Indo-Europeans The Indo-Europeans were a group of semi-nomadic peoples who came from the steppes—dry grasslands that stretched north of the Caucasus (KAW•kuh•suhs) Mountains, which lie between the Black and Caspian seas. Map These primarily pastoral people herded cattle, sheep, and goats. The Indo-Europeans also tamed horses and rode into battle in light, two-wheeled chariots. They lived in tribes that spoke forms of a language that we call Indo-European.
The languages of the Indo-Europeans were the ancestors of many of the modern languages of Europe, Southwest Asia, and South Asia. English, Spanish, Persian, and Hindi all trace their origins back to different forms of the original Indo-European language.
An Unexplained Migration No one is for sure why the Indo-Europeans left their land. Their grazing land dried up? Population grew too large to for the land to support? Escape from invaders? Disease? Whatever the reason, the Indo-Europeans began migrating to other regions over the next 500 years.
The Hittites (2000-1190 B.C.) By about 2000 b.c., one group of Indo-European speakers, the Hittites, occupied Anatolia (an•uh•TOH•lee•ah), also called Asia Minor. Map Anatolia is a huge peninsula in modern-day Turkey that juts out into the Black and Mediterranean seas. Anatolia was a high, rocky plateau, rich in timber and agriculture. The Hittites adopted and adapted many of ideas of the people the encountered.
The Fall of the Hittites The Hittites were superior in war because of their advanced technology The Chariot Iron instead of Bronze However, they were overrun and conquered by tribes from the North and vanished around 1190 B.C.
The Aryans At the same time of the Hittites, another Indo-European people, the Aryans, crossed over the northwest mountain passes into the Indus River Valley of India. The only records they left were their sacred literature, the Vedas (VAY•duhz). This gives a fairly accurate picture of Aryan life. The Vedas are four collections of prayers, magical spells, and instructions for performing rituals. At first, the Vedas were not written, but passed down orally. However, the Aryans believed reciting the prayers incorrectly would have terrible consequences. Think: “Telephone” with severe consequences if you mess up the message. Therefore, we assume the message stayed accurate.
The Caste System The Aryans (“the nobles” in their language) called the people they found in India dasas (“dark”), referring to the color of their skin. (Dasa eventually became the Aryan word for slave.) The Aryans differed from the dasas in many ways. Aryans were taller, lighter in skin color, and spoke a different language. The Aryans had not developed a writing system. They were pastoral people and counted their wealth in cows. The dasas, on the other hand, were town dwellers who lived in communities protected by walls.
The Caste System When they first arrived in India, Aryans were divided into three social classes: Brahmins (priests) warriors peasants or traders. The class that an Aryan belonged to determined his or her role in society. At first, the three classes mixed freely. Eventually, non-Aryan laborers or craftsmen (shudras) formed a fourth group.
Eventually, the higher groups began to exclude the lower classes. The Shudras did the work that Aryans did not want to do. Varna, or skin color, was the distinguishing characteristic in this system. People are born into their caste for life. Their caste membership determined the work they did the man or woman they could marry the people with whom they could eat. Ritual purity was all-important in Aryan culture. The jobs that would make a person unclean, such as grave digging or butcher, were reserved for the lowest class, This group, The Untouchables, were so named because even coming into physical contact with them would make one “unclean”