Journal : Alternate History

In a previous tranca, , we left off with the promise of taking up the evidence in the Avesta in order to arrive at the true picture of facts about Proto-Aryan homeland, whence the Indo-Iranian and Indo-Aryan streams supposedly branched some 4000 – 6000 years ago.

And in the last one, , a detailed intervention was presented on ” Horses And The Aryan Debate ” … a much ado for nothing, as it is, but a cornerstone in the Aryan Invasion hypothesis perpetuated by scholars and historians with European pedigree.

Adapted From The Most Brilliant, Insightful Analysis Ever

by Shrikant G. Talageri


II  The Avesta Evidence … as per Western scholars

” The early form of Avestan is so similar to Vedic Sanskrit that the main difference between them is the alphabet in which they are written, and the shift of s to h in Avestan.”

Scientists, historians, and archaeologists can tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to their respective fields, and will too quickly dismiss as ridiculous anything other than what is accepted within academia. I only wonder what marvels we may miss if politics and power becomes more important than the truth.”

The official theory about Indo-Iranians is that they migrated into Central Asia from the West, from their original Indo-European homeland in South Russia, and then split into two : the Iranians moving southwestwards into Iran, and the Indo-Aryans moving southeastwards into India.

According to another version, now generally discarded by the scholars, but which still forms the basis for off-hand remarks and assumptions, the Indo-Iranians first migrated into the Caucasus region, from where they moved southwards into western Iran.  From there, they moved eastwards, with the Indo-Aryans separating from the Iranians somewhere in eastern Iran and continuing eastwards into India.

It will therefore be necessary to examine what exactly are the facts and the evidence about the early history of Indo-Iranians, as per general consensus among Western scholars.

This is all the more important because an examination shows that there is a sharp contradiction between the facts of the case, as presented and admitted, and the conclusions they reached on the basis of those facts.

The Iranians are historically known to have been in three contiguous areas : Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan.  But which of these was historically their earliest habitat ?

Michael Witzel, a western scholar with intimate understanding, dismisses the theory of India being the original homeland of Indo-Europeans. But even he is compelled to admit that “it is not entirely clear where the combined Indo-Iranians lived together before they left for Iran and India, when they went on their separate ways… by what routes and in what order”.13

Witzel’s take is typical of how most scholars in west, or with western scholarship, opine : There’s no evidence of where the proto Indo-Iranians lived but, of course, it cannot have been either India or Iran itself. That foregone conclusion requires no evidence !

There is thus an in-built bias in favour of proto Indo-Iranian movement into Iran and India from Central Asia, however much shorn of evidence the proposition is. Even the theory which locates the original Indo-European homeland in South Russia is readily accepted, making Central Asia a convenient stopping point on their way to Iran and India.

However another scholar, P. Oktor Skjærvø, in his paper published in the same volume as Witzel’s papers, gives us a summary of evidence that does exist on the subject.  According to him: “Evidence either for the history of the Iranian tribes, or their languages, from the period following the separation of the Indian and Iranian tribes down to the early 1st millennium BC is sadly lacking.  There are no written sources, and archaeologists are still working to fill out the picture.”14

Thus, there is neither literary nor archaeological evidence for Iranians before the early first millennium BC. And when literary evidence does turn up, what does it indicate ?

The earliest mention of Iranians in historical sources is, paradoxically, of those settled on the Iranian plateau, not those still in Central Asia, their ancestral homeland.  ‘Persians’ are first mentioned in the 9th Century BC Assyrian annals :

On one campaign, in 835 BC, Shalmaneser (858-824 BC) is said to have received tributes from 27 kings of Parsuwas;

The Medes are mentioned under Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BC);

At the battle of Halulê on the Tigris in 691 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib (704-681 BC) faced an army of troops from Elam, Parsumas, Anzan, and others; and

In the Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon (680-669 BC), and elsewhere, numerous ‘kings’ of the Medes are mentioned (see also, for example, Boyce 1975-82: 5-13). …

There are no literary sources for Iranians in Central Asia before the Old Persian inscriptions (Darius’s Bisotun inscription, 521-519 BC, ed. Schmitt) and Herodotus’ Histories(ca. 470 BC). These show that by the mid-Ist millennium BC tribes called Sakas (by the Persians) and Scythians (by the Greeks) were spread throughout Central Asia, from the westernmost edges (north and northwest of Black Sea) to its easternmost borders.”15

Thus, while Witzel indicates his bias towards Central Asia as the earliest habitat of the Iranians while admitting to absence of specific data to that effect, Skjærvø indicates the same bias while admitting to specific data to the opposite effect.

