by Leon E. Stover & Bruce Kraig [From Stonehenge and the Origins of Western Culture]
The oldest epic in the history of Indo-European literature is the Rig Veda, which dates back to the middle second millenium and supposedly celebrates the Aryan conquest of a Bronze Age civilization in India, the Harappan of the Indus river valley. These migrants flow from the same source as the Battle Axe folk who moved into the region of the Rhine and Lowlands in Europe, who blended with the Beaker folk there and emerged as the proto-Celts who entered Britain and built Stonehenge III.
That source is the Ukranian grasslands above the Caucasus, where a Neolithic people began domesticating the horse by 4,000 B.C. It was the domesticated horse which gave this nucleus of the Indo-European peoples the mobility to move in waves into Europe, first with the horse as a pack animal then later as a draft animal for pulling wagons; with a team of animals hitched to war chariots they rode into Anatolia and Greece as ancestors of the Hittite and Mycenaean rulers, into Egypt as the Hyksos, into Mesopotamia as the Kassites who conquered Babylonia, and into India as the wreckers of Harappa. The Indo-European chariot appears to have been modeled after the Sumerian battle-car, drawn by onagers and rolling on solid wheels. The imitation was drawn by horses and rolled on spoked wheels, a combination that gave the chariot a speed and lightness that carried the Indo-Europeans rapidly through the east-west corridors of steppeland from Hungary to Mongolia. The Battle Axe folk who entered Europe were an advance wave who brought with them hole-shafted axes or stone modeled after Kurgan bronze axes but not yet horses, wagons, or war chariots. These were passed on to the Celts of Hallstatt times and were brought to Britain by La Tene Celts from the Marne region of France in about 250 B.C. and from thence to Ireland in about 1 B.C.
At all events, the Aryan chariot is named in the Rig Veda with a Sanskrit word [ratha] which is cognate with words in Latin [rota], Celtic [roth], Old High German[rad], and Lithuanian [ratas]. Sanskrit words in the Rig Veda for wheel, axle, nave, and yoke also appear in related forms throughout the whole Indo-European group of Celtic, Germanic, Italic, and Balto-Slavic languages. Furthermore, the chariot itself, as shown by correlations between descriptions in the Rig Veda and archaeological evidence, is essentially the same vehicle-from wheel base to length of yoke-as known throughout the whole area of Indo-European colonization, from Mycenaean Greece to Celtic Britain-even to China, where chariot burials appear concimitant with the first historical dynasty [Shang] and cities.
The subject of the Rig Veda is the glorious deeds of city-wrecking, cattle-thieving heroes of the Punjab, personalized in a number of Aryan deities whose greatest is Indra:
With all-outstripping chariot-wheel, O Indra, though far-famed, hast overthrown the twice ten kings of men With sixty thousand nine and ninety followers. Thou goest on from fight to fight intrepidly,destroying citadel after citadel with strength.
Strong-armed, drunken, beer drinking, beef eating battle leader, Indra hurls thunderbolts in his divine moments, otherwise fights with bow and arrow from a chariot. “He sweeps away, like birds, the foe`s possessions.”
Warriors appeal to him in their “resolve to win a cow, to win a steed.” Indra is the apotheosis of the Indo-European warrior chieftain; it is “He under whose supreme control are horses, all chariots, and the villages, and cattle.” Above all, he is a “city destroyer.”
The phrase “city destroyer” reverberates throughout Indo-European literature, Professor F.J. Tritsch recently has commented on its factual basis among the ancient Greeks:
Small groups of people consisting mainly of chieftains with their bands of followers appear at various places….Almost in every case we find small bands of chiefs and adventurers going forth in the Aegean region to carve out for themselves a new home, or little principalities, or lives of romance….They had among them a special title of honour; ptoliporthos, “Sacker of Cities”….The greatest thing was to be a sacker of cities….In the Homeric epics not only the great heroes like Achilles bear this title….One does not sack a city in order to increase one`s power or political influence, or to capture its trade and commerce. The real purpose is to capture booty, silver, gold and bronze, horses and cattle or sheep, but especially: women! Again and again the phrase occurs in the epics of the fight for “the city and the women.”
The warriors who did these things, or boasted of doing them, are the main subject of epic poetry.
