European Gypsies

Figure 1.--The photo shows four Romanian children. This shows that many Gypsys lived settled lives. The photograph is undated, but was probably taken in early 20th century. The children's physical features show the Indian origin of their group. Romanians and other Europeans were unfamilar with India when Gypsey bands first arrived. Thus the connection was not made. The Gypsys themselves would have been unaware of their origins. Some Gypsy legends claim that they came from Egypt. Gypsy is a correuption of the word Egyptian. Other countries named the Gypsies based on a Byzantine Greek word for sorcery.

The various European Gypsie community all have the same origins. Gypsies are believed to have originated in the northern Asian Subcontinent--modern India. They began a migration to Europe and North Africa through Pakistan and India some 1,000 years ago. Muslim invasions seem to have been the propelling force. This began the nomadic life-style of European Gypsies. Future European Gypsies the proceeded into Anatolia and/ort Armenia. There is no known record of this migration, but the number of Armenian-origin words suggests that that they may have traveled through Armenia. We know that they were in the Byzantine Empire (11th century). They appear to have established themselves in the southern Balkan countries (Serbia, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Hungary and the surrounding area) (12th century). It seems that a combinatiin of Mongols and Tartars drove the Gypsies into the Balkans and theen north into Wallachia and than Hungary. Eastern Europe was in turmoil. Russian refugees fled west. Khubilai Khan died (1294). After this the Mongol Empire began a slow decline. This enbded the Mongol threat to Europe. And apparently enabled the Gypsies to expand more rapidly in Europe. They were noted in Dubrovnik (1362) which mean that they were found through the Balkans (early 15th century). Turkish pressure drive the Gypies to the north into Hungary. As a result, they came to be seen as an Eastern and Southern European ethnic group. This was the case because the Islamic socities of the Middle east and North Africa were not very tolerant of them and the more prosperous modern European society proved a powerful draw. As the Austrians reconquered these areas, the Gypies were able to spread into Austria and Germanyvand eventually Western Europe. Traditionally they spoke Romani, an Indo-Aryan language believed to have developed from Sanskrit. Greadually they began speaking the the nationallanguages where they lived.


Gypsies arrived in Greece during the Byzantine period We know that there were Gysies in Constantinople (mid-11th century). They presumably reached the rest of Greece and the southern Balkans (includng Albania) at about this time or shortly after. The Ottoman Turks expanded their empire from Anatolia to the Balkans (14th century). They crossed the Bosporus (1352) and destroyed a Serbian Army at the Balle of Kosovo Polje (1389). The Mongols detracted the Ottomans for a time. Tamerlane attacked Anatolia from the east (1402). He killed the Turkish Sultan, and set off a civil war. The Albanians were a relatively easy target for the Ottomans They were divided into small independent fiefdioms often at war with each other. The Ottomans gradually moved north conquering the Anbanians (1385-1449). Under Ottoman rule, the Kosovar and Albanian Gysies were commonly seen as Egyptians and called Hashkalija which in Turkish became the word for Gypsey. Some believe that the reference to Egyptian stemmed from Indians who had joined Alexander the Great's army as blacksmiths and camp followers. They somehow traveled to Egypt after his death, presumably attaching themselves to Ptomolley's army. This would make them the first group of Gypsey's toreach the West. Some Yugoslav historians believe that these Gypsies referred to as Egyptians came to Kosovo and Albania with an Arab army that laid siege to Dubrovnik long before the Ottoman era (9th century). Another term used for Gypsey was Maxhupi. Linguistic experts debate as to wehther this is a Turkish or Albanian term. These may represent different groups of gysies, but that is not yet clear. DNA studies may provide some insights. We have no infrmatioon the situation during World War I, indpendendence and Italian occupation. The Germans occuopied Albania during World War II (1943). There were few Jews in Albania. We are not sure to what extent the Germans y targeted the Gypseys which were another target of their geniocidal racial policies. Albania was seized by Communist guerillas at the end of World War II (1945). It became a reclusive Communist state during the Cold war. We are not entirely sure how Gypsies were treated by the Ciommunist regime, but as everyome was assigned a job they seemed to have faired fairly well, at least in relative terms. Essentially in Communist Alabania, everyone beyond the rling elite was poor, but the basic necesities were provided by the state. During the the Communist era, Gypsies were commonly divided into two groups, Roma and Hashkalija (Egyptian). Since the fall of Communism (1990), conditions have significantly deteriorated. One source describes the conditions for Gypsies declining from relative well being to extreme poverty. [DeSoto] Factors involve include poor education and low skill levels, discrimination, and the collapse of state-owned industrial and agricultural enterprises run without any consideration of profitability. Gypsies in Albania today face wide-spread unemployment, increasingly illiteracy , and deteriorating health, basic infrastructure, and housing situations. Since independenc, Gypsies in Albania have been divuded into three groups: Roma, Hashkalija, and Egyptian. We are not sure how the diiferences are drawn, but it appears to be internal differences within the Gyopsey comminity. The situation in neigboring Kosovo seem even worse with attacks on Gypsies by ethnic Albanians (Kosovars) reportedly very common.


