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"Aryan" (आर्य)[1] is a term meaning "noble" which was used as a self-designation by Indo-Iranian people. The word was used by the Indic people of the Vedic period in India as an ethnic label for themselves, as well as to refer to the noble class and geographic location known as Āryāvarta where Indo-Aryan culture was based.[2][3] The closely related Iranian people also used the term as an ethnic label for themselves in the Avesta scriptures, and the word forms the etymological source of the country Iran.[4][5][6][7] It was believed in the 19th century that it was also a self-designation used by all Proto-Indo-Europeans, a theory that has now been abandoned.[8] Scholars point out that, even in ancient times, the idea of being an "Aryan" was religious, cultural and linguistic, not racial.[9][10][11]

Drawing on misinterpreted references in the Rig Veda by Western scholars in the 19th century, the term "Aryan" was adopted as a racial category through the work of Arthur de Gobineau, whose ideology of race was based on an idea of blonde northern European "Aryans" who had migrated across the world and founded all major civilizations, before being degraded through racial mixture with local populations. Through Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Gobineau's ideas later influenced the Nazi racial ideology, which also saw "Aryan peoples" as innately superior to other putative racial groups.[12] The atrocities committed in the name of this racial aryanism caused the term to be abandoned by most academics; and, in present-day academia, the term "Aryan" has been replaced in most cases by the terms "Indo-Iranian" and "Aryan" is now mostly limited to its appearance in the term of the "Indo-Aryan languages".[13]


The English word "Aryan" is borrowed from the Sanskrit word ārya,[8] आर्य, meaning "noble" or "noble one".[5][7][14] It was reintroduced into English with the new spelling by William Jones in the 18th century.[5]


File:Darius I the Great's inscription.jpg
The earliest epigraphically attested reference to the word arya occurs in the 6th-century B.C. Behistun inscription, which describes itself to have been composed "in arya [language or script]" (§ 70). As is also the case for all other Old Iranian language usage, the arya of the inscription does not signify anything but "Iranian".[15]

Philologist J.P. Mallory argues that "As an ethnic designation, the word [Aryan] is most properly limited to the Indo-Iranians, and most justly to the latter where it still gives its name to the country Iran (from the Avestan genitive plural airyanam through later Iranian eran to iran). [4]

Sanskrit and Avestan[edit]

Initially the term was used as a national name to designate those who worshipped the Vedic deities (especially Indra) and followed Vedic culture (e.g. performance of sacrifice, Yajna).[5][16]


The Sanskrit term comes from proto-Indo-Iranian *arya-[8][note 1] [17][18] or *aryo-,[19][note 2] the name used by the Indo-Iranians to designate themselves.[20][8][note 3][19] The Zend airya 'venerable' and Old Persian ariya are also derivates of *aryo-,[19] and are also self-designations.[5][21][note 4]

In Iranian languages, the original self-identifier lives on in ethnic names like "Alans" and "Iron".[23] Similarly, the name of Iran is the Persian word for land/place of the Aryans.[24]


The Proto-Indo-Iranian term is hypothesized to have proto-Indo-European origins,[17][18] while according to Szemerényi it is probably a Near-Eastern loanword from the Ugaritic ary, kinsmen.[25]

It has been postulated the Proto-Indo-European root word is *haerós with the meanings "members of one's own (ethnic) group, peer, freeman" as well as the Indo-Iranian meaning of Aryan. Derived from it were words like

  • the Hittite prefix arā- meaning member of one's own group, peer, companion and friend;
  • Old Irish aire meaning freeman and noble
  • Gaulish personal names with Ario-
  • Avestan airya- meaning Aryan, Iranian in the larger sense
  • Old Indic ari- meaning attached to, faithful, devoted person and kinsman
  • Old Indic aryá- meaning kind, favourable, attached to and devoted
  • Old Indic árya- meaning Aryan, faithful to the Vedic religion.

The word *haerós itself is believed to have come from the root *haer meaning `put together'. The original meaning in Proto-Indo-European had a clear emphasis on the "in-group status" as distinguished from that of outsiders, particularly those captured and incoporated into the group as slaves. While in Anatolia, the base word has come to emphasize personal relationship, in Indo-Iranian the word has taken a more ethnic meaning.[26]

A review of numerous other ideas, and the various problems with each is given by Oswald Szemerényi.[18]


Scholarly usage[edit]

Contemporary usage[edit]

Nazism and White Supremacy[edit]

During the 19th century it was proposed that "Aryan" was also the self-designation of the Proto-Indo-Europeans.[8] Based on speculations that the Proto-Indo-European homeland was located in northern Europe, a 19th-century hypothesis which is now abandoned, the word developed a racialist meaning.[8] It has been used in Nazi racial theory to describe persons corresponding to the "Nordic" physical ideal of Nazi Germany (the "master race" ideology).[note 5]

Usage and adaptation in other languages[edit]

In Iranian literature[edit]

Unlike the several meanings connected with ārya- in Old Indo-Aryan, the Old Persian term only has an ethnic meaning.[30][31] That is in contrast to Indian usage, in which several secondary meanings evolved, the meaning of ar- as a self-identifier is preserved in Iranian usage, hence the word "Iran". The airya meant "Iranian", and Iranian anairya [21][32] meant and means "non-Iranian". Arya may also be found as an ethnonym in Iranian languages, e.g., Alan and Persian Iran and Ossetian Ir/Iron[32] The name is itself equivalent to Aryan, where Iran means "land of the Aryans,"[21][31][32][33][34][35][36][37] and has been in use since Sassanid times[35][36]

