The Eastern Migration of the Aryans

Jon Harrison Sims, American Renaissance, May 2011

More people are native speakers of Indo-European languages than of any other linguistic group. All the languages of Europe — except, curiously, Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian — are Indo-European, as are many ancient and modern Asian languages: Sanskrit, Tocharian, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, etc. The nearly three billion people who speak these languages are all the cultural descendants of the early Indo-Europeans, who are thought to have appeared some time before 3000 BC in what are now the Russian steppes north of the Black and Caspian seas. Who were these people, and how did they extend their influence so broadly? How, especially, did they spread their culture so far East?

The early Indo-Europeans spoke something called Proto-Indo-European, but this language is an abstraction. It is only by working backward from known Indo-European languages that we have an idea of the original, long-extinct language of the originators. Some scholars have even argued that it is therefore uncertain whether there really was a distinct and original Indo-European people.

However, if one traces any language to its origin it must lead to a particular people. A language cannot develop apart from an ethnic group that enjoys a long period of stability in a discrete territory. That was the case with the Latin-derived Romance languages. They developed during the so-called Dark Ages, when there was little commerce or travel, no large-scale wars, and no mass migrations.

We can therefore conclude that the original Indo-European language must have been spoken by a homogenous people living in a particular area. Before the current era of political correctness, scholars took for granted the existence of this people, whom they referred to as Aryans. The term comes from the Sanskrit word Arya, meaning “one of noble character,” and dates back to before the time of Christ. The name Iran means “land of the Aryans.” Part of the post-World War II discrediting of the term “Aryan,” which was part of Nazi ideology, has involved casting doubt on the very existence of an original people who could have been the source of the Indo-European languages.

However, migrations of an original people who spread both east and west from their home in the Russian steppes are the only plausible reason why Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, has the same roots as Latin, Greek, and German. Farsi, the language of Iran and a modern form of Persian, also shares the same roots. It cannot be an accident that the word for “three” is treis in Greek, tres in Latin, drei in German, tri in Russian, tri in Bengali, and tre in Tocharian. How else could Persians — who are not European and live far from Europe — speak languages that are related to those of Europe? The most obvious explanation is conquest by Aryan, Indo-European speakers, probably in the second millennium BC.

In an earlier article, I wrote about the conquest of Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy during the same period by the Aryan, Indo-European Phrygians, Hellenes, and Italics. It is entirely likely that other Aryan tribes travelled south-eastward into Southwestern Asia. Until the Second World War, scholars believed that conquering white warriors formed the ruling aristocracies of ancient Media (the land of the Medes), Persia, and Vedic India, and ruled over darker-skinned people.

The Indo-Iranians

Historian John Haywood writes in The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilizations (2005) as follows:

[T]he Persians were one of two Indo-Iranian nomad peoples, the other being the Medes, who had migrated into Iran from central Asia around the eighth century BC. While the Medes settled on the Iranian plateau, the Persians migrated further south, finally settling between the Zagros Mountains and the Persian Gulf.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) reports that the word Aryan “was used as a national name not only in India but in Bactria and Persia.” In a stone inscription found near Naqsh-e-Rostam, Darius the Great of Persia (522 – 486 BC) described himself thus: “I am Darius, the Great King . . . a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage.” He was clearly proud of his Aryan ancestry. Was it something that set him apart from the mass of Persians? If not, why mention it? It is not possible to know the race of the original Medes and Persians or whether concubinage and intermarriage darkened a once-lighter nobility.

An ancient frieze of glazed bricks from Susa is displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Made during Darius’s reign, it shows a Persian archer with blue eyes. Yet the same archer has tawny skin and almond-shaped eyes and looks, frankly, Persian. The famous Roman floor mosaic from Pompeii depicting the Battle of Issus (333 BC) shows Alexander and his Macedonians as white and European but Darius III and his Persians as brown and Middle Eastern.

By contrast, the Alexander Sarcophagus uncovered near Sidon, Lebanon, in 1887 and dating to the late 4th century BC, depicts white Macedonians slaying equally white Persians. Made of marble in the shape of a Greek temple, one side has colored bas reliefs depicting battle scenes from the Macedonian-Persian War, the other a hunting expedition in Persia. It now rests in the Instanbul Archaeological Museum. A modern reproduction has restored the original colors. The Persians have small noses, white skin, fair hair, and even blue eyes. Yet the Greek historians and geographers of the classical era do not describe the Persians that way.

The Ajanta cave paintings outside Bombay, India, date from the 7th century AD, nearly a thousand years later. They depict three Persian envoys: One is dark, one is of mixed race, but the third is white, with blue eyes and fair hair. A possible fourth Persian, not an envoy, is also shown as white.

In short, the evidence is inconclusive but consistent with a mixed-race population and Aryan immigration.

Aryans Entering India

Aryans Entering India. Illustration from “Hutchinson’s History of the Nations”

The Indo-Aryans

It is now politically incorrect to talk of an Aryan conquest of India in the 2nd millennium BC, but many scholars continue to believe there was such a conquest. The chapter on “Vedic India” in The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilizations (2005) begins thus: “Around 1500 BC, the Aryans, nomads from Central Asia, crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains into the Indian sub-continent. The Aryan language gained ascendancy over the indigenous languages and was the ancestor of Sanskrit, the language of classical Indian literature and of the modern Indic languages including Hindi and Urdu.”

