The term “Aryan race” historically refers to a concept in the context of racial theory, predominant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which proposed that a group of people of Indo-European descent were superior to other racial groups. This concept has been widely discredited and rejected by modern science.
Originally, “Aryan” referred to a linguistic and cultural group, not a distinct racial category. The term was used to describe people speaking Indo-European languages, including groups in parts of Iran and India. However, in the late 19th century, the term was co-opted by racial theorists in Europe.
In the 20th century, the concept of an Aryan race became central to the racial ideology of Nazism. The Nazis used the term to promote the idea of a pure “Germanic race” or “Nordic race.” They claimed that this so-called race was superior to all others, particularly targeting Jewish people and other groups in their discriminatory and genocidal policies. This misuse of the term “Aryan” was part of their broader racial ideology, which has been thoroughly discredited and condemned.
Original term Aryan
The term “Aryan” in its original, scholarly context refers to a group of ancient peoples who spoke Indo-European languages. This usage is distinctly linguistic and cultural, rather than racial.
- Indo-European Languages: The term “Aryan” was primarily used to describe people speaking Indo-European languages. This family of languages includes a wide range of languages spoken in Europe, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. Examples include Sanskrit, Old Persian, Latin, Greek, and many modern languages like English, Spanish, Russian, and Hindi.
- Sanskrit and Old Persian: The earliest recorded use of the term is found in ancient Indian and Iranian texts. In Sanskrit, “ārya” meant “noble” or “honorable”. In Old Persian, it appears as “arya”, used similarly.
- Vedic Culture: In ancient India, the term was associated with the Vedic culture, a period in Indian history when the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were composed. The people associated with this culture are believed to have spoken an early form of Sanskrit.
- Avestan Culture: In ancient Iran, those referred to as “Aryans” were part of the early Iranian tribes who composed the Avesta, the primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism.
- 19th-Century Scholarship: European scholars in the 19th century, studying the similarities between Sanskrit, Persian, and European languages, identified the existence of a proto-Indo-European language and postulated a common ancestral culture, often labeled as “Aryan”. This was a linguistic and cultural hypothesis, not a racial one.
- Archaeological and Anthropological Research: These fields have contributed to understanding the migrations and cultural interactions of ancient Indo-European-speaking peoples, shedding light on their societal structures, religious practices, and linguistic developments.