Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Indo-Aryans

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 30, 2014

India History Map - Aryans 1500 BC


Not better, not worse – All equal 🙂 

Aryan (disambiguation)

The language referred to as Proto-Indo-European (PIE): is ancestral to the Celtic, Italic (including Romance), Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Albanian, Armenian, Greek, and Tocharian languages.

There is an agreement that the PIE community split into two major groups from wherever its homeland was situated (its location is unknown), and whenever the timing of its dispersal (also unknown).

One headed west for Europe and became speakers of Indo-European (all the languages of modern Europe save for Basque, Hungarian, Estonian, and Finnish) while others headed east for Eurasia to become Indo-Iranians.

The Indo-Iranians were a community that spoke a common language prior to their branching off into the Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages.


The Maykop culture (also spelled Maikop), ca. 3700 BC-3000 BC, was a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia. It extends along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop kurgan in the Kuban River valley.

In the south it borders the approximately contemporaneous Kura-Araxes culture (3500—2200 BC), which extends into eastern Anatolia and apparently influenced it. To the north is the Yamna culture, including the Novotitorovka culture (3300—2700), which it overlaps in territorial extent. It is contemporaneous with the late Uruk period in Mesopotamia.

The Kuban River is navigable for much of its length and provides an easy water-passage via the Sea of Azov to the territory of the Yamna culture, along the Don and Donets River systems. The Maykop culture was thus well-situated to exploit the trading possibilities with the central Ukraine area.

The Maykop kurgan was extremely rich in gold and silver artifacts; unusual for the time. The Maykop culture is believed to be one of the first to use the wheel. Its inhumation practices were characteristically Indo-European, typically in a pit, sometimes stone-lined, topped with a kurgan (or tumulus). Stone cairns replace kurgans in later interments.

In the early 20th century, researchers established the existence of a local Maykop animal style in the artifacts found. This style was seen as the prototype for animal styles of later archaeological cultures: the Maykop animal style is more than a thousand years older than the Scythian, Sarmatian and Celtic animal styles.

The Maykop nobility enjoyed horse riding and probably used horses in warfare. It should be noted that the Maykop people lived sedentary lives, and horses formed a very low percentage of their livestock, which mostly consisted of pigs and cattle.

The culture has been described as, at the very least, a “kurganized” local culture with strong ethnic and linguistic links to the descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. It has been linked to the Lower Mikhaylovka group and Kemi Oba culture, and more distantly, to the Globular Amphora and Corded Ware cultures, if only in an economic sense.

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, whose views are somewhat controversial, suggest that the Maykop culture (or its ancestor) may have been a way-station for Indo-Europeans migrating from the South Caucasus and/or eastern Anatolia to a secondary Urheimat on the steppe. This would essentially place the Anatolian stock in Anatolia from the beginning, and at least in this instance, agrees with Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian hypothesis.

Considering that some attempt has been made to unite Indo-European with the Northwest Caucasian languages, an earlier Caucasian pre-Urheimat is not out of the question. However, most linguists and archaeologists consider this hypothesis incorrect, and prefer the Eurasian steppes as the genuine IE Urheimat.

The Yamna culture (known in English as “Pit [Grave] Culture” or “Ochre Grave Culture”, 3600–2300 BC) is a late copper age/early Bronze Age culture of the Southern Bug/Dniester/Ural region (the Pontic steppe). The name also appears in English as Pit Grave Culture or Ochre Grave Culture.

The culture was predominantly nomadic, with some agriculture practiced near rivers and a few hillforts. Characteristic for the culture is the inhumations in kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions.

Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans (including Proto-Indo-Iranians). The earliest remains in Eastern Europe of a wheeled cart were found in the “Storozhova mohyla” kurgan (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, excavated by Trenozhkin A.I.) associated with the Yamna culture.

It is the strongest candidate for the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language, along with the preceding Sredny Stog culture, now that archaeological evidence of the culture and its migrations has been closely tied to the evidence from linguistics.