We know from both archeology as well as literary evidence that these Eastern Aryans ate beef, burned their dead (but not surviving widows), and had more in common with the Aryan-speakers of Europe than with the Hindus of today. The Rig Veda (c. 1400 BC) is an ancient collection of Sanskrit hymns, and one of the four canonical texts of Hinduism. It is also the only literary source for early Aryan history in India.

According to Hans F.K. Gunther’s The Racial Elements of European History (1927), the conquering Indo-Aryans called themselves the Haris, meaning “the blondes,” and, according to the Vedas, they called the dark skinned indigenous people the Dasas, or “slave bands of black descent.” These people were later called Dravidians. Like the Greeks, many of their gods were blonde. The Vedas describe the Storm God Indra as having cheeks, beard, and hair the color of gora, which is Sanskrit for “golden-yellow.”

The Aryans themselves separated into three classes, or castes: the Brahmins, priests and scholars; the Kshattriyas, nobles and warriors; and the Vaisyas, farmers and craftsmen. This parallels the division of Proto-Indo-European societies into clerics, warriors, and herder-cultivators. We find the same division in Rome: flamines, milites, and quirites.

In India, below the three higher classes were the Sudras, or slaves, who were non-Aryan. In an attempt to preserve these social and racial divisions and codify ancient customs, the Brahmins drew up the Laws of Manu. They forbade intermarriage, and in some cases even social mingling among Indians of different castes. They also recognized the existence of three instead of two racial groups: more or less pure Aryans, dark-skinned Sudras or Dravidians, and the Varna-Sankara (those of mingled colors). The Sanskrit word for caste, varna, literally means “color.” The caste system can be viewed as the world’s most long-lived and elaborate system of racial separation.

Although it survived into modern times, the caste structure failed to preserve the Aryan racial type. Higher-class Indians are never blond or fair skinned, though they are taller and lighter than other Indians and some have Aryan features. Examples are the actress-model Aishawarya Rai and the Indian-American Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, whose parents are Sikhs. Color prejudice and a preference for lighter skin remain strong both in India and among Indians of the diaspora.

The Tocharians

The Tocharians, or Tokhari, were the easternmost Aryan branch. They spoke Tocharian, an extinct Indo-European language that scholars believe is one of the oldest Indo-European tongues. They settled in the Tarim Basin of the Takla Makan Desert, north of the Tibetan Plateau, circa 1800 BC. Today this is within Xinjiang province of northwestern China.

The Indo-Aryans knew these people as the Tukhara, and Romans knew them as the Serae.Pliny the Elder, the Roman geographer, tells of an embassy to the Emperor Claudius from the island of Taprobane, now Sri Lanka. The ambassador spoke of a white people living north of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan chain. In his Natural History (6.24), Pliny reports that “these people exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair and blue eyes.”

In his Geographica (11.8.1), Strabo, the Greek geographer, referred to this people as the Tochari and believed they were the easternmost branch of the Scythians. Their existence might explain why some ancient Chinese texts give famous leaders European characteristics. For example, in his Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the poet Li He (790-860 AD) describes the heroic General Li as “green-eyed.”

This literary evidence is corroborated by archeology. In 1977, several well-preserved mummies were discovered in the arid Takla Makan Desert. Their racial type is unmistakably European. They have angular faces, long noses, round eyes, and reddish-blond hair. Their clothing is of finely woven wool, brightly colored and patterned, much like that worn by the Celts of Western Europe. An artistic reconstruction of a female known as “the Beauty of Loulan” looks Scottish or German.

The ancient Tocharians were gradually pushed out or absorbed by surrounding populations. Those in the eastern Tarim basin were driven out by Chinese expansion in the second century BC, and in the 7th century AD Turkic tribes conquered the western Tarim basin. The disappearance of the Tocharians and the darkening of the Indo-Aryans and Medes stand as a warning of the fate that awaits Europeans who live side by side with other racial groups.

How did they spread?

What accounts for the astonishing success of the Indo-Europeans? When they emerged from their homeland they encountered countless other small tribes. Why did they prevail? It is known that they had domesticated the horse — perhaps they were the first to do so — and cavalry is a great military advantage. However, as the American plains Indians showed, people can quickly become good horsemen.

For the Indo-Europeans to have conquered so many different peoples they must have had an advantage that was hard to copy. In their fascinating book, The 10,000 Year Explosion, Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran propose an explanation: lactose tolerance. They point out that the 13910-T allele that gives Europeans the ability to digest milk is relatively recent, and milk drinkers have a great advantage over other herders: dairying produces about five times more calories per acre than raising beef for slaughter. Lactose tolerant Indo-Europeans could therefore support more fighting men on the same amount as land.

Milk is good for you. Excavations of ancient burials have shown that milk-drinkers can be an average of four inches taller than their lactose-intolerant neighbors.

Herdsmen also tend to be more warlike than farmers because cattle are much easier to steal than heaps of grain. A successful raiding party can make off with a fortune in livestock, so there is a premium on daring and violence. Milk-drinkers are also mobile. Their food source moves with them whereas farmers are stuck to their land. Mounted, mobile, milk-drinkers could strike by surprise at the moment of their choice.

The merest genetic accident may have been an important factor in Indo-European expansion.

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