The sum of specifically date-able inscriptional evidence for the presence of Iranians is therefore 835 BC in the case of Iran and 521 BC in the case of Central Asia.  This may not be clinching evidence (indicating that Iranians were not present in these areas before these dates), but, such as it is, this is the evidence.

There is, however, an older source of evidence : the Avesta.

As Skjærvø puts it, “the only sources for the early (pre-Achaemenid) history of the eastern Iranian peoples are the Avesta, the Old Persian inscriptions, and Herodotus. … In view of the dearth of historical sources, it is of paramount importance that one should evaluate the evidence of the Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, parts of which at least antedates the Old Persian inscriptions by several centuries.”16

The Avesta is the oldest valid source for earliest history and geography of the Iranians, and Skjærvø therefore examines the “internal evidence of the Avestan texts” in respect of geographical names, about which he says : “Very few geographical names appear to be inherited from Indo-Iranian times.  For instance, OPers. Haraiva-, Av. (acc.) HarOiium, and OPers. HarauvatI, Av. HaraxvaitI- … both of which are located in historical times in southern Afghanistan (Herat and Kandahar), corresponding to the two Vedic rivers Sarayu and SarasvatI.  These correspondences are interesting, but tell us nothing about the early geography of the Indo-Iranian tribes.”17

Interesting, but nothing…” Indeed. But why nothing, when the evidence is admitted ? Because it does not accord with the “Theory” already accepted.  Hence, Skjærvø concludes, it was interesting, whatever that means, but nothing !

There’s more : “Two Young Avestan texts contain lists of countries known to their authors, Yast 10 and Videvdad Chapter 1. The two lists differ considerably in terms of composition and are therefore most probably independent of one another. Both lists contain only countries in northeastern Iran.”18  Skjærvø clarifies on the same page that when he says “northeastern Iran”, he means “Central Asia, Afghanistan and north-eastern modem Iran”.19All these places are “located to the east of the Caspian Ocean, with the possible exception of Raga”.20  But, again, he clarifies later that this is only if Raga is identified with “Median Raga … modern Ray, south of Tehran. In the Videvdad, however, it is listed between the Helmand river and Caxra (assumed to be modern Carx near Ghazna in southeast Afghanistan) and is therefore most probably different from Median Raga and modern Ray.”21

While Skjærvø accepts that western Iran was unknown to the early Iranians, he deliberately omits to mention the Hapta-Handu or the Punjab in his list of names “inherited from Indo-Iranian times” … of the period common to both Rigveda and the Avesta. The name of this important area is known to the Avesta and finds mention in it !

Skjærvø does mention the Hapta-Handu when he details the list of names given in the Videvdad; but he merely translates it as “the Seven Rivers”,22 pointedly avoids mentioning anywhere that this refers to the Punjab, and generally treats it as just another piece of information which is “interesting” but “tells us nothing” about anything, since it runs counter to the Theory.

What the scholars deemed “nothing” are facts that are very revealing of Iranian geography :

  1. Pre-Avestan Period : Punjab, southern Afghanistan.
  2. Avestan Periods : Punjab, Afghanistan, Central Asia, north-east Iran.
  3. Post-Avestan Period : Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran.

To deviate slightly from the evidence of the Western scholars, we may compare this with the following picture of Rig Vedic geography derived by us in this book on the basis of the evidence in the Rigveda :

1. Pre-Rigvedic Period : Haryana and areas east.

2. Early Rigvedic Period : Haryana and areas east, eastern and central Punjab.

3. Middle Rigvedic Period : Haryana and areas east, Punjab.

4. Late Rigvedic Period : Haryana and areas east, Punjab, southern Afghanistan.

The habitat origin and direction of movement of the Rig Vedic and Avestan people over time could be combined in tally and stated without hesitation :

  1. Originally, the Vedic Aryans were in Haryana and areas to the east, while the Iranians were in Punjab and southern Afghanistan. The two regions are in close proximity.
  1. Towards the end of the Early Period of Rigveda, the Vedic Aryans had started moving westwards and penetrating into the Punjab, entering into direct conflict with the Iranians.
  1. In the Middle and Late Periods of the Rigveda, the Vedic Aryans were now together with the Iranians in Punjab and southern Afghanistan, and the Iranians had also spread out further north and west.