Pavel Dolukhanov argues that the emergence of the Pit-Grave culture represents a social development of various local Bronze Age cultures, representing “an expression of social stratification and the emergence of chiefdom-type nomadic social structures”, which in turn intensified inter-group contacts between essentially heterogeneous social groups.

In its western range it was succeeded by the Catacomb culture (2800–2200 BC), to a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day Ukraine, and in the east by the Poltavka culture (2700—2100 BC) and the Srubna culture (Timber-grave culture, 18th–12th centuries BC).

The Catacomb culture was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East.

The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamna culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the “catacomb”. Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.

In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased’s face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon, the son of king Atreus and queen Aerope of Mycenae.

The Tashtyk culture was an archaeological culture that flourished in the Yenisei valley in Siberia from the first to the fourth century CE, perhaps equivalent to the Yenisei Kirghiz. Located in the Minusinsk Depression, environs of modern Krasnoyarsk, eastern part of Kemerovo Oblast, it was preceded by the Tagar culture, thought to have been Caucasoids of the Scythian circle.

Tashtyk settlements and hill-forts have been unearthed throughout the Yenisei region, particularly the Sayan canyon area. Their most imposing monuments were immense barrows-crypt structures; these have yielded large quantities of clay and metal vessels and ornaments. In addition, numerous petrographic carvings have been found.

During his excavations of the Oglahty cemetery south of Minusinsk, Leonid Kyzlasov discovered a number of mummies with richly decorated plaster funerary masks showing Western Eurasian features, though this would not rule out some East Asian admixture, as revealed by ancient DNA.

The economy was essentially stock-breeding, although traces of grain have been found. There seem to have been skilled specialists, particularly metal-workers.

The origin of the Catacomb culture is disputed. Jan Lichardus enumerates three possibilities: a local development departing from the previous Yamna Culture only, a migration from Central Europe, or an oriental origin.

The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis based on the Glottalic theory connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

The Armenian hypothesis of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat suggests that the Proto-Indo-European language was spoken during the 4th millennium BC in the Armenian Highland. It is an Indo-Hittite model and does not include the Anatolian languages in its scenario.

The phonological peculiarities proposed in the Glottalic theory would be best preserved in the Armenian language and the Germanic languages, the former assuming the role of the dialect which remained in situ, implied to be particularly archaic in spite of its late attestation.

The Proto-Greek language would be practically equivalent to Mycenaean Greek and date to the 17th century BC, closely associating Greek migration to Greece with the Indo-Aryan migration to India at about the same time (viz., Indo-European expansion at the transition to the Late Bronze Age, including the possibility of Indo-European Kassites).

The Armenian hypothesis argues for the latest possible date of Proto-Indo-European (sans Anatolian), roughly a millennium later than the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis. In this, it figures as an opposite to the Anatolian hypothesis, in spite of the geographical proximity of the respective suggested Urheimaten, diverging from the timeframe suggested there by as much as three millennia.

Graeco-Aryan (or Graeco-Armeno-Aryan) is a hypothetical clade within the Indo-European family, ancestral to the Greek language, the Armenian language, and the Indo-Iranian languages. Graeco-Aryan unity would have become divided into Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian by the mid 3rd millennium BC.

Conceivably, Proto-Armenian would have been located between Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian, consistent with the fact that Armenian shares certain features only with Indo-Iranian (the satem change) but others only with Greek (s > h).

Graeco-Armeno-Aryan has comparatively wide support among Indo-Europeanists for the Indo-European Homeland to be located in the Armenian Highland. Early and strong evidence was given by Euler’s 1979 examination on shared features in Greek and Sanskrit nominal flection.

Used in tandem with the Graeco-Armeno-Aryan hypothesis, the Armenian language would also be included under the label Aryano-Greco-Armenic, splitting into proto-Greek/Phrygian and “Armeno-Aryan” (ancestor of Armenian and Indo-Iranian).

