Monday, 23 January 2017

The term 'Aryan' and its Semitic cognates

The term 'Aryan' had a strange history. Derived from the Sanskrit ārya 'noble, member of the three higher classes', Avestan airya, Old Persian ariya 'member of the Iranian people', it was identified by European scholars during the 19th century with all the Indo-Europeans, and ethnocentric racial theories (De Gobineau, etc., see here) identified the term, suggesting nobility and superiority, with an idea of a Nordic superior race, although historical Germanic people did not identify themselves with a term like 'Arya'. I have already spoken about this topic in a previous post, but now I come back to it because I would like to share with you an interesting, even astonishing, connection.
A connection with the alleged antithesis of the Aryans, the Semites.

In the wiktionary entry about arya, after various other etymologies of the word, a last theory is mentioned: "Oswald Szemerényi has suggested[1][7] that *arya- is a loanword from an Ugaritic word meaning "kinsmen", from Proto-Afro-Asiatic *ħər ‎(“free, noble”)"
Actually, the Ugaritic word noted by Szemerényi is ’ary 'kinsman', from a different root (*ʔar-), but if we see the meaning of the terms derived from the Afro-Asiatic root proposed above, one is surprised by their close similarity with the meanings of the Indo-European terms. 
From A. Bomhard's Afrasian Comparative Vocabulary (2014):
Proto-Afrasian *ħar- ‘(vb.) to be superior, to be higher in status or rank, to be above or over; (n.) nobleman, master, chief, superior; (adj.) free-born, noble’:
Semitic: Proto-Semitic *ħar-ar- ‘to be free-born, to be or become free, to set free’, *ħar(r)-/*ħur(r)- ‘noble, free-born’ > Hebrew ḥōr ‘noble’; Arabic ḥurr ‘noble, free-born; free, independent’, ḥarra ‘to liberate, to free, to set free, to release, to emancipate’, ḥurrīya ‘freedom, liberty, independence, unrestraint, license’; Aramaic ḥərar ‘to be or become free’; Ugaritic ḥrr ‘free’; Sabaean ḥrr ‘freemen, free-born men’; Geez / Ethiopic ḥarāwi ‘free-born, nobleman’, ḥarāwənnā ‘freedom’, ḥarənnat ‘freedom’; Tigrinya ḥara ‘free’, ḥarənnät ‘freedom’; Tigre ḥara ‘free; freedom’; Amharic hurr ‘free’; Gurage hurru bālä ‘to become free, to set free’. 
Egyptian ḥry ‘chief, master, overseer, superior’, ḥr ‘on, upon, over’, ḥrw ‘upper part, top’; Coptic hi- [xi-] (< *ḥaryaw) ‘on, in, at’, hray [xrai] ‘upper part’.
Omotic: North Omotic: Yemsa / Janjero herašo ‘chief, ruler’, herašo ‘chieftainship, rule’. 
We can see how the concept of freedom is often equivalent with that of nobility in these cognates, and Hebrew ḥōr 'noble' is also translated 'free man' (see here), but the Hebrew term ḥērūt 'freedom' comes from Aramaic/Syriac ḥēr 'free' (see here). In Arabic ḥurr means 'free' (opposed to ‛abd 'slave') but also 'noble, good'. For instance, ḥurr al-kalām refers to a speech of high literary quality, not to 'free speech'. The feminine ḥurrah may simply mean 'lady' and ḥurr 'gentleman'. As F. Rosenthal observes (here): "This usage of ḥurr had its origin in the general human inclination to ascribe all bad qualities to the slave and his miserable lot, and all good qualities to those who were legally free men."

This picture strongly reminds the Indian concept of ārya. Also in the Indian use, the connotation of ārya as freeman is clear. In the Ṛgveda, ārya is opposed to dāsa, that means 'slave, servant', in other Vedic texts to the śūdra, one who belongs to the low class of labourers, those who must serve the three higher classes. In the Arthaśāstra, a treatise on law and politics, the chapter on slaves clearly contrasts the position of ārya with that of slave (dāsa). And the Vedic term arya with initial short a means 'master, lord'. The Pāli (Middle Indian) derived term ayya means 'gentleman, lord, master'.
The connotation of freedom could also better explain the Buddhist use of Pāli ariya, Sanskrit ārya, for a person on the path to spiritual liberation.

In the Iranian context, Avestan airya is opposed to other populations like tuirya, while in Achaemenid inscriptions, we find pārsa:pārsahyā: puça: ariya: ariyaciça, “a Persian, son of a Persian, Arya, of Arya origin.” In the compound ariya-ciça, where in ciça (Avestan čiθra) 'seed, origin, lineage', we recognize a concept typical of a tribal and aristocratic culture. But in the Dēnkard we find also a social connotation: ērīh ut dahyupatīh “nobility and lordship,” contrasts with arg ut bār hač škōhišn, “labor and burdens from poverty.” (see here).

