May 18, 2021

Edmund Richardson: The Quest for the Lost City (1833)

In the early nineteenth-century a hitherto unremarkable man called James Lewis who was serving as a private in the East India Company decided to reinvent himself. He deserted and ran away to the little-known but beautiful city of Kabul in Afghanistan. Once there he came to dedicate himself to a strange and quixotic quest. He sought to find one of the great lost cities of the ancient world: Alexandria Under the Mountains.

In this evocative and beautifully-described episode of Travels Through Time, the academic historian Edmund Richardson takes us back to the year 1833. This was, he argued, the year when James Lewis transformed from an ordinary soldier into a man called Charles Masson – a figure who would change history.

The characters and storylines that feature in this episode arise from Edmund Richardson’s sparkling new book, Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City which has recently been published in hardback by Bloomsbury.

Edmund Richardson is Associate Professor of Classics at Durham University. In 2016, he was named one of the BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinkers.

As ever, much, much more about this episode is to be found at our website

Show notes

Scene One: Kabul, winter 1833. In the bazaars of Kabul - a warren of stalls and camels and shouting merchants from all over Asia - a bedraggled-looking man, dressed in shabby clothes, is listening to a storyteller.

Scene Two: Bagram, summer 1833. Masson rides out of Kabul in search of Alexander's city. It was called Alexandria beneath the Mountains, and was founded two and a half thousand years earlier.

Scene Three: Ludhiana, northern India, autumn 1833. In the sleepy, dusty town of Ludhiana, the British East India Company's spymaster is looking over reports from his informants in Kabul. He reads about a ragged stranger, who calls himself Charles Masson, and has spent the year hunting for Alexander's lost city.

Memento: Charles Masson’s drinking cup, symbolic of a different way of encountering Afghanistan.


Presenter: Violet Moller

Guest: Edmund Richardson

Production: Maria Nolan

Podcast partner: Colorgraph

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