More than half a century after the end of World War II, there are still plenty of unsolved Nazi mysteries—including those about the dozens of war criminal Nazis who were never caught—but one enduring mystery has been solved: why did the Nazis call themselves Aryans? The Aryan myth dates back to the nineteenth century, when European scholars invented a conquering white race that spread civilization across Eurasia. There’s only one problem: none of it is true.
The real Aryans were nomadic people from Central Asia. They settled in India and Persia starting around 1500 BCE, influencing the development of these major world civilizations. The Aryans carried the world's oldest religious texts, the Rigveda, and brought new gods and social systems to India. But they were not invaders or conquerors.
Of course, this is very different from the origins of Aryans according to the Nazis—and Nazis in the US operating today. Hitler himself said the Aryans—by which he meant the Germans—were responsible for all the world’s greatest advances. But the Nazis were completely wrong about their “master race” claims. The history of arya in Hindi shows the true significance of the Aryan peoples—and it has nothing to do with Hitler’s racist plot for world domination.
So the next time you hear the phrase "Aryan race" or see a swastika, laugh in the face of white supremacists who clearly don't understand history.
The Nazis Took The Term Aryan From India And Iran - Not Exactly Where You'd Expect Nazis To Look For The "Master Race"
The word “Aryan” conjures images of white, blond, blue-eyed men in Nazi uniforms, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, before the nineteenth century, Aryan meant something completely different. The term “Aryan” was linked with India and the Sanskrit script. In fact, even the word “Aryan” comes from the Sanskrit word ārya, which was used to describe early settlers who arrived in India around 1500 BCE. Later, Indo-Iranian tribes would use the term to refer to themselves.
So how did “Aryan” transform from a term referring to an ancient Indian civilization to a word associated with white supremacy and the Nazis? And what, exactly, did Aryan mean before the twentieth century? To understand the term’s corruption over time, we have to start a few thousand years ago.
Northern India Was Populated By Aryans As Early As 1500 BCE
Who were the ancient Aryans? They were different from the ancient civilization of the Indus River Valley, which flourished as early as 5500 BCE. By the time the Egyptians were building the pyramids, the Indus had become a major urbanized power, on the level of the Egyptians and Babylonians.
The Aryans were relative newcomers to the Indian subcontinent when they first migrated across the Kush Mountains around 1500 BCE. The Aryans came from central Asia, where they had been nomadic cattle herders. They brought the Sanskrit language with them to India, where they settled permanently. The Aryans created a new civilization that would dominate northern India, particularly between 1500-500 BCE. It was known as the Vedic civilization, as shown in this map.
The Aryans Were Incredibly Influential In India, Shaping Society For Millennia
The Indo-Aryan civilization was incredibly influential. The roots of Hinduism have been traced to the Aryan settlers who date back to 1500 BCE in India. They carried an ancient religious text, called the Rigveda, with them, which had a long oral tradition. These texts were written by the Aryans in Sanskrit as early as 1700 BCE, making the Vedas the oldest known religious texts in the world. Many of the gods in the Vedas were adopted in India, later becoming central to Hinduism.
The Aryans also introduced a caste-like system in India that would shape society for millennia.
Ancient Persians Also Called Themselves Aryans Over 2500 Years Ago
The Indo-Aryan people shared a link to Persia, where by the 6th century BCE, Persian emperors called themselves Aryans. Darius I was crowned King of Persia in 522 BCE, and during his reign he ordered the creation of a massive stone monument in his honor. It is known as the Behistun Inscription, and in the text, Darius proclaims, “I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings . . . Persian, the son of a Persian, Aryan, from the Aryan race.”
With this declaration, Darius proclaimed that Persians were Aryan, just like the Indo-Aryans. And in fact, the Old Persian term arya—identical to the Sanskrit term—became the root of the name for Iran. The two languages are closely related, indicating a link between the people who spoke them. But on top of the linguistic evidence, Darius’s inscription is clear evidence that Persians have been calling themselves Aryans for over two thousand years.