History of the Romani people

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Romani people
Flag of the Romani people

The Romani people, also referred to depending on the sub-group as Roma, Sinti or Sindhi, or Kale are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, who live primarily in Europe. They originated in northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent [1] [2] [3] and left sometime between the 6th and 11th century to work in Middle Eastern courts of their own volition, or as slaves. A small number of nomadic groups were cut off from their return to the subcontinent by conflicts and moved west, [1] eventually settling in Europe, Turkey and North Africa via Iran. [4]


The initial arrival of Romani outside Bern in the 15th century, described by the chronicler as getoufte heiden "baptized heathens" and drawn wearing Saracene style clothes and weapons ( Spiezer Schilling, p. 749).

The Romani have been described by Diana Muir Appelbaum as unique among peoples because they have never identified themselves with a territory; they have no tradition of an ancient and distant homeland from which their ancestors migrated, nor do they claim the right to national sovereignty in any of the lands where they reside, rather, Romani identity is bound up with the ideal of freedom expressed, in part, in having no ties to a homeland. [5] The absence of traditional origin stories and of a written history has meant that the origin and early history of the Romani people was long an enigma. Indian origin was suggested on linguistic grounds as early as the late 18th century. [6]

The genetic evidence identified an Indian origin for Roma. [7] [8] One theory suggests that the name ultimately derives from a form ḍōmba- 'man of low caste living by singing and music', attested in Classical Sanskrit. [9] An alternative view is that the ancestors of the Romani were part of the military in Northern India. When there were invasions by Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi and these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire between AD 1000 and 1030. [10]

Genetic evidence connects the Romani people to the descendants of groups which emigrated from South Asia towards Central Asia during the medieval period. [11]

Language origins

Until the mid-to-late 18th century, theories of the origin of the Romani were mostly speculative. In 1782, Johann Christian Christoph Rüdiger published his research that pointed out the relationship between the Romani language and Hindustani. [12] Subsequent work supported the hypothesis that Romani shared a common origin with the Indo-Aryan languages of Northern India, [13] with Romani grouping most closely with Sinhalese in a recent study. [14]

Domari and Romani language

Domari was once thought to be the "sister language" of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the South Asia, but more recent research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone ( Hindustani) Saraiki language group of languages. The Dom and the Rom are therefore likely to be descendants of two different migration waves from the Indian subcontinent, separated by several centuries. [15] [16]

Numerals in the Romani, Domari and Lomavren languages, with Hindi and Persian forms for comparison. [17] Note that Romani 7–9 are borrowed from Greek.

Hindi Romani Domari Lomavren Persian
1 ek ekh, jekh yika yak, yek yak, yek
2 do duj lui du, do
3 tīn trin tærən tərin se
4 cār štar štar išdör čahār
5 pāñc pandž pandž pendž pandž
6 che šov šaš šeš šaš, šeš
7 sāt ifta xaut haft haft
8 āţh oxto xaišt hašt hašt
9 nau inja na nu nuh, noh
10 das deš des las dah
20 bīs biš wīs vist bist
100 sau šel saj saj sad

Genetic evidence

Further evidence for the South Asian origin of the Romanies came in the late 1990s. Researchers doing DNA analysis discovered that Romani populations carried large frequencies of particular Y chromosomes (inherited paternally) and mitochondrial DNA (inherited maternally) that otherwise exist only in populations from South Asia.

47.3% of Romani men carry Y chromosomes of haplogroup H-M82 which is rare outside South Asia. [18] Mitochondrial haplogroup M, most common in Indian subjects and rare outside Southern Asia, accounts for nearly 30% of Romani people. [18] A more detailed study of Polish Roma shows this to be of the M5 lineage, which is specific to India. [19] Moreover, a form of the inherited disorder congenital myasthenia is found in Romani subjects. This form of the disorder, caused by the 1267delG mutation, is otherwise known only in subjects of Indian ancestry. This is considered to be the best evidence of the Indian ancestry of the Romanis. [20]

The Romanis have been described as "a conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations". [21] The number of common Mendelian disorders found among Romanis from all over Europe indicates "a common origin and founder effect". [21] See also this table: [22]

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". [23] Also the study pointed out that " genetic drift and different levels and sources of admixture, appear to have played a role in the subsequent differentiation of populations". [23] The same study found that "a single lineage ... found across Romani populations, accounts for almost one-third of Romani males.

A 2004 study by Morar et al. concluded that the Romanies are "a founder population of common origins that has subsequently split into multiple socially divergent and geographically dispersed Gypsy groups". [20] The same study revealed that this population "was founded approximately 32–40 generations ago, with secondary and tertiary founder events occurring approximately 16–25 generations ago". [20]

Connection with the Burushos and Pamiris

The Burushos of Hunza have a paternal lineage genetic marker that is grouped with Pamiri speakers from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and the Sinti or Sindhi Romani ethnic group. This find of shared genetic haplogroups may indicate an origin of the Romani people in or around these regions. [24]

Possible connection with the Domba people

According to a genetic study on The Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup H1a1a-M82 in 2012, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma. [25]

A mtdna or ydna study provides valuable information but a limitation of these studies is that they represent only one instantiation of the genealogical process. Autosomal data permits simultaneous analysis of multiple lineages, which can provide novel information about population history. According to a genetic study on autosomal data on Roma the source of Southasian Ancestry in Roma is North-West India. The two populations showing closest relatedness to Roma were Kashmiri Pandits and Sindhi. Kashmiri Pandits are Kashmiri Brahmins. [26] The classical and mtDNA genetic markers suggested the closest affinity of the Roma with Rajput and Sindhi populations from Rajasthan and the Punjab respectively. [25] [27]