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Romani people

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Romani people
Romani people around the world.svg
Total population
2–20 million[1][2][3][4]
 United States1,000,000 estimated with Romani ancestry[note 1][5][6]
 Brazil800,000 (0.4%)[7]
 Spain750,000–1,500,000 (1.9–3.7%)[8][9][10][11][12]
 Romania619,007[note 2]–1,850,000 (3.29-8.3%)[13][14][15]
 Turkey500,000–2,750,000 (3.8%)[9][16][17][18]
 Bulgaria325,343[note 3]–750,000 (4.9-10.3%)[21][22]
 Hungary309,632[note 4]–870,000 (3.21-8.8%)[23][24]
 Argentina300,000[note 5][25][26]
 Czech Republic250,000[27][28]
 United Kingdom225,000 (0.4%)[29][9][30]
 Russia205,007[note 6]–825,000 (0.6%)[9]
 Serbia147,604[note 7]–600,000 (2.1-8.2%)[31][32][9]
 Italy120,000–180,000 (0.3%)[33][9]
 Greece111,000–300,000 (2.7%)[34][35]
 Germany105,000 (0.1%)[9][36]
 Slovakia105,738[note 8]–490,000 (2.1-9.0%)[37][38][39]
 North Macedonia53,879[note 9]–197,000 (9.6%)[9][42]
 Ukraine47,587[note 10]–260,000 (0.6%)[9][44]
 Portugal40,000–52,000 (0.5%)[9][45]
 Austria40,000–50,000 (0.6%)
 Kosovo[a]36,000[note 11] (2%)[9][46]
 Netherlands32,000–40,000 (0.2%)[9]
 Ireland22,435–37,500 (0.8%)[9]
 Poland17,049[note 6]–32,500 (0.1%)[9][47]
 Croatia16,975[note 6]–35,000 (0.8%)[9][48]
 Moldova12,778[note 6]–107,100 (3.0%)[9][51]
 Finland10,000–12,000 est. (0.2%)[52]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina8,864[note 6]–58,000 (1.5%)[9][53]
 Albania8,301[note 12]–150,000[9][45][55]
 Belarus7,316[note 6]–47,500 (0.5%)[56]
 Latvia7,193[note 6]–12,500 (0.6%)[9]
 Montenegro5,251[note 6]–20,000 (3.7%)[59]
 Czech Republic5,199[note 13]–40,370[note 14] (Romani speakers)–250,000 (1.9%)[60][61]
Romani language, Para-Romani varieties, languages of native regions
Predominantly Christianity[63]
Shaktism tradition of Hinduism[63]
Romani mythology
Buddhism (minority)[65][66]
Related ethnic groups
Dom, Lom, Domba; other Indo-Aryans

The Romani (also spelled Romany /ˈrməni/, /ˈrɒ-/), colloquially known as the Roma, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, traditionally nomadic itinerants. Most of the Romani people live in Europe, and diaspora populations also live in the Americas.

In the English language, the Romani people are widely known by the exonym Gypsies (or Gipsies),[67] which is considered pejorative by many Romani people due to its connotations of illegality and irregularity as well as its historical use as a racial slur.[68][69][70] In many other languages, regarding cognates of the word, such as French: Tzigane, Spanish: gitano, Italian: zingaro, Portuguese: cigano, and Romanian: țigan, this perception is either very small or non-existent.[71][72] At the first World Romani Congress in 1971, its attendees unanimously voted to reject the use of all exonyms for the Romani people, including Gypsy, due to their aforementioned negative and stereotypical connotations.[69]

Linguistic and genetic evidence suggests that the Roma originated in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent; in particular, the Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab regions of modern-day India.[73][74][75] They are dispersed, but their most concentrated populations are located in Europe, especially Central, Eastern and Southern Europe (including Southern France), as well as Western Asia (mainly Turkey). The Romani people arrived in West Asia and Europe around the 14th century.[76]

Since the 19th century, some Romani people have also migrated to the Americas. There are an estimated one million Roma in the United States[6] and 800,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the 19th century from Eastern Europe. Brazil also includes a notable Romani community descended from people deported by the Portuguese Empire during the Portuguese Inquisition.[77] In migrations since the late 19th century, Romani people have also moved to other countries in South America and to Canada. Though often confused with them, the Romani people are culturally different from Irish Travellers and the Yenish people, two groups who may be related to each other.[78][page needed]

