Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans

Lalit Shastri

“Surias’ (Assysian) “Suryu” (Sanskrit), Indus as Indira and Maruttas as Marutta and these names have been described as raiders, who came in their horse drawn chariots and conqured the cities. Indra for instance is also described as Purandar or the destroyer of forts (forts could be the fortified cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa). 

The urban phenomenon that evolved during the post-Harappan phase and spread over a wide territory covering areas of Sind, Punjab, Gujarat and even parts of Malwa gradually disappeared during the period 2000 BCE 1500 BCE and by the latter date all the urban centres were virtually extinct. 

Looking at Archaeological remains of Mohanjodaro we find that there was a gradual decay at the upper stratum. At the later stage, we find a horde of houses built of used bricks. The streets bore a haphazard construction and gradually it narrowed down. There was also a probable influx of refugees or migrants from the countryside and this is collabo-rated by finds of settlements on the streets.

The material remains of the upper stratum hint at a deteriorating Socio-Economic condition of the Indus people. Various factors can be attributed to the gradual decline. Ecological changes could have been a major reason behind the receding conditions. On one hand the practice of utilizing used bricks reflects the dwinding forest wealth and on the other the march of the desert due to change in the path of the Indus could have caused hardships upon the rural populace that migrated to the urban centres. Coupled with the above two adversities the Indus people also had to confront with waves of Indo-Aryan people. Their advent acted as catalyist to the already declining urban phenomenon. 

The final switchover from urban to pastoral culture could have been the result of successive waves of Indo European speaking people who overran the “Sapta Saindhava” region (Land of seven rivers) over a period of time. 

The Indo European speaking people are generally referred to as a single race. But it would be ill-adviced to consider waves of people who followed a path of migration over centuries across continents to constitute a single race. We can at the utmost consider them to possess a culture content with many commonalities. 

From the point of view of historical certainty the term Aryan can only refer to those who spoke an Aryan or in other words Indo-European’ language. 

The Indo-European languages are those that can be taken back to a common ancestory. It is argued that there are 11 groups of languages that can be termed to have an Indo-European base. They are Celtic, Teutonic, Albanian, Greek, Slavonic, Baltic, Armenian, Iranian, Indic and Tocharian. Their ancestory can be traced on philological grounds. The close affinity between Greek and Sanskrit led to the study of Philology and it resulted in the concept of a parent Indo-European language. The above concept plus the close resemblence in the existing Indo-European group of languages led one to infer that these languages originated from the Indo-European speaking people. 

When we think of the origin of the Indo-European language and the set of people who spoke the language, it becomes essential to trace the origin of these people who spread their language to other parts of the world. The migration of Indo-European speaking people to various regions and their intermingling with those already settled there, gave birth to different languages in their varying forms as we see them today. 

The dispersal and migration of the Indo-Europeans was not in unpeopled areas. Before reaching the frontiers of India, these people must have faced resistence of the already ‘existing people’. The perpetual waves of these migratory people would have saved them from the ‘easy absorption’ by the indegenous population. So it is probable that modern Persians and Indians have common ancestory among the conquering tribes, advancing from the West to the East in earlier times. 

By going through the lexicon of various languages, we come across words that are identical in form and meaning. This gives a base which throws light on the material and natural culture of the original Indo-European speaking people. 

Linguistic study has led to conclude Central Europe or the South Russian Steppes as the possible homelands of the Indo-European speaking people. The evidences tend to show that animal husbandry was more stressed upon than agriculture and if that is accepted, Eurasian Steppe is far better with more possibilities and favourable environment for pastoralism. 

Various authorities on history have also stressed that the steppe land could have been the origin of the original Indo-European speakers because they put more empha-sis on animal husbandry rather than agriculture. The battle-axe culture in this area shows a definite pastoral orientation and a well-defined pastoral economy marked by tremendous dispersal of the pastoral groups.

Upon further studying the culture content of the central Asian steppes in historical perspective, we can put aside Kurgan culture as the original habitat of the Indo-European speaking people because archeological discoveries prove that Kurgan culture was the earliest food producing cul-ture to appear in the steppe lands, much before any other culture in central or northern Europe. 

