (1905): 777-786.

Ancel J., Géographie des frontières. (Paris, 1938).

Andree N.P., India and her neighbours, (London: Allen & Cie, 1878).

Andrew G.F., The Crescent in North-West China. (London, n.d.).

Andrew Sir W.P., Our scientific Frontier. (London. 1880).

An Indian Army Officer”, Russia’s March towards India. 2 vols. (London, 1894).

An Old Indian”, Russia Versus India. Or observations on the present political relations of England with the East. (London, 1838).

Anon., Invasions of India from Central Asia. (London, 1879).

Anon., Russia’s Next Move Towards India. (London, 1885).

An Tai Sung, The Sino-Soviet Territorial Disputes. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973).

Anwar Khan M., England, Russia and Central Asia: a study in diplomacy, 1857-1878. (Peshawar, 1963).

Argyll George Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of, The Eastern Question. 2 vols. (London. 1879).

Atkinson E.R.T. (Ed.), Statistical, Descriptive and Historical Account of the North--Western Provinces of India. 14 vols. (Allahabad, 1874-1886).

Atkinson L., Recollections of Tartar Steppes and Their Inhabitants. (London. 1863).

Atkinson T.W., Oriental and Western Siberia: A narrative of Seven Years Explorations and Adventures in Siberia, Mongolia, the Kirghis steppes, Chinese Tartary, and Part of Central Asia. (London, 1858).

Atkinson T.W., Travels in the Regions of the Upper and Lower Amoor and the Russian Acquisitions on the Confines of India and China. (New York: Harper. 1860).

Bacon E.E., Central Asians under Russian Rule, a Study in Culture Change. (Ithaca/London. 1980).

Badakhshi Shah Abdullah, “Les langues du Pamir”, Afghanistan, (July-September 1953.

Baddeley J.F., Russia, Mongolia, China, Being some Record of the Relations between them from the XVIIth Century to the Death of the Tzar Alexei Mikhailovich AD. 1602-1676, rendered mainly in the form of Narratives dictated or Written by the Envoys sent by the Russian Tzars or their Voevodas in Siberia to the Kalmuk and Mongol Khans and Princes; and to the Emperors of China with Introductions, Historical and Geographical. Also A series of Maps showing the progress of Geographical knowledge in regard the XVIth, XVIIth and early XVIIIth Centuries, the texts taken more especially from Manuscripts in the Moscow Foreign Office Archives…. 2 vol. (London: Macmillan and Co.. 1919).

Baddeley J.F., Russia in the Eighties. (London, 1921).

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Baksh Faiz, Translation of a report on Badakhshan. Balkh and Bokhara. (Selections from the records of the Government of the Panjab - Confidential Series, no. AVI, 1873).

Baksh F., Translation of a report on Eastern Turkistan. (Selections from the records of the Government of the Panjab - Confidential Series, no. A VI, 1872).

Baksh F., Journey from Peshawar to Kashgar and Yarkand. etc. (Selections from the records of the Government of the Panjab - Confidential Series, no. A VI, 1873).

Baksh F., Report on Yarkand. (Selections from the records of the Government of the Panjab -Confidential Series, no. AX. 1880).

Baksh F., Report on Chatral. (Selections from the records of the Government of the Panjab -Confidential Series, no. AX, 1883).

Baksh Faiz, "Journey from Peshawar to Kashgar and Yarkand in Eastern Turkestan, or Little Bokharia, through Afghanistan, Balkh, Badakshan, Wakhan, Pamir and Sarikol. Undertaken by F.B. in connection with the Mission of T D. Forsyth, C.B., during 1870". Journal of the Royal Geographical Society Vol. XLII. (1872): 448-473.

Balfour E.E. Countess of, The history of Lord Lytton’s Indian administration, 1878-1880. (London, 1899).

Barfield Th., The Perilous Frontier. Nomadic Empires and China. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989).

Bartlett E.A., Shall England Keep India? (London, 1886).

Bassin, N.I., "The Russian Geographical Society, the ‘Amur Epoch’, and the Great Siberian Expedition 1855-1863". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 72. 2. (1983): 240-256.

Baxter W.E., England and Russia in Asia. (London, 1885).

Becker S., Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia, Bukhara and Khiva 1865-1924, (Cambridge. Mass., 1968).

Becker S., “The Russian Conquest of Central Asia and Kazakhstan: Motives, Methods. Consequences”. In: Central Asia: its Strategic Importance and Future Prospects, ed. Hafeez Malik.( New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).