The Romani language is divided into several dialects, which together are estimated to have more than two million speakers.[79] Many Romani people are native speakers of the dominant language in their country of residence or of mixed languages combining the dominant language with a dialect of Romani; those varieties are sometimes called Para-Romani.[80]

Population and subgroups

Romani population

For a variety of reasons, many Romanis choose not to register their ethnic identity in official censuses. There are an estimated 10 million Romani people in Europe (as of 2019),[81] although some Romani organizations give estimates as high as 14 million.[82] Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkans, in some Central European states, in Spain, France, Russia and Ukraine. In the European Union, there are an estimated 6 million Romanis.[83] Several million more Romanis may live outside Europe, in particular in the Middle East and in the Americas.[84]

Romani subgroups

Like the Roma in general, many different ethnonyms are given to subgroups of Roma. Sometimes a subgroup uses more than one endonym, is commonly known by an exonym or erroneously by the endonym of another subgroup. The only name approaching an all-encompassing self-description is Rom.[85] Even when subgroups do not use the name, they all acknowledge a common origin and a dichotomy between themselves and Gadjo (non-Roma).[85] For instance, while the main group of Roma in German-speaking countries refer to themselves as Sinti, their name for their original language is Romanes.

Subgroups have been described as, in part, a result of the castes and subcastes in India, which the founding population of Rom almost certainly experienced in their South Asian urheimat.[85][86]

Debret, Jean-Baptiste
(c. 1820), Interior of a gipsy's house in Brazil
Gypsies camping. Welsh Romanies near Swansea
, 1953

Many groups use names apparently derived from the Romani word kalo or calo, meaning "black" or "absorbing all light". This closely resembles words for "black" or "dark" in Indo-Aryan languages (e.g. Sanskrit काल kāla: "black", "of a dark colour").[85] Likewise, the name of the Dom or Domba people of North India – to whom the Roma have genetic,[87] cultural and linguistic links – has come to imply "dark-skinned", in some Indian languages.[88] Hence names such as kale and calé may have originated as an exonym or a euphemism for Roma.

Other endonyms for Romani include, for example:


The Roma people have a number of distinct populations, the largest being the Roma who reached Anatolia and the Balkans about the early 12th century from a migration out of northwestern India beginning about 600 years earlier.[103][104] They settled in the areas that are now Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain, by order of volume. From the Balkans, they migrated throughout Europe and Iberian Calé or Caló, and, in the nineteenth and later centuries, to the Americas. The Romani population in the United States is estimated at more than one million.[105] Brazil has the second largest Romani population in the Americas, estimated at 800,000 by the 2011 census.

The Romani people are mainly called ciganos by non-Romani ethnic Brazilians. Most of them belong to the ethnic subgroup Calés (Kale), of the Iberian peninsula. Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazilian president during 1956–1961 term, was 50% Czech Romani by his mother's bloodline, and Washington Luís, last president of the First Brazilian Republic (1926–1930 term), had Portuguese Kale ancestry.

There is no official or reliable count of the Romani populations worldwide.[106] Many Romani refuse to register their ethnic identity in official censuses for fear of discrimination.[107][better source needed] Others are descendants of intermarriage with local populations, some who no longer identify only as Romani and some who don't identify as Romani at all.

As of the early 2000s, an estimated 3.8[108][page needed] to 9 million Romani people lived in Europe and Asia Minor,[109][page needed] although some Romani organizations estimate numbers as high as 14 million.[110] Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkan peninsula, in some Central European states, in Spain, France, Russia, and Ukraine. The total number of Romani living outside Europe are primarily in the Middle East and North Africa and in the Americas and are estimated in total at more than two million. Some countries do not collect data by ethnicity.

The Romani people identify as distinct ethnicities based in part on territorial, cultural and dialectal differences, and self-designation.[111][112][113][114]


Genetic findings suggest an Indian origin for Roma.[103][104][115] Because Romani groups did not keep chronicles of their history or have oral accounts of it, most hypotheses about the Romani migration's early history are based on linguistic theory.[116] There is also no known record of a migration from India to Europe from medieval times that can be connected indisputably to Roma.[117]

Shahnameh legend

According to a legend reported in the Persian epic poem, the Shahnameh, from Iran and repeated by several modern authors, the Sasanian king Bahrām V Gōr learned towards the end of his reign (421–439) that the poor could not afford to enjoy music, and he asked the king of India to send him ten thousand luris, lute-playing experts. When the luris arrived, Bahrām gave each one an ox, a donkey, and a donkey-load of wheat so that they could live on agriculture and play music for free for the poor. However, the luris ate the oxen and the wheat and came back a year later with their cheeks hollowed with hunger. The king, angered with their having wasted what he had given them, ordered them to pack up their bags and go wandering around the world on their donkeys.[118]

