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The Proto-Indoaryans

  • T. Burrow

It is now generally agreed by most authorities on the subject that the Aryan linguistic vestiges in the Near East are to be connected specifically with Indo-Aryan, and not with Iranian, and also that they do not represent a third, independent Aryan group, and are not to be ascribed to the hypothetically reconstructed Proto-Aryan. This conclusion is incorporated in the title of M. Mayrhofer's bibliography of the subject, Die Indo-Arier im alten Vorderasien (Wiesbaden, 1966), and it can now be taken as the commonly accepted view. It is based on the fact that where there is divergence between Iranian and Indo-Aryan, and where such elements appear in the Near Eastern record, the latter always agrees with Indo-Aryan. Such items are aika “one” and šuriyaš “sun”, and the colour names parita-nnu and pinkara-nnu which correspond to Sanskrit palita- “grey” and piṅgala- “reddish”. The evidence of vocabulary is supported by that of the four names of gods appearing in the Hittite-Mitanni treaty, where the Vedic gods Mitra and Varuṇa, Indra, and the Nāsatyas can be clearly recognized. This combined evidence is sufficient to establish the conclusions of Mayrhofer and others beyond reasonable doubt, and the arguments of A. Kammenhuber, who later attempted to resuscitate the theory that the Aryans of the Near East were Proto-Aryans, cannot be said to have been successful.

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1 Kammenhuber, A., Die Arier im vorderen Orient, Heidelberg, 1968.

2 Thieme, P., “The ‘Aryan’ gods of the Mitanni treaties”, JAOS, 60, 1960, 301317.

3 Konow, Sten, The Aryan gods of the Mitani people, Christiania, 1921.

4 According to Renou, L. (Études védiques et pāṇinéennes, 9, Paris, 1961, 91)vasu- in the Ṛgveda is used as a neuter (sg. and pl.) in the sense of “wealth, riches” and in the masculine as the name of a class of gods, but not as an adjective meaning “good”.

5 Further examples in my The Sanskrit language, London, 1955, 33.

6 In view of this admitted ambiguity of the term Proto-Indoaryan an alternative would be to speak of Western Indo-Aryan but unless much more material turns up in the Near East there is no urgency to settle the terminology.

7 Diakonov, I. M., Istoriya Midii, Moscow, 1956, 124125.

8 von Bradke, P., Dyaus Asura, Halle, 1885.

9 Darmesteter, J., Ormazd et Ahriman, Paris, 1877, 47; cf. also P. von Bradke, op. cit., 85.

10 Schlerath, B., “Altindisch asu-, Awestisch ahu- und ähnlich klingende Wörter”, in Pratidānam (Kuiper Festschrift), ed. Heesterman, J. C. et al. , The Hague, Paris, 1968, 142153. For the other (in my opinion untenable) view, cf. Güntert, H., Der arische Weltkönig und Heiland, Halle, 1923, 102, and Duchesne-Guillemin, J., TPS, 1946, 81.

11 cf. Neisser, W., Zum Wörterbuch des Ṛgveda, Leipzig, 1924–, I, 139140.

12 Haug, M., Essays on the sacred language, writings, and religion of the Parsees, Bombay, 1862, 248 ff.

13 Daramesteter, op. cit., 261 ff.

14 Nyberg, H. S., Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig, 1938, 96.

15 e.g. Benveniste, E., The Persian religion, Paris, 1929, 40; Duchesne-Guillemin, J., La religion de l'lran ancien, Paris, 1962, 189; Zaehner, R. C., The dawn and twilight of Zoroastrianism, London, 1961, 36; Gonda, J., Change and continuity in Indian religions, The Hague, etc., 1965, 168.

16 J. Darmesteter, op. cit., p. 269.

17 cf. Macdonell, A. A., Vedic mythology, Strassburg, 1897, 156.

18 Nyberg, Die Religionen, 339, ascribed Indra, etc., to the Medes.

19 cf. Vasmer, M., Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, Heidelberg, 19501958, I, 98.

20 La religion, 166.

21 H. S. Nyberg, op. cit., 340.

22 Henning, W. B., Zoroaster, Oxford, 1951, 45.

23 Gray, L. H., “The ‘Ahurian’ and ‘Daevian’ vocabularies in the Avesta”, JRAS, 1927, 427441.

24 Christensen, A., Essai sur la demonologie iranienne, Copenhagen, 1941, 37 ff.

25 op. cit., 46.

26 Pauly-Wissowa, , Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XIV, 1650.

27 Meillet, A., Trois conferences sur les Gāthās de l'Avesta, Paris. 1925; W. B, Henning, Zoroaster.

28 e.g. by Meyer, Edward, KZ, XLII, 1909, 12. Cf. also J. Duchesne-Guillemin, La religion, 136.

29 For arguments for an earlier date see F. B. J. Kuiper, IIJ, v, 1961, 43, and the authorities quoted there.

30 The interpretation of bawray- in Yt. 5.39 as “Babylon”, accepted by Bartholomae, should be abandoned in favour of Nyberg's opinion that the reference is to a “beaver-land”, the beaver being an animal sacred to Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā. There is no conceivable reason why this legend, one of the most ancient of the Iranian legends, should be connected with Babylon, and it is unlikely that the Iranians had ever heard of Babylon at the time when it arose. A difficulty would occur if the Raγa mentioned in the Avesta were the Median Ragā mentioned by Darius, but Gershevitch has cogently argued (JNES, XXIII, 1964, 36–7) that Zarathuštrian Raγa of the Avesta is to be located in the East, and that Median Ragā was named after it. The process of transferring names from east to west is common, and illustrated by such examples as Harā Bərəz applied to the Alburz and Čaēčasta to lake Urmiya.

31 Possibly to be connected with Skt. Mūjavant- (Eilers). This would be a frontier region and it is interesting that Dāštāγni, who belonged to this country, appears to have an Indo-Aryan name. The word agni- is foreign to Iranian, and the first member, dāšta-, can be interpreted as a past participle passive from the Vedic root dāś- “to worship”.

32 cf. Christensen, A., Les Kayanides, Copenhagen, 1932, 2223.

33 op. cit., 34.

34 cf. Encyclopaedia of Islam 1, IV, 1032.

35 KZ, LV, 1927, 100.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
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