Exodus from India We have no evidence of the beginnings of ancient Romany history. Based on the comparison of Romany with other New Indian languages, we may roughly locate their exodus to some centuries prior to the year AD 1000. Historians have looked for evidence of large migration waves in Persian and Arabic historiography. Several hypotheses of who the ancestors of Romanies may have been have been created (e.g., that it may have been the Jats or the Rajputs), but none seem convincing. Scholars seem to have the least objection to the hypothesis of some Dom castes leaving India whilst preserving the ethnic name Dom. The influence of a different language environment may have changed the sound 'd' into 'l' or 'r'.
What caused the exodus in the first place also remains a mystery. There is some evidence to the effect that it may have been caused by an unfavourable social and economic situation brought about by a natural disaster, or by the invasion of a foreign (possibly Arabic) army. However, it is quite certain that the exodus took place in several waves.
Migration: the process of sedentarization
The first reliable source of information about the Romanies' migration comes from the Byzantine Empire. In 1068 a monk at Athos monastery mentions a group of the so-called Adsincani who came to Constantinople in 1050. In later documents they are often called Athinganoi or Aiguptoi, and they are referred to as acrobats, sorcerers, snake-charmers, bear-leaders, musicians, sieve-makers, cauldron-makers, etc. These means of livelihood were invariably connected with an itinerant way of life.
Historians assume that by 1300 at least some groups must have settled. A reliable source mentions a village of blacksmiths in Modon on the western coast of the Peloponnese. The description of the way these blacksmiths worked (sat down on the ground using open fire) is identical to what we know about the work of Indian blacksmiths today.
We get more information about the migrants from fourteenth-century documents, as they were moving towards the Balkans and, in the fifteenth-century, to Central Europe. The first reference to Gypsies in the British Isles comes in the sixteenth century.
In Western Europe, Romany craftsmen and musicians started to settle down at the beginning of the modern age, mainly at noblemen's manors and monastery farms.
In the Balkans, Romanies became a part of the local economic and warfare systems of the Ottoman Empire. They mostly lived itinerantly. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they started settling down as farmer's hands; later they formed farming settlements in the country and typical mahali-style quarters in towns and cities.
In Moldavia, Valachia, and Transylvania (Romania), Romanies were enslaved and therefore forced to accept a sedentary way of life. Some slaveholders allowed their slaves some freedom to move within the boundaries of particular territories. Slaveholding in Romania was abolished as late as the mid-nineteenth century. This was followed by a large wave of migration of Romanies to Western Europe and to North and South America.
Anti-Romany laws and the Romany
Holocaust Historical documents bear evidence of strong suspicion and animosity which the Romanies' appearance and way of life induced in the majority of European inhabitants. This negative attitude was repeatedly voiced in accusations of serving the Turks as spies. Orders to pursue Turkish spies spread quickly. Many Romanies were found guilty and executed. Another way of persecuting the Romanies was to make them the object of Catholic witch-hunts.
Eighteenth-century persecution took on a different form, which did not involve direct killing. The rulers of the Hapsburg Empire introduced radical assimilation which was aimed at the complete destruction of specific Romany practices.
At the end of the eighteenth century, whole families of British Romanichels were deported to Australia. More migration took place during the following century.
The foundation of national states towards the end of nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries was marked by a sharp decrease in interest in the Romanies' destiny. In France, Bavaria, and Czechoslovakia, however, they were effectively segregated by specifically allocated Gypsy ID cards.
In 1930s Germany Romanies were made the objects of pseudo-scientific racial research alongside Jews Any possible genetic interference with the pure Nordic race was found undesirable. One of the suggested solutions was deportation to a designated area and subsequent sterilization. In 1935 Gypsies were regarded as second-class citizens, and in 1939 they were forced to settle down; a register was set up. On Himmler's oders, thousands of Romanies were deported to the occupied territories of Poland, and later, from 1942, to Auschwitz concentration camp.
The Nazis had a direct influence on the destiny of Romanies in territories annexed to Germany, defeated territories, and other territories under Nazi rule. During World War II, Romanies were subjected to massive deportations and annihilation. In countries ruled by fascist forces but retaining a certain degree of independence, Romanies were ostracized from society or directly deported to uninhabited areas. They were also used as a labour force, or became direct victims of torture and massacre. Whole Romany sub-groups were literally erased from the Earth (e.g., of the so-called Czech Romanies only several hundred survived). Sober estimates speak of 500,000 victims of the Romany Holocaust.
After the war had ended, the surviving Romanies underwent a period of spontaneous migration back to the countries from which they had once been deported.
The process of post-war reconstruction was slow and tedious throughout all the countries of Europe. Discriminatory laws were gradually abolished, and itinerary groups of Roma were once again free to go back to their traditional way of life. However, some economic bonds with society were impaired for ever. Traditional means of livelihood, such as traditional crafts, were no longer needed and were substituted with various other kinds of trade. Fewer Romanies were able to perform their traditional craftsmanship, and more became seasonal work-hands and unqualified workers. Collecting of scrap and waste materials started to become an additional source of income. Social benefits became one of the crucial sources of income in Romany families.
Political imbalance in the countries of post-war Europe forced many Romanies to migrate to Western Europe, America, and Australia.
State policies towards Romanies differed a great deal in post-war European countries. Roughly speaking, policies were divided between the Western and the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain.
In Eastern Europe, the itinerary way of life was forcefully suppressed in 1950s. Each country, with the exception of the former Yugoslavia, introduced radical measures to stop Romanies from travelling. Confiscation of carriages and horses was one of the typical steps taken by local authorities. In the majority of countries, again with the exception of Yugoslavia, Romanies were denied the status of nationhood. Language and cultural differences started to be systematically wiped out. This radical form of assimilation resulted in the general sense of uprootedness which is so typical of present generations of Romanies. One the one hand, the officially non-existent minority was supported by state social policy (social benefits, housing); on the other hand, its human rights were constantly being violated (eviction from houses, forced settlement of itinerary families, sterilization of women after childbirth).
In the countries of the Western world, with the exception of Spain, Romanies were allowed to travel freely. The traditional way of life was to be secured by the existence of camper-van sites. Problems arose when local authorities were unwilling to provide such sites. Camper-van sites were often largely unpopular with the locals; therefore their number in some areas remains extremely low.
Systematic education of Romany children, in order to improve their subsequent position in the job market, remains an ongoing problem.