The Avesta clearly uses airya/airyan as an ethnic name (Vd. 1; Yt. 13.143-44, etc.), where it appears in expressions such as airyāfi; daiŋˊhāvō "Iranian lands, peoples", airyō.šayanəm "land inhabited by Iranians", and airyanəm vaējō vaŋhuyāfi; dāityayāfi; "Iranian stretch of the good Dāityā", the river Oxus, the modern Āmū Daryā.[31] Old Persian sources also use this term for Iranians. Old Persian which is a testament to the antiquity of the Persian language and which is related to most of the languages/dialects spoken in Iran including modern Persian, the Kurdish languages, and Gilaki makes it clear that Iranians referred to themselves as Arya.

The term "Airya/Airyan" appears in the royal Old Persian inscriptions in three different contexts:

  1. As the name of the language of the Old Persian version of the inscription of Darius I in Behistun
  2. As the ethnic background of Darius I in inscriptions at Naqsh-e-Rostam and Susa (Dna, Dse) and Xerxes I in the inscription from Persepolis (Xph)
  3. As the definition of the God of the Aryans, Ahura Mazdā, in the Elamite language version of the Behistun inscription.[21][31][32]

For example in the Dna and Dse Darius and Xerxes describe themselves as "An Achaemenian, A Persian son of a Persian and an Aryan, of Aryan stock".[38] Although Darius the Great called his language the Aryan language,[38] modern scholars refer to it as Old Persian[38] because it is the ancestor of modern Persian language.[39]

The Old Persian and Avestan evidence is confirmed by the Greek sources".[31] Herodotus in his Histories remarks about the Iranian Medes that: "These Medes were called anciently by all people Arians; " (7.62).[21][31][32] In Armenian sources, the Parthians, Medes and Persians are collectively referred to as Aryans.[40] Eudemus of Rhodes apud Damascius (Dubitationes et solutiones in Platonis Parmenidem 125 bis) refers to "the Magi and all those of Iranian (áreion) lineage"; Diodorus Siculus (1.94.2) considers Zoroaster (Zathraustēs) as one of the Arianoi.[31]

Strabo, in his Geography, mentions the unity of Medes, Persians, Bactrians and Sogdians:[34]

The name of Ariana is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak approximately the same language, with but slight variations.

— Geography, 15.8

The trilingual inscription erected by Shapur's command gives us a more clear description. The languages used are Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek. In Greek the inscription says: "ego ... tou Arianon ethnous despotes eimi" which translates to "I am the king of the Aryans". In the Middle Persian Shapour says: "I am the Lord of the EranShahr" and in Parthian he says: "I am the Lord of AryanShahr".[35][41]

The Bactrian language (a Middle Iranian language) inscription of Kanishka the Great, the founder of the Kushan Empire at Rabatak, which was discovered in 1993 in an unexcavated site in the Afghanistan province of Baghlan, clearly refers to this Eastern Iranian language as Arya.[42][43] In the post-Islamic era one can still see a clear usage of the term Aryan (Iran) in the work of the 10th-century historian Hamzah al-Isfahani. In his famous book "The History of Prophets and Kings", al-Isfahani writes, "Aryan which is also called Pars is in the middle of these countries and these six countries surround it because the South East is in the hands China, the North of the Turks, the middle South is India, the middle North is Rome, and the South West and the North West is the Sudan and Berber lands".[44] All this evidence shows that the name arya "Iranian" was a collective definition, denoting peoples (Geiger, pp. 167 f.; Schmitt, 1978, p. 31) who were aware of belonging to the one ethnic stock, speaking a common language, and having a religious tradition that centered on the cult of Ahura Mazdā.[31]

In Iranian languages, the original self-identifier lives on in ethnic names like "Alans", "Iron".[32] Similarly, The word Iran is the Persian word for land/place of the Aryan.[24]

In Latin literature[edit]

The word Arianus was used to designate Ariana, the area comprising present Herat in the western part of Afghanistan and ancient India. In 1601, Philemon Holland used 'Arianes' in his translation of the Latin Arianus to designate the inhabitants of Ariana. This was the first use of the form Arian verbatim in the English language.[45][46][47] In 1844 James Cowles Prichard first designated both the Indians and the Iranians "Arians" under the false assumption that the Iranians as well as the Indians self-designated themselves Aria. The Iranians did use the form Airya as a designation for the "Aryans," but Prichard had mistaken Aria (deriving from OPer. Haravia) as a designation of the "Aryans" and associated the Aria with the place-name Ariana (Av. Airyana), the homeland of the Aryans.[48] The form Aria as a designation of the "Aryans" was, however, only preserved in the language of the Indo-Aryans.

