General Introduction

From India to Europe

Arrival in Europe

Earliest Accounts from South-Eastern Europe

Early Sources from Central Europe

Roma as Organised Groups of Pilgrims

Reasons for the Westward Migration

First Wave: Arrivals from 1417 to 1421

Letters of Safe Conduct

Further Arrivals until 1435

Distrust and Reproaches – Buying Out, Deportation and Expulsion

Ottoman Empire

Wallachia and Moldavia

Central Europe

Western Europe

Austro-Hungarian Empire

Russian Empire

The Great "Gypsy" Round-up in Spain

Second Migration

Austria and Hungary 1850 - 1938

Soviet Union Before World War II


Concentration Camps

The Nazi Period in Italy

Internment in France 1940 - 1946

The Nazi Period in the Baltic states

Deportations from Romania

Situation of Concentration Camps Survivors

State Policies under Communism

Institutionalisation and Emancipation

Third Migration

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compiled by the editors







The Roma had probably already been living in the Byzantine Empire, in the area of today’s Greece, before 1200. Thanks to a rising number of accounts about Roma by the settled population from 1400 onwards, their routes within Europe can today be traced quite precisely. In 1450, the Roma had travelled almost the whole of Europe. In Central Europe, the first deportations and expulsions were already taking place at that time. Soon this would lead to organised persecution.



Ill. 1 (based upon Tcherenkov/Laederich 2004, p. 83)


There are no relieable accounts of the Asian and early European history of the Roma, but only hints, the interpretation of which, to a large extent, is still a topic of scholarly discussion. Perhaps we will never know for sure why, how, or even when the Roma settled in Europe for the first time. In this regard, the period from 1200 to 1500 brings about important changes: from the 14th century onwards, at the latest, the contemporary evidence states without doubt that the people and groups mentioned were definitely Roma.


It is generally agreed that the Roma had already been living in the European parts of the Byzantine Empire before the 13th century. However, it remains unclear, when exactly the first Roma moved northwards from their settlements in Greece. Similarly, we do not know why and in what numbers they left the Byzantine Empire. Most probably, single groups had been moving north from the mid-14th century onwards. At first, the documents do not necessarily point to Roma, and could be read as evidence of other groups of people. From 1385 onwards, however, we have reliable evidence of the Roma in Wallachia, in today’s Romania. From that time on, the Roma are mentioned more and more frequently; these documents show how groups of Roma explored the European mainland. Already in 1435, the Roma were well-known in most European cities. [Ill. 1]

Knowledge of the newly arrived people did not increase in the same way as the number of accounts about them. There are mentions of letters of safe conduct by emperors, kings, and the pope, and about pilgrim legends, which were to assure a friendly reception in the late Middle Ages, strongly shaped by Christianity. Services like fortune telling and palmistry or dishonest skills like pickpocketing are also mentioned – the settled Europeans saw only what they were meant to see. Or what they wanted to see: Many of the earliest sources accuse the Roma of immorality and godlessness, or of espionage for the Turks, and, in general, paint a picture of a “treacherous” and “disloyal” people, however, without any evidence. The earliest European accounts thus shape a clear picture of the Roma; it is, however, a distorted picture, a caricature, which still shapes the non-Roma’s picture of the Roma until today.






lll. 2

It has been said that one of the first accounts of the Roma in Europe could be found in the Old Czech Dalimil‘s Chronicle. This chronicle, dated at about 1310, mentions “Tartar scouts”. As in several other cases, the connection of this account with Roma is not undisputed.

(This copy of the Dalimil‘s Chronicle is kept in the National Library in Vienna)

Ill. 3
Roma smith with helper, around 1600.
(from Gronemeyer / Rakelmann 1988, p. 122) (Detail)









From the mid-14th century onwards, South-Eastern European documents occasionally mention groups of people who had wrongly been thought to be Roma by earlier scholars. There is, for instance, a Serbian document in which King Stefan IV handed over tailors, smiths, saddle-makers, and some “C’ngari” to the monastery of Prizren in 1348. It has been said that the latter were “Gypsies”. It seems more conclusive, however, that simply another trade was mentioned: in medieval Serbian, “c’ngar” meant “shoemaker”. [Ill. 2]
Documents from the old Romanian Principalities Moldavia and Wallachia, which repeatedly mention gifts consisting of whole societies, are the first to definitely talk about the Roma. Dan I, Voivode of Wallachia, for instance, confirms some gifts to the Convent of the Virgin Mary, Tismana, in 1385, which also included 40 “salashe” (a term derived from Turkish, denoting families or tent communities) of “Atigani” (“Gypsies”). In neighbouring Moldavia Alexander the Good made over 31 “chelyadi” (a term derived from Slavic, equal in meaning to “salash”) of “Tigani” and 12 tents of “Tartars” to the monastery of Bistrita. Contrary to earlier documents, it is definitely the Roma who are being talked about. Consequently, it can be concluded that the Roma settled on the Balkans in the second part of the 14th century at the latest.
In the Danubian Principalities they were welcomed because of their skills. In order to permanently preserve the essential economic factor the Roma represented, authorities and the Church soon prevented them from travelling.

