Aryan is the name that an ancient people of Europe, Iran (Greater Iran) and India called themselves. Descendants of the Aryans include speakers of Sanskrit and Avestan which are related to the Indo-European languages. About three thousand and five hundred years ago, both Iranians and Indians used the name Aryan to mean their shared ancestors, as well as "nobles."
The Avestan name Airiianəm vaēǰō "Aryan expanse", is a reference in the Zoroastrian Avesta (Vendidad, Fargard 1) to the Aryans’ mother country and one of Ahura Mazda's "sixteen perfect lands". Other Avestan names are airyō.šayana, the “Aryan people”, and airyā daiŋˊhāvā “the Aryan lands”. These names were known to old Greek writers as Ariana. Also the Sanskrit name Āryāvarta "abode of the Aryans", was a region in north of today's India. The Middle Persian name of the Sassanian Empire, an empire that ruled Persia from the 3rd century to the 7th century, was Eran-shar meaning the Aryan Empire.  Today, the name Iran is simply the Persian word for Aryan.
Aryan equated with Indo-European[change | edit source]
In the late 18th century, Europeans began using the term Aryan to refer to the original prehistoric Proto-Indo-Europeans and their descendents up to the present day (i.e., the Indo-European peoples--those Caucasians who are speakers of the Indo-European languages). This was the most common definition of Aryan in the 19th century and early 20th century. This was the definition used by H.G. Wells in his best-selling 1920 book The Outline of History. Many young people consider this definition obsolete and politically incorrect but it is still used by some older people, such as in a 1989 article in Scientific American by Colin Renfrew advocating the Anatolian hypothesis in which he uses the word 'Aryan' in its traditional meaning as a synonym for 'Indo-European'. 
Nazism[change | edit source]
In the late 19th century, some Europeans began to use the name Aryan for only the Nordic peoples of Europe (one branch of the Indo-European peoples), as a "pure," "noble" and "superior" race they claimed were descended from the original Aryans.
The theory that the Aryans first came from Europe became especially accepted in Germany. It was widely believed that the "Vedic Aryans" were the same people as the Goths, Vandals and other ancient Germanic peoples who brought the Western Roman Empire to an end. This idea was often mixed with anti-Semitic ideas. The Master Race theory became a main idea for Nazis. After the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, these ideas led to horrible persecutions of the Jews which culminated in the Holocaust.
Modern view[change | edit source]
The idea of racism that the Nazi theory means has been totally put aside by modern scientists, some of whom also disagree with the idea that the original Aryans ever lived in Europe. Most other scientists do maintain that the original Proto-Indo-Europeans did live about 5,000 years ago in the area in Europe east of Ukraine and north of the Caucasus Mountains and that the original Aryans (the Indo-Iranians or eastern branch of the Indo-European peoples) did migrate east to Iran and India from there, and the original ancestors of the modern European peoples (the western or European branch of the Indo-European peoples) did migrate west from there. This is called the Kurgan hypothesis.
Related pages[change | edit source]
References[change | edit source]
- Encyclopedia Iranica, ĒRĀN-WĒZ
- Encyclopedia Iranica, AVESTAN GEOGRAPHY.
- Encyclopedia Iranica, ARIA (2. Ariane)
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman geography, William Smith, 1870, pp. 210, Aria'na
- Wiesehofer, Joseph Ancient Persia New York:1996 I.B. Taurus
- Wells, H.G. The Outline of History New York:1920 Doubleday & Co. Chapter 19 The Aryan Speaking Peoples in Pre-Historic Times Pages 271-285
- H.G. Wells describes in his 1922 book A Short History of the World (a condensed version of The Outline of History) the origin of the Proto-Aryans, a term which was then used as a synonym for Proto-Indo Europeans:
- Renfrew, Colin. (1989). The Origins of Indo-European Languages. /Scientific American/, 261(4), 82-90.