The Western scholars, P. Oktor Skjærvø and Michael Witzel, did not fail to spot the facts but denied their importance and hence the information about this movement from east to west. The relative chronology suggested by the two scholars themselves is clearly revealing : movement of Indo-Aryans from the heart of the subcontinental plains towards the north-west.

Skjærvø admits that the earliest evidence for the Iranians is 835 BC in the case of Iran, and 521 BC in the case of Central Asia. In respect of the Avesta, which is the earliest source for the Iranians (and whose earliest geographical names pertain to southern Afghanistan and the Punjab), Skjærvø notes that “the most common estimates range between 1000-600 BC”.23However, he opines that “the … ‘early date’ for the older Avesta would be the 14th-11th centuries BC, close to the middle of the second millennium … and the extreme ‘late date’ to be 8th-7th centuries BC”.24

[ This playing around with “common,” “early” and “late” estimates reminds one more of statistical projections – optimistic, expected and pessimistic – than reasoned history ! ]

In respect of the Rigveda, Witzel himself goes far beyond these dates.  As he puts it : “Since the SarasvatI, which dries up progressively after the mid 2nd millennium BC (Erdosy 1989), is still described as a mighty river in the Rigveda, the earliest hymns in the latter must have been composed by C.1500 BC”25

He repeats this point in respect of a specific historical incident : the SarasvatI is “prominent in Book 7 : it flows from the mountains to the sea (7.95.2) – which would put the battle of 10 kings prior to 1500 BC or so, due to the now well-documented dessication of the SarasvatI (Yash Pal et al, 1984)”.26

Witzel states that “the earliest hymns” in the Rigveda “must have been composed by 1500 BC”.  But the specific incident he quotes suggests that, by his reckoning, even very late hymns were already in existence by 1500 BC : the hymn he quotes is VII.95. According to him, elsewhere, Mandala VII is “the latest of the family books”27; even within this Mandala, hymn 95 must, by his reckoning, be “a comparatively late hymn”28, which is how he describes hymn 96, a companion hymn.

The historical incident he refers to, which he places far earlier than Skjærvø’s earliest dating for the earliest parts of the Avesta (whose earliest references are to areas in southern Afghanistan and the Punjab), is Sudas’ Battle of The Ten Kings fought on the Parusni (modern River Ravi) in central Punjab.

This battle was, moreover, preceded by other battles fought by Sudas.  Sudas’s priest in the Battle of The Ten Kings was Vasishta. Vasishta’s predecessor was Vishvamitra, under whose priesthood Sudas had fought a battle considerably to the east of the Punjab, with the Kikatas of Bihar.

Witzel, of course, refuses to accept the location of Mata in Bihar.  But, even so, he places Kikata at least as far east of the Punjab as the area to “the south of Kurukshetra, in eastern Rajasthan or western Madhya Pradesh.”29

In sum, the facts and the evidence of the Indo-Iranian case, as detailed by the Western scholars themselves, notwithstandingthecontrary “conclusions” reached by them, show beyond any doubt that the only area of Indo-Iranian contact was in the Punjab-Haryana region and southern and eastern Afghanistan.

To get a final and complete perspective on the geography of the Avesta, let us examine what perhaps the most eminent Western scholar on the subject, Gherardo Gnoli, has to say.  Gnoli is not a scholar who is out to challenge the standard version of an Indo-Iranian movement from Central Asia into Iran and India, and, indeed, he probably does not even doubt that version.

But the geographical facts of the Avesta, as set out by Gnoli in great detail in his book Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, show very clearly that the oldest regions known to the Iranians were Afghanistan and areas to its east.  They also show, and he says so specifically in no uncertain terms, that areas to the west, and also to the north, were either totally unknown to the Iranians, or else they were areas newly known to them and did not form a part of their traditional ethos.  Any references to migrations, in his analysis, are always to migrations from east to west or from south to north.

The Avesta, incidentally, contains five groups of texts :

1. The Yasna (Y), containing 72 chapters divided into two groups:
a. The Gathas of Zarathushtra (Y.28-34, 43-51, 53).
b. The Yasna (proper) (Y.1-27, 35-42, 52, 54-72). 

2. The Yashts (Yt.), 24 in number. 

3. The Videvdat or Vendidad (Vd), containing 22 chapters. 

4. The Visprat or Vispered

5. The Khordah Avesta or Lesser Avesta, containing the SIrozas, Nyishish, Afrin, etc.

Only the first three, because of their size, antiquity and nature, are of importance in any historical study : of these, the Gathas and some of the Yashts form the chronologically oldest portions.  In terms of language, the dialect of the Gathas and some of the other chapters of the Yasna, i.e. Y.19-21, 27, 3541, 54, called Gathic, is older than the Zend dialect of the rest of the Avesta.