Over time, the Roma became the property of the state, the Church or big landowners and became slaves or bondsmen for centuries, until slavery was abolished in Romania in 1856.
The arrival of the Roma in the Kingdom of Hungary cannot be pinpointed to a precise date either. From 1370 onwards, the word “Cigan” in several variations appears as a surname, but this does not necessarily mean that those who used this name were Roma. Independent from the time of the first Roma’s arrival in Hungary, it has to be said that the Roma were received with a greater degree of tolerance in Hungary than in other countries. Their knowledge about metal processing and weapon making made them much sought-after, and they were protected by the king. Private use of their services had to be approved of by the king. For example, in 1476 the citizens of the town of Herrmannstadt had to ask Matthias Corvinus for permission before they were allowed to have the Roma work in the suburbs. [Ill. 3]




Ill. 4
“Die Zigeyner nicht inzuladen noch zu gedulten” (“Not to invite nor to tolerate the Gypsies”): This letter issued in 1529 by a federation of German cities, duchies and counties (“Schwäbischer Bund”) ordered that “Zigeyner” (“Gypsies”) be banned from its territories.
(from Gilsenbach 1994, p. 137)












A note in the “Hildesheimer Stadtrechnung” (book of expenses), dating from 1407, is commonly thought to be the oldest piece of evidence of the Roma’s appearance in Germany. It says that “am 20. September den Tataren ... für einen halben Stüber Wein gegeben wurde” (on the 20th of September, the Tartars were given some wine). Recent research has shown that the people mentioned in this note most probably were not Roma. However, the name “Tartars”, which had been used for the Roma at least from the 15th century onwards, is still used in Northern Germany and Scandinavia.
In 1414, the “Wochenausgabebücher” (book of weekly expenses) of the city of Basel mentions a “heathen” who, “by the grace of God”, had been given 10 shillings by the city. Also in this case it is not sure if this refers to a Rom, as at that time all foreigners were called “heathens”. In the years and decades that followed, however, the term “heathen” was without doubt used as synonym for “Gypsy” in the German-speaking area.
The “Gypsies” also appeared in Hesse in 1414. The entry about their arrival into the “Hessische Chronik” (Hesse chronicle) about their arrival had, however, been made only 200 years after the event, so the date may not be completely accurate. According to the “Meißner Chronik”, which had also been written at a later date, the “Zigani” had already been expelled from the margravate by 1416.






  Ill. 6
Roma pilgrims. Engraving by Jacques Callot, 1622.
(from Hancock 1987, p.15) (Detail)









From 1417 onwards, chroniclers of numerous European countries noted down the arrival of the Roma, who were called – depending on the chroniclers’ knowledge and on the information given by the new arrivals – “tartars”, “Egyptians”, “Egiptleut”, “heathens”, “Saracens” or – already – “Gypsies”.
In Central and Western European cities the Roma appeared in big groups, led by people with noble titles, and claimed a pilgrim status. According to contemporary descriptions, such “groups of pilgrims” comprised of 30, 100 and sometimes over 300 people, travelling on foot or on horseback. If they were denied access to the towns, they camped in the open country near the towns. Their leaders called themselves “dukes”, “counts” or “voivode”. They had jurisdiction over their retinue, wore better clothes than the rest of their group, and always travelled on horseback. [Ill. 6]
According to the chronicles, the leaders presented themselves officially to the cities’ governors on their arrival. Often, they could show letters of safe conduct or of recommendation by religious and secular rulers, which assured them safe conduct and protection against attacks. The allegedly religious motivation for their journey enabled them to be received in a friendly and hospitable way. In this respect, the obligation to supply pilgrims with food, lodging and money, an obligation which was taken very seriously by medieval society, suited them very well. Entries in various books of expenses show that this Christian duty was fulfilled everywhere, at least on the Roma’s first appearance.
In order to be credible pilgrims, the Roma performed stories of repentance which left a great impression. The Roma often justified their wanderings as a seven-year penitential pilgrimage which had been imposed on them because they had temporarily broken with Christianity. Later, two reasons were added: the refusal to take Joseph and Mary in, and the Israelites‘ flight from Egypt.
The idea to present themselves – to their advantage – as pilgrims when leaving Greece most probably derived from contact with those Christians who temporarily stayed in Epirus and on the Peloponnese on their journey to the Holy Land. Also “Little Egypt” which, in the sources from 1418 onwards, was considered the Roma’s country of origin, goes back to a “Gypsy” settlement “Gyppe” near Modon (Peloponnese). “Little Egypt” (an area on Peloponnese) had, for some time, been taken for the “real” Egypt – the Nile country – by the chroniclers. Connected to this mistake is the erroneous term used to describe the Roma, “Egyptians”, a term with many variations (“Gypsies”, “Gitans”, “Egypter”) that is still the most common term for Roma.
It is likely that at first only a limited number of Roma travelled Europe: entries on Roma in neighbouring cities and regions occur for short intervals of time, and the leaders’ names (Andreas, Michael) stay the same. The varying entries on their numbers lead to the assumption that only the group’s nucleus stayed together all the time. Smaller groups seem to have split from the rest and have taken different routes.