Linguistic evidence

The linguistic evidence has indisputably shown that the roots of the Romani language lie in India: the language has grammatical characteristics of Indian languages and shares with them a large part of the basic lexicon, for example, regarding body parts or daily routines.[119]

Romani and Domari share some similarities: agglutination of postpositions of the second layer (or case marking clitics) to the nominal stem, concord markers for the past tense, the neutralisation of gender marking in the plural, and the use of the oblique case as an accusative.[120] This has prompted much discussion about the relationships between these two languages. Domari was once thought to be a "sister language" of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the Indian subcontinent – but later research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone (Hindustani) group of languages. The Dom and the Rom therefore likely descend from two migration waves out of India, separated by several centuries.[121][122]

In phonology, the Romani language shares several isoglosses with the Central branch of Indo-Aryan languages, especially in the realization of some sounds of the Old Indo-Aryan. However, it also preserves several dental clusters. In regards to verb morphology, Romani follows exactly the same pattern of northwestern languages such as Kashmiri and Shina through the adoption of oblique enclitic pronouns as person markers, lending credence to the theory of their Central Indian origin and a subsequent migration to northwestern India. Though the retention of dental clusters suggests a break from central languages during the transition from Old to Middle Indo-Aryan, the overall morphology suggests that the language participated in some of the significant developments leading toward the emergence of New Indo-Aryan languages.[123] The following table presents the numerals in the Romani, Domari and Lomavren languages, with the corresponding terms in Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, and Sinhala to demonstrate the similarities.[124]

Romani Domari Lomavren Sanskrit Hindi Bengali Sinhala
1 ekh, jekh yika yak, yek éka ek ek eka
2 duj lui dvá do dui deka
3 trin tærən tərin trí tīn tin thuna/thri
4 štar štar išdör catvā́raḥ cār char hathara/sathara
5 pandž pandž pendž páñca pā̃c panch paha
6 šov šaš šeš ṣáṭ chah chhoy haya/saya   
7 ifta xaut haft saptá sāt sāt hata/satha
8 oxto xaišt hašt aṣṭá āṭh āṭh ata
9 inja na nu náva nau noy nawaya
10 deš des las dáśa das dosh dahaya
20 biš wīs vist viṃśatí bīs bish wissa
100 šel saj saj śatá sau eksho siiya/shathakaya

Genetic evidence

Two Gypsies by Francisco Iturrino

Genetic findings in 2012 suggest the Romani originated in northwestern India and migrated as a group.[103][104][125] According to the study, the ancestors of present scheduled castes and scheduled tribes populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.[126]

In December 2012, additional findings appeared to confirm the "Roma came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago".[104] They reached the Balkans about 900 years ago[103] and then spread throughout Europe. The team also found the Roma to display genetic isolation, as well as "differential gene flow in time and space with non-Romani Europeans".[103][104]

Genetic research published in European Journal of Human Genetics "has revealed that over 70% of males belong to a single lineage that appears unique to the Roma".[127]

Genetic evidence supports the medieval migration from India. The Romani have been described as "a conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations",[102] while a number of common Mendelian disorders among Romanies from all over Europe indicates "a common origin and founder effect".[102] A 2020 whole-genome study confirmed the Northwest Indian origins, and also confirmed substantial Balkan and Middle Eastern ancestry.[128]

A study from 2001 by Gresham et al. suggests "a limited number of related founders, compatible with a small group of migrants splitting from a distinct caste or tribal group".[129] The same study found that "a single lineage... found across Romani populations, accounts for almost one-third of Romani males".[129] A 2004 study by Morar et al. concluded that the Romani population "was founded approximately 32–40 generations ago, with secondary and tertiary founder events occurring approximately 16–25 generations ago".[130]

Haplogroup H-M82 is a major lineage cluster in the Balkan Romani group, accounting for approximately 60% of the total.[131] Haplogroup H is uncommon in Europe but present in the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka.

