Aryan Panzers

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Feb 13 15:07:30 UTC 2000

The new century as begun as badly as the last one ended. Since Jan. 1, we
have seen one tirade after another about  Aryans, Indian Studies/Indology
in the West, or about the North/South Indian  divide.

However, the following is an interesting 'philological' study of amusing,
emotionally and politically motivated, rhetorical distortions of one's

Readers of INDOLOGY beware!


My original paragraph reads:  Erdosy 1995; p. 108-9

< From: Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parameters In: The
Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. G. Erdosy (ed.),  Berlin/New York: de
Gruyter 1995, 85-125, (bold characters are added here for ease of reading
and reference) >

** A rather long period of acculturation is also visible in the appearance
of "Aryan" kings with non-Indo-Aryan names, such as Balbutha and Brbu.  In
fact, this is just one of the many features which point, in spite of the
constant warfare mentioned in the RV, to a rather close relationship
between the incoming Indo-Aryans and the local populations, with the result
that the latter became gradually "Aryanized."  Not only the language but
also the culture of the newly arrived elite was appropriated, including the
Vedic "tank", the horse-drawn chariot. In the words of  F. Southworth
(1974), echoed by Kuiper (1991:8), "the equation of Indo-Aryan speakers
with 'Aryans' (i.e. the original intruders and their direct descendants) is
not supported by historical evidence",  and: "As a sociological term,
'Aryan' denotes all those who took part in the sacrifices and festivals."
(Kuiper 1991: 96)  **
(My old files read slightly but not substantially differently, and can be
supplied; this is the version as edited by Erdosy)

Incidentally, as any conscientious reader will understand, this is not a
theory of massive "Aryan invasions" on chariots/horse back but represents a
much more nuanced and sophisticated scenario, in part based on the model
developed by the, sorry, .... anthropologist C. Ehret, for  --horribile
dictu--  parts of Africa.


The following quotes from INDOLOGY are of interest as we can nicely
establish the trail (after all, I am a philologist). It was started some
3-4 years ago in an *anonymous* review ("must read!") of Erdosy's ed.
volume (1995) in, I think, the Sanskrit list out of Utah (if necessary, the
'review' can be found); and it may have been copied elsewhere.   From this
anonymous piece, the trail continued with oblique references, up to the
recent direct attacks  naming horse and rider.

I have followed, with great amusement, the pedigree of the original
Sanskrit-List statement on this list:

(a) Vidhyanath Rao <vidynath at MATH.OHIO-STATE.EDU>     Mon, 2 Mar 1998

>>Indologists before they start asserting that chariots were used as tanks
>>and that horses would have frightened the people of ancient Near East of
>>late 3rd-early 2nd m. BCE. <<

who said that?  Read my quote above

(b) Vidhyanath Rao    Tue, 31 Mar 1998

>>Elementary consideration of military tactics and the construction of
early chariots make it clear that the 2nd m. chariot could not have been
used like a tank. Yet Indologists continue to assert that chariots were
`tanks'. <<

again, not at all what I wrote...
and which Indologists?

(c) S. Subrahmanya : Wed, 1 Apr 1998

this time on Mallory, in JIES 23, 1995:
>>....  dominating urban sites, acquiring material wealth the Aryans turn
>>up in time in north-west India, and all this using their chariot-tanks --
>>It sounds more like a panzer blitzkrieg.<<

one step further ...  apparently inspired by Rao.

(d) Vidhyanath Rao   Wed, 2 Dec 1998

>> things like ``chariots were the tanks of {Bronze Age etc}''<<

once again, who said that?

(e)  SNS <sns at IX.NETCOM.COM>  Mon, 4 Jan 1999

>>Chariot Panzers, led by Indra Rommels, shooting Kulturekugels ?
Then surely, the neighing of horses must have sounded like the whistle
of diving Stuka bombers and frightened the Dravidians<<

no comment.

NB: 'Kulturkugel' (thus correctly) 'culture bullet', a non-existing German
word,  was invented by Mallory (1998) for a non-military context, and, as
he himself says, 'half-facetiously'. He uses it as a mechanical simile and
as model for the introduction of steppe language into the Bactria-Margiana
Archaeological Complex (BMAC), not South Asia; the steppe people would have
taken over much of the BMAC material culture, etc. etc.

Obviously SNS has not read the paper as he takes kulturkugel  literally...
Of course, the rest of this polemical statement does not come from anything
that I have written.

(continued, with recent direct attacks))


Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138

ph. 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:
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