We will examine the geography of the Avesta, as detailed by Gnoli as follows:

A. The West and the East.
B. The North and the South.
C. The Punjab.

A. The West and the East

Gnoli repeatedly stresses “the fact that Avestan geography, particularly the list in Vd. I, is confined to the east,”30 and points out that this list is “remarkably important in reconstructing the early history of Zoroastrianism”.31Elsewhere, he again refers to “the entirely eastern character of the countries listed in the first chapter of the Vendidad, including Zoroastrian Raya, and the historical and geographical importance of that list”.32

The horizon of the Avesta, Gnoli notes, “is according to Burrow, wholly eastern and therefore certainly earlier than the westward migrations of the Iranian tribes.”33In great detail, he rejects theories which seek to connect up some of the places named in the Avesta (such as Airyana Vaejah and Raya) with areas in the west, and concludes that this attempt to transpose the geography of the Avesta from Afghanistan to western Iran “was doubtless due to different attempts made by the most powerful religious centres of western Iran and the influential order of the Magi to appropriate the traditions of Zoroastrianism that had flourished in the eastern territories of the plateau in far-off times. Without a doubt, the identification of Raya with Adurbadagan, more or less parallel with its identification with Ray, should be fitted into the vaster picture of the late location of Airyana Vaejah in Adarbayjan.”34

The crucial geographical list of sixteen Iranian lands, in the first chapter of the Vendidad, is fully identified : “From the second to the sixteenth country, we have quite a compact and consistent picture.  The order goes roughly from north to south and then towards the east: Sogdiana (Gava), Margiana (Mourv), Bactria (Bax?I, Nisaya between Margiana and Bactria, Areia (Haroiva), Kabulistan (Vaekarata), the GaznI region (Urva), Xnanta, Arachosia (HaraxvaitI), Drangiana (Haetumant), a territory between Zamin-davar and Qal‘at-i-Gilzay (Raya), the Lugar valley (Caxra), Buner (Varana), Pañjab (Hapta Handu), Ranha … between the Kabul and the Kurram, in the region where it seems likely the Vedic river Rasa flowed.”35

Gnoli notes that India is very much a part of the geographical picture: “With Varana and Ranha, as of course with Hapta Handu, which comes between them in the Vd. I list, we find ourselves straight away in Indian territory, or, at any rate, in territory that, from the very earliest times, was certainly deeply permeated by Indo-Aryans or Proto Indo-Aryans.”36

Although the scholars are careful to include “northeastern modem Iran” in their descriptions, the areas covered by the Vendidad list only touch the easternmost borders of Iran : but they cover the whole of Afghanistan, the northern half of present-day Pakistan (NWFP, Punjab), and the southern parts of Central Asia to the north of Afghanistan, and, again, in the east, they enter the northwestern borders of present-day (post-1947) India.

Gnoli identifies fifteen of the sixteen Iranian lands named in the Vendidad list.  But he feels that “the first of the countries created by Ahura Mazda, Airyana Vaejah, should be left out” of the discussion, since “this country is characterized, in the Vd. I context, by an advanced state of mythicization”.37

While this is a possibility, that Airyana Vaejah is a mythical land and a purely imaginary Paradise, there is another alternate possibility : the other fifteen lands, from Gava (Sogdiana) to Ranha (the region between the Kabul and Kurrum rivers in the NWFP) are clearly named in geographical order proceeding from north to south, turning east, and again proceeding northwards.

That the list of names leads back to the starting point is clear also from the fact that the accompanying list of the evil counter-creations of Angra Mainyu, in the sixteen lands created by Ahura Mazda, starts with “severe winter” in the first land, Airyana Vaejah, moves through a variety of other evils (including various sinful proclivities, obnoxious insects, evil spirits and physical ailments), and comes back again to “severe winter” in the sixteenth land, Ranha.

A logical conclusion would be that the first land, Airyana Vaejah, lies close to the sixteenth land (Ranha). The lands to the north (VarAna), west (VaEkArAta, Caxra, UrvA), and south (Hapta-HAndu) of RaNhA are named, so Airyana Vaejah must be in Kashmir to the east of Ranha.  Ranha itself leads Gnoli “to think of an eastern mountainous area, Indian or Indo-Iranian, hit by intense cold in winter”.38

In sum, the geography of the Avesta almost totally excludes present-day Iran and areas to its north and west, and consists exclusively of Afghanistan and areas to its north and east, including parts of Rigvedic India.