The Vedic hymns, like the poetry of the Homeric minstrels and Celtic bards, were composed by a class of artists for the praise of their heroic patrons, who stood at the head of a chiefdom stratified in three layers. The Sanskrit words for these are Kshatriya, Brahmin, and Vaishva in which the praise poets, shaman/priests in another role, occupy the middle stratum. All three layers correspond with the equites, druides, and plebs described by Caesar for the Celts of Gaul, and which have their exact parallel in the Gaelic society of old Ireland. They are the warriors, priests, and husbandmen which make up the social order of Indo-European chiefdoms everywhere. To summarize:
Gaul – India – Ireland
Warriors – Kshatriya – equites ri
Priests – Brahmin – druides fili [or drui]
Husbandmen – Vaishva – plebs aire
Exceptional craftsmen rank with priests and poets; ordinary artisans are joined with husbandmen and other lower class freemen. Warriors constitute a self-equipped nobility from whose upper ranks a chief or king is elected by the sovereign assembly of the tribe, the totality of fighting men, the teuta. Derived from this Indo-European root word is the tribal name of the Teutones and the Irish tuath. Rarely mentioned in heroic poetry are the bondsmen and drudges named Sudra in Sanskrit.
Ireland and India are the two extreme reaches of Indo-European colonization in which literacy was delayed the longest, hence the longest viability of oral literature in these parts. St. Patrick brought Roman writing with the conversion and by the eleventh century native monks patriotically recorded the Irish counterpart of the Rig Veda known as the Ulster cycle. Paper was introduced to India by the Moslems in the thirteenth century and the Rig Veda was recorded in the late eighteenth by British scholars from Brahminic sources for whom the exact reproduction of every syllable and accent was a sacred duty. This is nothing unusual if we accept, on Caesar`s word, the twenty years taken by the British Druids to memorize a body of oral literature.
That the Druids were heir to the same tradition as the Brahmins is further examplified by the heptasyllabic line in Irish verse, which is derived from the same metrical standards of the oldest known form of Indo-European verse in the Rig Veda, a heritage shared by the Greek meters of Homer as well.
Indeed, the Rig Veda, the Ulster cycle, and Homer may all spring from a common literary work. Or so Robert Graves believes. [In the quotation below, he translates the title of the main epic in the Ulster cycle , the Tain Bo Cualnge, as “The War of the Bulls”.]
Sometimes the similarity of Greek and Irish myths tempts us to reconstruct a lost [Proto-]Indo-European original. Thus the Irish War of the Bulls describes the hero Cuchulain`s divine chariot team, named “The Grey of Macha” and “Black Sanglain”, which correspond to Achilles` horses Xanthus and Balius and, like them, shed tears of grief. Cuchulain and Achilles both have a charmed spear, each mourns for the death of a blood-brother and fights desperately at a ford; but Cuchulain kills his blood-brother, who has been enrolled by fate among the enemy. The War of the Bulls being far earlier in sentiment and style than the Iliad [though consigned to writing a thousand years later], their common Indo-European original may have been the Mahabharata, before it was heavily and clumsily rewritten, where Karna, son of the Sun-god, possessed a similar weapon and fought his own brother. I make this suggestion because, on the battlefield, Cuchulain and Achilles share the unusual characteristic of shining with a “hero light” compared to the Sun; and because Cuchulain is held to be a reincarnation of the Sun-god Lugh. When the River-god Xanthus attacks Achilles at the ford, Hephaestus, God of the Forge, rescues him by scorching the riverbanks and making the waters boil, since the Greek Sun Titan Hyperion never intervened in human affairs, and since Hephaestus` use of coals from his furnace has an artificial ring, we may presume an earlier version of the legend in which the Sun-god comes to the hero`s rescue.
The Rig Veda was composed during the entrance phase of the Aryan invaders, whose verses about city sacking once were thought to accord with the time of actual destruction in the archaeological record. In time, the Aryans were absorbed by the civilization under attack, to contribute their epic poetry to the evolving tradition of Indian high culture. Sanskrit poetry has something important to say about the Indo-European background of the Wessex warriors, who built Stonehenge III at about the same time the Rig Veda was composed. Both the Vedic and the Wessex warriors belong to the same heroic age of aristocratic chiefdoms.