In the context of the Kurgan hypothesis, Greco-Aryan is also known as “Late PIE” or “Late Indo-European” (LIE), suggesting that Greco-Aryan forms a dialect group which corresponds to the latest stage of linguistic unity in the Indo-European homeland in the early part of the 3rd millennium BC. By 2500 BC, Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian had separated, moving westward and eastward from the Pontic Steppe, respectively.

If Graeco-Aryan is a valid group, Grassmann’s law may have a common origin in Greek and Sanskrit. (Note, however, that Grassmann’s law in Greek postdates certain sound changes that happened only in Greek and not Sanskrit, which suggests that it cannot strictly be an inheritance from a common Graeco-Aryan stage. Rather, it is more likely an areal feature that spread across a then-contiguous Graeco-Aryan-speaking area after early Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian had developed into separate dialects but before they ceased being in geographic contact.)

Poltavka culture, an early to middle Bronze Age archaeological culture of the middle Volga from about where the Don-Volga canal begins up to the Samara bend, with an easterly extension north of present Kazakhstan along the Samara River valley to somewhat west of Orenburg, seems to be seen as an early manifestation of the Srubna culture.

There is evidence of influence from the Maykop culture to its south. The only real things that distinguish it from the Yamna culture are changes in pottery and an increase in metal objects. Tumulus inhumations continue, but with less use of ochre. It is presumptively early Indo-Iranian (Proto-Indo-Iranian).

It was succeeded by the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BCE), also known as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture or Sintashta-Arkaim culture, a Bronze Age archaeological culture of the northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The people of the Sintashta culture are thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian, the ancestor of the Indo-Iranian language family. This identification is based primarily on similarities between sections of the Rig Veda, an Indian religious text which includes ancient Indo-Iranian hymns recorded in Vedic Sanskrit, with the funerary rituals of the Sintashta culture as revealed by archaeology.

There is however linguistic evidence of a list of common vocabulary between Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian languages. While its origin as a creole of different tribes in the Ural region may make it inaccurate to ascribe the Sintashta culture exclusively to Indo-Iranian ethnicity, interpreting this culture as a blend of two cultures with two distinct languages is a reasonable hypothesis based on the evidence.

The Srubna culture, which ousted the Catacomb culture from ca. the 17th century, was a Late Bronze Age culture occuping the area along and above the north shore of the Black Sea from the Dnieper eastwards along the northern base of the Caucasus to the area abutting the north shore of the Caspian Sea, west of the Ural Mountains to come up against the domain of the approximately contemporaneous and somewhat related Andronovo culture.

The economy was mixed agriculture and livestock breeding. The historical Cimmerians have been suggested as descended from this culture. It was succeeded by Scythians and Sarmatians in the 1st millennium BC and by the Khazars and Kipchaks in the first millennium AD. The origin of the Cimmerians is unclear. They are mostly supposed to have been related to either Iranian or Thracian speaking groups, or at least to have been ruled by an Iranian elite.


Indo-Aryan or Indic peoples are an ethno-linguistic group referring to the wide collection of peoples united as native speakers of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian language family. Today, there are over one billion native speakers of Indo-Aryan languages, most of them native to South Asia, where they form the majority.

The separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Indo-Iranians is commonly dated, on linguistic grounds, to roughly 1800 BCE. The Nuristani languages probably split in such early times, and are classified as either remote Indo-Aryan dialects or as an independent branch of Indo-Iranian. By the mid 2nd millennium BCE early Indo-Aryans had reached Assyria in the west (the Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni) and the northern Punjab in the east (the Rigvedic tribes).

The spread of Indo-Aryan languages has been connected with the spread of the chariot in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Some scholars trace the Indo-Aryans (both Indo-Aryans and European Aryans) back to the Andronovo culture (2nd millennium BCE).

