an ethnic epithet in the Achaemenid inscriptions and in the Zoroastrian Avestan tradition.


ARYA, an ethnic epithet in the Achaemenid inscriptions and in the Zoroastrian Avestan tradition. It is used in the Avesta of members of an ethnic group and contrasts with other named groups (Tūirya, Sairima, Dāha, Sāinu or Sāini) and with the outer world of the An-airya “non-Arya.” Old Persian ariya- occurs in the phrase of Darius: ariya: ariya: ciça, “Arya, of Arya origin,” and of Xerxes: pārsa: pārsahyā: puça: ariya: ariyaciça, “a Persian, son of a Persian, Arya, of Arya origin.” The phrase with ciça, “origin, descendance,” assures that it is an ethnic name wider in meaning than pārsa and not a simple adjectival epithet. The corresponding Akkadian and Elamite offer the transcriptions a-ri-i, ar-ri-i ṣitir and har-ri-ia, har-ri-ia, ṣi-iš-ša. Elamite has also preserved the gloss to the name of the god Ahuramazdā: u-ra-mas-da na-ap har-ri-ia-na-um (Behistun 62), “Ahuramazdā, god of the Aryas.” In DB 4.89 ariyā, “in the Arya,” refers to script or language. The Avesta has the plural aire (Yt. 5.69): yaθa azəm avata vərəθra hačāne yaθa vīspe anye aire “may I possess so much force as all the other Aryas.” The archer Ǝrəxša- (NPers. Āraš) is described (Yt. 8.6) as xšviwi.išvatəmō airyanąm “most swift-arrowed of the Aryas.” Kavi Haosravō is called (Yt. 15.32) arša airyanąm “the hero (aršan- “male”) of the Aryas.” The dahyu- lands of the Aryas (gen. plur. airyanąmdahyunąm) are known; and once the pāδa- “settlement” is mentioned (Yt. 4.5 airyābyō pa’aēibyō). The xᵛarənah- “fortune” or (of royalty) a vague “glory,” is coupled with the gen. plur. (airyanąm xᵛarənō) and with the adjective (airyanəm xᵛarənō). The same adjective qualifies vaēǰah- “extensive territory,” in the name airyanəm vaēǰō, loc. sing. airyene vaēǰahi “the Aryan plain,” the first of the lands created by Ahura Mazdā (Vidēvdāt 1.3). In Yašt 13.87, the phrase nāfō airyanąm daḣyunąm čiθrəm airyanąm daḣyunąm “the kindred of the Arya lands, the origin of the Arya lands,” coincides in use of čiθra- with Old Pers. ariyaciça. Over against the Arya lands stand those which are anairya- “non-Arya” (as in anairyǡ diŋhāvō, Yt. 19.68); this dichotomy was continued later in Persian tradition.

Four place-names containing airya- occur in the Avesta. The airyō.šayana- “dwelling of the Aryas” (Yt. 10.14), comprises six names, of which four are well known: iškatəm pourutəmča mourum hārōyum gaomča suγδəm xᵛāirizəmča “Iskata, Pouruta, Margu, Haraiva, Gava-Sugda, Hvārazmi.” The mountain Airyō-xšuθa (Yt. 8.6) was in eastern Iran: yaθa tiγriš mainya-asǡ yim aŋhaṱ ərəxšō xšviwi.išuš xšviwi.išvatəmō airyanąm airyō.xsuθaṱ hača garōiṱ xᵛ anvantəm avi gairīm “like the mind-swift arrow which the archer Ǝrexša shot, swift-arrowed, most swift-arrowed of the Aryas, from Mount Airyō-xšuθa to Mount Xvanvant.” The forest (razurā, Yt. 15.32) called vīspe.aire.razuraya (loc. sing.) was where Kavi Haosravō slew Vāyu. The fourth name is the airyanəm vaēǰō, Zor. Pahl. ērān-vēž, frequent in the texts and remembered also in Manichean Sogdian ʾryʾn wyžn (*aryān vēžan) and Turfan Parthian (/ / / n wyžn, see W. B. Henning, BSOAS 11, 1943, p. 69). In Greek, Herodotus (7.62) stated that, in the past, the Medes had been called Arioi. The Greek use of Areia (Latin Aria) for Old Pers. Haraiva, Balōčī Harē(v), Arm. H(a)reu, was likely to cause confusion.

