Gypsies Expelled from Persia Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

With the death of the ՙAbbāsid Dynasty caliph al-Ma՚mūn, Baghdad’s rule over Persia began to crumble. Local dynasties less tolerant of outsiders gained control of the region and expelled the Gypsies, also known as the Roma, from Persia. The expulsion launched the nomadic spread of the Gypsies into Europe and initiated centuries of persecution.

Summary of Event

The precise origin of the Roma people, popularly if somewhat inaccurately known as the Gypsies, is still unclear. The current consensus is that they originated as a series of nomadic, warrior, and farming tribes, gathered in or around the Gujarat area of northwest India. By the sixth century, large numbers had found a second home in Persia. The events leading to their arrival in Persia are disputed and are known through a mixture of folklore and history. One version maintains that they first arrived as low-caste mercenary warriors, hired to protect Persia from the Arab threat to its west. Another dates their arrival from the ninth century, viewing their migration from India as an effort to escape India’s invasion by Mongols from the east. [kw]Gypsies Expelled from Persia (834) [kw]Persia, Gypsies Expelled from (834) Persia;expulsion of Gypsies Gypsies Iran;834: Gypsies Expelled from Persia[0890] Cultural and intellectual history;834: Gypsies Expelled from Persia[0890] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;834: Gypsies Expelled from Persia[0890] Ma՚mūn, al- Firdusi Rudolph IV Maḥmūd of Ghazna

The explanation favored by Roma themselves, and the one that contains a harbinger of their future, originates with Firdusi Firdusi , a tenth or eleventh century Iranian poet and historian. In his Shahnamah (c. 1010; the book of kings) Shahnamah (Firdusi) , Firdusi writes that in approximately 420, the Persian king Bahrām V Bahrām V (Persian king) (r. 420-438) asked the ruler of India to send twelve thousand Dom musicians to deflect his people’s attention from the drudgery of their daily lives. These Doms—one of the many names by which these people were then known—were rewarded for their musical entertainment with grain and land so that they could prosper. Music;Gypsy In this legend, however, the Dom were considered lazy; they ate the grain but shunned working the land. Ultimately, the king was forced to expel them to a life of ceaseless roaming and supporting themselves through smuggling and begging.

Legends aside, it is clear that life in Persia had a significant impact on the Roma, affecting their language (now classified in the Indian-Iranian group) and their subsequent tribal structure. It was during their sojourn in Persia that the Roma split into the three major tribal groups that still characterize their European social structure, the most important being the Gitanos Gitanos , a group whose name derived from the misconception that its members came from Egypt. The commonly used word “gypsy” comes from the term Gitano. The word “gypsy,” however, is considered derogatory by many and, in 1995, the Council of Europe approved the use of the term Roma as the official designation for Gypsies in its documents and usage.

In 651, the Arabs conquered Persia, installed Islam as the official faith of the state, and brought it under the rule of the ՙAbbāsid ՙAbbāsids[Abbasids] Dynasty (750-1258) centered in Baghdad. While Baghdad controlled Persia, the Roma were tolerated even as their numbers grew. The first recorded Roma state (the Zott state) survived along the Tigris River near the juncture of the border of what is now Iran and Iraq between 820-833.

With the death of Caliph al-Ma՚mūn Ma՚mūn, al- in 833, however, Gypsy fortunes sank. Al-Ma՚mūn was a great believer in law as a means of resolving conflict, but on his death, de facto power fell into the hands of Baghdad’s governors in Persia’s provinces. The governors quickly proved to be neither tolerant nor inclined toward legal solutions to social problems. The following year, Persia’s Roma communities were expelled from Persia. In the centuries that followed, expulsion—along with persecution—would become a way of life for the Roma.

The expulsion of the Roma from Persia marked the beginning of their long trek westward. Some traveled through Iraq and eventually into Syria, where large numbers were taken prisoner during the Byzantine Empire’s attack on Syria in 855; some migrated to Egypt and North Africa. The majority, though, traversed the famous Silk Road that was used by traders moving between Asia and Europe, arriving first in Constantinople, the gateway to Europe. From there they wandered into the Balkans (by the early thirteenth century), which still contains the largest concentration of Roma in the world, and then into southern, western, and northern Europe by the fifteenth century. Along the way, what began as linguistically and ethnically mixed groupings developed into a common ethnic background and form of language that links modern Europe’s Roma communities.