Other scholars have argued that the Andronovo culture proper formed too late to be associated with the Indo-Aryans of India, and that no actual traces of the Andronovo culture (e.g. warrior burials or timber-frame materials) have been found in India and Southern countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Archaeologist J.P. Mallory (1998) finds it “extraordinarily difficult to make a case for expansions from this northern region to northern India” and remarks that the proposed migration routes “only [get] the Indo-Iranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans” (Mallory 1998; Bryant 2001: 216). Therefore he prefers to derive the Indo-Aryans from the intermediate stage of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) culture, in terms of a “Kulturkugel” model of expansion.

Likewise, Asko Parpola (1988) connects the Indo-Aryans to the BMAC. But although horses were known to the Indo-Aryans, evidence for their presence in the form of horse bones is missing in the BMAC.

Parpola (1988) has argued that the Dasas, a term that potentially designated a distinct group within the Aryan fold or may refer to the non-Aryans living in the Indian subcontinent according to the Harvard professor and author, Wendy Doniger, were the “carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran” living in the BMAC and that the forts with circular walls destroyed by the Indo-Aryans were actually located in the BMAC.

Parpola (1999) elaborates the model and has “Proto-Rigvedic” Indo-Aryans intrude the BMAC around 1700 BCE. He assumes early Indo-Aryan presence in the Late Harappan horizon from about 1900 BCE, and “Proto-Rigvedic” (Proto-Dardic) intrusion to the Punjab as corresponding to the Swat culture from about 1700 BCE.

Recently Leo Klejn proposed a hypothesis of linking the earliest stage of Indo-Aryan peoples with the Catacomb culture (ca. 2800–2200 BC), a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day Ukraine.

The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

The Iranian people or Iranic people

Iranian refers to the languages of Iran (Iranian), parts of Pakistan (Balochi and Pashto), Afghanistan (Pashto and Dari), and Tadjikistan (Tajiki) and Indo-Aryan, Sanskrit, Urdu and its many related languages.

The Iranian people or Iranic people are a diverse Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that comprises the speakers of Iranian languages. Their areas of settlement were on the Iranian plateau (mainly Iran and Afghanistan) and certain neighbouring areas of Asia (such as parts of the Caucasus, Eastern Turkey, Northeast Syria, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bahrain, Oman, northern Iraq, Northwestern and Western Pakistan) reflecting changing geopolitical range of the Iranian dynasties and the Iranian history.

Their current distribution spreads across the Iranian plateau, and stretches from the Caucasus in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south, and from the Xinjiang in the east to eastern Turkey in the west – a region that is sometimes called the “Iranian cultural continent”, or Greater Iran by some scholars, and represents the extent of the Iranian languages and significant influence of the Iranian peoples, through the geopolitical reach of the Iranian empire.

The Iranian peoples comprise the present day Persians, Ossetians, Kurds, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Balochs, Lurs, and their sub-groups of the historic Medes, Massagetaes, Sarmatians, Scythians, Parthians, Alans, Bactrians, Soghdians and other people of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Iranian plateau.

Other possible groups are the Cimmerians who are mostly supposed to have been related to either Iranian or Thracian speaking group, or at least to have been ruled by an Iranian elite and Xiongnu of probable Saka origin.

With numerous artistic, scientific, architectural and philosophical achievements and numerous kingdoms and empires that bridged much of the civilized world in antiquity, the Iranian peoples were often in close contact with the Greeks, Romans, Peoples of the Caucasus, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Turks and Arabs.

The various religions of the Iranian people, including Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism, are believed by some scholars to have been significant early philosophical influences on Christianity and Judaism.

The Iranians had domesticated horses, had traveled far and wide, and from the late 2nd millennium BC to early 1st millennium BC they had migrated to and settled on the Iranian Plateau.

The division into an “Eastern” and a “Western” group by the early 1st millennium is visible in Avestan vs. Old Persian, the two oldest known Iranian languages. The Old Avestan texts known as the Gathas are believed to have been composed by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, with the Yaz culture (c. 1500 BCE – 1100 BCE) as a candidate for the development of Eastern Iranian culture.

