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Aryans in Iran

The Aryan race is mentioned in Old Persian sources from around 500 BC onwards. The word Iran itself means 'the Land of Aryans.' Indians and Iranians consider themselves Aryan. In 19th century Europe the meaning of the term Aryan was distorted after the discovery of the Indo-European language family. It gave rise to the theory that all white Europeans descended from an ancient people called the Aryans.

The second millennium is usually regarded as the age of migration because the emergence in western Iran of a new form of pottery, similar to earlier wares of north-eastern Iran, suggests the arrival of new people. This pottery, light grey to black in colour, appeared around 1400 BC. It is called Early Grey Ware or Iron I, the latter name indicating the beginning of the Iron Age in this area. The migration of Iranian-speaking peoples into Iran is a widely discussed issue, and many questions about how the migration took place remain unanswered. Certainly there was a break in tradition at sites on the southern slopes of the Alburz Mountains and in western Iran, where stone tombs were filled with rich grave goods.

Before the advent of Zarathushtra, the religion of the devas was current in Iran. The traditional religion of the Iranians, or the religion that Zarathushtra resolved to reform, evidently was focused on the daevas, the bright ones of the Indo-Iranian pantheon (devas in Vedic Sanskrit). Zarathushtra presented his religion as rival to Daevayasna, that is, the religion of the daevas. The daevas must have included Mitra (Mithras, as spelled in Greek and Latin), Varuna, Indra, the Nasatya Twins, and perhaps the Ashvins. All of these deities except the Ashvins are mentioned in a vassal treaty to which an Indo-Iranian king of Mittani took an oath in the fourteenth century BC. The traditional religion included much animal sacrifice and also the drinking of haoma, the intoxicating juice pressed from the ephedra plant. While the old devas continued to be honored in India, even though over-shadowed by newer gods, among Iranians Zarathushtra appears to have done his best to abolish the cult of the daevas.

The people who originated Zoroastrian Civilization on the lofty plateau of Ancient Iran were Aryans. They had been the specially favored people of Ahura Mazda since the days of their progenitor, Gaya Maretan, the first man who gave ear to his divine precepts.1 His successor Haoshyangha, we are informed, gathered the people under his banner and founded the first Iranian dynasty, popularly known as the Pishdadian. Divine Glory from Ahura Mazda alighted upon the kings of this dynasty, and under their rule the Iranians laid the foundations of the civilization which later centered about the sublime personality of Zarathushtra.

Airyana Vaejah, "the cradle of the Aryans," was their primitive home. It was the first of the lands created by Ahura Mazda. Here it was that Ahura Mazda once sacrificed unto Vayu, and in this happy land the creator summoned a joint conference of the heavenly angels and the best of men, under the leadership of King Yima. In the eventful reign of this illustrious king, mankind, as well as flocks and herds, increased so greatly that Airyana Vaejah could no longer contain them. The pressing need of more room for the growing population occasioned the first great Iranian migration. Three times did the illustrious king lead his overflowing subjects to migrate southwards, on the way of the sun.0 Thus, the territory of Airyana Vaejah was constantly increased, and its boundaries were extended. Not yet, however, were the people destined to devote themselves unmolested to the peaceful pursuits of life.

Angra Mainyu, it seems, dogged their steps and contrived to inundate their country with an icy deluge. Ahura Mazda warned Yima of this coming calamity, and the shepherd king, following the divine advice, retreated before the encroaching storm with his men, his flocks and herds, to a temperate clime. The Airyana Vaejah of high renown, once clothed with luxuriant vegetation, was now invaded by the desolation of extreme winter, and became a wilderness too cold for human habitation. Airyana Vaejah, the earthly paradise, was lost, but its sweet memory could not perish, and bards long continued to sing the glories of this homeland of the Aryans. Sore at heart the infant race turned its steps still further to the south, and gave the same loving designation Airyana, or Iran, to its new home. This ancient name, it is interesting to note, has survived all geographical, racial, and political changes and still remains as the native name of Persia.

