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Religious Tolerance logo

The Roma:

Their history, names,
& ancient persecution

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Roma are also known as Gypsies, Rom, Rroma, Romani, etc.

History of the Roma:

The Roma people originally lived in north west India in what is now southeastern Pakistan. They migrated to Persia between 224 and 642 CE. They lived under Arab rule in the Middle East from 642 to 900 CE, and eventually arrived in Constantinople. 1 Some authorities believe that there may have been additional migrations at a later date.

By the 14th and 15th centuries CE, some had drifted into western Europe where they call themselves Sinti (a.k.a. Zigeuner in Germany, Gypsies in the UK, and Zingari in Italy). 2 Some emigrated from Europe to the US and Canada in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following World War II, and lately the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, there has been an additional westward migration.

Most Roma settle down in a single location. Only about 5% of European Roma are believed to be nomads.

There are three language groups within the Roma:

bulletthe Domari in the Middle East and Eastern Europe,
bulletthe Lomarvren in Central Europe,
bulletthe Romani of Western Europe.

Within these groups, the Roma are organized into 4 main and about 10 smaller tribes or nations.

Names of the Romani people:

Many names have been used to refer to the Romani people, including: Cigano, Gypsies, Gipsies, Rom, Roma, Romani, Tsigani, Tzigane, Zigeuner, and others. Most Roma identify themselves either by their tribal name or by one of the names beginning with the prefix "Rom". Frequently, a prefix with a double "R" is used, as in "Rrom". "...the Council of Europe has approved the use of "Rroma (Gypsies)" in its official documents (CLRAE Recommendation 11 - June 1995)" 3

Because of centuries of hatred, the name "Gypsy" has become a derogatory, pejorative and offensive name. The name was was invented by Europeans, who incorrectly believed that the Roma originated in Egypt.

Persecution of the Roma in past centuries:

They have suffered severe persecution throughout their history, particularly in Europe:

bulletRumors were spread in medieval times that the Roma were descended from a sexual encounter between a Roma woman and Satan.

Many Christians at the time believed that a conspiracy of blacksmiths, wizards and women had been organized to attack the Church. Since many Roma were blacksmiths, the conspiracy theory expanded to involve the Romani.

Another belief was that Roma forged the nails used in Christ's crucifixion. The Roma countered with the rumor that a Roma attempted to steal the nails so that Christ could not be crucified, but was only able to grab one.
bulletThe Christian genocide against Witches during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance was also directed against the Roma. The courts seized and imprisoned them in Witches' prisons, often without even bothering to record their names.
bulletThe Diet of Augsburg ruled that Christians could legally kill Roma. Meanwhile, the courts were closed to Roma who were injured by Christians.
bulletIn 1721, Emperor Karl VI of what is now Germany ordered total genocide of the Roma. "Gypsy Hunts" were organized to track down and exterminate them. 4
bulletRoma were rounded up and imprisoned in Spain during 1749. They were considered a danger to society. A pardon was granted in 1763, and the Roma were released in 1765. 5
bulletIn 1792, 45 Roma were tortured and executed for the murder of some Hungarians, who were in fact alive and who observed the executions.
bulletIt is believed that as much as half of the Roma in Europe were enslaved, from the 14th century until Romani slavery was abolished in the mid-19th century.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Donald Kenrick, "Gypsies: from the Ganges to the Thames. (Interface Collection, Volume 3)," University of Hertfordshire Press, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. "Sinti," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. "Sinti," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. Ian Hancoc, "Roma: Genocide of [sic] in the Holocaust". A brief excerpt appears in: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/5121/genocide.htm
  5. Antonio Gomez Alfaro, "The Great Gypsy Roundup. (Interface Collection, Volume 2)," See: http://www.herts.ac.uk/

Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUL
Latest update: 2009-AUG-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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