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Gypsies, (alt. sp. Gipsy) also known as 'Romani','Roma'[1] or 'Sigynnae', 'Sigynnas'[2], are an inherently nomadic ethnic group scattered across Europe and even into the bounds of Asia. They maintain their own distinctive culture regardless of their host cultural groups. Their current population is estimated to be approximately 15 million, but accurate data remains elusive due to their nomadic lifestyle.[3]


Our English name of Gypsy stems from the word Egyptian, as many believed that their darker skin tones indicated an Egyptian origin.

Yet as regarding the origins of name Sigynnae most commonly coming to the English world through Herodotus' Histories, the English speaker is oft left in doubt concluding that "The Sigynnae were an obscure people of antiquity. They are variously located by ancient authors."[4] But a quick panarama of Europe's language groups and there is no doubt as to who these people were. For the vast majority of European language groups maintain variations synonymous with Herodotus' Sigynnae (Greek:Σιγὐννας, Si-gy-nas)[5], a term that 5th century Greeks equated as being synonymous with "hucksters", small trader; which would be most consistent with stereotypical depictions of this cultural group. You will find this view presented below in the section Language Group Examples.

Herodotus also notes that their name was used in Cyprus for "spears".[6] On this point Sir J. L. Myres stated that their must have been a connection between what is known as the "Sigynna Spear" (a thin bladed throwing spear produced amidst the iron-working culture of Hallstatt, Austria) and this cultural group: the implication naturally alludes to an arms trade and an explanation of why the Cyprians used their name such.

Language Group Examples

As discussed above regarding Sigynnae, we have collected below is a list of some of the larger language groups with their local spellings and English transliterations (for non-latin text), clearly showing that their name has varied little in Europe from Herodotus' 5th century BC Greek Σιγὐννας (Sigynnas)[7]. We have emboldened the transliterations / Latin script for easy comparison:

Bulgarian: циганин, tsiganin; Romanian: țigan; Serbian: циганин, ciganin; Macedonian: циган, cigan; Russian: цыганка, tsyganka; Ukranian: циганка, tsyhanka; Albanian: cigan; Croatian: ciganka; Czech: cikán; Slovak: cikán; Slovenian: ciganka; Lithuanian: čigonas; Latvian: čigāniete; Turkish: Çingene; German: Zigeuner (masculine) & Zigeunerin (feminine); Polish: cygański; Hungarian: cigány; Italian: zingaro (masculine) zingara (feminine); Danish: sigøjner; Norwegian: sigøyner; Swedish: zigenare; Fresian: sigeuner; Dutch: zigeuner; Luxembourgish: Zigeinerin; Portugese: cigano (masculine) cigana (feminine); Esperanto: cigano.

Clearly the English, French and Spanish speaking worlds have lost the historical connection of what we now call Gypsies, but the majority of these languages have preserved the Sigynnae's history embedded within themselves: thus the ancient Sigynnae are the Gypsies.



There are some such as Kenrick who claim that the Gypsies originated from present day Rajasthan[8] in India who fled over 1000 years ago due to Islamic Invasions.[9]. Yet 5th century BC usage (which has broadly passed to most relevant language groups) and reference to their expansive existence within Europe at that time can not be denied, necessitating that the Gypsies have a much older origin in Europe.

More classically, Herodotus claimed that the Sigynnae/Gypsies were colonists from Media and that they still even in his day wore Median attire. He also understood that they predominantly lived north of the Ister but could be found as far as the Eneti on the Adriatic (regions of modern Venice). This position is more consistent with conventional history.

Persecution of Gypsies

Gypsy people have long suffered from prejudice and discrimination; one of the first concrete examples would be the laws passed in Moldavia and Wallachia which stated that any Romani on those countries' soil would automatically become a slave.

Discriminatory laws were passed in many other countries as well; in Western Europe during the 15th century Ottoman invasion, in Argentina in 1880, and even the USA in 1885 passed laws restricting Gypsy immigration.[10] Forced assimilation, and the abduction of children, was also practiced, in countries such as Norway, where 1500 Romani children were removed by the state from their parents[11] (under the, albeit later, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, such actions are classified as attempted genocide).

Romani also suffered a great deal under the Holocaust; approximately 1,000,000[12] of them were killed during it, a sizable fraction, in a period known as the 'Porajmos'. In the Bohemia region, this mass murder was so thorough that their culture and language became extinct there.

In the present day, they are often accused of pickpocketing and theft (it was such accusations, made in 1905, that precipitated the Porajmos[13]); this has led to persecution and other human rights abuses.[14][15]

Some work has been carried out, however, to encourage integration; in the UK, under the Human Rights Act 1998, for example, the subsidized purchase of greenfield sites is being discussed, to give Romani and other Travellers accommodation.


  1. Donald Kenrick. Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies). Scarecrow Press
  2. Herodotus, Histories, 5.9
  4. Wikipedia, Sigynnae, 16 January 2021
  5. Herodotus, Histories, 5.9
  6. Herodotus, Histories, 5.9
  7. Herodotus, Histories, 5.9
  8. Donald Kenrick. Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies). Scarecrow Press
  13. Alfred Dillmann. Zigeuner-Buch. Munich: Wildsche (1905)