Austria in the 19th century became a dual monarchy known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Gypsies were a part of the Austrian folk tradition. The gypsies are more associated with Hungary, but as part of the same country, they became an important part pf the Austrian folk tradition as well. The energetic gypsey folk tradition also influenced the music of Hungary and Austria. The gypsies were looked down on in Austria. We note post cards picturing children in gypsey dress, but have not noted parents have their children photographed in gypsey costumes. Even before the rise of Hitler, the public in Austria and police officials complained about gypsies. After the Anschluss, the NAZIs targeted Austrian gypsies for sterilization or extermination. Inspient anti-semitism in Germany was expanded and intensified by the NAZIs as a primary policy. In the case of the gypsies, persecution appears to have developed as result from local demands as well as an outgrowth of NAZI racial policies.


Byzantine Empire

Virtually nohing is known about the migration of Gypsy people from norther India to Europe. There is virtually no historical vidence until the Gypsies appear in Anatolia and most of that comes from Ottoman sources. Until the Ottoman ea (14th century) Almost all of what we know comes from linguistic studies. Linuistic expers hav found Persian and Armenian elements present in all the dialects of Romni dialects. This of course must mean that Gupsies passed through Persia and old Armenia before reaching Anatolia. There are many Romani words from medieval Greek in dialects used by European Gypsies. This must mean that they spent considerable time in Greek-speaking territories which must mean the Byzantine Empire. [Miklosich] One linuistic assessmnt tells us that Turkish lexical influence is a substantial if not defining part of the Romani Balkan dialect. Most of the words however, seem to be of pre-Ottoman Persian origin. There are many loan words from Persian, Armenian, and Byzantine Greek that constitute the pre-European Romani lexicon. Romanu constiutes, however a linguistic puzzel. The Balkan Romani lexicon come from so many sources that is virtually impossible to sort out origins with any percision. [Friedman] This suggests to us a longer residence in Persian and the Byzantine Empire than the Ottoman Empire, meaning that the Ottomans inherited most of their Gypsies from the Byzanyines. There are only fragmentary historical (written) mention of people who may be Gypsies from Byzabntine records. A hagiographical text, mentions that the Atsingani were called on by Constantine to help rid his forests of the wild animals which were killing off his livestock. [Unknown hagiographical author] One of the first historical references to Gypsies may be references to the 'Atsingani' and dates to a Byzantine era famine. Saint Athanasia gave food to foreigners called the Atsingani, near Thrace (800 AD). It is not clear if hey were Gypsy people. Some authors suggest that it may be references to the related Domari people. Another reference from Theophanes the Confessor indicates that the Emperor Nikephoros I had the help of the 'Atsingani' in surpressing a riot with their 'knowledge of magic' (803). The Atsingani were a Manichean sect fonded by Mani, a 3rd-century Persian prophet influenced by Gnosticism. The Atsingani disappeared from chronicles (11th century), but the term seems to have survived. Atsinganoi seems to have become a term used to refer to itinerant fortune tellers, ventriloquists and wizards who visited the Emperor Constantine IX (1054). [Sareen] We know that modern Turkey hs a substanbtial Gypsy population anfd that the Gysys that appeared in the Blkans came from the Ottoman Empire. What we do not know is if the Ottomans inherites most of their Gypsy population from the Byzantine Empire which seems likely or if Gypsys continued to enter Antolia during the Ottoman era.