In European languages[edit]

The term "Aryan" came to be used as the term for the newly discovered Indo-European languages, and, by extension, the original speakers of those languages. In the 19th century, "language" was considered a property of "ethnicity", and thus the speakers of the Indo-Iranian or Indo-European languages came to be called the "Aryan race", as contradistinguished from what came to be called the "Semitic race". By the late 19th century, among some people, the notions of an "Aryan race" became closely linked to Nordicism, which posited Northern European racial superiority over all other peoples. This "master race" ideal engendered both the "Aryanization" programs of Nazi Germany, in which the classification of people as "Aryan" and "non-Aryan" was most emphatically directed towards the exclusion of Jews.[49][note 6] By the end of World War II, the word 'Aryan' had become associated by many with the racial ideologies and atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Western notions of an "Aryan race" rose to prominence in late-19th- and early-20th-century racialism, an idea most notably embraced by Nazism. The Nazis believed that the "Nordic peoples" (who were also referred to as the "Germanic peoples") represent an ideal and "pure race" that was the purest representation of the original racial stock of those who were then called the Proto-Aryans.[50] The Nazi Party declared that the "Nordics" were the true Aryans because they claimed that they were more "pure" (less racially mixed) than other people of what were then called the "Aryan people".[51]


Before the 19th century[edit]

While the original meaning of Indo-Iranian *arya as a self-designator is uncontested, the origin of the word (and thus also its original meaning) remains uncertain.[note 7] Indo-Iranian ar- is a syllable ambiguous in origin, from Indo-European ar-, er-, or or-.[21] No evidence for a Proto-Indo-European (as opposed to Indo-Iranian) ethnic name like "Aryan" has been found. The word was used by Herodotus in reference to the Iranian Medes whom he describes as the people who "were once universally known as Aryans".[52]

The meaning of 'Aryan' that was adopted into the English language in the late 18th century was the one associated with the technical term used in comparative philology, which in turn had the same meaning as that evident in the very oldest Old Indic usage, i.e. as a (self-) identifier of "(speakers of) North Indian languages".[47][note 8] This usage was simultaneously influenced by a word that appeared in classical sources (Latin and Greek Ἀριάνης Arianes, e.g. in Pliny 1.133 and Strabo 15.2.1–8), and recognized to be the same as that which appeared in living Iranian languages, where it was a (self-)identifier of the "(speakers of) Iranian languages". Accordingly, 'Aryan' came to refer to the languages of the Indo-Iranian language group, and by extension, native speakers of those languages.[53]


The term Arya is used in ancient Persian texts, for example in the behistun inscription from the 5th century BCE, in which the Persian kings Darius the Great and Xerxes are described as "Aryans of Aryan stock" (arya arya chiça). The inscription also refers to the deity Ahura Mazda as "the god of the Aryans", and to the ancient Persian language as "Aryan". In this sense the word seems to have referred to the elite culture of the ancient Iranians, including both linguistic, cultural and religious aspects. [52][54] The word also has a central place in the Zoroastrian religion in which the "Aryan expanse" (Airyana Vaejah) is described as the mythical homeland of the Iranian people's and as the center of the world.[55]

19th century[edit]

In the 19th century, linguists still supposed that the age of a language determined its "superiority" (because it was assumed to have genealogical purity). Then, based on the assumption that Sanskrit was the oldest Indo-European language, and the (now known to be untenable)[56] position that Irish Éire was etymologically related to "Aryan", in 1837 Adolphe Pictet popularized the idea that the term "Aryan" could also be applied to the entire Indo-European language family as well. The groundwork for this thought had been laid by Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron [57]

In particular, German scholar Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel published in 1819 the first theory linking the Indo-Iranian and the German languages under the Aryan group.[29][58] In 1830 Karl Otfried Müller used "Arier" in his publications.[59]

Theories of Aryan Invasion

Translating the sacred Indian texts of the Rg Veda in the 1840s, German linguist Friedrich Max Muller found what he believed to be evidence of an ancient invasion of India by Hindu Brahmins, a group he described as "the Arya." Muller was careful to note in his later work that he thought Aryan was a linguistic category rather than a racial one. Nevertheless, scholars used Muller's invasion theory to propose their own visions of racial conquest through South Asia and the Indian Ocean. In 1885, the New Zealand polymath Edward Tregear argued that an “Aryan tidal-wave” had washed over India and continued to push south, through the islands of the East Indian archipelago, reaching the distant shores of New Zealand. Scholars such as John Batchelor, Armand de Quatrefages, and Daniel Brinton extended this invasion theory to the Philippines, Hawaii, and Japan, identifying indigenous peoples who they believed were the descendants of early Aryan conquerors.[60]

In the 1850s Arthur de Gobineau supposed that "Aryan" corresponded to the suggested prehistoric Indo-European culture (1853–1855, Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races). Further, de Gobineau believed that there were three basic races – white, yellow and black – and that everything else was caused by race miscegenation, which de Gobineau argued was the cause of chaos. The "master race", according to de Gobineau, were the Northern European "Aryans", who had remained "racially pure". Southern Europeans (to include Spaniards and Southern Frenchmen), Eastern Europeans, North Africans, Middle Easterners, Iranians, Central Asians, Indians, he all considered racially mixed, degenerated through the miscegenation, and thus less than ideal.

