Aryan (ˈɛəriən,_ˈɛərjən,_ˈær-) or Arya is a term meaning noble which was used as a self-designation by Indo-Iranian people. The word was used by the Indic people of the Vedic period in India as an ethnic label for themselves, and to refer to the noble class as well as the geographic region known as Āryāvarta, where Indo-Aryan culture was based. The closely related Iranian people also used the term as an ethnic label for themselves in the Avesta scriptures, and the word forms the etymological source of the country name Iran. It was believed in the 19th century that Aryan was also a self-designation used by all Proto-Indo-Europeans, a theory that has now been abandoned. Scholars point out that, even in ancient times, the idea of being an Aryan was religious, cultural and linguistic, not racial.Drawing on misinterpreted references in the Rig Veda by Western scholars in the 19th century, the term Aryan was adopted as a racial category through the works of Arthur de Gobineau, whose ideology of race was based on an idea of blonde northern European Aryans who had migrated across the world and founded all major civilizations, before being degraded through racial mixing with local populations. Through the works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Gobineaus ideas later influenced the Nazi racial ideology which saw Aryan peoples as innately superior to other putative racial groups. The atrocities committed in the name of this racial ideology caused the use of the term Aryan to be abandoned by most academics; and, in present-day academia, its usage has in most cases been replaced by the use of the terms Indo-Iranian and Aryan is now mostly limited to its use as the term for the Indo-Aryan languages.

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