Czech Republic


There are a small number of Gypsies in England, often referred to as Gipsies. They appeared in England later than in central Europe (16th centyry). The name shows that the English thought they came from Egypt. There is a similar group, but ethnically and culturally destinct known as the Travelers or Tinkerers.


The Romani people recognize divisions among themselves based in part on territorial, cultural and dialectal differences and self-designation. One of these are the Manush in the French-speaking areas of Western Europe. Tghe French have several terms: Manouches and Tsiganes. Romanichels and Gitans are alsonused, but pejorative. Bohémiens was once used, but is now considered outdated. Another term is Gens du Voyage (Travellers), but seems to mean Gypsy rather than a different group as in Ireland. The French police (National Gendarmerie) tends to use the term Minorités Ethniques Non-Sédentarisées (MENS--Travelling Ethnic Minorities). Perhaps French uniquely in Europe, municipal autjorities are required by law to provide Romani travellers land where they can set up a camp. An estimated 0.4 million Gypseys live in France as part of established communities. France's affluence has attracted Romni from other countris, mostly Eastern Europe (Bulgaria and Romania). Estimates vary as to the numbers involved. They are mostly found in illegal camps. French authorities have been known to conduct roundups and deportations which have been critizied by civil linertarians.


We do not yet have any information about Gypsies in Germany. We see what looks to be a gypsey influence on the photographic record. An example here is an unidentified Berlin boy. The Roma were strongly affected by World War II as many countries with important Roma populations were occupied by the NAZIs. Under the NAZIs. the Roma were prcecuted. Many were sent to the concentration camps. The NAZIs were unsure at first what to do with them, but then began grssing them like the Jews. It is calculated that a half million Gypsyes were killed during the World War II Holocaust. This included Gypsies in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslvia as well as other areas of NAZI occupied Europe..


Gypsies were especially important in Romania and Hungary. It is with the OIttomon drive into Europe that we note the first Gypsies in Hungary. Many camne from Wallachia (modern Romania). They are known as the Vlach (oláh) Gypsies. Their dialect seems the closest to various existing Indian languages. Hungary was a meduieval Christian kingdom, conquered by the Ottoman Empire (16th centuty). The Hungarian monarchy was extiunguished at the Battle of Mohács (1526). The Austrian Hapsburgs inherited the dynastic rights. Hungary for several centuries was associated in one way or another with Austria until the end of World War I (914-18). Hungary itself was a fairly small country, but developed one of Europe's the largest Gypsey coimmunities known as Czigany. The Gypsey arrived in Hungary at a time that the Feudal system still dominated society. The Gypseys did not neatlky fit into feudal socirty. Feudal society continued to dominate Hungary into the 19th century. Hungarian Gypsies lived in great poverty and were commonly found dressed in rags a function of the poverty in which they lived. They were, however, noted for their music and dance. They were particularly noted for the violin, probably becausde it was so portable. Hungarian Gypies were also known for horse trading. They also were known as tinkers and to a lesser extent smiths. The women also told fortunrs. There is no known records of the Gypswy population in Hingary until the 19th century. One estimate suggested there were about 140,000 gypsdies (1850). The accuracy of this estimate is unclear. A probably more accurate assemment reorted 280,000 gypsies (1893). After World War I, the Treaty of Trianon redrew the boundaries of southern Europe by dividing up the Austro Hungarian Empire. Many Hungarian Gypsies found themslves in Romania or the new state of Czechoslovakia. Despite this by the time of Wotld War II, Hungary reported a Gypsy population of about 200,000.