Beal Rev.S., Travels of Fah Hian and Sung Yun. (London, 1869).

Beal Rev.S., Life of H.T. (London, 1888).

Beal Rev.S., Si-yu-ki. 2 vol. (London, 1890).

Belenitsky A., The Ancient Civilization of Central Asia, transl. J. Hogarth, (London. 1969).

Bell Col. M.S., Afghanistan as a Theatre of Operations and as a Defence to India. (Calcutta, 1885).

Bell Col. M.S., China: Reconnaissance Journey through the Central and Western Provinces.., to Ladakh and India. Confidential, 2 vols. (Calcutta, 1888).

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Bellew Dr. H.W., Journal of a political mission to Afghanistan in 1857, under major (now Colonel) Lunsden; with an account of the country and people. (London, 1862).

Bellew Dr. H.W., Kashmir and Kashgar: A narrative of the Journey of the Embassy to Kashgar in /873-74. (London. 1875).

Bellew Dr. H.W., Report of a Mission to Yarkand in 1873 under Command of Sir T.D. Forsyth (Calcutta, 1875).

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Bellew Dr. H.W., Afghanistan and the Afghans: being a brief review of the history of the country and account of its people. with a special reference to the present crisis and war with Amir Shir Ali Khan, (London: Sampson Low Maiston. 1879).

Bellew Dr. H.W., The Races of Afghanistan. (Calcutta. 1880).

Belyavsky C., Affairs in Turkistan. [1884], transl. WO Intelligence Branch. (London. 1886).

Beveridge N.J., The Russian advance. (New York: London, 1904).

Biddulph Maj. John, Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh. (Calcutta: Office of the superintendent of government printing, 1880).

Bilgrami A.H., Afghanistan and British India. 1793-1907: a study in foreign relations, (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1972).

Bilof E., “China in Imperial Russian Military Planning. 1881-1887” Military Affairs. Vol.45. No. 2. (1982): 69-75.

Black C.E.D., A Memoir of the Indian Surveys 1875-1890. (London 1891).

Blacker L.V.S., On Secret Patrol in High Asia. (London, 1922).

Blanc E., “La Question du Pamir’. Revue des Deux Mondes, Dec. 1893.

Blanc E., "La Colonisation russe en Asie centrale". Annales de géographie. 3, (1893-94): 346-370 and 467-488.

Blanc E., "La Colonisation et la mise en valeur de la Sibérie et de la steppe asiatique". Annales de géographie. 25. (1916): 124-142.

Boggs S.W., International Boundaries. (New York. 1940).

Bonvalot G., En Asie Centrale, de Moscou en Bactriane. (Paris, 1884).

Bonvalot G., Du Caucase aux Indes à travers le Pamir (Paris, 1889).

Bonvalot G., Through the Heart of Asia: Over the Pamir to India. Tr. into English by C.B. Pitman. Vols. 2. (London, 1889).

Bosworth-Smith R., Life of Lord Lawrence. 2 Vols. (London. 1885).

Boulger D.C., The Life of Yakoob Beg; Athalik Ghazi and Badaulet; Ameer of Kashgar. By Demetrius Charles Boulger, member of the Royal Asiatic Society (London. 1878). Map: Eastern Turkestan and its Neighbours Showing Trade Routes through Yakoob Beg’s Dominions.

Boulger D.C., England and Russia in Central Asia. Vols. 2. (London: W.H. Allen, 1879),

Boulger D.C., Central Asian Portraits. (London: W.H. Allen & Co., 1880). Kraus Reprint (Nehdeln/Liechtenstein, 1978).

Boulger D.C., Central Asian questions. Essays on Afghanistan, China and Central Asia (London, 1885).

Boulger D.C., The Life of Sir Halliday Macartney. (London, 1908).

Bower Captain H., “A Trip to Turkistan”. Geographical Journal, Vol. V, (1895): 240.

Bower Captain H., Confidential Report of a Journey in Chinese Turkistan 1889-90. (Calcutta, 1891).

Bower Captain Hamilton, Diary of a Journey across Tibet. (Calcutta, 1893); (London, 1894).

Broomball M., Islam in China. (London, 1910).

Bruce R.I., The forward policy and its results - or thirty five years work amongst the tribes on our North- West frontier of India, (London: Longmans, 1900),

Brunnhofer H., "Russlands Hand über Asien". Historische-Geographische Essays zur Entwickelungsgeschichte des russischen Reichsgedankens, (St Petersburg, 1897).

Buddhist Records of the Western World. Vol. 1 (London, 1890): p. XI and XXIII-LXXIII.

