The Aryans were a group of nomadic Indo-Europeans who invaded/settled in India sometime in the first millennium BCE. It is unsure where they originally came from, but it was most likely the steppe, near the Caspian Sea (later occupied within historical times by the Scythians, an Iranian people who lived in much the same area from the Bronze Age on). The term comes from the Hindu Vedas, in which it describes the migration/invasion of the "higher ones," and may in fact be a derivative of the name used by the Proto-Indo-Europeans for themselves. The term survives to modern times in the autonyms of some Aryan descendants, most notably in the name of the Indo-Iranian-speaking Middle Eastern country known as Iran.
The Aryans brought with them their indigenous religious beliefs, which then fused with the native beliefs. Much has been made of the connections between Indra and Thor, for example. They also brought their own language, the predecessor of Sanskrit. The original understanding of the relationship between India and Europe actually came about once haughty Europeans realized that their languages were all related to Sanskrit. You would think this would have tamed their racist colonialism, but apparently not.
Contrary to some nutjobs, there is no reason to believe that the Aryans were blond or blue-eyed, or indeed ever bore any relation to any European ethnic group at all. Nor is there any reason to believe that the Aryans ever came to Europe before early historic times, at least not until Neolithic immigration from the Russian steppes to Europe and the adoption across the continent of Proto-Indo-European dialects by the fair-skinned European natives. The only people who have a claim to the "Aryan" ethnicity are the central and south Asian groups who live in areas like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran ("Land of the Aryans"), and parts of the former Soviet Union. Modern European natives are a rather mixed-up lot, with many having ancestry traceable back thousands of years by way of their genes, though with bits and pieces of various other groups from around Europe, western Asia, and North Africa; their genetics tend to be much less Aryan than their languages.
 See also
- ↑ Sanskrit looks startlingly similar to Greek and Latin in many grammatical structures (the noun declensions are very Latinate, if a bit more complex, and the verbal system is very close to Homeric Greek) and was once rumored to be mutually intercomprehensible with, of all things, Lithuanian, one of the most complex and primitive Indo-European languages surviving into modern times.
- ↑ Celtic over a wide area from Anatolia to Britain and Spain; Italic in Italy; Hellenic in Greece, western Anatolia, and the southern Balkans; Germanic in Scandinavia; Slavic in what is now Western Russia; and many other languages of unknown relation (though Phrygian is thought to be ancestral to Armenian and Illyrian to Albanian).
- ↑ The original languages of Stone Age Europe survived in historical times only in small pockets -- Etruscan in Italy until Roman times, Basque in Spain and France into modern times, Finno-Ugric languages in Northern Europe and a large pocket in Hungary and Romania. Neal Stephenson's fictional Qwghlm language from Cryptonomicon is probably intended to be one of these as well.
- ↑ You can taste the irony as Hitler ordered the killing of Gypsies in the Holocaust.