Italy has a relatively small Gypsy population, despite the fact that it is one of Europe's most populace countries. There are some 150,000 Gypseys in Italy, but more than half are recent arrivals, primarily from the former Yugoslavia. We are not sure wy so few Gypsies settled in Italy until recent years. We suspect it had something to do with the Papacy which in the medival era and until Italian unification (1860s) controlled Rome and much of central Italy. There were persecution of Gypsies in Italy for centuries. This reached a terrible level during the Fascist era. Even before World War II persecution increased. This was because of border provinces acquired from Austria as part of the World War I peace settlemnt (Venezia Giulia and Venezia Tridentina). Austria Hungary had a much larger Gypsy population than Italy. This meant that many Gypsies suddenly became Italian. There was a significant presence of Rom and Sinti communities in both provinces. The Fascists as a result identified these Gypsies as both ‘undesirable foreigners’ and ‘dangerous Italians’. This provided a dual rationale for placing them in police confinement and interning them when Italy entered World War II (June 1940). There are traditionally two main ethnic groups of Italian Gypsies: the "Sinti" and the "Rom". In northern Italy, the Sinti were the primary Gypsy group. In the last 30 years it has been progressively joined, and at times supplanted, by Roma coming from the region of the ex-Yugoslavia, and from other Eastern European countries. We note the Caminanti Siciliani (Sicilian Travelling people). This is a semi-nomadic group centred in Sicily. Although they consider themselves as an independent group, it seems that their origin come from the Roms, with a separate development. In Southern Italy there is also a group of Rom 'Abruzzesi', who arrived perhaps by sea from the Balkans. Their long residence in that area shows a pattern analogous to that of the Gitanos in Spain. the Zingari Abruzzesi, a Rom group. They are traditionally a travelling group, although in recent times some families became sedentary. Their travels throughout Italy have traditionally a special reference to the region Abruzzo from which come their name. Here we have an image dated 1970 showing two women and a girl. Women and girls wear more commonly traditional costumes. Bare feet was a common element especially among children and women. In the dialect of Abruzzo region 'to make the Gypsy' means 'to go barefoot'.

Ottoman Empire

Gypsies arrived in Europe from the Ottoman Empire which came into existance at about the same time that Gypsies began arriving in Europe. We know that the Gypsies reached Bzantine Empire before the foundation of he Ottoman Empire. This may have been the bulk of the Gypsy population, but we are not sure. The great bulk of the Gypsy moved into Europe through Anatolia. The Ottoman Empire was founded and gained control of much of Anatolia (14th century). This was the same time that Gypsy's began to appear in the Christian Balkans which would soon be occupied by the Ottomans. Turkey today has a substantial Gypsy population, comparable to that of Romania. The modern Turkish Gypsy population, however, is a small fraction of that of the Gypsy population, most of whom migrated through what is now modern Turkey into the Balkans. That leads to the assumption that Gypsy preferred Christian Europe to the Ottoman Empire. Of course the Ottomans at he time were in the process of conquering the Christian Balkans. Within the Ottoman Empire there were both Christian and Muslim Gypsies. Muslim Gyspes were only slightly favored by Ottoman authorities--slightly lower taxes. [Marushiakova, Popov, and Kenrick] The primary Ottoman concern with the Gupies was to discourage Muslim Gypsey contact with Chistian gysies. Ottoman authorities also sought to discorage the itinerate nature of Gypsy life, but with only limited sucess. They did not consider it a major problem. We are not entirely sure why Ottoman Gypsies migranted from Anatolia into the Balkans. Much of it may have taken place after the Ottoman conquest, but this we are not sure about. One source reports that many Gypsies arrived with the Ottoman armies that invaded the Balkans. We have not found a lot of details on this, they could have been soldiers, musicians, and/or artisans/craftsmen needed by an army. [Marushiakova, Popov, and Kenrick]


Romania has a substantial Gypsey or Roma population. The modern term for gypsey is Roma, a derivation showing the Romanian origins of many European gypsies. Gypsies were able to move within the Byzantine Empire and it is during this period that the first Gypsies reached the Balkans. Gypsies reached Wallachia (1385) and Moldavia (1370) even before the Ottoman Turks. The first Gypsies secured letters of protection from the King of Hungary. This provided legal status. Gradually the situation for Gypsies deteriorted. Cultural differences soon gave rise to disputes between gysies and local residents. Gypsies in Romania as in other countries gradually adopted Christianity as well as took on Romanian names, and learned Romanian. They have not lost the Romani language and use it when speaking among themselves. They also maintain their Roma music and customs in often tight-knit communities. As a result, a substantial Roma population did not integrate within Romanian society. The Rom arrived in Romania during the feudal era. As a result they became slaves or serfs to the landowners with few rights. An estimated 250,000 Roma were enslaved in the various regions which now make up Romania. They were required to work in Orthodox monasteries and for both landowners and local princes. The Roma were not emancipated until Romania began moving toward indeopendence (1851-56). Many Romanian Roma speak a version of Romanian called Bayesh. An estimated 40 percent Romanian Gypsies still speak Romany. Some still live in traditional carts which can still be seen on Romanian roads. Most Romanian Gypsies now live in urban areas, towns and villages. Some are The majority live in the towns and villages. Some are fully integrated into the life of the towns and villages. Some Gypsies have decorated their homes in destinctive ornate styles. Others live in shacks or decrepit houses on the perifery of the village. Romania currently has the largest Roma minority in Europe. We have seen varying estimates with numbers rngeing from 0.5-2.0 million. I'm unsure why there is such a substantial desperity.