The Kurgan culture had the knowledge of metal and it was in the chalcolithic stage. The economy was predominantly pastoral and there is evidence that cattle, sheep, horse and pig were domesticated by these people. Figurines of horse’s head have also been discovered in Kurgan graves. 

The Kurgan people lived in the steppe and forest steppe zone. The Forests in this area included oak, birch, fir, beech, elder, elm, ash, apple cherry and Willow, and animals were boar wild horse, wolf, and fox. Their settlements were not lasting and were situated on dunes. The agriculture practiced in their settlements was not well developed. The earliest of these sites date back to the 4th BCE via the northern region of Caspian Sea to the Eastern region of the Caspian.

The Kurgan people settled in flat grasslands and they expanded only in search of fresh grasslands into areas North and West of Black Sea and the lands of Syro-Palestine. There is also an evidence of two wheeled carts preferably drawn by Oxen and having solid wheels. The people were acquainted with copper silver and gold in the North Western Caucases from about the middle of third millenium BCE. Objects of considerable importance found in the royal tomb of Majkop range from silver vases, bull, coat and lion figurines to copper axes. The treasure horizon in Anatolia (Romania) and Mesapotamia (Iraq) have a parallel to the above findings. 

The graves and the structure of hill forts and the small houses indicate social stratification. Similar hill forts are to be found and these people had strong beliefs about life and death. There was a marked rise of mystical beliefs. In the early part and throughout the 4th millenium BCE, the Kurgan culture was a simple village culture and their main religions symbols were snake and the sun.

The main reason for the migration of the orginal innabitants seems to have been the gradual drying up of grassland of southern Russia and the Central steppes. It would be worthwhile to note that the horse might have proved a valuable means of easy movement. It is again the use of horse that made raiding much easier and they settled whereever good pastoral land was available. The agricultural stubble worked as food for the horses. 

Mass Migration

As a result of the mass migration, the Indo-European tribes began stirring beyond the Caucasus. The Hittites thrust into Anatolia from the North-East as a result of the migration of the original Indo-Europeans. The existing political organisation of Asia Minor might have then been thrown into a chaos as a result of the migration of the original Indo-Europeans. There was also a probable setback to trading activities. The Hitties spoke dialects that were not Indo European. The Indo-Europeans seem to have arrived there by the first Century of the Second millenium BCE. This can be substantiated by the fact that the documents of a particular Assyrian merchant colony include names that may be interpreted as Indo-European which also echo in Sanskrit like Surias (Assysian) Surya (Sanskrit), Indus as Indira and Maruttas as Marutta and these names have been described as raiders who came in their horse drawn chariots and conqured the cities. Indra for instance is also described as Purandar or the destroyer of forts (forts in this case can be the fortified cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa). 

At the excavations held at Boghaz-Koi, we find certain inscriptions that contain the names of dieties like Indra, Varuna, and the Nasatyas and these names appear in the earliest Indian literary record – the Rigveda -also. The inscriptions of Boghaz Koi show that the language was still not divided and later on the differentiation of Iranian and Indo-Aryan must have begun.

The dieties in Iran are closely related with the oldest language discovered in India. We notice that the Iranians disguised their words by changing ‘S’ to ‘H’. Latin ‘Septem’ is ‘Sapta’ in Sanskrit and ‘Hapta’ in Iranian. Sanskrit ‘Yajna’ is Pasna’ an Avesta. Ahura Mazda the great God of light is ‘Asura’ in vedic sanskrit but it denotes evil. Deva – a good one in vedic sanskrit is daiva-the wicked one in Iranian. 

The Gods Mitra, Aditya, Varuna are similar gods in both vedic sanskrit and Iranian. We find a close approximity in the religious notions and a fair influence from Middle-East, Mesopotamia and Greece. At the same time we also notice that there was a considerable change in the form of languages of various regions between 1500 and 500 BCE. 

Finally, one may conclude different languages have had a common base as a result of continuous influence caused by the invasions of hordes of pastoralists who migrated to Europe and Middle-East from the North of the Caucasian lower Volga Steppe. This hypothesis has been substantiated by the available archaeological evidences and dating techniques as well as the philological study of different languages.


First Published: February 5, 1988

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