File:Darius I the Great's inscription crop.jpg
The earliest epigraphically attested reference to the word ariya occurs in the 6th century BCE Behistun inscription in Kermanshah, which describes itself to have been composed "in ariya [language or script]" (¶ 70). As is also the case for all other Old Iranian language usage, the ariya of the inscription does not signify anything but "Iranian".[15]

By the 1880s a number of linguists and anthropologists argued that the "Aryans" themselves had originated somewhere in northern Europe. A specific region began to crystallize when the linguist Karl Penka (Die Herkunft der Arier. Neue Beiträge zur historischen Anthropologie der europäischen Völker, 1886) popularized the idea that the "Aryans" had emerged in Scandinavia and could be identified by the distinctive Nordic characteristics of blond hair and blue eyes. The distinguished biologist Thomas Henry Huxley agreed with him, coining the term "Xanthochroi" to refer to fair-skinned Europeans (as opposed to darker Mediterranean peoples, who Huxley called "Melanochroi").[61]

File:Passing of the Great Race - Map 4.jpg
Madison Grant's vision of the distribution of "Nordics" (red), "Alpines" (green) and "Mediterraneans" (yellow).
File:Ripley map of cephalic index in Europe.png
William Z. Ripley's map of the "cephalic index" in Europe, from The Races of Europe (1899).

This "Nordic race" theory gained traction following the publication of Charles Morris's The Aryan Race (1888), which touches racist ideology. A similar rationale was followed by Georges Vacher de Lapouge in his book L'Aryen et son rôle social (1899, "The Aryan and his Social Role"). To this idea of "races", Vacher de Lapouge espoused what he termed selectionism, and which had two aims: first, achieving the annihilation of trade unionists, considered "degenerate"; second, the prevention of labour dissatisfaction through the creation of "types" of man, each "designed" for one specific task (See the novel Brave New World for a fictional treatment of this idea).

Meanwhile, in India, the British colonial government had followed de Gobineau's arguments along another line, and had fostered the idea of a superior "Aryan race" that co-opted the Indian caste system in favor of imperial interests.[62][63] In its fully developed form, the British-mediated interpretation foresaw a segregation of Aryan and non-Aryan along the lines of caste, with the upper castes being "Aryan" and the lower ones being "non-Aryan". The European developments not only allowed the British to identify themselves as high-caste, but also allowed the Brahmans to view themselves as on-par with the British. Further, it provoked the reinterpretation of Indian history in racialist and, in opposition, Indian Nationalist terms,[62][63] and – in following a special interpretation of Max Müller's identification of "Aryan" as a national name – this gave rise recently among Hindu nationalists (the "Saffron Brigade") to the "indigenous Aryans" or so-called "Out of India" theory, disputed by many scholars in academia, which seeks an Indian origin of the Indo-European "Aryans".

In The Secret Doctrine (1888), Helena Petrovna Blavatsky described the "Aryan root race" as the fifth of seven "Root races", dating their souls as having begun to incarnate about a million years ago in Atlantis. The Semites were a subdivision of the Aryan root race. "The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, ... The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans — degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality. To these belong all the Jews and the Arabs." The Jews, according to Blavatsky, were a "tribe descended from the Tchandalas of India," as they were born of Abraham, which she believed to be a corruption of a word meaning "No Brahmin".[64] Other sources suggest the origin Avram or Aavram.

The name for the Sassanian Empire in Middle Persian is Eran Shahr which means Aryan Empire.[65] In the aftermath of the Islamic conquest in Iran, racialist rhetoric became a literary idiom during the 7th century, i.e., when the Arabs became the primary "Other" – the anaryas – and the antithesis of everything Iranian (i.e. Aryan) and Zoroastrian. But "the antecedents of [present-day] Iranian ultra-nationalism can be traced back to the writings of late nineteenth-century figures such as Mirza Fatali Akhundov and Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani. Demonstrating affinity with Orientalist views of the supremacy of the Aryan peoples and the mediocrity of the Semitic peoples, Iranian nationalist discourse idealized pre-Islamic [Achaemenid and Sassanid] empires, whilst negating the 'Islamization' of Persia by Muslim forces."[66] In the 20th century, different aspects of this idealization of a distant past would be instrumentalized by both the Pahlavi monarchy (In 1967, Iran's Pahlavi dynasty [overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution] added the title Āryāmehr Light of the Aryans to the other styles of the Iranian monarch, the Shah of Iran being already known at that time as the Shahanshah (King of Kings)), and by the Islamic republic that followed it; the Pahlavis used it as a foundation for anticlerical monarchism, and the clerics used it to exalt Iranian values vis-á-vis westernization.[67]

20th century[edit]

File:Birth of a nation Aryan quote.jpg
An intertitle from the silent film blockbuster The Birth of a Nation (1915). "Aryan birthright" is here "white birthright", the "defense" of which unites "whites" in the Northern and Southern U.S. against "coloreds". In another film of the same year, The Aryan, William S. Hart's "Aryan" identity is defined in distinction from other peoples.

In the United States, the best-selling 1907 book Race Life of the Aryan Peoples by Joseph Pomeroy Widney consolidated in the popular mind the idea that the word "Aryan" is the proper identification for "all Indo-Europeans", and that "Aryan Americans" of the "Aryan race" are destined to fulfill America's manifest destiny to form an American Empire.[68]

Gordon Childe would later regret it, but the depiction of Aryans as possessors of a "superior language" became a matter of national pride in learned circles of Germany (portrayed against the background that World War I was lost because Germany had been betrayed from within by miscegenation and the "corruption" of socialist trade unionists and other "degenerates").