As Tsarist Russia developed a multi-national empire, Russia also acquired a population of Gypsies. Russia like other European countries had a population of Gypsies or Roma as they preper to call themselves. This was the case in Tsarist Russia, especially as Russia expanded into Poland and toward the Balkans. Gypsies are strongly associated with Romania and Russia ecentually acquired Moldavia, a province also claimed by Romania. Even so, the Russian Gypsey population was fairly small, a small fraction of the Hungarian Gypsey population. The countries in which the Gypsies lived passed a range of measure designed to control or assimilate the Gypsies. Russian Gypsies were often drafted into the army and forbidden to speak Roma. Catherine the Great during the 18th century approved laws which made Gypsies slaves of the Crown. [Clébert, p. 74] One author describes the Gypsies of the era, "In their dress, they lavish all their finery upon their heads. Their costume in Russia is very different to that of the natives. The Russians hold them in great contempt; never speaking of them without abuse; and feel themselves contaminated by their touch, unless it be to have their fortunes told. Formerly they were more scattered over Russia, and paid no tribute; but now they are collected, and all belong to one nobleman, to whom they pay a certain tribute, and work among the number of his slaves" [Clark, p. 208.] Gypsies are a wandering people and as nation states became increasingly strong, Gysies tended to take on the customs and folklore of the countries where they lived. This was especially true as movement accross national borders became increasingly complicated. The Gupsies tended, however, to blend national culture and folklore with their own rich culture. I'm not sure what happened to Russian Gypsies during the Soviet era. Many lived in thewestern areas which became independent, especially Poland and areas acquired by Romania. The Gypsies are one of the few groups that Solzhenitsyn does not mention in . Most Russian Gypsies lived in the Eastern and Southern areas overan by the NAZIs in World War II and may perished in the Holocaust. We have few details at this time.


The popular word for Gypsey in Sebia is 'Ciganin'. It apparently has the commotation of 'unwanted foreigner'. It is close to the Hungarian name--Cigányok. Since Gypseys first appeared in numbers in Romania and Hungary, we suspect it was an imported word from Hungary which was based on an original Greek word appearing in the Byzantine Empire. Gypseys first appeared in Serbia before the Ottoman invasion (14th century). The first confirmed historical reference to the Gypsey people in Serbia is in a document in which Stefan Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia, Emperor of Serbs and Greeks, donated Gypsy slaves to the Monastery of Prizren located in Kosovo. The Gypseys settling in central Serbia are predominantly Serbian Orthodox. Many of those settling in Kosovo converted to Islam, especially in southern Kosovo. There is more evidence od Gyseys in Serbia (16th century). By this time Serbia was an Ottoman province. The Gypseys tended to live in the towns and cities, but there some in rural villages. They tended to live in separate areas which became known as 'cigan-mala'. They made a living by foraging as they rarely owned land. They also worked as occasional laborers and most famously as musicians. Large number of Gypseys settled in Serbia (17th and 18th centuries). This may have been the result of Austrian authorities taking actions against Gypseys. Austrian authorities issued several regultions about Gypseys (1761, 1767, and 1783). The often diorderly and unsettled Gypsey lifestyle appears to have offended the Austrians. During the Liberal Revolutions (1848/1849), the Gyseys as a result tended to support the Serbs. World War II was a terrible time for Gypseys and Serbia/Yugoslavia became a killing field. The Jewish minority was desroyed in the NAZI World War II Holocaust. Large numbers of Gypseys were also killed along with many Serbs, primarly by the Fascist Croatian Ustachi. There is still a Gypsey population in the country which appears to be increasing.


