Where Do the Gypsies Originally Come From?

Brian T. asks: Where do the Gypsies originally come from?

gypsiesThey do not have a shared homeland or national identity. They are a people who are scattered across the globe and whose origins have always been shrouded in myth and mystery (among other reasons because they have kept no written records of their early history). Many saw them (and continue to do so in many cases) as dirty, thieving and undesirable, others as artistic, romantic and carefree. In France, they are referred to as gitanes, in Spain they are called gitanos, and in Germany, zigeuner.

There are an estimated 12 million Romani – better known as Gypsies – living worldwide. Most of them (8-10 million) live in Europe, making them the continent’s largest ethnic minority group. So where did they come from?

A recent genetic analysis of 13 European Gypsy groups confirmed that their ancestors, for reasons not perfectly clear, left India in a single emigration wave some 1,500 or so years ago. “There were already some linguistic studies that gave clues pointing to India and genetic studies too, though without being precise about the where or when,” explained David Comas, leader of the research group that made the discovery.

So, the legend that the Gypsies hailed from Egypt – which may be simply due to their dark coloring or from tall tales they themselves spread to gullible Europeans – was proven false. (Some purport this belief may have been the origin of the name “Gypsy,” from the Middle English “gypcian,” which was short for “Egipcien”)

The Gypsies, through their quick wits, penchant for giving themselves fake dukedoms, and/or claiming to be on bogus pilgrimages, managed to gain the protection of kings and popes as they made their way through Europe. After all, no good Christian was going to turn away a traveler with a (phony) title or a (ill-gotten) letter from the Holy Father. By the 1400s, the Gypsies were living throughout France, Germany, Italy and Hungary.

One can only imagine the impression the Gypsies must have made on the Europeans, who lived very sheltered, monotonous lives within their tiny villages. To encounter a band of dark-skinned traveling people with black eyes and hair, wearing strange clothes and speaking “gibberish” would have been almost akin to an alien visitation for medieval folks.

In the first documented account of the Gypsies- via a fourteenth century Irish monk, Symon Semeonis-  the good minister thought that they must be “the descendants of Cain.” All too quickly, that sort of sentiment would spread, as curiosity turned to contempt.

The Gypsies would set up camp just outside the towns, and, among other things, the men worked as horse traders and metal workers while the women told fortunes. The problem was that they also depended on the generosity of the local people. When they felt said generosity was insufficient, they would even the score by helping themselves. They gained an often justified reputation as pickpockets and thieves. Many Gypsies were arrested for theft, and some were executed for their crimes.

Spain became the first country to issue an edict against the Gypsies in 1490, prohibiting their dress, language and customs in an effort to forcibly assimilate them, but it only made them keep a lower profile. France and England enacted expulsion orders in the 1530s, and many countries in central Europe forced the Gypsies into slavery, leaving them no choice but to continue their nomadic existence.

In the 20th century, the Gypsies faced a much more sinister foe than medieval villagers in the form of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who decided that all Gypsies must be exterminated. They were accused of many crimes that the Jews were also blamed for, including such things as child abduction and cannibalism. During the war, besides being occasionally rounded up, they were also often simply killed on sight. When World War II was over, an estimated 500,000 to 1,500,000 Gypsies had perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Even after facing the horror of the Nazi death camps, the Gypsies continued to be marginalized in post-war Europe, and still have to deal with discrimination, exclusion and isolation to this day. European Gypsies are often forced to live in ramshackle settlements, and are denied adequate medical care and employment opportunities due to their ethnicity. Partially because of this, the average Gypsy lifespan is 10-15 years shorter than the overall European average.

Robert Kushen of the European Roma Rights Centre in Hungary explains how serious the discrimination against Gypsies in Europe really is: “They suffer from forced evictions – and have been targeted recently in both France and Italy, and it seems that in some places, like Romania and Bulgaria, the laws applying to free movement within the European Union don’t quite apply to them in the same way that they apply to other people.”

His group is reaching out to the European Union to bypass any governments that disregard EU rulings regarding the treatment of Gypsies, so that the policies protecting them can be enforced. The United Nations and other international organizations have also begun putting pressure on the offending nations to rescind their exclusionary policies and allow the Gypsies equal rights. The Gypsies themselves have formed the Roma National Congress to advocate for change and represent their interests.

So things may finally be looking up for one of the more unique cultures in world history. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to the word “Gypsy,” but when you ponder what other ethnic groups have been responsible for over the past few thousand years, “stones and glass houses” comes to mind.