The same ethnic concept was held in the later centuries. The Dēnkard (ed. Madan, p. 438.23) offers hutōhmaktom ēr martōm “the best-born Arya man,” associating arya- with good birth; cf. the Old Persian connection with birth in ariyačiça. Similarly ērīh ut dahyupatīh (ibid., 553.17) “nobility and lordship,” contrasts with arg ut bār hač škōhišn, “labor and burdens from poverty.” In the inscription of Šāpūr I on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt (ŠKZ), Parth. ʾryʾn W ʾnʾryʾn (aryān ut anaryān), Mid. Pers. ʾyrʾn W ʾnyrʾn (ērān ut anērān; cf. Armenian eran eut aneran) comprises the inhabitants of all the known lands. The imperial title in Sasanian inscriptions is Parth. MLKYN MLKʾ aryān ut anaryān kē šihr hač yazdān. Mid. Pers. kē čiθrē hač yazdān, Greek arianōn kai arrarianōn (ŠKZ 1). In the singular Parth. ʾry, Mid. Pers. ʾyly, Greek arian occurs in a title: ʾry mzdyzn nrysḥw MLKʾ, *ary mazdēzn Narēsahv šāh (Parth. ŠKZ 19); ʾyly mzdysn nrsḥy MLKʾ (Mid. Pers. version 24), Greek arian masdaasnou. The empire is called ʾryʾn ḥštr (Parth.), ērān šahr (Zor. Pahl.). Armenian has retained arya- in nom. pl. ari-kʿ, gem. pl. areacʿ, and in sing. ari ayr “Arya man, Persian;” the negative anari-kʿ is found, as well as the Mid. Pers. phrase eran eut aneran. New Persian has ērān (western, īrān), ērān-šahr. In the Caucasus Ossetic has Digoron erä, irä, Iron ir, with Dig. iriston, Iron iryston (the i-umlaut modifying the vowel a-, but leaving the -r- untouched), the ancestral “Alān” and Latin (1459 A.D.) Arani. The name “Alān” is found in Greek Alanoi, Latin Alani, Chinese A-lan, Caucasian Megrel alani kʾočʿi “brave man,” Georgian Alaneṭʿi “Alan country,” Pers. Alān, Arab-Pers. al-Lān as the name of a people north of the Caucasus powerful until the Mongol invasion.

An ethical use of Zor. Pahl. ēr, anēr can be seen in Mēnōg ī xraḍ 20.15: anērīh ī hrōmāyīkān “the evil conduct of the Romans (i.e., Byzantines);” Dādīstān ī dēnīg 66.1: mart ī ēr ī hudēn “the Arya man of good faith” (here “noble”).

