4. Miscellaneous aspects of the Aryan invasion debate
4.1. Demographical Common Sense
4.1.1. A beehive
The expansion of the IE languages must have started with a certain amount of emigration from the Urheimat, though at later stages the numerical importance of natives joining the new speech community of immigrants and expanding it further in their turn became preponderant: ‘The transfer of languages like a baton in a relay race refers precisely to the gradual spread of the speakers from the initial area (but not necessarily from inside of it!). Such an expansion can have only one reason: population growth in ecological conditions unusually favourable (for ancient times).’1
With its extensive and fertile river systems of the Indus, Saraswati and Ganga, India was the best place on earth for food production, for demographic growth, for cultural life and for scientific progress. That is not a chauvinistic myth, but a materialist dogma: economic quantity generates quality in the superstructure. It is quite certain that, after mankind had been wandering over the earth for several hundreds of centuries, trying out the best places for survival, a generous country like India must have had a large population. Next, it is perfectly plausible that large groups of Indians went to other countries as traders and colonists, precisely like the Europeans did when it was their turn to have a demographical as well as a technological edge over their neighbours. And just like a dominant Spanish minority managed to make its own language the mother-tongue of much larger populations which are genetically predominantly Native American, so also the slightly darker emigrants from India may have passed on their language to the white people of Russia and Europe. The view of some chauvinist Hindu writers that ‘the ancient Hindus colonized the world’, may have a grain of truth in it.2
Saying that India had a large population may not sound -very revolutionary, yet in the context of the AIT, it is. The theory of the Aryan Invasions, complemented by the secondary theory of an earlier Dravidian invasion, assumes, as it were, that India was nearly empty. On the other hand, the steppes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia must have been a beehive of people. Today, the huge ex-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan has hardly more people than the city of Mumbai, but in those days, the steppes had so many people, most of them ‘Aryans’, that they could flood both India and Europe with them; at least according to the AIT. So, against that common though unspoken presupposition, it has somehow become quite a statement to say that lands with a hospitable climate like India had a bigger population than the outlying steppes, and were a more likely source of emigrants.
In the early days of the Aryan theory, it was often assumed that civilization had to come from the North. One argument given was that people in the Tropics didn’t need either effort or ingenuity to survive, since they just had to pick bananas from trees or wait for coconuts to rain down; while by contrast, people in the North were forced to be inventive, creative and hard-working. Yet, there were advanced civilisations in the Tropics: Zimbabwe, Ghana, the Mayas, the Incas. Within Europe, it is the North which received civilizing influences from the South. This is not to belittle the ingenuity and effort of North-Europeans in their struggle for survival in tough circumstances - but that is precisely the point: they had to use their skills in the struggle for life, while people in a more comfortable climate (Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, India) had more leisure to focus on the long-term development of complex civilizational achievements. Therefore, it is quite normal that the greatest advances were made in places like India, that the demographic growth was the greatest there, and that consequently, IE expansion went from India to Russia and Germany rather than the reverse.
4.1.2. Civilization and demography
Population growth at that stage was mainly the effect of the recently invented practice of agriculture. The IE Urheimat was consequently a centre of agriculture, and the Proto-Indo-Europeans were a sedentary population, and not nomads as is often claimed: ‘Why does a migration happen? We have to distinguish two things in this context: the migrations of nomads (and of other tribes uprooted by waves of nomadic migration) and other migrations. The Proto-Indo-Europeans were no nomads: their well-developed agricultural and social terminology testifies against this; and so does history: nomadism is mobile cattle-breeding with regular change of pasture on vast territories, either absolutely without agriculture (agricultural products were to be stolen or bought) or with underdeveloped subsidiary agriculture. Nomadism supposes riding with cattle: either horse-riding or camel-riding. Chariots are not suitable for tending cattle: they are no good on broken terrain and require very specialized service. The Middle East did not know true nomadism until the last centuries of the second millennium BC ( ) Nomadism did not exist in Middle Asia ( ) until the second millennium BC either.’3
The charioteers of the Vedic culture were not fresh arrivals from the steppe, but members of a mature sedentary civilization. Such a civilization is the source more than the goal of migrations. In many versions of the Aryan migration theory, it is assumed that the Aryans originally lived in inhospitable territory and subsequently descended upon lands with a more pleasant climate and material culture. This scenario is familiar throughout history, e.g. the steppe nomads overrunning parts or all of China, time and again. However, the outcome of such episodes is systematically the opposite of the general outcome of IE expansion: the invaders were usually assimilated into the sedentary civilization which they had overpowered in battle, if they were not driven back out. The Mongols became Chinese in China, Muslim in Iran, and of the enormous territory they conquered, there is (with the exception of Kalmukkia) not one square mile where a native language was permanently replaced with Mongolian.
Only when the conquest was focused on a smaller and manageable area did it produce a lasting imposition of the conquerors’ language, e.g. the Uralic settlement in Pannonia, now Hungary. The Germanic conquests at the end of the Roman period resulted in a lasting germanization of the thinly populated areas where it was supported by a strong demographic influx (Austria, Bavaria, much of Switzerland and Belgium, England), partly made possible by the advances of the Slavs who pushed Germanic tribes westward and thus made them available for colonizing the newly-won lands. But the Germanic element disappeared quickly in a far larger part of the conquered territories: France, Italy, Spain, North Africa and Ukraine.
It seems that the model of the barbarians overrunning vast tracts of the more civilized world generally does not apply to the IE expansion. A far better model in this case is European colonization. Europe was going through a period of fast demographic growth, and had gained a technological (including a military) lead; so, it became the source of massive emigration, and it managed to europeanize whole continents with permanent effect (in spite of nativist revivals, it is improbable that English and Spanish will leave Oceania and the Americas anytime soon). Similarly, the indo-europeanization of such a vast area could only succeed because the Urheimat had produced a technological lead and a demographic surplus.
To be sure, there are the inevitable differences: in much of the New World, there was a racial discontinuity, a physical replacement of the Native with the European race; in the case of IE expansion, there seems to have been more racial continuity and assimilation. But then again, judging by present trends, a few centuries will suffice to restore the Native American racial element to some prominence; the USA will not be a white country eventhough its citizens will still use the language which the white man brought. In that case, the end result will be quite similar to that of IE expansion: the spread of a language and culture to areas and populations with different racial complexions.
At any rate, a good demographic starting-point was needed to make the transcontinental and transracial expansion of IE possible. With an agricultural and urban population larger than that of all contemporaneous civilizations combined, the pre- or early Harappan culture of northwestern India was an excellent candidate.
I.M. Diakonov: ‘On the Original Home of the Speakers of Indo-European’, Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1-2/1985, p.92-174, spec. p-153-154. ↩
E.g. Harbilas Sarda: Hindu Superiority, 1906; Krishan Lal Jain: Hindu Raj in the World, 1989: and K.L. Jain Vasasisya: The Indian Asuras Colonised Europe. ↩
Diakonov: ‘on the Original Home’, JIES 1-2/1985, p. 148-149. ↩