gypsy musician cymbeline

Most historians agree that the Romani people are originated from India and that they appeared in Europe in the late 14th century. Their immigration became significant when the Ottomans began their conquest in the South, as Gypsies were either fleeing or following the army. Until the end of the 15th century, Gypsies were considered “tolerated” people in Eastern Europe, including Hungary.

There were attempts in Western Europe to limit their spreading to Eastern Europe, introducing harsh sanctions against them.

Still, Romani and Hungarians coexisted in peace until the 16th century.

Most of the Hungarian Gypsies were working in agriculture and industry, especially in metalwork.

Maria Theresa and his son, Joseph II adopted regulations in the 18th century about settling Romani in Hungary, which was carried out with force and exemplary punishments. There were certain areas in the outskirts of villages where Gypsies lived in low-quality cabins, so-called “putri” buildings. Until then, the Romani people were famous for living a wandering life, constantly moving from one settlement to another; then they were forced to stay at their given residency. They were stripped of their former jobs, as different types of metalwork required constant relocation.

The other change that regarding the Romani’s life in the 18th century was the acquisition of the Hungarian language.

By the 19th century, most of the village smithies employed Hungarian-speaking Gypsies. About 280,000 Romani inhabitants were registered in Hungary at the end of that century. That was also the time when the Gypsy music began to affect Hungarian musicians significantly.

When the War of Independence broke out in 1848, Gypsies sided with the Hungarians. Besides being regular infantry units, they were significantly represented among weapon repairers, cannoneers and military musicians. Sergeant Ferenc Sárközi was one of the famous officers and war heroes of the Hungarian army, whose civilian profession was also a musician.

Roma gypsy history
Romani people in the countryside in the early 20th century. Photo: Fortepan

The 20th century further worsened the employment of Gypsies, as manufacturing made most of their traditional professions redundant. Moreover, the law also prohibited wandering jobs between the two world wars. The Romani people becoming unemployed in great masses lead to a social conflict that has not been fully resolved even by today. However, the greatest disaster for Gypsies came in 1944, when the Third Reich and its satellite states — including Hungary — began to persecute and eliminate them in large numbers. The number of the victims of the Romani Holocaust — called “Porajmos” in their language, meaning “liquidation” — is difficult to estimate, as many Gypsies were caught without any documents, but it is likely to fall between 30,000-70,000 people.

The Romani people participated in Hungary’s revolution against foreigners once more in 1956. The 17 years old Ilona Szabó was probably the most famous Gypsy freedom fighter, who has a memorial on Corvin Square in Budapest.

Though the socialist regime seemingly made attempts to improve the Romani people’s employment rate, they were mostly employed at low-skilled seasonal jobs. From the late 1960s, the government began to demolish Gypsy areas and provide discount loans for Gypsies. Many of them could move in abandoned old housings in villages. Their forced settlement — just like in the 18th century — lead to social reluctance.

Though the ethnical origin of Gypsies in Hungary is quite mixed, they can be divided into three groups based on their linguistic differences. About 71 percent of the Romani people in Hungary speaks only Hungarian, most of them were also assimilated culturally. This group is called Romugro, or simply as “Hungarian Gypsies” or “Musician Gypsies.” 21 percent of Gypsies are the Vlachs who speak both Hungarian and Romani.  8 percent of the Romani people in Hungary belong to the Boyash group, who mostly speak three languages: archaic Romani and Romanian, and also Hungarian.

Roma gypsy history
Gypsy musicians in 1942. Photo: Fortepan

The Romani people’s contribution to the formation of Hungarian art and culture is undeniable.

There are many famous people in Hungary of Gypsy origin, including author Ferenc Csík, musicians Béla Szakcsi Lakatos and Ferenc Snétberger, actors Gábor Nagypál and Sándor Csányi, and, of course, the multiple award-winning Budapest Gypsy Symphony Orchestra.

Stróbl Gypsy Girl
“The Gypsy Girl” by Zsigmond Stróbl. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 2001, 190,046 people admitted to being of Romani origin, but sociological researchers proved that this number does not reflect reality at all. Their number is actually estimated between 600,000 and 800,000 people. They are officially the largest ethnic minority in Hungary, giving almost one-tenth of the country’s population. They are the only nationality in Hungary that does not have a certain home country.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Fortepan

Source:,,,, Daily News Hungary

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