Travelling through time, no populations remain a sealed and pristine unit, despite what racism and racist ideologies would have us believe.
These historical processes of population diversification, particularly for mobile groups, mean that the Romani people have incorporated others from their very beginnings. This happened most obviously, in the context of their emergence as an ethnic community in 11th century Anatolia. Beset by turmoil and strife and the beginnings of Turkish peoples' migrations into the Byzantine (Roman) Asia Minor, many refugees from conflict and war roamed the region, seeking shelter and safety (similar to today in much of the region).
Matthew of Edessa (modern-day Urfa) recorded the events of the period in his 12th-century Chronicle, including the assaults by the Saldjûkid Turks upon Ani, the capital of the Bagratid kingdom of Armenia in this period. He lamented that the Armenians had become 'a vagabond nation', as also recorded by Aristakis Lastivertci at the beginning of his History around 1080CE:
'Those who were settled in the land,
Migrated a second time, in their exile…
Those who were torn from their loved ones,
If not slain by the sword, were dispersed like erratic stars…'
The History of Vardapet Aristakes Lastivertc'i Regarding the Sufferings Occasioned by Foreign Peoples Living Around Us, translated by Robert Bedrosian
Into this apocalyptic milieu, the ancestors of Romani people were plunged, travelling through Khorasan, Iran, Anatolia and Thrace, from the Battle of Dandanqan1 to reach Holy Byzantium in the 11th century.
Mixing with numbers of Armenians (who left a strong impression upon the Romani language that emerged 1300CE to 1400CE), Georgians, Azerbaijanis, and Greeks, absorbing smaller groups into the larger, more defensive protection of the proto-Romani people '…this vagabond nation', this complexity of ethnicities continued to migrate across Byzantine territories in the early stages of ethnogenesis.
Certainly, by the time of the accounts of their arrival in Western Europe in the early 15th century, this process was more fully formed. Led by men described as 'counts' and 'dukes' with their retinues of hundreds of 'Gypsies', these groups were well-armed and travelling by foot, horse, and waggons. These 'counts' and 'dukes' were individuals who behaved as other late mediaeval counts and dukes did. We can see echoes of these early 'Gypsy' migrations in Jacques Callot's 1621-1624 engravings of Les Bohémians, from the 17th century religious wars.
The atomisation of Romani and Traveller communities is a product of later persecution and attempted extermination, during the 17th and 18th centuries, with the infamous 'Gypsy' hunts, and not this early period of mobility, migration, and arrival in the Byzantine Empire and then early modern Europe (1050CE to 1400CE).
A historical process of coalescence into an ethnic community that became the late medieval 'Egyptians' and early modern 'Gypsies' took place in the Byzantine Empire over four centuries or so, with a distinct form of language (i.e., early Romanës) recognised as barbarophonos (non-Greek speaking) by Byzantine commentators, such as Manuel Mazaris' Journey to Hades2.
Mazaris had been banished to the Morea (Peloponnese), sometime after an earlier period as protonotarios (a high-level notary) in Thessaloniki, early 1400s. He composed his treatise in the form of a satirical letter addressed to a recently deceased friend, mentioning the ethnicities he was living amongst in the region, January 1414CE to October 1415CE; he included the 'Egyptians' and their 'babbling speech'.
This is the first clear indication that 'Egyptians' had a specific lingua Romani, unintelligible to outsiders of the community. It suggests the evolution of the Romani language to the point of distinct Byzantine Romanës3.
It is likely that significant vocabulary from Byzantine Greek had been incorporated by this time, with numbers, terms for metalworking, and currency4, and important items from Armenian (grai – horse, vardo – waggon, for example), also Persian (Farsi, including the word for fortune and luck, baxt). The connection of Romani (Rromani-chib) with Indian languages was later made in the 18th and 19th centuries, but Ralph L. Turner’s seminal 1927 article5 firmly established the relationship between Romani language and its Sanskritic relations in academic terms.
This relationship with Indian ancestry has profoundly impacted both Romani representations in arts, culture, and performance, as well as in political organisation.
1 Near Merv, 1040CE, where Sultan Mas’ud ibn Mahmûd of the Ghaznavids was defeated by the Saldjûk Turks and the Hindu ghulâm troops – the slave-servitors and ancestors of modern Romani populations – were decimated, the remnants fleeing in the 'long march west' as I have called it, to arrive in Byzantium c.1050.
2 Mazaris, M., 1975, Mazaris’ Journey to Hades: or, Interviews with dead men about certain officials of the imperial court. Greek text with translation, notes, introduction and index, Seminar Classics 609, Buffalo NY: Dept. of Classics, State University of New York at Buffalo; see also Timarion's und Mazaris' Fahrten in den Hades
3 Earlier then, than Matras has suggested a European variant, 1547CE in western Europe; Matras, Yaron, 2006, “Romani”, in Brown, K. (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Languages and Linguistics, (2nd ed.), Oxford: Elsevier
4 Matras, Yaron, 2006, ibid.
5 "On the position of Romani in Indo-Aryan", in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (3rd Series, 1927)