Alfred Rosenberg—one of the principal architects of Nazi ideological creed—argued for a new "religion of the blood", based on the supposed innate promptings of the Nordic soul to defend its "noble" character against racial and cultural degeneration. Under Rosenberg, the theories of Arthur de Gobineau, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, Blavatsky, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Madison Grant, and those of Hitler,[69] all culminated in Nazi Germany's race policies and the "Aryanization" decrees of the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. In its "apalling medical model", the annihilation of the "racially inferior" Untermenschen was sanctified as the excision of a diseased organ in an otherwise healthy body,[70] which led to the Holocaust.

File:Map of Vedic India.png
In academic scholarship, the only surviving use of the word "Aryan" among many scholars is that of the term "Indo-Aryan", which indicates "(speakers of) languages descended from Prakrits". Older usage to mean "(speakers of) Indo-Iranian languages" has been superseded among some scholars by the term "Indo-Iranian"; however, "Aryan" is still used to mean "Indo-Iranian" by other scholars such as Josef Wiesehofer and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. The 19th century meaning of "Aryan" as (native speakers of) Indo-European languages" is no longer used by most scholars, but has continued among some scholars such as Colin Renfrew, and among some authors writing for the popular mass market such as H.G. Wells and Poul Anderson.

By the end of World War II, the word "Aryan" among a number of people had lost its Romantic or idealist connotations and was associated by many with Nazi racism instead.

By then, the term "Indo-Iranian" and "Indo-European" had made most uses of the term "Aryan" superfluous in the eyes of a number of scholars, and "Aryan" now survives in most scholarly usage only in the term "Indo-Aryan" to indicate (speakers of) North Indian languages. It has been asserted by one scholar that Indo-Aryan and Aryan may not be equated and that such an equation is not supported by the historical evidence,[71] though this extreme viewpoint is not widespread.

The use of the term to designate speakers of all Indo-European languages in scholarly usage is now regarded by some scholars as an "aberration to be avoided."[72] However, some authors writing for popular consumption have continued using the word "Aryan" for "all Indo-Europeans" in the tradition of H. G. Wells,[73][74] such as the science fiction author Poul Anderson,[75] and scientists writing for the popular media, such as Colin Renfrew.[76] Notions of the "Aryan race" as an elite group that is regarded as being superior to other races survive in some far-right European groups, such as Neo-Nazi parties, Russian ultra-nationalists, as well as in certain Iranian nationalist groups.

Echoes of "the 19th century prejudice about 'northern' Aryans who were confronted on Indian soil with black barbarians [...] can still be heard in some modern studies."[71] In a socio-political context, the claim of a white, European Aryan race that includes only people of the Western and not the Eastern branch of the Indo-European peoples is entertained by certain circles, usually representing white nationalists[77] who call for the halting of non-white immigration into Europe and limiting illegal immigration into the United States. They argue that a large intrusion of immigrants can lead to ethnic conflicts such as the 2005 Cronulla riots in Australia and the 2005 civil unrest in France. The invasion theory, has however been questioned by several scholars.[78]


  • I have declared again and again that if I say Aryans, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull; I mean simply those who speak an Aryan language… in that sense, and in that sense only, do I say that even the blackest Hindus represent an earlier stage of Aryan speech and thought than the fairest Scandinavians... To me an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar.
    • Max Muller Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryas (1888)
  • like the swastika, the term Arya, which is rather central in Hindu tradition and more so in Nazism, is in need of rehabilitation. Of course, the term does not indicate a race, but a quality of character.

Like the swastika, the term Arya, which is rather central in Hindu tradition and more so in Nazism, is in need of rehabilitation. Of course, the term does not indicate a race, but a quality of character.% \footnote{In Greek, the etymologically related words are aristos, the best (wherefrom aristocracy), and arete, virtue.% } When Buddha gives a short formulation of his teachings, he calls it the Arya Satyani, the four Noble Truths.% \footnote{While the term Arya is used only a few times in the Vedas, it was used a lot by the Buddhists and Jains. Today, everybody uses it all the time, though perhaps unknowingly : the honorific - ji, as in Gandhiji, is an evolved form, through Pali aya or aja and Apabhramsa aje, from Sanskrit arya.% }