Indo-Iranian.Southern Russia

B. The North and the South

The geographical horizon of the Avesta (excluding for the moment the Punjab in the east) extends from Central Asia in the north to the borders of Baluchistan in the south.

This region, from north to south, can be divided as follows: 

1. Northern Central Asia (XvAirizAm).

2. Southern Central Asia (Gava, Mourv, Bax?I, Nisaya), including the northern parts of Afghanistan to the north of the HindUkuS.

3. Central Afghanistan (HarOiva, VaEkArAta, UrvA, XnAnta, Caxra) to the south of the HindUkuS

4. Southern Afghanistan (HaraxvaitI, HaEtumant, RaYa) to the borders of Baluchistan in the south. 

Let us examine the position of each of these four areas in the geography of the Avesta :

  1. The Avesta does not know any area to the north or west of the Aral Sea.  The northern-most area, the only place in northern Central Asia, named in the Avesta is Chorasmia or Khwarizm, to the south of the Aral Sea. The compulsion to demonstrate an Iranian (and consequently Indo-Iranian) migration from the north into Afghanistan has led many scholars to identify Chorasmia with Airyana Vaejah, and to trace the origins of both Zoroastrianism and (Indo-)Iranians to this area.However, Gnoli points out that Chorasmia “is mentioned only once”39 in the whole of the Avesta.  Moreover, it is not mentioned among the sixteen lands created by Ahura Mazda and listed in the first chapter of the Vendidad.  It is mentioned among the lands named in the Mihr Yasht (Yt.10.14) in a description of the God Mi?ra standing on the mountains and surveying the lands to his south and north.

    Gnoli emphasizes the significance of this distinction: “the countries in Vd.I and Yt.X are of a quite different nature : the aim of the first list is evidently to give a fairly complete description of the space occupied by the Aryan tribes in a remote period in their history.”40 Clearly, Chorasmia is not part of this space. As a matter of fact, Chorasmia is named as “practically the very furthest horizon reached by Mi?ra’s gaze”41 and Gnoli suggests that “the inclusion of the name of Chorasmia in this Yasht … could in fact be a mention or an interpolation whose purpose, conscious or unconscious, was to continue in a south-north direction the list of lands over which Mi?ra’s gaze passed, indicating a country on the outskirts such as Chorasmia, which must have been very little known at the time the Yasht was composed”.42

    The suggestion that the inclusion of Chorasmia in the Yasht is an interpolation is based on a solid linguistic fact : the name, XvAirizAm, as it occurs in the reference, is “in a late, clearly Middle Persian nominal form”.43Hence Gnoli rejects as “groundless” any theory which attempts “to show that AiryanAm VaEjO in the VendidAd is equivalent to XvAirizAm in the Mihr YaSt44, and which tries to reconstruct “from a comparison of the geographical data in the Mihr YaSt and the ZamyAd YaSt the route followed by the Iranian tribes in their migration southwards, or the expansion in the same direction of the Zoroastrian community”.45

    As a matter of fact, even though it contradicts the Theory, there have been a great many scholars who have claimed a movement in the opposite direction in the case of Chorasmia: “It has been said that the Chorasmians moved from the south (territory immediately to the east of Parthians and Hyrcanians) towards the north (to XwArizm).”46The scholars who make this claim suggest that “the probable ancient seat of the Chorasmians was a country with both mountainous areas and plains, much further south than XIva, whereas the oasis of XIva was a more recent seat which they may have moved to precisely in consequence of the growing power of the Achaemenians by which, as Herodotus says, they were deprived of a considerable part of their land”.47

While Gnoli does not agree with the late chronology suggested for this south-to-north movement, and gives evidence to show that “Chorasmia corresponded more or less to historical XwArizm even before Darius I’s reign (521-486 BC)”48, he nevertheless agrees with the suggested direction of migration, which is, moreover, backed by the opinion of archaeologists :

