The Aryans, Sanskrit Ārya, were a group who invaded India from the north around 1500 BC as recorded in the Rigveda, the earliest Indian literary work.
In Sanskrit, the language of the Indian classics, Ārya means noble. Sanskrit is the ancestral language of most modern Indian languages and a member of the Indo-Iranian language family. The word Ārya is cognate with Ariya, a native name for Iran.
In modern usage, the word Aryan commonly refers to Nordic people, especially those with blonde hair and blue-eyes. This usage is somewhat removed from the historical and linguistic meaning of the term. It reflects the influence of Nazi "master race" ideology.
Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures
A recent genetic study showed that the Brahmin caste, the highest Indian caste, is descended from the Yamnaya archaeological culture found north of the Black Sea. The Yamnaya flourished from 3300–2600 BC. They are thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral language of the Indo-European language family.
The Yamnaya were pastoralists who conquered various farming peoples of eastern Europe. They slaughtered the men of the farming communities and ravish the women. This resulted in the creation of the Corded Ware culture, which lasted from 2900 – 2350 BC.
The two cultures are easily distinguished archeologically because the Yamnaya entombed their dead in mounds while the Corded Ware people dug pits. Reconstructions based on skeletal remains suggest that the Yamnaya had black hair and olive skin, like modern southern Europeans. The Corded Ware people had blonde hair and other Aryan features. That is to say, these features are a result of intermarriage between the Yamnaya and the Neolithic farming community.
Corded Ware culture spread widely, both eastward into the Asian steppe and westward into central Europe. This caused Proto-Indo-European to fracture into proto-Germanic, proto-Baltic, and other pre-historic ancestor languages. The easternmost branch of the Corded Ware became the Andronova (2000–900 BC), an archaeological culture of the central Asian steppe. This group is thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian and entered India by way of the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor.
A master race?
In 1786, Sir William Jones showed that Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit were members of a single language family, now called Indo-European. This theory suggested that the Aryans who invaded India in vedic times had a European origin.
A "master race" theory was developed by French author Joseph Arthur de Gobineau in Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853–1855). Gobineau argued that the Aryan race was the basis of European aristocracy. In French politics, Gobineau was a Legitimist and supported the rights of the aristocracy.
While Gobineau argued that Aryans were in decline due to race mixing, Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927) saw a bright future for "Germanic Aryans." For Chamberlain, the term Aryan referred to the Indo-European language family. Chamberlain, an Englishman, was an admirer of Germany and wrote in German. His book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899) remained popular with German readers for decades. "Even if it were proved that there had never been an Aryan race in the past, we are determined that there shall be one in the future; this is the decisive point of view for men of action," Chamberlain wrote. Chamberlain has been described as "Hitler's John the Baptist."
In The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg developed a racial "ladder" with blacks and Jews at the bottom and "Nordics" at the top. Rosenberg's Nordics correspond to Germanic peoples in modern terminology. Rosenberg led the Nazi Party when Hitler was jailed after the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.
In popular usage, those with blonde hair and blue-eyes are sometimes described as Aryan. Due to the association with Nazi ideology, the word has slipped into disfavor. It is common to refer to India's Aryans as "Indo-Aryan" to distinguish this meaning from the various other meanings of Aryan -- even though the Indian meaning is the root one.
- "How 'Iran' and 'Aryan' Are Related," Haartz
- Daniyal, Shoaib, "Two new genetic studies upheld Indo-Aryan migration. So why did Indian media report the opposite?"
- "Houston Stewart Chamberlain"
- Forman, James D. (1978) Nazism, New York. p.14,