    • (Elst 1991: chapter 14)\\
  • Elsewhere in Hindu society, 'Arya' was and is considered a synonym for ?Hindu?, except that it may be broader, viz. by unambiguously including Buddhism and Jainism. Thus, the Constitution of the ?independent, indivisible and sovereign monarchical Hindu kingdom? (Art.3:1) of Nepal take care to include the Buddhist minority by ordaining the king to uphold ?Aryan culture and Hindu religion? (Art.20: 1).% \footnote{A. Peaslee: Constitutions of Nations, p.772 and 778.
    • Elst, Who is A Hindu, ch. 6 [79]
  • The Rig Veda also uses the word Arya something like thirty six times, but never to mean a race. The nearest to a definition that one can find in the Rigveda is probably: praja arya jyotiragrah ... Children of Arya are led by light - Rig Veda, VII. 33.17. According to Rig Vega (10.65.11) "Whoever practice vows of truthfulness in action, purity of heart,to wit, they be Arya." "And whoever are lively and active, have acquired knowledge, are ever on the march, progressive - exelsior, godly."
  • Indeed, it is possible to perceive a certain confusion among them, reflecting the contradictory impulses of those on the French right in the late 1930s, whose nationalism made them antagonistic to Germany at the same time their ideology made them sympathetic to many of Hitler's positions. That Dumézil held such views is hardly surprising, given the circles he frequented during those years and what we know from his pseudonymous writings. .......Finally, when those on the New Right, like Alain de Benoist, Jean Haudry, or Roger Pearson, cite Dumézil's wrtings in support of their postiions - their fondness for hierarchy and authority, for example, their antipathy toward egalitarianism and the ideals of the Enlightenment, or their triumphal view of "Indo-Europeans" as superior to all other peoples - we may suspect them of appropriating nothing other than postions of the Old Right that have been brilliantly recoded and misrepresented first as ancient wisdom, and second as scholarly discourse.[3] According to Jean Boissel, the first description of Indo-European trifunctionalism was by Gobineau, not by Dumézil.[4]
  • In a similar fashion, Dumézil, who aligned himself with the Action Francaise in his youth and flirted with the Nouvelle Droite in his later years, has also been charged with weaving fascist ideology into his reconstructions of Indo-European myths.[5]
  • After 1880, attitudes shifted, and scholars like Karl Penka (1847-1912), Gustaf Kosinna (1858-1931), Matthäus Much and Hermann Hirt argued in favor of location the origins of the world-conquering Aryan people on their own soil, in the Germanic north. ....Georgians favor the Caucasus
    • Lincoln 1999
  • In books like "The myth of the Aryan Invasion of India", he criticizes aspects of prehistoric Indian historiagraphy, such as the mythical struggle between invading caucasoid Aryans and Dravidians.[
    • Arvidsson 2006:298
  • The "racial theory" of Ancient India, which explained the Aryan-Dravidian language difference, the Caste system and Indian history in racial terms, was devoloped by writers like Pastor John Stevenson, Christian Lassen and de Gobineau
    • Arvidsson 2006:44-45
  • The racial reading of Indian history has also been criticized because it served to legitimize colonialization and oppression by the British colonialists.[17]
    • Arvidsson 2006:46
  • The writings by William Jones and Max Müller, which implied that the Indians and Britons were "Aryan" brethern, were opposed by writers like Latham, who argued that the Indians, who have never conquered anything, must belong to another race than the European World conquerors.[21]
  • Latham was also the first writer to argue for an European Urheimat as opposed to an Asian or Indian one.[22] This idea later became more dominant, partly also because the Aryans became associated with the "Nordic race", and because it was in line with ideas of German nationalism.
    • Arvidsson 2006
  • We have as much right to be in India as anyone there, except perhaps for the Depressed Classes [= the Scheduled Castes and Tribes], who are the native stock.”C.H. Philips ed.: Select Documents on the History of India and Pakistan, part IV, OUP, London 1962, p-315.
  • The study of Indo-Europeans has been called a modern "myth" by Colin Renfrew, Bruce Lincoln and others.[
    • Arvidsson 2006:5
  • In Indo-European studies, the term "Aryan" has been replaced with "Indo-European" after WW2, also partly because Dumézil almost always used the latter term.[34]
  • Dumezil Scholars like Momigliano, Ginzburg and Lincoln have argued that Dumézil was in favor of a traditional hierarchical order in Europe, and that his Indo-European dualism and tripartite ideology may be also related to Italian and French fascist ideas.[35] Lincoln has argued that Dumézil was in favor of French fascism, but not of German nazism. [36] In the 1930s he supported the fascist "Action française", and held Mussolini in high regard.[37]
Arvidsson 2006
  • over two hundred years, a series of historians, linguists, folklorists, and archaeologists have tried to re-create a lost culture. Using ancient texts, medieval records, philological observations, and archaeological remains they have described a world, a religion, and a people older than the Sumerians, with whom all history is said to have begun. Those who maintained this culture have been called "Indo-Europeans" and "Proto-Indo-Europeans," "Aryans," and "Ancient Aryans," "Japhetites," and "wiros," among many other terms. These people have not left behind any texts, no objects can definitely be tied to them, nor do we know any "Indo-European" by name. In spite of that, scholars have stubbornly tried to reach back to the ancient "Indo-Europeans," with the help of bold historical, linguistic, and archaeological reconstructions, in the hopes of finding the foundation of their own culture and religion there.
  • The fundamental thesis of this study is that these prehistoric peoples have preoccupied people in modern times primarily because they were, to use the word of Claude Levi-Strauss, "good to think with," rather than because they were meaningful historical actors. The interest in the "Indo-Europeans," "Aryans" and their "others" (who have varied through history from Jews to savages, Orientals, aristocrats, priests, matriarchal peasants, warlike nomads, French liberals, and German nationalists), stemmed-and still stems-from a will to create alternatives to those identities that have been provided by tradition. The scholarship about the Indo-Europeans, their culture, and their religion has been an attempt to create new categories of thought, new identities, and thereby a future different from the one that seemed to be prescribed (Arvidsson 2006, p. xi)."
  • "The theory about India as the original home of the Indo-Europeans, and the Indians as a kind of model Aryans, lost supporters during the nineteenth century, and other homelands and other model Aryans took their place instead (Arvidsson 2006, p.52)."
  • "There were many reasons for this shift (of homeland from Asia to Europe). First of all, the hypothesis of a European homeland accorded with the folklore's focus on Germanic material. A second, closely related reason was that the idea of a northern European homeland was in line with the strong German nationalism that bloomed after the Franco-Prussian War and Germany's unification. One's native land now became more valuable than any dreamed-of colonizable, but foreign lands. Thirdly, the ideas of racial anthropology gained more and more credibility, and according to them, Europe was the origin of the e white Aryan race ((Arvidsson 2006, p.142, parenthesis added)."
  • "During the postwar (post 1945 CE) period, these two theories (Father Wilhelm Schmidt and Father Wilhelm Kopper's theory of primal cultures, and Georges Dumezil's theory of Indo-European mythology) have completely dominated research about Indo0-European religion and culture—in spite of the fact that they arose in an ideological atmosphere that did not differ much from the Nazi one (Arvidsson 2006, p. 239, parentheses added)."
  • "For those who have approached the question of the origin of the Indo-European peoples and languages from the angle of philology, the great problem has been that there are no texts about migrations, much less about military invasions… From the Rigveda, people have taken passages that tell about the Aryans' attacks on cities and concluded that they then must have been a foreign, warlike, nomadic people. Nor does Roman, Hittite, Slavic, Celtic, or Germanic, written material mention migrations or conquests from the time when the Indo-Europeans supposedly emigrated from their original home. The philologists have, however, been able to pint to certain loanwords, especially topographic and hydrographic names, as evidence of migration. But the cornerstone of philologists' work has been linguistic paleontology, which tried to re-create, through comparisons, a vocabulary that indicates knowledge about certain objects and phenomena **(Arvidsson 2006, p.295)."
  • "The sometimes interwoven traditions that have dominated the postwar period-personified by Dumezil and Gimbutas—have generally been considered to represent an objective, scientific body of research that contrasts sharply with the Nazis' misuse of the Indo-Europeans. But as we have seen in this chapter, there is no reason to stop critically analyzing the ideology of Indo-European scholarship. If Dumezil and Gimbutas have each represented a constructive research tradition, Bruce Lincoln can represent the tradition of ideological critique among scholars of Indo-European heritage (Arvidsson 2006, pp. 301-302)."
  • "Most notable is perhaps that no one reacted to the fact that the editor of the world-leading journal for research on the Indo-Europeans, Journal of Indo-European Studies, Roger Pearson, had since the 1950's has been "one of America's foremost Nazi apologists and quite clearly a racist with one of the world's best web of contacts." Before Pearson, along with Marija Gimbutas , Edgar C. Polome' and Raimo Antilla, founded the Journal of Indo-European Studies, he had worked with Hans F. K. Gunther, who had continued to spread his racial doctrines after the fall of the Third Reich. Pearson was also chairman of the American Division of the World Anti Communist League and lobbied in Washington for more funds for the Defense, the Contras, and the UNITA guerillas. Together with Polome', one of the United States' leading researchers in the area of Germanic religion, he has also published the academic, racist journal the Mankind Quarterly **(Arvidsson 2006, p. 304)." Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • the unhappy example of scholarship on myth, particularly that on Aryan or Indo-European myth, is one forced to conclude that scholarly discourse is simply another instance of ideology in narrative form? The topic is a painful but important one for me, as I continue my struggle to extricate from a discipline, a paradigm, and a discourse that I adopted early in my academic career with insufficient critical reflection. To a certain extent, writing this book has been an attempt to undo my (Lincoln's) earlier lack of awareness and make amends for it (Lincoln 1999, p. xii)."