The bulk of India’s Roma tribes followed others from Persia, in the early eleventh century primarily. This was a time when India was invaded by Muslim Afghan, Turkish, and Persian warriors under the leadership of Maḥmūd of Ghazna Maḥmūd of Ghazna , who forced India’s Roma communities to relocate westward en masse. They relocated into the Middle East, marking the first great Gypsy migration, Migrations;Gypsies into the Middle East and Europe and then into Europe, in what historians consider to be the second great migration of Roma.

By the early 1300’, Roma people had begun to appear in eastern and central Europe in sizable numbers. It was an unfortunate moment for their arrival. The Crusades Crusades (1095-1270) had just concluded, and intolerance toward non-Christians was growing throughout Europe. Gypsies—described most often as very dark in complexion and with black hair—were perceived as clearly non-Christians and sometimes as hated Muslims. Thus, following a brief moment in which their metalworking skills earned them a place in local economies suffering from a depletion of workers brought on by the Crusades, Roma settling in eastern and central Europe were abused by local communities. Abuse quickly turned to widespread oppression when Rudolph IV Rudolph IV established during his reign Europe’s first recorded system of Roma slavery.


Rudolph IV’s system consigned to slavery approximately 20 percent of the Roma in his realm, most of them slaves to local landlords and monasteries. During the following centuries, until its elimination between 1856 and 1861, Roma slavery Slavery;Gypsies became nearly universal in parts of central Europe, affecting nearly half of Europe’s total Roma population. Sexual unions with Roma altered the appearance of their offspring, lightening their complexion and leaving Europe’s Roma population with an average genetic makeup that is 60 percent Caucasian-European. Unwilling and forced couplings also increased their numbers. Children born of Roma women were born into slavery. In turn, Roma girls with light skin were usually raised as house servants and, hence, were coupled with their “owners” for sexual unions.

Meanwhile, Roma who continued to migrate farther west, in part to evade slavery, encountered substantially the same pattern: arrival followed by persecution and often exile. In 1407, for example, Roma arrived in what is now Germany; nine years later they were expelled from its Meissen region. Not until 1761, during the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-1780), queen of Hungary and Bohemia, was an effort made to settle and assimilate Roma. However, that effort died with Maria Theresa in 1780. The nineteenth century ushered in Roma hunts as a popular “sport” in Germany.

The darkest days for the Roma occurred during the twentieth century, when Adolf Hitler ordered the extermination of all Roma falling under Germany’s control during World War II. By the war’s end, 70 percent to 80 percent of Europe’s Roma population had perished. Central Europe’s still-surviving Roma population then fell under the control of communist regimes and their assimilationist policies. Those efforts ended with the fall of Communism (1989-1991) and the rapid reassertion of the old patterns of discrimination against the Roma.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Appiah, Kwame Anthony, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Identities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. A social and cultural history of the idea of ethnic identity, with a chapter called “The Time of the Gypsies: A ’People Without History’s in the Narratives of the West.” Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chaman Lal. Gipsies: Forgotten Children of India. Delhi, India: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1962. An early but highly useful study of the topic from the perspective of the country from which Gypsy migrations began. Illustrations, bibliographical footnotes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crowe, David M. A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Excellent advanced reading on the Roma in twentieth century Europe and the Soviet Union and Russia. Illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fraser, Angus. The Gypsies. 2d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. An exhaustive collection that discusses early Roma migrations to, from, and within Persia, the Balkans and the Byzantine Empire, and other regions of Europe. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hancock, Ian. Handbook of Vlax Romani. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1995. Although primarily a book on Romani (Gypsy) languages, this text includes a helpful discussion of Romani migration from India to the regions of Europe. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kenrick, Donald. Gypsies: From India to the Mediterranean. Toulouse, France: CRDP, 1993. A short history of the Roma focusing on their migration from India to Persia and life there under Arab rule before moving on to Constantinople. Written by the English language authority.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kenrick, Donald. Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998. A concise collection exploring the history and culture. Intended as a tool for educators, students, and political activists. Includes a collection of biographies, notes on spelling, a glossary of terms, and a list of organizations, museums, and relevant academic and other journals. bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lucassen, Leo, Wim Willems, and Annemarie Cottaar. Gypsies and Other Itinerant Groups: A Socio-Historical Approach. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Excellent advanced reading, with chapters on the history of the study of Gypsies, the representation of Gypsies in encyclopedias, and their place in the formation of European nations beginning in the fourteenth century. Includes an outstanding bibliographical list for further research.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rudolph, Joseph R., Jr. “Central Europe: The Romany, a Stateless Minority in a World of States.” In Encyclopedia of Modern Ethnic Conflicts, edited by Joseph R. Rudolph, Jr. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. Good introductory reading to the broad topic of the Roma, from their origin to their continuing outsider status in contemporary Europe.

Categories: History