Out of the Indo-Iranian world, we can compare an Irish term that has been derived from the same root as ārya, that is aire, so defined in an Irish dictionary:
"In Laws used to describe every freeman, 'commoner' as well as noble, who possesses an independent legal status. Occasionally, however, aire is used in the more restricted sense of 'noble' (as oppd. to 'commoner'), which is its usual meaning in the literature"
"In more general sense noble, chief..."
The term is derived from Proto-Celtic *aryos, found in Gaulish names with a first element Ario- like Ariomanus. There is also a dubious Runic arjostez interpreted as 'most distinguished' (see here), that would show that the root was present also in Germanic.
In Greek, aristos is the famous term for 'noble' in the social sense, being a superlative with the meaning of 'best, most excellent'. In Greek there is also a prefix ari- used to intensify an adjective, possibly connected with aristos according to Chantraine.
In Hittite, we find arawa, arawanni 'free', in Lycian arawa 'free' matching in the Greek version  of the same text apeleutheroi 'freedmen' (see here). Forms apparently comparable with the Semitic terms, although with the loss of the initial pharyngeal consonant, that is apparently preserved in Hittite in other comparisons of Afro-Asiatic roots starting with the same sound given by Bomhard (who connects arawa with a root *her- and/or *hor- ‘to escape, to flee, to run away’, with a different laryngeal consonant, see here). In Hittite there is also the verb arai 'rise; raise', inf. arauwanzi, in Luwian ari(ya) is interpreted as 'raise', and a stem *ariyatt- as 'elevation, mountain' (see here). There is also the Hittite adjective aru 'high', the verb arriya 'rouse, stir, awaken; be awake', and ar- 'to stand, remain standing, stand up, stand upright'.
In Armenian the imperative ari means 'stand up!', in the verb yaṙnem 'to rise, to arise, to get up, to rise or stand up, to rise again' (see this entry).
The Indo-European root of the Hittite and Armenian verbs according to Rix is *h1rei 'to rise' ("sich erheben"), but for the Armenian verb he proposed also *h3er- 'to start moving (forward)' ("sich in (Fort-) Bewegung setzen"), giving also Sanskrit iyarti 'to raise', Greek or-nymi 'to stir up, make to arise, awaken, arouse' and Latin orior, oriri 'to rise, originate'. In Wiktionary, the meaning of this root is "to move, to stir; to rise, to spring" and it gives as derived term also Greek oros 'mountain', following the theory of Frisk and Chantraine. So, a connection with upward movement and height seems clear.

The idea of movement and rising, if it was present also in the Afro-Asiatic *ħar-, could explain the idea of freedom, although we have seen that also in Arabic the main connotation originally was rather nobility, and in Egyptian apparently there is no trace of the idea of freedom, rather 'to be above'. On the other hand, the social concept of members of the higher community and freedom are often exchanged: it happened to 'frank', whose name comes from the name of the javelin, but indicated the members of the conquering people of the Franks and finally meant 'free', or to the Latin adjective liberalis (coming from liber 'free'), that indicated the theoretical disciplines studied by free men or the generous behaviour of the noble. Also Persian āzād 'free' comes from a word meaning 'born (into the clan), noble'.

I suspect that also the name Hurri of the Hurrians comes from the same root as Semitic *ħar(r)-/*ħur(r)-, indicating the people of the free or noble ones like the Āryas, and the fact that they had an aristocracy with Indo-Iranian names and deities in the Mitanni kingdom can be a sign of their affinity with that cultural world. There is also an interesting study by Fournet and Bomhard about affinities between Hurrian and Indo-European languages, suggesting, in their view, a common ancestor.
In Elamite, the Iranians are called Harriya, with an initial laryngeal sound. On the other hand, in the Elamite dictionary (in German) we find ari as equivalent of Akkadian rugbu 'loft, room on roof, upper storey', that can be related with the same root in the sense of 'to be above'.

Then, the similarity of form and use of the Afro-Asiatic root *ħar/ħur- and IE *Har-ya/o- (with the adjectival suffix -ya/yo-) suggest that these concepts of nobility and freedom developed in a common cultural frame of a society where slavery and social stratification were evolving: this was possible with the Neolithic revolution, that with agriculture required hard labour and produced a surplus that allowed to maintain slaves, and was also associated with conflicts and trade that made possible the acquisition of slaves. The Semitic and the Indo-European cultural worlds appear thus to be parallel developments of the Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent: in this cultural 'tree', the Indo-Iranian branch (differently from the other Indo-Europeans) chose to name itself with the adjective or name connected with that root. As if they did not admit that members of their own people could be slaves (and normally slaves were foreigners), and/or because they believed to be especially noble in their behaviour or lineage.
Thus, the social concept evident in the Semitic, Irish, and also Indian use became ethnic, especially in Iranians, who still use it in the name itself of Iran, while in India it can be used to distinguish speakers of Indo-Aryan languages from Dravidian, Munda and Tibeto-Burman speakers, thus being more linguistic than ethnic, besides the traditional association of ārya with the higher castes and ethical behaviour. 

All this has nothing to do, fortunately, with the disastrous and artificial concept of a Nordic 'Aryan race'. It is time to deepen the ancient relation of the Semites with the 'Aryans', evident in many other terms: the results can question some stereotypical oppositions that may still be present in our received picture of humanity and its history.