Gypsies in Slovakia were forced to make adjustments major adjustments as a result of political changes. At the beginning of the century, Slvakia was part of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire and ruled by Hungary. They were one of the pricipal minorities, but lived on the the social periphery and not integrated into the national culture. As a result of World war I, Slovakia became part of Czechoslovakia, a much smaller state. Czechoslovak policies toward the Gypies essentially continued the basic outline of Austro-Hungarian policies. Officials did not view the Gypies as legitimate minority community, but rather as an anti-social criminal element. The police began finger ptinting Gypsies (1925). Parliament passed a law about wandering Gypsies (1927). Gypies became targets of the NAZI Holocaust after Germany invaded and occupied Czechosolvakia (1939). The SS deported about 6,000-7,000 Czech Gypsies (Bohemia and Moravia) to Auschwitz. They were held in a special comound for ahile, but evebntually gassed. Slovakia suceeded from Czechoslovakia as the Germans invaded and became a NAZI client state. The Slovaks copied NAZI race laws. Officials set up labor camps for Gypsies. A range of regulations were implement to control and restrict Gypsey movement. They were prohibited from using public transport, entry to towns was limited, and settlements were denied access to roads. After the Wehrmact occupied Slovakia, mass killing actions were carried out (1944). The killing took place in Slovakia and the German tranport system was beginning to break down. Czechoslovakia was reconstituted after the War and became part of the Soviet Empire. Communist Czechoslovak policy was to force assimilation. The principal law was Law No. 74, "On the permanent settlement of nomadic and semi-nomadic people"(1958). This forcibly limited the movement of the smallmprtion of the Gypsey community (about 5-10 percent) who still largely nomadic. At the sajme time, the Communist Party passed a resolution designed to achieve "the final assimilation of the Gypsy population" which the Party described as a "socially-backward section of the population". Of particular concern was the large birth rate among Gypsey families. The Government offered financial incentives for Roma women to submit to sterilization. Authorities alsi cleared Gypsey settlements and relocated them to urban housing. The Government refused to recognize Gypseys as a cultural and ethnic group. Municipal authorities sureptitiously collected population data on Gypsey communities. Census takers did not allow individuals to describe themselves as Gypsies, but the Census officials marked the forms without the responent's knowledge.


Gypsies called Gitanos were also important in Spain. The word like the English word reveals the idea that the Gysies came from Egypt. We believe this idea came from Gypsey legends rather than any ideas from the Spanish people. Many other Western European countries adopted similar words. We are unsure about the origins of Spanh gypsies. Most Wesern European gysies came fom the Balkans coming from Anatolia (Ottoman and Byzabtine Empires) in a long movement from northern India. Some Romanies migrated from Persia through North Africa, reaching Europe from Spain (15th century). [Bankston, p. 446.] The two streams of migration met in France. The stream through North Afica and Spain was much smaller than through Anatolia and the Balkans.


The Swiss Department of Justice created a Register of Gypsies.


Bankston, Carl Leon. Racial and Ethnic Relations in America: Ethnic Entrepreneurship (Salem Press: 2000), 1148p.

Clark, Edward Daniel. Travels in various countries of Europe, Asia and Africa (London: 1800).

Clébert, Jean-Paul. The Gypsies (London: Vista Books. 1963).

De Soto, H., P. Gordon, I. Gedeshi, and Z. Sinoimeri. Poverty in Albania: A Qualitative Assessment (The World Bank: Washington, 2002).

Friedmam, Victor A. "On the Turkish lexical component in Romani dialets and their relationship in Romani language planning," Matt T. Salo, ed. 100 Years of Gypsy Studies Publication No. 5 (Gypsy Lore Society), pp. 137-43.

Marushiakova, Elena, Vesselin Popov, and Donald Kenrick. Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire: A Contribution to the History of the Balkans Centre de recherches tsiganes (Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001).

Miklosich, F. Über die Mundarten unde die Wanderungen der Zigeuner Europa’s Vol. III ( Wien: 1873).

Sareen, Jeetan. (2002–2003). "The Lost Tribes of India (Kuviyam Canada Inc: 2002-03).

Unkowm hagiographical author. "Life of St. George the Anchorite".


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