By the early 1st millennium, Ancient Iranian peoples such as Medes, Persians, Bactrians, Parthians and Scythians populated the Iranian plateau, and other Scythian tribes, along with Cimmerians, Sarmatians and Alans populated the steppes north of the Black Sea. The Saka and the Scythian tribes spread as far west as the Balkans and as far east as Xinjiang.

Scythians as well formed the Indo-Scythian Empire, and Bactrians formed a Greco-Bactrian Kingdom founded by Diodotus I, the satrap of Bactria. The Kushan Empire, with Bactrian roots/connections, once controlled much of Pakistan, some of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Kushan elite (who the Chinese called the Yuezhi) were either a Tocharian-speaking (another Indo-European branch) people or an Eastern Iranian language-speaking people.

During the 1st centuries of the 1st millennium BCE, the ancient Persians established themselves in the western portion of the Iranian plateau and appear to have interacted considerably with the Elamites and Babylonians, while the Medes also entered in contact with the Assyrians based in nearby Mesopotamia.

For approximately three centuries after arriving in the region, the Medes and Persians fell under the domination of the Assyrian Empire (911–609 BCE). In 646 BCE, Susa and many other cities of Elam were plundered and wrecked by Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, allowing the Iranian peoples to become the predominant group in Iran.

After the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BCE, the Assyrian Empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter civil wars. In 616 BCE the Median king Cyaxares came into power, united the Medes and Persians, and in alliance with Nabopolassar of Babylon and the Scythians, attacked the Assyrian Empire.

By 609 BCE, the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies had been defeated. This began the Iranian domination in the Iranian Plateau. Persians formed the Achaemenid Empire by the 6th century BCE, while the Scythians dominated the Eurasian steppe.

Remnants of the Median language and Old Persian show their common Proto-Iranian roots, emphasized in Strabo and Herodotus’ description of their languages as very similar to the languages spoken by the Bactrians and Soghdians in the east.

Following the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire, the Persian language (referred to as “Farsi” in Persian) spread from Pars or Fars Province to various regions of the Empire, with the modern dialects of Iran, Afghanistan (also known as Dari) and Central-Asia (known as Tajiki) descending from Old Persian.

Old Persian appears to have been established in written form by 519 BCE, following the creation of the Old Persian script, inspired by the cuneiform script of the Assyrians. Old Persian is attested in the Behistun Inscription (c. 519 BCE), recording a proclamation by Darius the Great.

In southwestern Iran, the Achaemenid kings usually wrote their inscriptions in trilingual form (Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian) while elsewhere other languages were used. The administrative languages were Elamite in the early period, and later Imperial Aramaic.

The early inhabitants of the Achaemenid Empire appear to have adopted the religion of Zoroastrianism. The Baloch who speak a west Iranian language relate an oral tradition regarding their migration from Aleppo, Syria around the year 1000 CE, whereas linguistic evidence links Balochi to Kurmanji, Soranî, Gorani and Zazaki.

While the Iranian tribes of the south are better known through their texts and modern counterparts, the tribes which remained largely in the vast Eurasian expanse are known through the references made to them by the ancient Greeks, Persians, Indo-Aryans as well as by archaeological finds.

Many ancient Sanskrit texts make references to tribes like Sakas, Paradas, Kambojas, Bahlikas, Uttaramadras, Madras, Lohas, Parama Kambojas, Rishikas, Tukharas or Tusharas etc. and locate them in the Uttarapatha in north-west, in Central Asia, around Hindukush range in northern Pakistan. The Greek chronicler, Herodotus (5th century BCE) makes references to a nomadic people, the Scythians; he describes them as having dwelt in what is today southern Russia.

It is believed that these Scythians were conquered by their eastern cousins, the Sarmatians, who are mentioned by Strabo as the dominant tribe which controlled the southern Russian steppe in the 1st millennium CE. These Sarmatians were also known to the Romans, who conquered the western tribes in the Balkans and sent Sarmatian conscripts, as part of Roman legions, as far west as Roman Britain.