As a matter of fact, we are able to reconstruct a south-north migration of the Chorasmians on a smaller scale only, as it is a well known fact that the delta of the Oxus moved in the same direction between the end of the second millennium and the 6th century BC and ended up flowing into the Aral Sea.”49 Therefore, “we cannot rule out the possibility that the Chorasmians, as pointed out, moved in this same direction and that at the beginning of the Achaemenian empire there were still settlements of them further south.  At all events, this is the explanation that archaeologists give for the proto-historic settlement of Chorasmia, without taking into account precise ethnic identifications.”50

In short, far from being the early homeland from which the (Indo-)Iranians migrated southwards, “XwArizm … appears upon an unprejudiced examination, as a remote, outlying province which never played a really central part in the political and cultural history of Iran before the Middle Ages”.51And the region was so unknown that there was, among the Iranians, “absence of any sure knowledge of the very existence of the Aral Sea as a separate body of water with a name of its own, even as late as the time of Alexander”.52

2. The countries in southern Central Asia and northern Afghanistan (Sogdiana, Margiana and Bactria), particularly southern Bactria or Balkh which falls in northern Afghanistan, are very much a part of Iranian territory as per the evidence of the Avesta. However, this evidence also makes it clear that these territories were, in the words of Gnoli, “peripheral”, and the traditions to this effect persisted as late as the period of the Macedonian conquest of these areas.

As Gnoli puts it: “in the denomination of Ariana, which became known to the Greeks after the Macedonian conquest of the eastern territories of the old Persian empire, there was obviously reflected a tradition that located the Aryan region in the central-southern part of eastern Iran, roughly from the HindUkuS southwards, and that considered some of the Medes and the Persians in the west and some of the Bactrians and Sogdians in the north as further extensions of those people who were henceforth known by the name of Ariani.  And this, to tell the truth, fits nicely into the picture we have been trying to piece so far.  Here too, as in the passages of the Avesta we have studied from the Mihr YaSt and the ZamyAd YaSt, the geographical horizon is central-eastern and southeastern; the northern lands are also completely peripheral, and Chorasmia, which is present only in the very peculiar position of which we have spoken in the Mihr YaSt, is not included.”53 (Note: by “eastern Iran”, Gnoli refers to Afghanistan, which forms the eastern part of the Iranian plateau.)

Balkh or southern Bactria does play a prominent role in later Iranian and Zoroastrian tradition “which would have ViStAspa linked with Balx and SIstAn”54 (i.e. with both the northern-most and southern-most parts of Afghanistan). However, referring to “the tradition that links Kavi ViStAspa with Bactria”, Gnoli notes that “the explanation of ViStAspa being Bactrian and not Drangian is a feeble one”.55He attributes the tradition to “the period of Bactrian hegemony which Djakonov dates between 650 and 540 BC”, during which “the old … tradition of Kavi ViStAspa, who was originally linked with Drangiana, could have taken on, so to speak, a new, Bactrian guise”.56

The Avesta itself is clear in identifying ViStAspa with the southern regions only.

In sum, the more northern regions of Sogdiana and Margiana were “completely peripheral”, and, in the words of Gnoli, “we may consider that the northernmost regions where Zoroaster carried out his work were Bactria and Areia”.57

  1. When we come to the areas to the south of the HindUkuS, we are clearly in the mainland of the Avestan territory. Gnoli repeatedly stresses throughout his book that the airyo-Sayana or Land of the Aryans described in the Avesta refers to “the vast region that stretches southward from the HindUkuS,”58 that is, “from the southern slopes of the great mountain chains towards the valleys of the rivers that flow south, like the Hilmand…”59 In this respect he notes that “there is a substantial uniformity in the geographical horizon between Yt.XIX and Yt.X … and the same can be said for Vd.I … these Avestan texts which contain in different forms, and for different purposes, items of information that are useful for historical geography give a fairly uniform picture : eastern Iran, with a certain prevalence of the countries reaching upto the southern slopes of the HindUkuS.”60

Likewise, in later Greek tradition, ArianE “is the Greek name which doubtless reflects an older Iranian tradition that designated with an equivalent form the regions of eastern Iran lying mostly south, and not north, of the HindUkuS.  It is clear how important this information is in our research as a whole.”61

Again, it must be noted that Gnoli uses the term “eastern Iran” to designate Afghanistan, which forms the eastern part of the Iranian plateau.

  1. But it is the southern part of this “vast region that stretches southward from the HindUkuS,” which clearly constitutes the very core and heart of the Avesta: SIstAn or Drangiana, the region of HaEtumant (Hilmand) and the HAmUn-i Hilmand basin which forms its western boundary (separating Afghanistan from present-day Iran).

