1. Primary Migrations.
Nowadays Indo-European languages are spoken on all five continents of the Earth. Billions of people speak tongues which derived from the Proto-Indo-European language. Such spreading is the result of many centuries of migrations of Indo-European nations. Some historians even claim that Indo-Europeans are a race of migrants, they have got a gene of constant changes of places.
It is hard to say whether such a point of view is correct or not, but really the Indo-European language speakers already in ancient times spread through all Europe and much of Asia. This began, as we can guess, in the 4th millennium BC, and since then Indo-European languages quickly extended their area to Europe, Middle and Near East, India, Central Asia and even what is now Western China, where Tocharians lived. Recent excavations in the Himalayas also gave some probability of Indo-European presence there about 2 thousand years ago. Obviously, we do not know all ancient languages of the family, and new discoveries will follow, but even now it is clear that there must have been certain reasons for such a wide spreading of the family.
There is a theory saying that the main reason for that was the vast steppe territories of East Europe and Asia, which let people migrate through thousands of kilometers. Indo-Europeans, when being nomadic tribes involved in cattle breeding, lived on constant moving to and fro on the Eurasian continent, so it appeared that the sphere of their expansion is now so wide. Small number of population in that time Central Asia and East Europe made these journeys even easier. But here we should pay attention to the fact that Central and Western Europe had no steppes, just forests, and was densely populated before Indo-Europeans came - and still they arrived here, overwhelmed the resistance of aborigines and settled here. The same can be said about such regions as Asia Minor, Iran or India, not so profitable for cattle breeding, but still preferable for ancient Indo-Europeans.
Different dates are given as the beginning of Indo-European migrations, but as a whole the majority of scientists agree that this start was made not later than the 3th millennium BC. The first wave of migrations, according to the traditional point of view of Indo-European history, was the Anatolian branch of languages. Wherever was the real homeland of Proto-Indo-Europeans, in Europe or in Asia, Anatolians left it and in the early second millennium BC appeared in East Asia Minor. The fact that they came there from the east is practically doubtless: there is much evidence from archaeology, geography and linguistics confirming that Anatolians moved slowly to the west during all the period from 2000 to 500 BC; the earliest documents written in Hittite show great influence of Sumerian, Hurrian, Urartian languages - all spoken in Northern Mesopotamia and in East Asia Minor at that time; but no traces of the so-called Mediterranean languages are found in Hittite.
Still, the question of Anatolian migrations is somehow arguable. Linguists discovered several obvious examples of Anatolian substratum lexics in Greece and on the Aegean Islands, and recently the famous pre-Hellenic suffixes -nt- and -nth- (seen in the Greek place names like Korinthos, Tyrinthos, Olinphos, were explained as Anatolian, moreover, Luwian. The same goes with the element -ss- in another group of pre-Greek substratum, words like kyparissos etc.: the name Parnassos is considered now as a derivative from the Anatolian for "a house" (Luwian parna).
Another evidence is the Herodotus's words about Carians, an Anatolian people who first lived on the island of Crete and later crosses the sea and settled in Asia Minor. Such a fact together with linguistic proofs above make us think of a completely new theory of Indo-European migrations: Anatolians came to Asia from Europe!
However, this idea is not supported by many prominent Indo-Europeanists. Even the Hittite fairy tales and legends point the east as the homeland of their nation; the world 'east' they associate with the meaning 'back' - doesn't this prove that they were constantly moving FROM the east to the west?
Anyway, we can say for sure at least that in about 2000 BC Anatolian
speakers appear in Asia Minor and settle on the lands of ancient countries
Hatti and Pala, from which they acquire they names: Hittite and Palaic.
The map shows the region inhabited by Anatolian tribes in the middle of
the second millennium BC.
2. Secondary Migrations.
But where were the rest of the Indo-European family while Anatolians were settling down in Asia? The late 3rd millennium BC was the starting point for Indo-Europeans to spread all over the continent. It seems that at first Indo-Europeans just divided their dialects, but different dialectal groups did not move apart from each other but started migrating together. It is probable that the way lied north - from Asia via the Caucasus or Central Asia to Eastern Europe.
