Lecture 3-1b Aryans in Persia and India

Lecture 3-1b Aryans in Persia and India - World History...

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World History Lecture II.2 The Aryans: Persia and India The era of the Mesopotamian empires ran roughly from 2500 BC down to about 500 BC. At the end of this period, a new power arose in the ancient Middle East which would absorb the traditional Mesopotamian city-states and incorporate them, for the first time, into a much larger political structure. This was the Persian Empire, which really was the first real world empire. In speaking of the Persians, however, we can also take a look at the Aryan peoples, of whom they were one group. This will extend our story from the Middle East to India. It is important to be careful about this term, “Aryan.” Adolf Hitler thought that he could trace the ancestry of the Germans back to the Aryans, and from there he pointed to the conquests made by Aryans in the ancient world to claim that Aryans were a natural “master race” whose natural destiny was to rule the world. Obviously, we are not claiming anything like this for this class. Properly speaking, the historical Aryans were a collection of peoples speaking a related set of languages, and originating in the high plateaus of modern Iran. In fact, the name “Iran” itself comes from “Aryan.” Their languages were related to the larger families of languages that spread across Europe – the so-called “Indo-European” languages. But there is no meaningful way to talk about the Persians, the ancient invaders of India, and any inhabitants of Europe as somehow all forming one “race.” The heartland of the Persians lay outside of Mesopotamia, in what is now southern Iran. The physical environment here was very different than in Mesopotamia and produced a very different kind of society. The Iranian plateau, which stretches from 1
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Mesopotamia to central Asia, is mountainous and high-altitude; it features narrow mountain valleys between forbidding ranges of peaks, and broad, high, arid flatlands. As I mentioned last time, these were the areas where some of the first domesticated crops grew wild, like wheat and barley; but actual agriculture was only possible in the narrow valleys, and it was here that the first Persian cities grew. Crops did not grow well in the cold, dry highland areas, however, and this is what made the Persians distinct from the Mesopotamians; the importance of nomadic pastoralism to their society. You probably already know what a nomad is; a person with no fixed home, who constantly moves from one place to another. A nomadic pastoralist, however, is different from a hunter-gatherer. Hunter-gatherers are dependent on food sources from the wild; they don’t control their food supply. Hunter-gatherers have to be nomadic because when they have eaten up the seeds and berries in a given area, or when the herds of deer or antelope move on to graze elsewhere, the people have to move on also. Pastoralists, however, are an offshoot of the agricultural revolution; they are specialists just as much as craftsmen, warriors, and priests are specialists. Their specialization is the herding of
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This note was uploaded on 04/21/2008 for the course HIST 411 taught by Professor Craig during the Spring '07 term at New Haven.

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Lecture 3-1b Aryans in Persia and India - World History...

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