"As a student of history of religions, I (Lincoln) was taught that Fredric Max Muller inaugurated our discipline but his work on "comparative mythology" foundered on his own incompetence, as did the later attempt of Sir James George Frazer. The field was rescued, so the narrative went, by Dumezil with the support of some talented colleagues, Wikander, Otto Hoffer, Jan De Vries, and Emile Benveniste among them. Older scholars also entered my awareness, including Hermann Guntert, Herman Lommel, Walter Wust, Rudolf Much, Franz Altheirm, Richard Reitzenstein, and Hans Heinrich Schaeder, and many of these men were deeply involved with the Nazi movement. To that side of their work, however, I was largely blind. Instead of dangerous ideologues, I saw talented linguists, erudite Orientalist (a word not yet suspect), and trailblazing students of myth. Whatever questions I had—and they were not many—were deftly deflected. The "Aryan thesis" was fundamentally sound, I was told, although Hitler and Co. had badly abused it. But no one spoke of "Aryans'" anymore or located their (presumed) Urheimat in Scandinavia, Germany, or the North Pole. Rather, the postwar discourse dealt with Indo-Europeans, elided questions of race, and placed the origin of this sanitized people off to the east, on the Russian steppes. IN THE PAGES THAT FOLLOW, I (LINCOLN) HOPE TO SHOW THAT THINGS ARE NOT THAT SIMPLE AND THE PROBLEMS—MORAL AND INTELLECTUAL— THAT ATTEND THIS DISCOURSE OR DISCIPLINE ARE NOT SO EASILY RESOLVED (Lincoln 1999, pp. xii-xiv, emphasis added)."