A study of 444 people representing three ethnic groups in North Macedonia found mtDNA haplogroups M5a1 and H7a1a were dominant in Romanies (13.7% and 10.3%, respectively).[132]

Y-DNA composition of Muslim Romani people from Šuto Orizari Municipality in North Macedonia, based on 57 samples:[133]

A Roma makes a complaint to a local magistrate in Hungary, by Sándor Bihari
, 1886

Y-DNA Haplogroup H1a occurs in Romani at frequencies 7–70%. Unlike ethnic Hungarians, among Hungarian and Slovakian Romani subpopulations, Haplogroup E-M78 and I1 usually occur above 10% and sometimes over 20%. While among Slovakian and Tiszavasvari Romani the dominant haplogroup is H1a, among Tokaj Romani is Haplogroup J2a (23%), while among Taktaharkány Romani is Haplogroup I2a (21%).[134] Five, rather consistent founder lineages throughout the subpopulations, were found among Romani – J-M67 and J-M92 (J2), H-M52 (H1a1), and I-P259 (I1). Haplogroup I-P259 as H is not found at frequencies of over 3 percent among host populations, while haplogroups E and I are absent in South Asia. The lineages E-V13, I-P37 (I2a) and R-M17 (R1a) may represent gene flow from the host populations. Bulgarian, Romanian and Greek Romani are dominated by Haplogroup H-M82 (H1a1), while among Spanish Romani J2 is prevalent.[135] In Serbia among Kosovo[a] and Belgrade Romani Haplogroup H prevails, while among Vojvodina Romani, H drops to 7 percent and E-V13 rises to a prevailing level.[136]

Among non-Roma Europeans Haplogroup H is extremely rare, peaking at 7 percent among Albanians from Tirana[137] and 11 percent among Bulgarian Turks. It occurs at 5 percent among Hungarians,[134] although the carriers might be of Romani origin.[135] Among non Roma-speaking Europeans at 2 percent among Slovaks,[138] 2 percent among Croats,[139] 1 percent among Macedonians from Skopje, 3 percent among Macedonian Albanians,[140] 1 percent among Serbs from Belgrade,[141] 3 percent among Bulgarians from Sofia,[142] 1 percent among Austrians and Swiss,[143] 3 percent among Romanians from Ploiești, 1 percent among Turks.[138]

The Ottoman occupation of the Balkans also left a significant genetic mark on the Y-DNA of Romani people; creating a higher frequency of the haplogroups J and E3b in Roma populations from the region.[144]

Possible migration route

The Romani may have emerged from what is the modern Indian state of Rajasthan,[145] migrating to the northwest (the Punjab region, Sindh and Baluchistan of the Indian subcontinent) around 250 BCE. Their subsequent westward migration, possibly in waves, is now believed to have occurred beginning in about 500 CE.[104] It has also been suggested that emigration from India may have taken place in the context of the raids by Mahmud of Ghazni. As these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire.[146] The author Ralph Lilley Turner theorised a central Indian origin of Romani followed by a migration to Northwest India as it shares a number of ancient isoglosses with Central Indo-Aryan languages in relation to realization of some sounds of Old Indo-Aryan. This is lent further credence by its sharing exactly the same pattern of northwestern languages such as Kashmiri and Shina through the adoption of oblique enclitic pronouns as person markers. The overall morphology suggests that Romani participated in some of the significant developments leading toward the emergence of New Indo-Aryan languages, thus indicating that the proto-Romani did not leave the Indian subcontinent until late in the second half of the first millennium.[123][147]

In February 2016, during the International Roma Conference, then Indian Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj stated that the people of the Roma community were children of India.[148] The conference ended with a recommendation to the government of India to recognize the Roma community spread across 30 countries as a part of the Indian diaspora.[149]



Rom means husband in the Romani language. It has the variants dom and lom, which may be related to the Sanskrit words dam-pati (lord of the house, husband), dama (to subdue), lom (hair), lomaka (hairy), loman, roman (hairy), romaça (man with beard and long hair).[150] Another possible origin is from Sanskrit डोम doma (member of a low caste of travelling musicians and dancers). Despite their presence in the country and neighboring nations, the word is not related in any way to the name of Romania.