Burnaby F., Travels and adventures in Central Asia: A Ride to Khiva. (London, 1877); reprinted by Bhavana Books & Prints in 1996.

Burnes Sir A., Travels into Bokhara, a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary, and Persia in 1831-33. 3 vols. 2nd ed. (London, 1835).

Burnes Sir Alexander, Leech R., Lord P.B. and Wood J. Report and Papers, Political, Geographical and Commercial, submitted to the Government. (Calcutta, 1839).

Burnes Sir Alexander, Cabool. Being a Personal Narrative of a Journey to, and Residence in, that City in the Years 1836, 7 and 8. (London, 1842).

Burrows M., The history of the foreign policy of Great Britain. (Edinburgh-London. 1895),

Burslem Capt. R., A Peep into Toorkistan. (London, 1846).

Bury J.B., History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, (London, 1931).

Cahen U., "Les cartes de Sibérie au XVIII siècle" Nouvelles Archives des missions scientifiques et militaires: choix de rapports et instructions. Nouvelle série, Fascicule I. (Paris, 1911).

The Cambridge history of British foreign policy, 1783-1919. Vols. I-III. (Cambridge, 1922-1923).

Campbell Sir George (Duke of Argyll), The Afghan question from 1841 to 1878. (London: Strahan, 1878).

Campbell Sir George (Duke of Argyll), The Afghan frontier (London, 1879).

Campbell Sir George (Duke of Argyll), Memoirs of my Indian Career. 2 vols. (London, 1893).

Capus G., Le Toit du Monde. (Paris, 1890).

Capus G., "Observations et Notes Météorologiques sur l’Asie Centrale et les Pamirs" Bulletin de la Société Géographique de Paris. (1892): 316.

Capur A.Ch., "Disraeli’s forward policy on the north-west of India, 1874-1877". The research bulletin (acts) of the University of the Panjab. No. 4. (Panjab, 1951). "Catagan et Badakshân. Description du pays d’après l’inspection d’un ministre afghan en 1922 par Mawlawi Rorhân al-din Khân Koshkaki" traduit par M. Reut. T. I-III. Centre National de la recherche scientifique, Travaux de l’Institut d’études Iraniennes de l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, 10/1-3 (Paris. 1979).

Cecil Lady Gwendolen, Life of Robert, Marquis of Salisbury. 4 vols. (London, 1921-1932).

Cheng Tien-fong, A History of Sino-Soviet Relations. (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1957)

Cheshire H.T., "The Expansion of Imperial Russia to the Indian Border". Slavonic Review. XIII. (1934-1935): 96.

Chakravarty S., From Khyber to Oxus. A Study of Imperial Expansion. (Delhi, 1976).

Chang L.T., China’s Boundary Treaties and the Frontier Disputes. (London: Oceana Publications. 1982).

Chavda V.K., India, Britain, Russia. A Study in British Opinion, 1838-1878. (Delhi, 1967).

Ch’eng Fa-jen, A geographical study of Sino-Russian border. [In Chinese] (Taipei, 1969).

Ch’eng Fa-jen, Chung o kuo-chieh t'u-k’ao [Studies in Sino-Russian National Boundaries], enlarged ed. (Taipei: Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs Commission, 1970).

"China and Russia Complete Border Demarcation", OMRI Daily Digest. Vol.1. No. 202. (October 17, 1995).

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Chu, Wen-Djang, "The Moslem Rebellion in Northwest China 1862-1878" Central Asian Studies. No. 5. (Mounton, The Hague - Paris, 1966).

Clinch Elizabeth and Nicholas, Through a Land of Extremes: The Littledales of Central Asia. (Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2008).

Clubb O.E., China and Russia: The "Great Game". (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971).

Cobbold R.P., Innermost Asia, travel and sport in the Pamirs. (London, 1900).

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Colquhoun J., Essay on the Formation of an Intelligence Department for India. (London. 1874).

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Davies R.H., Report on the Trade and Resources of the Countries on the North-Western Boundary of British India. 2 vols. (Lahore, 1862).

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Elias N., (Ed.) The Tarikh-i-Rashidi of Mirza Muhammed Haidar, Daghlát. English version translated by E.D. Ross and edited by N. Elias. (London, 1895). Re-issued as A History of Moghuls of Central Asia (London, 1897). (Reprinted with Introduction by D. Sinor, 1972).

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Forsyth Sir T.D., Report of a Mission to Yarkand in 1873. (Calcutta, 1875).

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