The tale of the Gypsy people—or the Romani, as they call themselves—is not a story confined to a single place or a single time. It’s a narrative that spans more than a millennium, crossing continents and defying borders, a diaspora that began in the autumn of 1018. This article endeavors to shed light on the fascinating history and cultural resilience of the Gypsy people, from their origins in northern India to their wide-reaching presence across Europe and beyond.
The journey starts with the ancient city of Kannauj in northern India. In 1018, it was stormed, captured, and burned by the Afghan sultan Mahmoud. He ordered the deportation of nearly the entire populace— “53,000 men, women, and children, poor and rich, light and dark-skinned, whole families” —to Gazni, the capital of his burgeoning empire that eventually included modern-day Pakistan, eastern Iran, and Afghanistan. These exiles were poorly integrated in Gazni and eventually sold to northern nobles who forced them into military service, setting the stage for a dispersion that would extend into the Middle East and Eastern Europe.