The conquest and settlement of northern India by Indo-Europeans began c. 1500 b.c.e. The event marked the end of the Indus civilization and altered the civilization of the subcontinent. In ancient times seminomadic peoples lived in the steppe lands of Eurasia between the Caspian and Black Seas.
They were light skinned and spoke languages that belong to the Indo-European or Indo-Aryan family. They were organized into patrilineal tribes, herded cattle, knew farming, tamed horses and harnessed them to chariots, and used bronze weapons.
For reasons that are not clear, the tribes split up and began massive movements westward, southward, and southeastward to new lands around 2000 b.c.e., conquering, ruling over, and in time assimilating with the local populations. Those who settled in Europe became the ancestors of the Greeks, Latins, Celts, and Teutons.
Others settled in Anatolia and became known as the Hittites. Another group settled in Iran (Iran is a cognate form of the English word Aryan). The most easterly group crossed the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush into the Indus River valley on the Indian subcontinent.
Many tribes who called themselves Aryas (anglicized to Aryans) moved into India over several centuries. While there are several theories on the decline and fall of the Indus civilization, there is no doubt that the Indus cities were destroyed or abandoned around 1500 b.c.e., at about the same time that the newcomers began to settle in the Indus region.
These newcomers lived in villages in houses that did not endure. Thus, there are few archaeological remains in India of the protohistoric age between 1500–500 b.c.e. Historians must therefore rely in part on the literary traditions of the early Aryans for knowledge on the era.
The earliest oral literature of the Aryans were hymns and poems composed by priests to celebrate their gods and heroes and used in religious rites and sacrifices. They were finally written down c. 600 b.c.e., when writing was created.
This great collection of poems is called the Rig-Veda, and it is written in Sanskrit, an Indo-European language. Although primarily focused on religion, there are references in the Rig-Veda to social matters and epic battles that the invaders fought and won. Some of the gods might also be deified heroes. The Rig-Veda and other later Vedas remain part of the living Hindu tradition of India.
The Aryans were initially confined to the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent but gradually spread across the north Indian plains to the Ganges River basin. By approximately 500 b.c.e. the entire northern part of the subcontinent had become part of the Aryan homeland, and Aryans dominated the earlier population.