However, the Greek-Armenian branch, according to recent thorough research, were not ever present in Eastern Europe. No Armenian traces was discovered in the Black Sea region, not in Eastern Europe; so it is likely that they stayed in Asia and just moved around, settling south to the Caucasus afterwards. The problem is the Greek group of people - and two versions exist about how they actually reached Greece. If we believe that the Indo-European homeland was situated in Europe, then it is obvious that Greeks penetrated to the Balkan peninsula and later to Greece, from where they gradually colonized the Aegean islands. It is well known that Doric Greeks, the latest Hellenic wave that reached Greece, came from the north, from the Balkans.
The other theory tries to prove that Greek crossed Asia Minor, the Aegean Sea and reached Greece from the east. This means that they must have gone through the territory, already inhabited by Anatolians, via all Asia Minor, and then to continental Greece. The Hittite sources, speaking about the country named Ahhijawa in West Asia Minor, could mean Achaean Greeks therefore. Together with Greek tribes here came Phrygians, relatives of Armenians, and maybe Thracian people.
The majority of Indo-European nomads avoided the Caucasus mountains (there is little probability of Indo-European presence here) and went to Central Asia. On their way, as we may guess, the Indo-Iranian branch told the rest good-bye and went eastwards to settle. There are some grounds which make linguists think that Iranians were first to move apart, and Indo-Aryans went further, from Iran to Central Asia, and there separated from the common Indo-European wave and turned south-east, directly to India. The analysis of Vedic texts and major Indic myths and legends shows that Aryans were well acquainted with the moderate climate, with trees, plants and animals which lived far north from India.
Indic migrations deserve a special observation. The fact is that Aryan language traces are found by researchers also beyond India. The so called Mitanni Aryan was the language used by a part of the population of the Mitanni Empire (North Mesopotamia and North-West Iran) and was used in several documents found not so long ago. This language differs slightly from Vedic or Sanskrit, but is still quite Indic in morphology and phonetics. This can mean for sure that a group of Indo-Aryans either stayed here while the rest of the group went further east, or settled here as a result of some unknown migrations.
Even more surprising was to find Indo-Aryan material in the region north to the Black Sea, in the Indo-European "secondary homeland", as it is called sometimes. Analyzing the toponymic and hydronymic data in today's Southern Ukraine, Russian linguists supposed that some of river names and place names there derive from ancient Aryan origin. One of the most well known is the name kankutos, a district along the Lower Dnepr river. However, we can only guess how Aryans managed to appear here in the Ukraine. Again some mysterious migration paths brought a small group of Indic-speakers to Europe. But it did not have any continuation, and they were assimilated by other nations.
In the late 3rd millennium, the nucleus of Indo-Europeans, containing future Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, Illyro-Venetic and Tocharian groups, emerge in this very "secondary homeland", in the fertile steppe region between the Volga and the Dnepr rivers. We can believe they spent here some two or three centuries before invading into Europe; it is here when these languages acquire special features characteristic for the "European" community, including the peculiar lexical data which does not exist in Anatolian, Greek or Armenian. Mutual linguistic contacts between languages here result in a large list of common stems and words we already mentioned in our previous research works.
The first to go away was the Tocharian group; but they were not going to Europe, but preferred Asia. In the late 2nd millennium BC (about 1200 BC) Tocharian speakers appear in Central Asia, where they had already been a thousand years before. On their way via the Volga region they met Finno-Ugric tribes, who contributed significantly to the Tocharic language system: all the set of consonants in Tocharic, the firm and soft consonant counter opposition and different types of consonant combinations are practically the same as in the Early Finno-Ugric language. Moreover, the case system in Tocharic becomes partly agglutinative and very similar to that in Finno-Ugric as well. We cannot ignore also other non-Indo-European influence in Tocharian.
In Central Asia Tocharians contact rather closely with East Iranian people; numerous lexical parallels show their ties took place in the 9th - the 7th centuries BC. Several centuries later Tocharian tribes move further eastwards and reach East Turkestan (modern Chinese province Sinjiang), the Tarim Basin in the 3rd century BC. Here Tocharic texts from both languages of the group were found, they date back to the 5th and the 8th centuries AD.
And those who stayed in the Ukrainian steppes, namely Celtic, Italic, Illyro-Venetic, Slavic, Baltic, and Germanic tribes, soon enter Europe. This is already another story.