According to the Dominican monk, Hermann Korner, there were about 300 people, men and women, calling themselves “Secaner”, who were “terrible to look at” and “black like the tartars”. They were – said the monk – led by a duke and a count who had jurisdiction over them. Those “Secaner” had shown letters of safe conduct by princes, mainly from Sigismund, Holy Roman emperor, and had thus been treated “in a hospitable way”. The chronicler explains the fact that they settled outside of the city’s walls: many of them were thieves and would have run the risk of being arrested in the city. It seems that the letters of safe conduct were not sufficient to protect the Roma against reprisals in the Hansa towns in case of assumed or proven theft. Whether the authorities imposed stricter punishment or whether the population sought revenge is not clear. In any case, a part of this group moved on to Southern Germany in the first months of 1418. It is stated that the city of Frankfurt gave “those wretched people from Little Egypt” 4 pound and 4 shillings for bread and meat in June that year. The corresponding note is, by the way, the earliest mention of “Little Egypt” as the Roma’s home country.

Ill. 5 (excerpted and translated from Gilsenbach 1994, p. 49f.)










The Roma’s migration to Central and Western Europe coincides with the Turk’s invasion in South-Eastern Europe. In the course of the conquest of the Balkans the Turks destroyed cities, towns and monasteries. Whole areas were ravaged. It seems only logical that the Roma left the areas which were particularly affected by the war.
The majority of the Roma, however, remained in the areas which came under Turkish reign. One reason for this was that Roma were enslaved in the Danubian Principalities. Also the Roma’s situation probably had not gotten worse under Ottoman reign (compared to earlier rulers). Notwithstanding corresponding entries in source texts, a religious motivation for the migration is highly improbable, particularly because the Ottomans were far more tolerant towards those of different faith than, for instance, the Christian kingdoms in Europe. Most probably the Roma used the religious motivation, fleeing from the “infidels”, primarily as a means to make sure they were received in a friendly way by the Christian population.



Ill. 6
Roma pilgrims. Engraving by Jacques Callot, 1622.
(from Hancock 1987, p. 15) (Detail)













In 1417, a group of Roma travelled through Lueneburg, Hamburg, Luebeck, Wismar, Rostock, Stralsund, and Greifiswald. Dominican monk Hermann Cornerus reports about foreign, up to then completely unknown, travelling people who had come in great numbers from the east into Alamannia, and travelled on to the German coast. Thus, his “Chronicon” offers the first extensive report about the arrival of a large group of Roma. [Ill. 5]
At about the same time, the “Gypsies” appeared in Alsace. In the city chronicle of Strasbourg, only written in the 16th century, the year 1418 is reported as the year of the “Zeyginger” ’s arrival; they “had enough money and didn’t hurt a fly”. They had come – according to the chronicler – from “Epirus”, “called Little Egypt by common people”.
More reliable and precise information comes from Colmar. This city was visited by about 300 “heathens” in August 1418, followed by 100 more three days after the first group’s departure. Apart from already known observations, the Roma’s earrings, the particular costume worn by the women and the latter’s skill at palmistry were recorded for the first time.
For 1418, there are also notes on arrivals in Switzerland; then, the numbers of arrivals in France rose. On August 22, 1419, the “Saracens”, led by “Duke André of Little Egypt” appeared in Chatillon-en-Dombes. In January 1420, “Duke Andreas” and 100 companions arrived in Brussels. In March of the same year, their arrival is reported in Deventer (the Netherlands). It is possible that this group is the same as the one reported in France. However, we cannot be absolutely sure. In 1421, arrivals are reported in Bruges and Mons, the latter had even been visited twice. On October 8, 80 people, led by “Duke Andreas of Little Egypt”, arrived, and produced a letter of safe conduct issued by Emperor Sigismund. On October 20, a second group followed, whose leader was called Michael and who claimed to be the brother of the aforementioned Andreas. [Ill. 1]

