The origins of the Roma
The people who later became Roma originated in Northwest India and were part of the Rajput Confederacy in North-Central India in what was then called Gurjara. In the first decade of the 11th Century CE, this area was invaded, plundered and gradually subjugated by invaders from Ghaza in what is now Afghanistan. These vassal states of the Ghaznavid Empire were then forced to pay annual tribute to Mahmud Ghazni, the ruler of Ghaza. This took the form of precious metals, farm produce and war elephants among other items including Hindu soldiers from the Kshatriya Cast.
These ghulam or "slave soldiers," their camp followers needed to maintain troops in the field and the wives and children of the married members of this force were sent to Khurasan in Persia to act as garrison troops in special Hindu units. Other Indian gulam became bodyguards of the rulers of Ghaza. The troops and their camp followers were a conglomerate population composed of many tribes and castes of the area and included some Banjara who were traditional salt and water carriers for Indian armies. This mixed group of Indians spoke many differing dialects derived from the Sanskrit and they adopted a common military lingua franca, a proto Urdu language which was basically derived from Indian languages of North-Central India mixed with Persian.
By 1038, the Seljuk Turks had invaded Khurasan and came into conflict with the Ghaznavids under their ruler, Masud, the son of Mahmud, and at the Battle of Dandanqan in 1040, the Ghaznavids were defeated and lost control of Khurasan to the Seljuks. The surviving Hindu troops and their camp followers fled to Eastern Armenia. A few years later, the Seljuk Turks invaded this region and defeated the Armenians at the Battle of Ani in 1064. The former Indian military units and their camp followers, no longer an organized military force, fled into the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia along with numerous Armenian refugees. In 1071, the Seljuk Turks defeated the Greeks at the Battle of Manzikirt in 1071 and established the Sultanate of Roum in Anatolia.
The ancestors of the Roma remained in Anatolia for a up to two centuries where the original Indian caste system gradually broke down, the various castes and groups intermarried and they became one people. The group as a whole became splintered into many clans who earned their living by artisan trades, animal husbandry, entertainment, domestic work and other skills which fluctuated as the local economies demanded. The former military lingua franca became the native language of the group as a whole and was augmented by loan words from Greek, Armenian and other elements.
In a few generations, a new people was gradually created from the composite population that had been taken from India by the Ghaznavids. Gradually, some groups drifted across the Bosporus to Europe and by the time the Roma reached the Balkans in the 13th century, they had become a new people called Roma and spoke a common language called Romani. When they reached Rumania, the Roma broke up into smaller groups and migrated to all countries of Europe. By the 16th century Roma could be found as far West as Britain, as far East as Poland/Lithuania, as far North as the Scandinavian countries and as far South as Spain. The greater number, however, remained in the Balkans and central/eastern Europe where a large number was forced into slavery in what is now Romania until 1864 when they were finally emancipated.
Copyright © Ronald Lee 1998, 2012
This synopsis was condensed from a 6,000-word article by Ronald Lee which is available as a PDF download .
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