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Roma are a European minority of Indian origin, consisting of various communities such as Arlii, Bugurdži, Cale, Kalderaša, Lovara, Sinti or Xaladytka, to name but a few. After the first Roma World Congress, which took place from 8 to 12 April 1971 near London, United Kingdom, ‘Roma’ was discussed and gained acceptance as a self-designation and generic term for all members of the minority, gradually becoming established. Some international institutions use ‘Roma’ in this sense, but not all members of the minority favour this.

Travellers such as Irish and English Travellers as well as Yenish people from German-speaking countries are often incorrectly referred to as ‘Roma’, although they share neither origin, language nor culture with Roma. Only a very small number of Roma were and are travelling.

The ancestors of today’s Roma arrived in the European part of the Byzantine Empire shortly before the turn of the first millennium. Their long stay in Greek-speaking regions is evidenced by the influence of this language on the language of all Roma, Romanes. Roma emigrated from the Byzantine Empire to all European countries. Sinti have been living in German-speaking countries since the beginning of the 15th century, which frequently leads to the statement that Roma have been living in Europe for 600 years. The Council of Europe estimates the number of Roma in Europe to be between 10 and 12 million people.1Council of Europe. Estimate and Official Numbers of Roma in Europe. 2012. [Access 25.01.2024]. Exact figures are not possible, as ethnic origin is often not recorded in censuses.

The Roma living in all countries of the world today have European roots. As early as the 17th century, some Roma were deported to Africa and America.2Deportations of Roma to Africa are documented as early as 1629 in Portugal, and to America from the 17th century from Portugal, Spain and occasionally from France. Cf. Foletier, Mille ans, 55–57. Others immigrated to America via Eastern and Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, following the abolition of slavery in the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Rom / Roma, Romni / Romnja, Romani

Rom (plural Roma) means man or husband in Romani, Romni (plural Romnja) means woman or wife. The plural ‘Roma’ is used in Romani for all members of the minority. However, these terms are not used for ‘others’, i.e. they refer exclusively to one’s own community. Non-Roma are generally referred to as Gadže. It is sometimes claimed that Rom means ‘man’; this is not true, as the Sanskrit word ‘Manuš’ is used for ‘man’.

Romano (masculine), romani (feminine) and romane (plural) are the adjectival forms of Roma. Romano čhavo / šavo means Roma boy, while romani čhaj / šej refers to a Roma girl. The adverb romanes means ‘in Roma style’, while the noun Romanes refers to the Roma language.

It is sometimes claimed that the term ‘Roma’ is a construct and that this concept does not exist among Roma. To clarify this question, it is necessary to understand the history of the social organisation of the Roma. Traditionally, the family was at the centre, followed by the subgroup and membership of a group. When Roma meet and speak Romanes, the question whether they are Rom or Romni is superfluous. If the dialect is different, you introduce yourself with your group affiliation. The use of ‘Roma’ is therefore superfluous among Roma.

Vlach Roma are an exception. In everyday life, they use ‘Roma’ in Romanes to describe all Roma belonging to their own groups. They choose other words for all other Roma; for example, the Lovara, who are Vlach Roma, call other Roma ‘Romungre’. If such a Rom says in Romanes: ‘Ame sam Roma,’ this means that his group comes from Romanian lands and not that he is Rom in the general sense.

The word ‘Gadžo’ or ‘Gažo’ is often translated as ‘non-Roma’, and some authors infer from this that ‘Roma’ would define themselves in opposition to Gadže. The reality is more nuanced. Gadžo actually means ‘not Roma’, but only refers to the relatively immediate social neighbourhood. For example, a German Sinto will say that he knows Gadže (here: Germans) and French people, or that he speaks Gadžikanes (here: German) and French. In both cases, Gadžo is to be understood here as a native. In addition, Jews are not referred to as Gadže, but by various names, such as ‘Bibolde’. ‘Dasa’, from the Sanskrit ‘Das’ [slave], is also used alongside Gadže in the Balkans. In the Ottoman Empire, only Muslims were referred to as Gadže, while ‘Das’ was used for the Christian population.

