Aryan is the name that an ancient people of Europe, Iran (Greater Iran) and India called themselves. Descendants of the Aryans include speakers of Sanskrit and Avestan which are related to the Indo-European languages. About three thousand and five hundred years ago, both Iranians and Indians used the name Aryan to mean their shared ancestors, as well as "nobles."
The Avestan name Airiianəm vaēǰō "Aryan expanse", is a reference in the Zoroastrian Avesta (Vendidad, Fargard 1) to the Aryans’ mother country and one of Ahura Mazda's "sixteen perfect lands". Other Avestan names are airyō.šayana, the “Aryan people”, and airyā daiŋˊhāvā “the Aryan lands”. These names were known to old Greek writers as Ariana. Also the Sanskrit name Āryāvarta "abode of the Aryans", was a region in north of today's India. The Middle Persian name of the Sassanian Empire, an empire that ruled Persia from the 3rd century to the 7th century, was Eran-shar meaning the Aryan Empire. Today, the name Iran is simply the Persian word for Aryan.
In the late 19th century, some Europeans began to use the name Aryan for only the Nordic peoples of Europe (one branch of the Indo-European peoples), as a "pure," "noble" and "superior" race they claimed were descended from the original Aryans.
The theory that the Aryans first came from Europe became especially accepted in Germany. It was widely believed that the "Vedic Aryans" were the same people as the Goths, Vandals and other ancient Germanic peoples who brought the Western Roman Empire to an end. This idea was often mixed with anti-Semitic ideas. The Master Race theory became a main idea for Nazis. After the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, these ideas led to horrible persecutions of the Jews which culminated in the Holocaust.
The idea of racism that the Nazi theory means has been totally put aside by modern scientists, some of whom also disagree with the idea that the original Aryans ever lived in Europe. Most other scientists do maintain that the original Proto-Indo-Europeans did live about 5,000 years ago in the area in Europe east of Ukraine and north of the Caucasus Mountains and that the original Aryans (the Indo-Iranians or eastern branch of the Indo-European peoples) did migrate east to Iran and India from there, and the original ancestors of the modern European peoples (the western or European branch of the Indo-European peoples) did migrate west from there. This is called the Kurgan hypothesis.
Images for kids
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 usage, the ariya of the inscription does not signify anything but "Iranian".
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 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.
Aryan Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.