Malcolm Jack | Heritage Key
The word “Aryan” has become inseparable from poisonous Nazi doctrine over the last century, in which it became a term for describing a supposed master race of non-Jewish Caucasians, usually having Nordic features.
It’s ironic when you consider “Aryan” was originally a perfectly innocent ethno-linguistic term for an ancient cultural group who couldn’t have been any different in appearance to the supposedly racially pure peoples of northern Europe the Nazis envisioned.
Far from being blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned and homogenous, the “Aryans” were a dark-skinned nomadic Eurasian tribe who spread from Central Europe and Central Asia into Southern Asia, interbreeding with a variety of other peoples. Our knowledge of these “Aryans” is sketchy, and there’s still a lot to be determined about them, both through anthropological and archaeological research. But we can be quite sure that they bore no direct relation to the modern inhabitants of Germany and Scandinavia. And certainly they were no master race.
“Aryan” is no longer in use as a technical term – because of its inherent political-incorrectness and its Nazi overtones, it’s been superseded by “Indo-Iranian.” However, it’s useful to be aware of the way “Aryan” was gradually manipulated by misguided western scholars and Nazi propagandists, so as to understand how – in the hands of a megalomaniac so expert at twisting facts to suit his murderous rationale as was Adolf Hitler – a simple word misinterpreted can be a dangerous thing indeed.
The Behistun Inscription, engraved high on the side of Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran – contains the oldest epigraphically-attested reference to an Iranian language. Dating to the 6th century BC, it describes itself as having been composed “in ariya” – i.e. in Iranian. Picture credit – Hamid Najafi.
The Original “Aryans”
“Aryan” originates from the Sanskrit word arya or ariya, which can be observed in a variety of ancient texts, most notably the Vedas – the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature, dating to possibly as early as 1500 BC. It’s been interpreted as having a variety of different meanings – civilized, noble, superior or a person of higher consciousness.
It was used as a term of self-designation by nomadic Indo-Iranian tribes of Indo-European descent in the prehistoric period. Indo-European refers to an enormous family of several hundred related languages and dialects, from which derive most major tongues spoken in Europe, the Iranian plateau and South Asia today. The Indo-Iranians were the easternmost sub-branch of this huge group. They inhabited parts of modern Iran, Afghanistan and India.
The name Iran is in fact a modern cognate of “Aryan,” meaning “lands of the Aryans.” The Behistun Inscription – engraved high on the side of Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran – contains the oldest epigraphically-attested reference to an Iranian language. Dating to the 6th century BC, it describes itself as having been composed “in ariya” – i.e. in Iranian. (Learn more about the Behistun Inscription in this “face-off” vs. the Rosetta Stone).
In 18th century western theory, the Indo-Iranians somehow came to be considered as the forbears of the entire Indo-European language group. How did this happen? In short, Western scholars began making a number of wildly inaccurate assumptions, innocently in some cases, lazily in others, and with malice in others still.