The Sarmatians of the east became the Alans, who also ventured far and wide, with a branch ending up in Western Europe and North Africa, as they accompanied the Germanic Vandals during their migrations.

The modern Ossetians are believed to be the sole direct descendants of the Alans, as other remnants of the Alans disappeared following Germanic, Hunnic and ultimately Slavic migrations and invasions. Another group of Alans allied with Goths to defeat the Romans and ultimately settled in what is now called Catalonia (Goth-Alania).

The modern Ossetians claim to be the descendants of the Alano-Sarmatians and their claims are supported by their Northeast Iranian language, while culturally the Ossetians resemble their Caucasian neighbors, the Kabardians and Circassians.

Some of the Saka-Scythian tribes in Central Asia would later move further southeast and invade the Iranian plateau, large sections of present day Afghanistan and finally deep into present day Pakistan. The modern Sarikoli in southern Xinjiang and the Ossetians of the Caucasus are remnants of the various Saka tribes.

Another Iranian tribe related to the Saka-Scythians was the Parni in Central Asia, and who later become indistinguishable from the Parthians, speakers of a northwest-Iranian language. Many Iranian tribes, including the Khwarazmians, Massagetae and Sogdians, were assimilated and/or displaced in Central Asia by the migrations of Turkic tribes emanating out of Xinjiang and Siberia.

The most dominant surviving Eastern Iranian peoples are represented by the Pashtuns, whose origins are generally believed to be from the province of Ghor, from which they began to spread until they reached as far west as Herat, north to areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan; and as eastward towards the Indus. The Pashto language shows affinities to the Avestan and Bactrian.

Various extinct Iranian peoples existed in the eastern Caucasus, including the Azaris, while some Iranian peoples remain in the region, including the Talysh and the Tats (including the Judeo-Tats, who have relocated to Israel), found in Azerbaijan and as far north as the Russian republic of Dagestan. A remnant of the Sogdians is found in the Yaghnobi speaking population in parts of the Zeravshan valley in Tajikistan.


The term Iranian is derived from the Old Iranian ethnical adjective Aryana which is itself a cognate of the Sanskrit word Arya. The name Iran is from Aryānām; lit: “(Land) of the Aryans”.

The old Proto-Indo-Iranian term Arya, per Thieme meaning “hospitable”, is believed to have been one of the self-referential terms used by the Aryans, at least in the areas populated by Aryans who migrated south from Central Asia. Another meaning for Aryan is “noble”.

In the late part of the Avesta (Vendidad 1), one of their homelands was referred to as Airyanem Vaejah. The homeland varied in its geographic range, the area around Herat (Pliny’s view) and even the entire expanse of the Iranian plateau (Strabo’s designation).

The academic usage of the term Iranian is distinct from the state of Iran and its various citizens (who are all Iranian by nationality and thus popularly referred to as Iranians) in the same way that Germanic peoples is distinct from Germans.

Many citizens of Iran are not necessarily “Iranian peoples” by virtue of not being speakers of Iranian languages. Unlike the various terms connected with the Aryan arya in Old Indian, the Old Iranian term has solely an ethnic meaning and there can be no doubt about the ethnic value of Old Iran.

The Avesta clearly uses “airya” as an ethnic name, 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.

The term “Ariya” appears in the royal Old Persian inscriptions as the name of the language of the Old Persian version of the inscription of Darius the Great in Behistun, as the ethnic background of Darius in inscriptions at Naqsh-e-Rostam and Susa and Xerxes in the inscription from Persepolis and as the definition of the God of Iranian peoples, Ahuramazda, in the Elamite version of the Behistun inscription.

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”. Although Darius the Great called his language the Iranian language, modern scholars refer to it as Old Persian because it is the ancestor of modern Persian language.