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  • Joe hedges

    Thankyou for.”not match
    Gypsys have lived with discrimination for centuries,and it makes them more determined to carry on and not mix,or maybe we have and you just haven’t noticed,look at the list of famous people,a lot of gypsys,they don’t stand up and shout about it because that would be there downfall,at the hands of the so called good men ,you are right they will endure.

    • Angie Daniels

      They do mix and I’m proof of that, my Paternal Grandmother was a Romany Gypsy.

  • catalin

    “12 million ROMANI , also known as gypsies !?!???! are you kidding me ????????????”

  • Layne

    “To encounter a band of dark-skinned traveling people with black eyes and hair, wearing strange clothes and speaking “gibberish” would have been almost akin to an alien visitation for medieval folks.”
    Actually, I lived in India for 6 months and noticed that the majority had either green, grey, hazel or light brown eyes, which was stunning in contrast to their tan skin. This is not a result of race mixing seen in, let’s say South America or other countries, but rather common since Indians actually are classified as Caucasian amid the 3 categories of race (mongoloid, caucasoid, negroid). And likewise, “black hair” is common to European races …. especially Mediterranean Spain, France & Italy, where gypsies travelled through. It’s not as if they went to Scandinavia … which at that time (“1,500 years ago”) were already well aware of great Greek, Roman & Egyptian empires & dynasties. So the only thing “alien” about the gypsy “visitation” would’ve been their language & customs. But don’t get me wrong, I overall, enjoyed reading the article. Cheers!

    • B.P

      Im a gipsy and yes we do have out own language that people don’t understand if people no what language we speak then they would no were we are from…..

    • Winston

      Indians doesn’t have green, brown hazel color eyes, at least the ones living in the US

  • Kate

    I actually am A Italian Aussie born gypsie with a blue eyed blonde father and siblings. My mother is dark haired light skinned and brown eyed. We come in all varieties of hair colour and eyes. My family originated from Calabria in Italy’s south .

  • Toni

    “Gibberish”? It’s a language, loosely derived from sanscript and evolved to fit the surroundings. The language still keeps it’s basis regardless of what country you visit and encounter those speaking it. Regardsless, thus I guess maybe you could call it an “article” is full of rambling and pretty much racism. The only thing the author nearly got right was in regards to the genocide in the Holocaust. I really like how people still make assumptions about dark skinned people and their assumed thievery. This whole article had been stereoTyped.

    • Vasile

      Let’s not forget we are not descendants from money how many idiots may say, we are made by God hands that’s why we are so capable, we are descendants of Adam and Eva ,there are no gypsy people such thing doesn’t exist, we know from the Bible how God scattered the people, ,,read regarding Babel tower, till then all the people spoke one language, it is amazing how many languages the Almighty God knows, I speak one of them, there are no Gipsy, and who ever they are they are God’s people

      • John

        Interesting orthodox religion point of view you got there. I bet you are from Romania or Serbia.
        Personally I cannot stand and dont like the gypsies living in Europe for what the majority of them are and stand for ( begging, violence, pickpocketing, illiteracy and analfabetism). For being trated equally they have to be civilised…and that is a totally other story.

        So with all due respect, if you like them so much educate them!

        • Alfredo

          Dear Johnny Boy, I see you got nice view of life to… listen son you don’t understand the life they been through, they are one of the first nations that ever lived and still kept there traditions, and there nation is real not fake as American which is not nation(Irish, Brits, Italians).. but some group of people who through some hundreds of years formed something…
          You want to know about education I can tell you – there are many gypsy people who are educated and lot of them are even famous “Charlie Chaplin” “Elvis” and so on.
          The GREAT GYPSY nation is so different of each other that you cant imagine, there is also a white gypsies, not everyone is black with dark eyes.

    • Mel

      I agree. Evidenced by comparing the behavior of other “etnic groups” as if the “non-ethnic” people are assessed by different measures. It leaves me to wonder if the writer studied American history or the slaughter of first nation people, slavery, child labor etc…

    • Sarah Marie Ruth Horrocks

      Anti-Racism is ANTI-Race.
      Race is another word for Breed.
      Just as in dogs; each human breed exhibit breed related dominant genetic traits; both as physical/ behavioral characteristics, intelligence range and tendencies. As well as specific diseases and illness common in that breed. so two different breeds of human. on so genetic traits no different than dog breeds.