Outside Iranian there is much further evidence in the Old Indian tradition of the Vedas and later texts. A word arya- with three accentuations (árya-, aryá-, aryà-) is traditionally glossed by īśvara- “owner, possessor,” more vaguely “lord.” This same meaning was also offered for Rig Veda arí-. But to compare with Iranian arya- the Indian tradition has āˊrya-. The latter is normally taken as an adjective by lengthened vowel (vṛddhi formation) but could also be explained by a long ā before two consonants. In the Vedas occurs Kāṭhaka āryaṃ varṇaṃ “the Arya color,” contrasting with dāˊsaṃ várṇaṃ “the Dāsa color” of the enemies of the Arya people (RV 2.12.4). Beside this confrontation there is also the social difference of Jaiminīya āryaṃ ca varṇaṃ śaudraṃ ca “both the Ārya and the Śūdra color,” the Śūdra being at first the workers. In RV 1.77.3 occurs devayántīr víśa . . . āˊrīḥ “the devout Ārya houses” (if this is the feminine to āˊrya-; the traditional rendering is from ar- “to move”). In later Indian texts the drama has āryaputra for the wife’s address to her husband: “son of an Arya” or “of a noble.” In Buddhist sources ārya-, feminine āryikā-, is a laudatory epithet of the monk and nun used in place of bhikṣu- and bhikṣuṇī. It is used in some sense of “noble” of the Buddhist satyāni (true doctrines) and of the dharma- (doctrine) in the terms ārya-satyāni and ārya-dharma-. In ārya-dharma- the arya- is translated by Khotan Saka āysña “of high birth.” The later Indian languages, Pali, and various Prakrits have the corresponding later forms. The Buddhist glosses confirm the sense of “high-born” or “noble” and “lord.” Thus Tibetan has rje-po, rje-hu, jo-bo jo-hu “lord,” with Chinese gloss “honored person;” Tibetan ya-rabs “high birth,” renders āryatā (hence “nobility”). As laudatory epithet note also Āryadésa- “noble land,” for India; and Ārya-bhāṣā- “noble language,” for Sanskrit. Note, with Suffix, āryaka- “honored man,” Pali ayyaka- “grandfather,” and ayyakā- “grandmother.” Hindu Sanskrit has āryāvarta. The contrast between ārya- “noble and dāsá- “slave” and dásyu- (the pejorative epithet) is missing in the Iranian tradition. Old Persian has dahyu- “a land and its people;” Turfan Parth. has dāhīft “slavery.” But Khotan Saka daha- “man, virile person,” and Waxī ’ai “hero” (*dahy-) are used in a good sense. To this daha- one can compare dása- “man” (RV 6.21.11), who is set in a generation before mánu- “man.”

These facts are undisputed, but no decision has yet been reached regarding the earlier meaning of the Iranian and Indian words. No evidence for such an Indo-European ethnic name has been found. The Irano-Indian ar- is a syllable ambiguous in origin, from IE. ar-, er-, or or-. The only evidence that this word is from Indo-European ar- is in the Celtic Old Irish aire “the free man” in Irish law, and aire (gen. sing. airech, nom. pl. airig) glossed by Latin optimas “of the best class.” (The first component ario- of Germanic names may always be identified with hario- “army, troop.” The Celtic first component ario- in names is uncertain because Celtic lost initial p-.) On this slight evidence it has been usual to accept Indo-European ar- as the base. Attempts to connect arya- with other basic words have been many. H. Güntert, Der arische Weltkönig und Heiland (Halle, 1924), proposed “allied” (base ar- “to fit”). Paul Thieme offered a detailed proposal to trace Rigvedic arí, glossed īśvara- and arí, Atharvavedic ári- “enemy” (AV 13.1.29: árir yó naḥ pṛtanyati “the foe who fights against us”), together with arya- and ārya-, to a primitive society in which the mutual connection of host and guest was expressed by the one word; he translated it “stranger” (Der Fremdling in Ṛgveda, Leipzig, 1938). This was adopted by L. Renou (Ētudes védiques et pāṇinéennes II, Paris, 1956, pp. 109-11) and in Wackernagel-Debrunner (the revised preface) but criticized by G. Dumézil, Le troisième soverain, Paris, 1949. It places the work too early in Indo-European times and hardly offers a way to advance from “stranger” to an ethnic name. A different explanation was proposed by the writer in “Iranian arya and daha-,” TPS, 1959, pp. 71-115 and supplementary note TPS, 1960, pp. 87-88. Accepting the interpretation of arí- and arya- by īśvara- “possessor,” these words were traced to a base ar- well attested in Iranian in the sense of “get” and “cause to get, give.” Avestan has ar- and Ossetic ar-; cf. Greek arnumai “to get,” and Armenian aṙnoum “to take,” hence Indo-European ar-. (The word ari-, ári- “enemy,” however, was connected with Rigvedic ṛti- “attack,” and Iranian Pahl. artīk “attack,” and so to Indo-European er-.) For arya-, the Iranian ethnic name, it was proposed to start from the sense of “good birth” and so with Ossetic ār-: ārd “to bear young,” a specialized meaning of the same IE. base ar-. Cf. Old Norse geta “to get,” also “to bear young,” getinn “born.” The stage of society represented by the word was the oikarkhia, birth into which gave nobility; this is expressed by the later use of ā-zan- as in āzāta- “born into the House, noble;” in the Indian tradition it is expressed by ājāneya- “well born” (said of man or animal). This arya-, Indian ārya- “noble,” was thus an excellent name for a people; and it favored the further development into an ethical concept of “excellence, nobility.” The identification of ar- with ā-zan- is attested by the Khotan Saka rendering of arya- by āysña- from *ā-zan-ya-, for which Avestan provides āsna- “well born,” and Man. Mid. Pers. āznān, Armenian azniu “excellent, noble.” The Celtic *ariak “free man” and “optimas” fit here admirably. Note, too, that (with causative -nu-) Hittite ar-nu- “to bring an animal to copulation,” can best be placed with this same Iranian Ossetic ār- “to bear young, give birth,” rather than with Greek ornumi “to stir up, excite.” For the pregnant meaning “good birth” for arya-, note how Latin gentīlis, originally simply “of the family,” was in the Romance languages changed to the meaning “noble.” Hittite arawa- “free, noble” could be brought in here in preference to E. Laroche, Hommages à G. Dumézil, Brussels, 1960, pp. 124-28, where it is traced to ara- “friend,” and compared with Gothic freis “free,” and frijonds “friend.”