Gnoli notes that “the Hilmand region and the HAmUn-i Hilmand are beyond all doubt the most minutely described countries in Avestan geography.  The ZamyAd YaSt, as we have seen, names the Kasaoya, i.e. the HAmUn-i Hilmand, Usi?am mountain, the KUh-i XwAja, the HaEtumant, the Hilmand, and the rivers XvAstrA, HvaspA, Frada?A, XvarAnahvaitI, UStavaitI, Urva?a, ?rAzi, ZarAnumaiti, which have a number of parallels both in the Pahlavi texts, and especially in the list in the TArIx-i SIstAn.  Elsewhere, in the AbAn YaSt, there is mention of Lake FrazdAnu, the Gawd-i Zira.”62

He notes the significance of “the identification of the VourukaSa in Yt.XIX with the HAmUn-i Hilmand … of the NAydAg with the SilA, the branch connecting the HAmUn to the Gawd-i Zira, of the FrazdAnu with the Gawd-i Zira … and above all, the peculiar relationship pointed out by Markwart, between VaNuhI DAityA and the HaEtumant…”63

Gnoli points out that “a large part of the mythical and legendary heritage can be easily located in the land watered by the great SIstanic river and especially in the HamUn”64, including the “important place that Yima/ JamSId, too, has in the SIstanic traditions in the guise of the beneficient author of a great land reclamation in the Hilmand delta”.65ViStAspa is identified with Drangiana, ZarathuStra with RaYa to its northeast.  But, “the part played by the Hilmand delta region in Zoroastrian eschatology … (is) important not only and not so much for the location of a number of figures and events of the traditional inheritance – we can also call to mind DaSt-i HAmOn, the scene of the struggle between WiStAsp and ArjAsp – as for the eschatology itself.  The natural seat of the XvarAnah – of the Kavis and of the XvarAnah that is called axvarAta – and of the glory of the Aryan peoples, past, present and future, the waters of the Kasaoya also receive the implantation of the seed of Zara?uStra, giving birth to the three saoSyant- fraSO- CarAtar-”.66

This region is subject to “a process of spiritualization of Avestan geography … in the famous celebration of the Hilmand in the ZamyAd YaSt…”67, and “this pre-eminent position of SIstAn in Iranian religious history and especially in the Zoroastrian tradition is a very archaic one that most likely marks the first stages of the new religion … the sacredness of the HAmUn-i Hilmand goes back to pre-Zoroastrian times…”68

Clearly, the position of the four areas, from north to south, into which the geographical horizon of the Avesta can be divided, shows the older and more important regions to be the more southern ones; and any movement indicated is from the south to the north.

Before turning to the Punjab, one more crucial aspect of Avestan geography must be noted. According to Gnoli: “the importance of cattle in various aspects of the Gathic doctrine can be taken as certain.  This importance can be explained as a reflection in religious practice and myth of a socioeconomic set-up in which cattle-raising was a basic factor.”69Therefore, in identifying the original milieu of the Iranians, since “none of the countries belonging to present-day Iran or Afghanistan was recognised as being a land where men could live by cattle-raising, the conclusion was reached once again that the land must be Chorasmia, and Oxus the river of Airyana VaEjah”.70

However, this conclusion was reached “on the basis of evidence that turned out to be unreliable, perhaps because it was supplied too hastily”.  As a matter of fact, a “recent study … and, in general, the results obtained by the Italian Archaeological Mission in SIstAn, with regard to the proto-historic period as well, have given ample proof that SIstAn, especially the HAmUn-i Hilmand region, is a land where cattle-raising was widely practised.  And it still is today, though a mere shadow of what it once was, by that part of the population settled in the swampy areas, that are called by the very name of GAwdAr. 

From the bronze age to the Achaemenian period, from Sahr-i Suxta to Dahana-i-GulAmAn, the archaeological evidence of cattle-raising speaks for itself: a study of zoomorphic sculpture in proto-historic SIstAn, documented by about 1500 figurines that can be dated between 3200 and 2000 BC leads us to attribute a special ideological importance to cattle in the Sahr-i Suxta culture, and this is fully justified by the place this animal has in the settlement’s economy and food supply throughout the time of its existence.”71

We may now turn to the Punjab, an area in which there can be no doubt whatsoever about cattle-raising always having been an important occupation.

C. The Punjab

The easternmost regions named in the Avesta cover a large part of present-day Pakistan, and include western Kashmir and the Indian Punjab: VarAna, RaNhA and Hapta-HAndu, and, as we have suggested, Airyana VaEjah itself.

