Sinti and Roma have been living in Europe for centuries. In their respective home countries, they form historically grown minorities that call themselves ‘Sinti’ or ‘Roma’. The members of the minority who have settled mainly in Western and Central Europe are referred to as ‘Sinti’, ‘Roma’ mostly live in eastern and South-eastern European countries. Outside the German-speaking area, ‘Roma’ is used as a name for the entire minority.
The term ‘gypsy’, on the other hand, is a foreign designation of the majority population dating back to the Middle Ages and is rejected by the minority as discriminatory. If it is used in the context of historical sources, the stereotypes and prejudices behind this term must always be taken into account. Etymologically, the term is not unambiguously derivable. It includes both negative and romanticizing images and stereotypes. Therefore, the term is, first of all, a construct.
Around 1300 AD, Osman I called for a religious struggle against the Byzantines. He ousted Byzantium from Western Asia Minor and laid the foundation for the Ottoman Empire. The region around the Punjab Valley, the ancestral home area of the Roma, was also affected. His son Orhan organized the administration of the new state and founded the Janissary Army from slaves, which consisted mostly of Christian Sinti. Even though the Roma, mostly of Muslim faith, were mostly socially integrated, they also had to provide contingents for the army.
In the middle of the 14th century, the Turkish army invaded Europe. Shortly after, the first Roma who escaped from slavery appeared in Serbia. The families of the Roma were divided between the principalities, the large landowners and the churches throughout the Balkan area. Everyone who owned land often also had ‘Roma slaves’. Thus, the Roma again fled from their enslavement and at the beginning of the fifteenth century also reached Central Europe. Even then, however, they were met with distrust there as well. They were declared bird-free, decrees called on the population to persecute and kill them. They were denied the right of establishment and were not allowed to pursue regular professional activities. For centuries, they were driven to escape in this way – to escape migration.
What makes someone a Gypsy?
What does it mean when you call someone a Gypsy?
What does a Gypsy believe in?
What is a Gypsy girl?