From the letter of safe conduct by King Sigismund, issued on April 17, 1423, in Zips (Slovakia):
Ill. 7
Letter of safe conduct by King Friedrich III for Count Michel, April 15, 1442.
(from Gilsenbach 1994, p. 81)
“Our faithful Ladislaus, Gypsy Voivode, and those who depend on him, have most humbly asked Us to show them Our particular good-will. It pleases Us to hear their respectful request, and not to deny them the letter at hand. When the aforesaid Ladislaus and his people appear in any town of Our empire, we recommend showing them your faith towards Us. You will afford them protection of any kind, so that the Voivode Ladislaus and the gypsies, his subjects, can stay within your walls without encountering difficulties. Should other people be among them, or should any unpleasant incident occur, then it is Our wish and We order explicitly that only the Voivode Ladislaus excluding all of you has the right to punish or acquit.”
Ill. 8 (translated from Mayerhofer 1988, p. 13)













Sources often report that Roma leaders carried letters of safe conduct on their arrival. Such documents preceded the passports of today and were issued to one person (in this case the duke or voivode) and guaranteed a free, and moreover, a safe journey to the bearer and his entourage. The authenticity of these letters can be questioned. But even though such letters were duplicated and passed on from group to group, or – as was common in the Middle Ages – fake documents were circulating, there can be no doubt that the Roma also had genuine travel documents in their possession.
An undoubtedly genuine and repeatedly mentioned letter of safe conduct is the one issued by King Sigismund during the Council of Constance (1414 – 1418). In this document, the highest secular ruler of Christianity granted the Roma, who said about themselves that “their ancestors had broken with the faith in Little Egypt”, “escort and a free journey through his countries and cities”. Sebastian Münster, who saw a copy of this letter decades later, reports Lindau as the place of issue in his “Cosmographia universalis”, published in 1550, but does not mention a precise date.
Apart from royal letters of safe conduct, the Roma also had such letters from other secular dignitaries at their disposal. Guarantees from individual princes were advantageous, particularly in the areas outside of the Holy Roman Empire, where royal letters were not valid.
In view of Europe’s disunity and the ensuing obligation to ask for protection in many independent principalities and kingdoms the Roma were soon looking for a letter of recommendation which would be valid anywhere. Such a document could, at the time, be issued only by a representative of the second universal power – the pope. The first report of a papal letter of recommendation dates from 1422. Independent of its genuineness, many copies must have been made. The changing names of the addressee and inconsistencies as regards content make these allegedly papal documents appear very suspect. [Ill. 10]
A new document was carried by the first group of Roma who arrived in Regensburg in 1421. It was – probably a genuine – letter of safe conduct by King Sigismund, issued in Zips in 1423 to Voivode Ladislaus and his “Gypsies”. In this letter, Sigismund not only grants the aforementioned Ladislaus his personal protection, but he also confirms Ladislaus’ jurisdiction over his retinue. There is also further evidence that there was no connection between this group and the ones mentioned before. The name of the voivode, who is explicitly called a faithful follower of the king, usually appears in Hungary and Poland; there is no indication of the pilgrimage or the origin of the “Gypsies”; this leads to the assumption that they had already been in Hungary for some time. Probably they were part of a second wave of immigration which took place in a very different context. [Ills. 7, 8]







Ill. 10
One of the papal letters of safe conduct for Roma, this one allegedly issued by Pope Martin V in 1483.
(from Hancock 2002, p. 30)
  According to the “bourgeois” ‘ explanations, the vanguard of 12 was followed on August 29 by a big group of more than 100 men, women and children. The authorities denied them entry into the capital, but assigned them a place to camp near the chapel St. Denis, at that time situated north of the city. Apparently, the Roma aroused a lot of attention; the writer of the diary also mentions that curious people from all over Paris came to goggle at them. He complements an extensive description of their looks with an enumeration of all the accusations that had been made against the foreigners (fortune telling, theft, magic,...) – but he says that he cannot confirm them. When rumours of the Roma’s “anti- Christian” practices reached the bishop of Paris, he hastened to the Roma’s camp and excommunicated all those who had shown their hands to the fortune tellers. Excommunicating the Roma seemed unnecessary, as the bishop considered them – notwithstanding the papal letter of safe conduct – to be “heathens”. They were simply expelled from La Chapelle. The description of these events concludes with the note that the Roma moved on towards Pontoise on September 8, 1427.  
  Ill. 9  
  (excerpted and translated from Gilsenbach 1994, p. 68f.)  











