People Without a Country: The Gypsies

In 1332, a Franciscan monk from Ireland visited the island of Crete. While there, he wrote this description of what he called “the descendants of Cain,” whom he met outside the town of Heraklion:


“They rarely, or ever remain in one place more than thirty days; but ever, as though bearing God’s curse with them, after the thirtieth day, go like vagabonds and fugitives from one locality to another, in the manner of the Arabs, with small, oblong, black, low tents, and run from cavern to cavern, because the place where they establish themselves becomes in that space of time so full of vermin and filth that it is no longer habitable.”

This was the first written account in Western Europe of the people who would come to be known as Gypsies, or Romani. Over the next four centuries, these people, who began their journey in northern India a thousand years prior, would cross every kingdom and principality in Europe. By the 18th century, they had traveled to America, and today they live all over the world.

Some Romani still live in the traditional manner–migrating from place to place, always staying outside of cities–while others have joined the larger society around them. In every place they’ve ever lived, the Romani have taken up local languages and religions, married into the local population, and somehow retained their distinct identity.

This has been both a blessing and a curse, as the Gypsies’ place in society has oscillated from “tolerated” to “actively persecuted.” Nevertheless, it seems 16 centuries of history are difficult to completely erase, and the ancient lifestyle survives to this day:

Gypsies Four Girls
Gypsies Red Dress
Gypsies Roast Pig
Gypsies Square Wagon
People Without a Country: The Gypsies
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Enjoy this? For more of the "People without a Country" series, check out our stories on the Sawhrawi people.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
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