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Who Are the Romany or Gypsies?


This undated photo of a Gypsy fortune-teller is by Fitz W. Guerin.

A Romany or Gypsy woman tells a man his fortune.

Library of Congress Prints and Photos Collection


Romany: Also known as Gypsies, the Romany are a people of Indian origin who live across Europe. They emigrated from northern India into Europe, likely beginning in the 11th century. By the 1500s, Romany people had reached the British Isles and Scandinavia.

Romany in Europe faced discrimination throughout their history. In the Middle Ages, they were identified with the "Saracens" - Muslims who resisted the European Crusaders' invasions of the Holy Land - despite the fact that the Romany were originally Hindu. Most Romany adopted the prevalent religions of their new countries, however, whether that was Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism or Islam.

During the Holocaust, Hitler targeted Romany as well as Jews for extermination. An unknown number of Romany were murdered in German concentration camps; estimates range between 250,000 and 1.5 million.

The word "Romany" or "Rom" comes from the Sanskrit domba, meaning a man from a low caste group who were musicians. The word "Gypsy" comes from the mistaken belief among many European peoples that the Romany originated in Egypt.


Pronunciation: "RAH-mon-ee"

Also Known As: Gypsy

Alternate Spellings: Rom, Romani, Romanny, Roma

Examples: "Music has continued to play an important role in Romany culture; the most famous Roma of recent times was the French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt."

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