  • "Reading Jones with these preconceptions and interests, Germans rapidly came to see themselves as a Volk with a much deeper, more glorious, and more heroic past than anyone previously dared to imagine. Germans were relieved of the need to compete with Greeks and Romans, for they now discovered themselves part of the same primordial group. Since India was assumed to be the oldest member of that group, interest in Sanskrit burgeoned, as did the prestige for all things ancient and Indic, particularly after publication of Friedrich Schlegel's Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (1808), which made the case for India as the Aryan homeland (Lincoln 1999, pp. 55-56)."
  • "Since the atrocities of the Nazis in the Second World War, the term "Aryan" has virtually disappeared from polite conversation. Scholars who wish to pursue the old discourse while marking their distance from its less savory aspects now use the term "(Proto-)Indo-European," also a coinage of the nineteenth century. In doing so, many sincerely believe they have thereby sanitized the discourse and solved the problems, but things are not so simple. Often such euphemizing attempts are incomplete, superficial, evasive, and disingenuously amnesiac (Lincoln 1999, pp. 94-95)."
  • "The position I (Lincoln) urge is the following. First, we accept as established the existence of a language family that included Tocharian, Indic, Iranian, Armenian, Anatolian, Greek, Italic, Phrygian, Thracian, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic, and Celtic. Second, we acknowledge that the relations among these languages can be described in several fashions. Of the available hypotheses, the Stammbaum model is the most popular, but by no means the only one. It ought not to be accepted as long as others exists, and we ought not discard these others unless there is compelling reason to do so. In the absence of such compelling reason, we can remain agnostic, recognizing the existence of multiple hypotheses and maintaining a particularly skeptical posture toward those with histories of subtexts of racism. Third, we recognize that the existence of a language family does not necessarily imply the existence of a protolanguage. Still less the existence of a protopeople, protomyths, protoideology, or protohomeland (Lincoln 1999, p. 216)."

Lincoln, Bruce (1999), Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.


  1. Fortson, IV: "The Sanskrit word ārya-, the source of the English word, was the self-designation of the Vedic Indic people and has a cognate in Iranian *arya, where it is also a self-designation.[8]
  2. J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams: "Our ability to reconstruct a Proto Indo-Iranian intermediate between Proto-Indo-European on the one hand and Proto-Indic and Proto-Iranian is also supported by the self-designation, *aryo-."[19]
  3. Both the Indic and Iranian terms descend from a form *ārya that was used by the Indo-Iranian tribes to refer to themselves. (It is also the source of the country-name Iran, from a phrase meaning 'kingdom of the Aryans'.)"[8]
  4. Avestan airya may also be connected with Indo-Iranian *ara-.[22][lower-alpha 1]
  5. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language states at the beginning of its definition, "[it] is one of the ironies of history that Aryan, a word nowadays referring to the blond-haired, blue-eyed physical ideal of Nazi Germany, originally referred to a people who looked vastly different. Its history starts with the ancient Indo-Iranians, peoples who inhabited parts of what are now Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. "[29]
  6. Under the 1933 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, a non-Aryan was defined as "an individual descended from a non-Aryan (in particular Jewish parents or grandparents)" (Campt 2004, p. 143).
  7. There is no shortage of ideas, even in the present-day. For a summary of the etymological problems involved, see Siegert & 1941–1942.
  8. The context being religious, Max Müller understood this to especially mean "the worshipers of the gods of the Brahmans". If this is seen from the point of view of the religious poets of the RigVedic hymns, an 'Aryan' was then a person who held the same religious convictions as the poet himself. This idea can then also be found in Iranian texts.
  1. Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin: "It thus seems that Ved. arya and Avest. airya are to be connected [...] with a Vedic homophone ari-, aryá- 'righteous, loyal, devout', and with Indo-Iranian *ara- 'fitting, proper'" [22]


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  2. Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 70. 
  3. Michael Cook (2014), Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, Princeton University Press, p.68: "Aryavarta [...] is defined by Manu as extending from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhyas of Central India in the south and from the sea in the west to the sea in the east."
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mallory 1991, p. 125.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Oxford English Dictionary: "Aryan from Sanskrit Arya 'Noble'"
  6. Encyclopædia Britannica: " ...the Sanskrit term arya ("noble" or "distinguished"), the linguistic root of the word (Aryan)..." "It is now used in linguistics only in the sense of the term Indo-Aryan languages, a branch of the larger Indo-European language family" [1]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Thomas R. Trautman (2004): "Aryan is from Arya a Sanskrit word"; page xxxii of Aryans And British India
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  9. Anthony 2007, p. 11.
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  12. Anthony 2007, pp. 9-11.
  13. Encyclopædia Britannica: "It is now used in linguistics only in the sense of the term Indo-Aryan languages, a branch of the larger Indo-European language family" [2]
  14. 14.0 14.1 Encyclopædia Britannica: "It is now used in linguistics only in the sense of the term Indo-Aryan languages, a branch of the larger Indo-European language family" [3]
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  20. Witzel 2000, p. 1.
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  30. G. Gnoli,"Iranic Identity as a Historical Problem: the Beginnings of a National Awareness under the Achaemenians", in The East and the Meaning of History. International Conference (23–27 November 1992), Roma, 1994, pp. 147–67. [6]
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Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, 1912