The Old Persian and Avestan evidence is confirmed by the Greek sources”. Herodotus in his Histories remarks about the Iranian Medes that: “These Medes were called anciently by all people Arians”.

In Armenian sources, the Parthians, Medes and Persians are collectively referred to as Iranians. 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.

Strabo, in his “Geography”, mentions the unity of Medes, Persians, Bactrians and Sogdians: 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.

The trilingual inscription erected by Shapur’s command gives a more clear description. The languages used are Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek. In Greek, the inscription says: “ego … tou Arianon ethnous despotes eimi”(“I am lord of the kingdom (Gk. nation) of the Aryans”) which translates to “I am the king of the Iranian people”. In the Middle Persian, Shapour states: “ērānšahr xwadāy hēm” and in Parthian he states: “aryānšahr xwadāy ahēm”.

The Bactrian language (a Middle Iranian language) inscription of Kanishka, 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.

In the post-Islamic era, one can still see a clear usage of the term Iran in the work of the 10th-century historian Hamzeh Isfahani. In his book the history of Prophets and Kings writes: “Aryan which is also called Pars (Persia) 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”.

All this evidence shows that the name arya “Iranian” was a collective definition, denoting peoples 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.

Anīrān or Anērān is an ethno-linguistic term that signifies “non-Iranian” or “non-Iran (Aryan).” Thus, in a general sense, ‘Aniran’ signifies lands where Iranian languages are not spoken. In a pejorative sense, it denotes “a political and religious enemy of Iran and Zoroastrianism.”

The term ‘Aniran’ derives from Middle Persian anērān, Pahlavi ʼnyrʼn, an antonym of ērān that in turn denoted either the people or the state of Sassanid Iran. However, “in Zoroastrian literature and possibly in Sasanian political thought as well, the term has also a markedly religious connotation.

An anēr person is not merely non-Iranian, but specifically non-Zoroastrian; and anēr designates also worshipers of the Devas or adherents of other religions.” In these texts of the 9th-12th century, “Arabs and Turks are called anēr, as are Muslims generally, the latter in a veiled manner.”

In present-day academia, the term “Aryan” has been replaced in most cases by the terms “Indo-Iranian” and “Indo-European”, and “Aryan” is now mostly limited to its appearance in the term of the “Indo-Aryan languages” in South Asia.

The name Arya lives in the ethnic names like Alan, New Persian: Iran, Ossetian: Ir and Iron. The name Iran has been in usage since Sassanid times. The Ossetians (Ossetian: irættæ) are an Iranian ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains, indigenous to the region known as Ossetia. They speak Ossetic, an Iranian language of the Eastern branch of the Indo-European languages family.

The Ossetians and Ossetia received their name from the Russians, who adopted the Georgian designations Osi (sing., pl.: Osebi) and Oseti (“the land of Osi”), used since the Middle Ages for the Iranian-speaking population of the Central Caucasus and probably based on the old Alan self-designation “As”. The Alans were also known over the course of their history by another group of related names including the variations Asi, Aorsi and Os

As the Ossetians lacked any single inclusive name for themselves in their native language, these terms were accepted by the Ossetians themselves already before their integration into the Russian Empire.

This practice was put into question by the new Ossetian nationalism in the early 1990s, when the dispute between the Ossetian subgroups of Digoron and Iron over the status of the Digoron dialect made the Ossetian intellectuals search for a new inclusive ethnic name.

This, combined with the effects of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, led to the popularization of “Alania”, the name of the medieval Sarmatian confederation, to which the Ossetians traced their origin, and inclusion of this name into the official republican title of North Ossetia in 1994.

The folk beliefs of the Ossetian people are rooted in their Sarmatian origin and Christian religion, with the pagan gods transcending into Christian saints. The Nart saga serves the basic pagan mythology of the region.

The Nart sagas are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form the basic mythology of the tribes in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, Karachay-Balkar and Chechen-Ingush folklore.