  • Kevin Williams

    I gypsy out of the Muhwaya was born in Louisiana live in San Diego Cali

    I always wanted to know more about are history but we’re we came from what are true country is or was, for what I know is that there different type of gypsies some have different languages then we do we call them Deh Temah does any one now how different gypsies speck different languages. Muchwaya and Cul-dah-dush speck differently but can still under stand one another.

    • miller

      Yes we do

  • nidhin

    According to a genetic study on autosomal data on Roma the source of Southasian Ancestry in Roma is North-West India. The two populations showing closest relatedness to Roma were Kashmiri Pandits and Sindhi. Kashmiri Pandits are Kashmiri Brahmins.[29] The classical and mtDNA genetic markers suggested the closest affinity of the Roma with Rajput and Sindhi populations from Rajasthan and the Punjab respectively

  • nidhin

    47.3% of Romani men carry Y chromosomes of haplogroup H-M82 which is rare outside the South Asia.[21] Mitochondrial haplogroup M, most common in Indian subjects and rare outside Southern Asia, accounts for nearly 30% of Romani people.[21] A more detailed study of Polish Roma shows this to be of the M5 lineage, which is specific to India.[22] Moreover, a form of the inherited disorder congenital myasthenia is found in Romani subjects. This form of the disorder, caused by the 1267delG mutation, is otherwise known only in subjects of Indian ancestry. This is considered to be the best evidence of the Indian ancestry of the Romanis.[23

  • LouiseR

    Has anyone noticed how the Native American (Indian) no longer lives in teepees, moving from place to place, riding horses, shooting bison with arrows and spears, etc.? Has anyone noticed that? Certainly, Native Peoples had to stop these activities over time because they no longer fit into the world that the world had become. Now Native Peoples can live on reservations if they wish, or they can insinuate themselves into the larger society if they wish. What they can’t do is to go back in time when the world was a different place, even if they wish. Sometimes it is just time to move forward and accept what is.

  • William

    whatever be the country of their origin, it is more interesting to note that despite being a disparate, itinerant group scattered over nationalities, the Gypsies have been able to maintain, for many centuries, some distinct basic common signature traits which gets them identified or labelled as a Community across cultural zones and geographical boundaries. In the global cultural cauldron of merging identities, melting mores and assimilating customs, Gypsies have remained an exception so far by steadfastly refusing to be overwhelmed and totally annihilated by the local cultural ethos. Why and how they have been able to manage this could form an interesting academic pursuit.

  • marvin

    Gypsies can live whatever way they choose to do so – so long as they do not affect me and my family. But since it is considered an honour among Gypsy people to thieve as much as they can from the gage, non-gypsies – they do affect me, my family, my neighbourhood! So I am at war with them. If people believe this is a racist comment – it is not, it is a fact! How many non-gypsy people can afford the expensive cars and very expensive caravans that Gypsies own? In consideration that the gypsies are illiterate and do not work at any steady occupation and that they have large families to support? Where do they get their money from? How do htey pay fro such lavish parties and weddings? Why are there no gypsy people around in the Winter? Why are they only present in the Spring and summer months? Because they have settled homes in their own country! How do I know this? Because these people have to travel with driver’s licences and passports – neither of which are available if one does not have a fixed abode! They are not a minority group, they have no religion to speak of, they do not read the same literature – simply because most of them cannot read, they speak the same language as the rest of us – and they CHOOSE to travel around for the easy money that they can obtain!

  • Jack Ketch

    What a terrible article. Apparently Gypsies never did anything wrong, their terrible reputation in every country they inhabit is purely the fault of Europeans, whose hostility to any other group must necessarily be irrational.

  • JWBJ

    My first encounter with a Gypsy was in the San Francisco neighbourhood of Bilbao in 1975. The little girl who’s mom had tripped and fell was a trained pickpocket that I was unaware of. I had picked her up to console her whilst attending to her mom. Before I know it my friend slapped the little girl not more than two years old. Angered, I kicked my paddy who has lived in Bilbao for about five years prior to my arrival. The little girl had stolen my wallet and trying to escape my grip and flee. I got my wallet back luckily and never trusted any Gypsy again. I have always wondered why these nomads are hated all over Europe and have no country to call home until reading this article. As an African sailor, had never encountered a people so dangerous as Gypies. Watched a documentary about their boss in Romania and how he lived the opulent lifestyle of a king by sending his people around the world to steal. They are just like the Irish Travelers but more organized.

  • christinanolanXD

    Egyptians didn’t even call themselves Egyptians. They called their land Kmt.