In the 6th century BC the Achaemenian ruler Cyrus II the Great established his
authority over the area. Darius I the Great consolidated Achaemenian rule of the
region through the provinces, or satrapies, of Aria (in the region of modern
Herat), Bactria (Balkh), Sattagydia (Ghazni to the Indus River), Arachosia (Qandahar),
and Drangiana (Seistan).
Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenians and conquered most of the Afghan
satrapies before he left for India in 327 BC. Ruins of an outpost Greek city
founded about 325 BC were discovered at Ay Khanom, at the confluence of the Amu
and Kowkcheh rivers. Excavations there produced inscriptions and transcriptions
of Delphic precepts written in a script influenced by cursive Greek. Greek
decorative elements dominate the architecture, including an immense
administrative center, a theatre, and a gymnasium. A nomadic raid about 130 BC
ended the Greek era at Ay Khanom.
After Alexander's death in 323 BC, the eastern satrapies passed to the Seleucid
dynasty, which ruled from Babylon. In about 304 BC the territory south of the
Hindu Kush was ceded to the Maurya dynasty of northern India. Bilingual rock
inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic (the official language of the Achaemenians)
found at Qandahar and Laghman (in eastern Afghanistan) date from the reign of
Ashoka (c. 265-238 BC, or c. 273-232 BC), the Maurya dynasty's most renowned
emperor. Diodotus, a local Greco-Bactrian governor, declared the Afghan plain of
the Amu River independent about 250 BC; Greco-Bactrian conquerors moved south
about 180 BC and established their rule at Kabul and in the Punjab. The
Parthians of eastern Iran also broke away from the Seleucids, establishing
control over Seistan and Qandahar in the south.