Formidable as were the obstacles that nature placed in the way of the people in their search for a habitable home, there were greater hardships still in store for them from other sources. Besides fighting the rigors of an inclement climate, they had to encounter the stubborn opposition of wild beasts and races of savage men along the way of their onward move. However, the vigor of these hardy people enabled them to overcome all difficulties. They succeeded in vanquishing and enslaving the aborigines, or driving them from their native places into the hills, and planting their own colonies in the newly conquered regions. The non-Aryans whom the Aryans had displaced became their inveterate foes, and, partly to avenge the wrong that the newcomers had done them, and partly for the purpose of enriching themselves without labor by plundering their rich settlements, they frequently poured down in great numbers from their mountain homes, pillaging the possessions of the industrious settlers. Kings Haoshyangha and Takhma Urupi are seen invoking various divinities for help in the wars waged against these aboriginal tribes that devastated their lands. The latter king seems to have inflicted such overwhelming defeats upon these marauding non-Iranian hordes, who are dubbed the demons in human form, that tradition has styled him the Demon Binder.

The Avestan texts refer to various clans of this period. The most celebrated clan which came to the rescue of the Aryan race and liberated it from the foreign rule was called the Athwya. Azhi Dahaka, a Semitic prince, subjugated the Iranians and ruled over them, it is alleged, for a thousand years. The Avestan works depict him as sacrificing to Ardvi Sura, the Iranian genius of water, in Babylonia. This legend of Dahaka's millennial rule in Iran probably indicates the first clash of the Iranians with some Semitic tribes. Thraetaona of the Athwya clan overthrew the usurper, delivered the people who were chafing under his yoke, and restored the Kingly Glory of the Aryans that had been lost by Yima.

Small groups of nomadic, horse-riding peoples speaking Indo-European languages began moving into the Iranian cultural area from Central Asia near the end of the second millennium BC. Population pressures, overgrazing in their home area, and hostile neighbors may have prompted these migrations. Some of the groups settled in eastern Iran, but others, those who were to leave significant historical records, pushed farther west toward the Zagros Mountains.

Three major groups are identifiable -- the Scythians, the Medes (the Amadai or Mada), and the Persians (also known as the Parsua or Parsa). The Scythians established themselves in the northern Zagros Mountains and clung to a seminomadic existence in which raiding was the chief form of economic enterprise. The Medes settled over a huge area, reaching as far as modern Tabriz in the north and Esfahan in the south. They had their capital at Ecbatana (present-day Hamadan) and annually paid tribute to the Assyrians. The Persians were established in three areas: to the south of Lake Urmia (the tradional name, also cited as Lake Orumiyeh, to which it has reverted after being called Lake Rezaiyeh under the Pahlavis), on the northern border of the kingdom of the Elamites; and in the environs of modern Shiraz, which would be their eventual settling place and to which they would give the name Parsa (what is roughly present-day Fars Province).

By the 9th century they had entered the Zagros Mountains; the Medes, the most prominent of the Iranian peoples, are mentioned as being there by Assyrian sources in 836 BC. More than a century later the Parsa, or Persians, appeared in the south. Other Iranian tribes spread over the entire plateau.

In both substance and in style the RigVeda probably has more in common with its Old Iranian kin, the Gathic Avestan, than with anything else in Vedic. Bricks were used to construct Harappan towns and cities, but the RigVeda Aryas seem not to have known them. The horse is a latecomer to the Indian sub-continent - there are no signs of them in the Indus script or iconography and no burials before about 1200 BC. If this is true, then the matter is simple - no horses means no Aryans. The British Raj had a stake in the Aryan theory, establishing a "natural" connection between fellow Aryans that made colonialism look like a modern meeting of two long lost brothers and thus a natural events in the course of history. The scholarship of the Indigenous Aryan school is stereotyped as being Hindutva orientated. There is no doubt a vociferous Hindutva element in some of this type of scholarship, but by no means all of it can be dismissed summarily on this ground. Most supporters of the Indigenous Aryan school are concerned with arguing that there is no compelling evidence supporting the idea of an external origin of the Aryan language and culture. But they do not all seriously try to propose India as the homeland of all the Indo-Europeans. Sanskrit is IndoEuropean, and cannot be "indigenous" to India as it is attested in the Near East [e.g., in the clearly Indo-Aryan Mitanni texts] well before any datable Indic traces of it. The Avesta consists of two sections: (1) the Avesta itself, which contains a series of Zoroastrian laws, hymns, legends, and prayers dating to perhaps 700 BC; and (2) the Gathas, which are the metrical sermons of Zoroaster dating to about 1000 BC. The two sections differ considerably in linguistics. They are about as different as Middle English and Modern English. Avestan is sometimes called Zend, though technically Zend is only the language of certain late commentaries on the Avesta.



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