The Aryan invasion theory is a historical theory first put forth by the German Indologist Friedrich Max Müller and others in the mid nineteenth century in order to provide a historical explanation for the existence of Indo-European languages inI ndia.
The best-known form of the theory was developed by European historians in the late nineteenth century. As expressed, for example, by Charles Morris in his 1888 book “The Aryan Race”, this theory holds that a Caucasian race of nomadic warriors known as the Aryans, originating in the Caucasus mountains in South-Eastern Europe, invaded Northern India and Iran, somewhere between 1800 and 1500 BC. The invaders entered the Indian sub-continent from the mountain passes of theHindu Kush, possibly on horseback, bringing with them the domesticated horse. The theory further proposes that this race displaced or assimilated the indigenous pre-Aryan peoples and that the bulk of these indigenous people moved to the southern reaches of the subcontinent or became the lower castes of post-Vedic society. The Aryans would have brought with them their own Vedic religion, which was codified in the Vedas around 1500 to 1200 BC. Upon arrival inIndia, the Aryans abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and mingled with the native peoples remaining in the north ofIndia. The victory of the Aryans over the native civilization was quick and complete, resulting in the dominance of Aryan culture and language over the northern part of the subcontinent and considerable influence on parts of the south.
The theory was first proposed on linguistic grounds, following the discovery that Sanskrit was related to the principal languages ofEurope(the Indo-European language group). It was assumed thatNorthern India, in which languages derived from Sanskrit were spoken, must have been occupied by migrants speaking Indo-European languages. The dominant languages inSouthern India, known as “Dravidian”, were assumed to have been spoken by pre-Aryan peoples, who had been displaced southward. Hence the Aryans were said to have supplanted the Dravidians in the north of the subcontinent.
Initially Max Müller assumed that the migrants would have been farmers, but later writers envisioned an invasion by nomadic warriors. It was proposed, on the basis of passages in the Rig-Veda and assumptions about surviving racial hierarchies, that these invaders were light-skinned people who had subdued darker aboriginal people and then mixed with them. The theory fit some existing ideas that justified contemporary European colonization. Initially, the aboriginal ‘Dravidian’ occupants ofIndiawere assumed to have been primitive, and the achievements of ancientIndiawere credited to the descendants of the Aryan invaders. In the 1920s, however, the Indus Valley Civilization was discovered. It was obviously advanced for its time, with planned cities, a standardized system of weights and bricks, etc, and it was understood that if the Aryans had invaded, then, regardless of their later achievements, they had in fact overthrown or at least supplanted a civilization more advanced than their own.
The association of Aryans with a physical “race” also has been slowly dropped. Max Müller clarified late in his career that by Aryan, he only meant a group of languages and not a race.