Arya- as first component in proper names becomes ambiguous if two words existed: arya- “Aryan,” and *arya- “wealth” (cf. Man. Parth. ʿyr, Arm. ir, Mid. Pers. xīr, Khotan Saka hära-, all meaning “thing”). Such names are Old Pers. Ariyāramna (Greek Ariaramnēs), Ariobarzanēs, Elamite Harrikhama, Harrimade, Harrimana, Harripirtan; Lydian Arijamaña; Nisa Parthian ʾrymtrk, ʾrybrzn; the Sogdian name of the capital city Bukhara: in Chinese, A-lam-mit from *aryāmēθa(n) (J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang, Leiden, 1938, p. 140), later Rāmēθan.

Finally various explanations have been offered for Rigvedic Aryamán-, Avestan airyaman-, where the first component has been rendered “true, Aryan, wealth.” The supernatural being (called ādityá-) Aryaman has the epithet sátpati- “official in the house.” He is in charge of the treasury; hence this writer has preferred to explain his name as “the being in charge of riches and hospitality.”

See also Aryans; Indo-Iranian languages.



O. Schrader and A. Nehring, Reallexikon der indogermanischen Altertumskunde, Berlin and Leipzig, 1917-23 (s.v. Arier).

A Debrunner, “Zum Ariernamen,” in A Volume of Eastern and Indian Studies Presented to F. W. Thomas, Bombay, 1939, pp. 71-74.

W. Belardi, “Sui nomi ari nell’Asia anteriore antica,” Fontes Ambrosiani XXVII, 1951, pp. 55-74.

M. Mayrhofer, Kurzgefasstes etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindischen I, Heidelberg, 1956, pp. 49,70, etc.

Idem, Onomastica persepolitana, Vienna, 1973, nos. 8.458, 8.472, etc.

H. W. Bailey, “The Second Stratum of the Indo-Iranian Gods”, in Mithraic Studies, ed. J. R. Hinnells, Manchester, 1975, pp. 1-20.

(H. W. Bailey)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 15, 2011

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