No. 17 (2015)

The Aryans and the Ancient System of Caste

Marianne Keppens
Ghent University

Published 2016-03-01


  • Aryan invasion,
  • caste system,
  • Aryans,
  • Dravidians,
  • inferiority,
  • nation
  • ...More

How to Cite

Keppens, M. (2016). The Aryans and the Ancient System of Caste. Theatrum Historiae, (17), 63–89. Retrieved from


Over the last century or two, the dominant accounts of the caste system have looked for its roots in the ancient history of India. More precisely scholars have linked the origin of the caste system to the invasion of a Sanskrit speaking people, the Aryans, who are said to have imposed their language, religion and social structure on an indigenous population called the Dravidians. In this account, the latter were subjugated by the Aryans and made to have an inferior place in society as the lowest caste. Given the importance of the Aryan invasion theory in our understanding of the caste system this article looks into the literature on how this invasion and subjugation actually took place and what evidence is available for it. This analysis leads to the conclusion that hardly any or no evidence exists for the claim that the caste system originated as the result of an Aryan invasion. Subsequently, the article looks into the development of this account in the early nineteenth century European literature in order to see on what this account was based and to identify the background assumptions that make it appear plausible till today.


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