One of the most extensive and vivid reports of these early times was provided by an anonymous citizen in Paris. In his “Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris” he describes how, on August 17, 1427, at first 12 “penitents” – “one duke, one count, 10 people, all on horseback” – arrived at the city gates of Paris, at that time occupied by the English, and presented a letter of safe conduct by Pope Martin V. They said that they had made a pilgrimage to Rome in order to confess their sins – they had broken with their faith and had thus been expelled from their home country. The pope’s penance had been to wander the world for seven years “without sleeping in a bed”. [Ill. 9]
Only 3 weeks after that, a “Count Thomas”, accompanied by approximately 40 people, coming from a “foreign and very faraway country”, appeared near Amiens. After a thorough examination of the papal letter of safe conduct the council decided to allow the foreigners into the city and to give them “8 livres parises” from the city’s coffers as alms. The date, the almost identical wording of the story told, and the letter by Martin V, which is mentioned once again, led to the assumption that this Count Thomas and the leader of the Roma near La Chapelle, who had not been described in detail, was one and the same person
In 1429, the Dutch city of Deventer, and other Dutch local authority districts lodged people from “Little Egypt”. The corresponding note in the books is interesting in so far as for the first time, the term “heathen” was used in the Netherlands. From that time on, this term has been the common denomination for Roma.
The visits in Thüringen stand out from the other arrivals on German ground. The Roma who arrived in Erfurt (in 1432) and in Meiningen (in 1435) do not seem to have any connection with the groups mentioned before. Possibly, they also belonged to the second wave of immigrants coming from Hungary.













Ill. 11

  The Visit of the Gypsies. Maker unknown, c.1490. Wool tapestry.
(from Fraser 1992, p. 101)











Declaring their journey a pilgrimage, as well as their letters of safe conduct, assured the Roma a friendly reception at their first appearance in Central and Western Europe. However, the “Gypsies” were considered suspect from the very beginning by the settled population, particularly by those in German-speaking countries. Very soon, their foreign appearance, such as the “black” skin and their “terrible” looks were associated with negative character traits and socially inappropriate behaviour. There are very few neutral descriptions, but numerous and repeatedly mentioned negative ones.
Already in the earliest sources the Roma were presented as wild people, lacking manners and being godless. Smaller offences against property and deceits were at the root of the Roma’s bad reputation as “cunning thieves”. Fortune telling, which had apparently been a cover-up for pickpockets, aroused the displeasure of the religious authorities. Church representatives assumed “witchcraft and wizardry” behind the Roma’s tricks and feared for the spiritual salvation of their faithful.
Whereas theft and fortune telling was often recorded in the sources and was immediately stylised as ethnic characteristic, there is no evidence that the Roma had worked as spies for the Turks, as was often claimed. Even though not a single Rom could be convicted of espionage, the picture of the Roma as a “treacherous and unfaithful” people came into existence and continued to exist over centuries.
Even on their first arrival, the Roma were only tolerated by the settled population for a short period of time. After a short period in which the strangers had been received in a (more or less) hospitable way, the settled population tried to keep them from the cities. The much-cited alms “to honour God” changed into a sort of “buying out” of the pilgrim’s irksome presence. The first such case was in Bamberg. The city’s chronicle reported that, in 1463, the “Gypsies” were given a present of 7 pounds, “darum, dass sie von stund an hin wegschieden und die gemein unbeschädigt liessen” (so that they would leave the city within an hour and not bring harm to the city).
When the “Gypsies” returned – notwithstanding entry bans, notwithstanding threatened and later also executed excommunications, notwithstanding deportation and being “bought out” – the first forcible expulsions took place. Because of a growing distrust and the population’s increasingly hostile stance towards the foreigners, the local authorities and the state took drastic steps. Elector Albrecht Achilles of Brandenburg’s 1482 edict, which forbade the “Gypsies” to stay in his territory, and the declaration during the “Reichstag” (Parliament session) in Lindau, 1497, which made the “Gypsies” outlaws, were the first steps towards “Gypsy prosecution” on a large scale. [Ill. 4]





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