Gnoli’s descriptions of Avestan geography, whether or not such is his intention, indicate that the Iranians ultimately originated either in southern Afghanistan itself or in areas further east.  Neither of these possibilities is suggested, or even hinted at, by Gnoli, since, as we have pointed out, Gnoli is not out to challenge the standard version of Indo-European history, nor perhaps does he even doubt that version.

However, his analysis and description of Avestan geography clearly suggest that the antecedents of the Iranians lie further east :

  1. Gnoli repeatedly stresses the fact that the evidence of the Avesta must be understood in the background of a close presence of Indo-Aryans (or Proto Indo-Aryans, as he prefers to call them) in the areas to the east of the Iranian area : “With VarAna and RaNhA, as of course with Hapta-HAndu, which comes between them in the Vd.I list, we find ourselves straightaway in Indian territory or, at any rate, in territory that, from the very earliest times, was certainly deeply permeated by Indo-Aryans or Proto Indo-Aryans.”72

In the Avestan descriptions of VarAna (in the VendidAd), Gnoli sees “a country, where the ‘Airyas’ (Iranians) were not rulers and where there was probably a hegemony of Indo-Aryan or proto Indo-Aryan peoples.”73

Gnoli is also clear about the broader aspects of a historico-geographical study of the Avesta: “This research will in fact help to reconstruct, in all its manifold parts, a historical situation in which Iranian elements exist side by side with others that are not necessarily non-Aryan (i.e. not necessarily non-Indo-European) but also, which is more probable, Aryan or Proto Indo-Aryan.”74

The point of all this is as follows: Gnoli’s analysis, alongwith specific statements made by him in his conclusions with regard to the evidence, makes it clear that the areas to the west (i.e. Iran) were as yet totally unknown to the Avesta; and areas to the north, beyond the “completely peripheral” areas of Margiana and Sogdiana, were also (apart from an interpolated reference to Chorasmia in the Mihr YaSt) totally unknown.

On the other hand, the areas to the east were certainly occupied by the Indo-Aryans : the eastern areas known to the Avesta were already areas in which Iranians existed “side by side” with Indo-Aryans, and “where there was probably a hegemony” of Indo-Aryans.  Logically, therefore, areas even further east must have been full-fledged Indo-Aryan areas. The earlier, or “Indo-Iranian”, ethos of the Iranians cannot therefore, on the evidence of the Avesta at any rate, be located towards the west or the north, but must be located towards the east.

  1. Gnoli, as we saw, describes the eastern areas as “Indian territory”, which is quite correct. However, he goes on to modify this description as “at any rate … territory that, from the very earliest times was certainly deeply permeated by Indo-Aryans or Proto Indo-Aryans”.75

Here Gnoli falls into an error into which all analysts of Iranian or Vedic geography inevitably fall : he blindly assumes that the Sapta-Sindhu or Punjab is the home of the Vedic Aryans. This assumption, however, is supported neither by evidence in Rig Veda nor by that in the Avesta : The evidence in Rigveda shows that the home of the Vedic Aryans lay to the east of the Punjab, and the Sapta-Sindhu became familiar to them only after the period of SudAs’ conquests westwards; the evidence in Avesta shows that the home of the Iranians at least included the Punjab, long before most of the present-day land known as “Iran” became even known to them.

The point of all this is as follows: Gnoli’s analysis shows that most of the historical Iranian areas (even present-day Iran and northern Central Asia, let alone the distant areas to the west of the Caspian Sea) were not part of the Iranian homeland in Avestan times. On the other hand, an area which has not been an Iranian area in any known historical period, the Punjab, was a part of the Iranian homeland in Avestan times. So any comparison of Avestan geography with latter-day and present Iranian geography shows Iranian migration only in the northward and westward directions from points as far east as the Punjab.

The Avesta can give us no further information on this subject. But, as Gnoli himself puts it, “Vedic-Avestan comparison is of considerable importance for the reconstruction of the ‘Proto Indo-Aryan’ and early Iranian historical and geographical milieu.”76

Hence, we must now turn to the Rig Veda.



4 thoughts on “Journal : Alternate History

  1. Reblogged this on verum intus, fulsi vacuus and commented:

    We need this brilliant “Alternate History” because historians in the West find evidence “Interesting, but nothing…” Indeed. But why nothing, when the evidence is admitted ? Because it does not accord with the “Theory” already accepted…

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