Centre for Continuing Education

History Course: The Great Game – The Contest for Central Asia

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Join us for an insightful look into the ‘Great Game’ – the contest between the British and Russian empires for control of Central Asia.

The ‘Great Game’, also known as the ‘Tournament of Shadows’, was the 19th Century political and diplomatic contest between the Victorian era British Empire and the Russian Empire for control of Afghanistan and Central Asia. Britain was interested in protecting India, while Russia wanted to expand its control southwards. The contest continued until 1895 when new borders were established to define the boundaries of the two empires.

We will discuss the political agendas of both nations; the geo-politics of central Asia; the influence of leaders on both sides; and the major events of this period in history.


The aim of this course is to examine how the political agendas of Russia and Britain impacted the geo-politics of Central Asia in the 19th Century and explore how individuals played major roles in shaping these agendas.


By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • recognise the impact of individual characters in the Great Game
  • compare and contrast the agendas and power plays of the two empires
  • describe the major events of the Great Game which shaped the geo-politics of the area.


The origins of the 'Great Game'

In the early 19th Century, India was ruled by the East India Company. Confrontation developed with Russia over Afghanistan and Central Asia. The establishment of trade routes to Bukhara by the British saw the beginning of the ‘Great Game’.

The East India Company in Central Asia

During the 1840s and 1850s, Russia was expanding her influence over the Kazakhs and Central Asian states like Bukhara and Khiva. Contests began for control of Afghanistan while the East India Company annexed Sind.

The Afghan Wars

With the British Government taking over India in 1857, new tensions arose for control of Central Asia. The British remain fearful of Russia expansion in the area. The Second Anglo-Afghan War took place in 1878.

The search for borders

Russian advances into Central Asia see ongoing disputes with Britain over control of the region. British Captain Francis Younghusband makes a famous journey through the region to ascertain Russian strengths.

Conclusion of the Game

The 1880s was a period of tension in Central Asia as Russia and Britain compete for control. The Great Game comes to an end in 1895 with new boundaries being settled between the great powers and the Wakhan Corridor established as a neutral zone.

Intended audience

Anyone with an interest in history, archaeology and ancient literature.



Delivery style

Five, face-to-face lectures delivered over one day, illustrated with artefacts, maps, plans and photographs of the sites.


The lecturer will provide a handout with maps, plans and photographs. Please bring a pen and paper.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.