Communities as Socio-economic Units

Two factors are important in the formation of communities. Migration to another country or at least another language area is one of them. For example, Polska Roma emigrated from German-speaking areas in the 16th century and settled in PolandLithuania. From there, some migrated to the Baltic States or to Russia. This gave rise to different but related groups. The other differentiating factor is occupational activity. For example, the Arlii in the Balkans tended to trade, while Bugurdži (or Kovači) worked as steel and weapons smiths.

However, differentiation can also be the result of a combination of these two factors. Lovara and Kalderaša both originally emerged in Banat. Lovara were horse traders who mainly socialised with the Hungarian upper class, while the Kalderaša, who made their living as coppersmiths, were more in contact with the Romanian village population. There is therefore both a linguistic and a socio-economic difference here.

It is almost impossible to make a complete list of the different communities.3Cf. Tcherenkov/Laederich, The Roma, 393–508. These groups identify themselves in various ways, whether because of their size or because of recent migrations. Some prefer to refer to themselves by the name of their vica or subgroup, as is the case, especially among Lovara and Kalderaša. Some groups, such as the Croatian or Estonian Roma, were almost completely wiped out during World War II, with only a few dozen survivors. What’s more, many Roma, mainly in Hungary and Romania, now only refer to themselves as ‘Ciganý’ or ‘Ţiganii’ and have largely lost their language. Nowadays, these groups are no longer endogamous, and are thus becoming less important, mainly in Western Europe.

The communities vary in size. The Balkan Arlii, for example, are one of the largest groups, with more than a million people spread across several countries. Other groups exist almost exclusively in one country and are small, such as the Latvian (Lotfitka) Roma with around 15,000 people. Sinti are mainly at home in German-speaking areas; Manouches, who mainly live in French-speaking areas, are descended from them.

Based on historical and linguistic similarities and differences, the various groups can be categorised into four larger units. It should be emphasised that groups are constantly evolving, and it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list. The most well-known groups are listed here, along with their most commonly used names in the relatively standardised Romanes spelling:

Balkan Roma (Arlii, Ashkali, Egyptians, Bessarabian Ursari, Bugurdži [also called Kovači], Burgudži Parpuli, Drindari, Džambaša, Jerlides, Kalajdži, Kîrîmlîdes Prilep Arlii, Sepetčides, Thracean Kalajdži, Varna Kalajdži, Xoraxane), Carpathian Roma (Bohemian, Burgenland, Moravian, Slovakian and North Hungarian Roma, Plaščuni), Vlach Roma (Bejǎsa, Cerhara [also known as Čergari], Čurara, Dirzara, Džambazi, Greek Vlach, Gurbeti, Gurvara, Kalderaša, Laxora, Lingurari, Lovara, Mačvaja, Mašara, Patrinara, Rišaria, Rudari, Servi, Vlaxurja) and western, northern and north-eastern Roma (Abruzzesi, Calabresi, Cale, Kale, Manouches, Lalere Kale, Lotfitka Roma, Polska Roma, Romanichal, Sinti, Tatare [Reisende], Volšenenge Kale, Xaladytka Roma).


  • 1
    Council of Europe. Estimate and Official Numbers of Roma in Europe. 2012. [Access 25.01.2024].
  • 2
    Deportations of Roma to Africa are documented as early as 1629 in Portugal, and to America from the 17th century from Portugal, Spain and occasionally from France. Cf. Foletier, Mille ans, 55–57.
  • 3
    Cf. Tcherenkov/Laederich, The Roma, 393–508.


Stéphane Laederich: Roma, in: Enzyklopädie des NS-Völkermordes an den Sinti und Roma in Europa. Hg. von Karola Fings, Forschungsstelle Antiziganismus an der Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg 1. November 2023. -

8. – 12. April 1971Der erste Welt-Roma-Kongress findet in der Nähe von London, Vereinigtes Königreich, statt.