The term nart comes from the Ossetian name of Narts, Nartæ, which is plurale tantum of “nar”. The origin of the root nar is probably of Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian nar for “hero”, “man”, descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr.

However, Vasily Abaev declined this etymology relying on two arguments. The first argument is that the descendant of Indo-European root *h₂nḗr in Ossetic is næl (“male”), and the second point is that the central hero of the saga is the woman Satana. Instead, Abaev suggested a Mongolian origin of nar, from Mongolian word nara for “sun”.

The first written account of the material is due to the Kabardian author Shora Begmurzin Nogma (who wrote in Russian 1835-1843, published posthumously in 1861, German translation by Adolf Berge in 1866). The stories exist in the form of prose tales as well as epic songs.

It is generally known that all the Nart corpora have an ancient Iranian core, inherited from the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans (the Alans being the ancestors of the Ossetians). However, they also contain abundant local North Caucasian accretions of great antiquity, which sometimes reflect an even more archaic past.

Based especially on the Ossetian versions, the sagas have long been valued as a window towards the world of the Iranian-speaking cultures of antiquity. For example, the philologist Georges Dumézil used the Ossetian division of the Narts into three clans to support his Trifunctional Hypothesis that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were similarly divided into three castes—warriors, priests, and commoners. Additionally John Colarusso appends that Caucasian myths have common parallels within Indo-European, Turkic and Mongolic traditions.

The Northwest Caucasian (Circassian, Abkhaz-Abasin and Ubykh) versions are also highly valuable, because they are more archaic and preserve “all the odd details constituting the detritus of earlier traditions and beliefs”, as opposed to the Ossetian ones, which have been “reworked to form a smooth narrative”.

Some motifs in the Nart sagas are shared by Greek mythology. The story of Prometheus chained to Mount Kazbek or to Mount Elbrus in particular is similar to an element in the Nart sagas. These shared motifs are seen by some as indicative of an earlier proximity of the Caucasian peoples to the ancient Greeks, also shown in the myth of the Golden Fleece, in which Colchis is generally accepted to have been part of modern-day Georgia.

In the book From Scythia to Camelot, authors C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor speculate that many aspects of the Arthurian legends are derived from the Nart sagas. The proposed vector of transmission is the Alans, some of whom migrated into northern France at around the time the Arthurian legends were forming. As expected, these parallels are most evident in the Ossetian versions, according to researcher John Colarusso.

There are some differences between the various versions of the Nart legends. For example, the Ossetian versions depict the Nartic tribe as composed of three distinct clans who sometimes rival one another. (the brave Æxsærtægkatæ, to whom the most prominent Narts belong, the rich Borætæ and the wise Alægatæ), while the Circassian ones do not depict such a division, and the Abkhaz ones are unique in describing the Narts as a single nuclear family composed of Satanaya’s one hundred sons. Yet all of these versions describe the Narts as a single coherent group of mostly “good” heroes.

In contrast, the Nakh (Chechen-Ingush) legends sometimes depict the Nart-Orxustxoi, a group including the most prominent Narts known from the other versions (e.g. Seska-Solsa corresponding to Sosruko/Soslan, Khamtsha-Patarish corresponding to Batraz/Batradz etc.) as warlike bandits, who fight against local good heroes such as Koloi-Kant and Qinda-Shoa (the latter corresponding to Sawway/Shawey).

Albania (Latin: Albānia, Greek: Albanía, in Old Armenian: Ałuankʿ (Aguank), Parthian: Ardhan, Middle Persian: Arran; Georgian: Rani); usually referred to as Caucasian Albania for disambiguation with the modern state of Albania; the native name for the country is unknown) is a name for the historical region of the eastern Caucasus, that existed on the territory of present-day republic of Azerbaijan (where both of its capitals were located) and partially southern Dagestan.

The Principality of Arbanon or Albanon (Albanian: Arbër or Arbëria), was the first Albanian state during the Middle Ages. The state was established by archon Progon in the region of Kruja, in ca 1190.

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