Romani usage

In the Romani language, Rom is a masculine noun, meaning 'husband of the Roma ethnic group', with the plural Roma. The feminine of Rom in the Romani language is Romni /Romli/Romnije or Romlije. However, in most cases, in other languages Rom is now used for individuals regardless of gender.[151]

Romani is the feminine adjective, while Romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Rom or Roma as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.[152]

Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani. In this case rr is used to represent the phoneme /ʀ/ (also written as ř and rh), which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r. The rr spelling is common in certain institutions (such as the INALCO Institute in Paris), or used in certain countries, e.g., Romania, to distinguish from the endonym/homonym for Romanians (sg. român, pl. români).[153]

English usage

In the English language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), Rom is a noun (with the plural Roma or Roms) and an adjective, while Romani (Romany) is also a noun (with the plural Romani, the Romani, Romanies, or Romanis) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romani have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy.[154] Romani was sometimes spelled Rommany, but more often Romany, while today Romani is the most popular spelling. Occasionally, the double r spelling (e.g., Rroma, Rromani) mentioned above is also encountered in English texts.

The term Roma is increasingly encountered[155][156] as a generic term for the Romani people.[157][158][159]

Because not all Romani people use the word Romani as an adjective, the term became a noun for the entire ethnic group.[160] Today, the term Romani is used by some organizations, including the United Nations and the US Library of Congress.[153] However, the Council of Europe and other organizations consider that Roma is the correct term referring to all related groups, regardless of their country of origin, and recommend that Romani be restricted to the language and culture: Romani language, Romani culture.[151] The United Kingdom government uses the term "Roma" as a sub-group of "White" in its ethnic classification system.[161]

The standard assumption is that the demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom, share the same origin.[162][163]

Other designations

The English term Gypsy (or Gipsy) originates from the Middle English gypcian, short for Egipcien. The Spanish term Gitano and French Gitan have similar etymologies. They are ultimately derived from the Greek Αιγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi), meaning Egyptian, via Latin. This designation owes its existence to the belief, common in the Middle Ages, that the Romani, or some related group (such as the Middle Eastern Dom people), were itinerant Egyptians.[164][165] This belief appears to be derived from verses in the Biblical Book of Ezekiel (29: 6 and 12–13) which refer to the Egyptians being scattered among the nations by an angry God. According to one narrative, they were exiled from Egypt as punishment for allegedly harbouring the infant Jesus.[166] In his book The Zincali: an account of the Gypsies of Spain, George Borrow notes that when they first appeared in Germany, it was under the character of Egyptians doing penance for their having refused hospitality to Mary and her son. As described in Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the medieval French referred to the Romanies as Egyptiens.

This exonym is sometimes written with capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group.[167] However, the word is sometimes considered derogatory because of its negative and stereotypical associations.[158][168][169][170] The Council of Europe consider that "Gypsy" or equivalent terms, as well as administrative terms such as "Gens du Voyage" are not in line with European recommendations.[151] In Britain, many Romani proudly identify as "Gypsies".[171] In North America, the word Gypsy is most commonly used as a reference to Romani ethnicity, though lifestyle and fashion are at times also referenced by using this word.[172]

Another common designation of the Romani people is Cingane (alt. Tsinganoi, Zigar, Zigeuner, Tschingaren), which likely derives from Athinganoi, the name of a Christian sect with whom the Romani (or some related group) became associated in the Middle Ages.[165][173][174][175]


Arrival in Europe

According to a 2012 genomic study, the Romani reached the Balkans as early as the 12th century.[103] A document of 1068, describing an event in Constantinople, mentions "Atsingani", probably referring to Romani.[176]

Later historical records of the Romani reaching south-eastern Europe are from the 14th century: in 1322, after leaving Ireland on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Irish Franciscan friar Symon Semeonis encountered a migrant group of Romani outside the town of Candia (modern Heraklion), in Crete, calling them "the descendants of Cain"; his account is the earliest surviving description by a Western chronicler of the Romani in Europe.

In 1350, Ludolph of Saxony mentioned a similar people with a unique language whom he called Mandapolos, a word possibly derived from the Greek word mantes (meaning prophet or fortune teller).[177]

In the 14th century, Romani are recorded in Venetian territories, including Methoni and Nafplio in the Peloponnese, and Corfu.[176] Around 1360, a fiefdom called the Feudum Acinganorum was established in Corfu, which mainly used Romani serfs and to which the Romani on the island were subservient.[178]

By the 1440s, they were recorded in Germany;[179] and by the 16th century, Scotland and Sweden.[180] Some Romani migrated from Persia through North Africa, reaching the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. The two currents met in France.[181]

First arrival of the Romanies outside Bern in the 15th century, described by the chronicler as getoufte heiden ("baptized heathens") and drawn with dark skin and wearing Saracen-style clothing and weapons[182]

Early modern history