Beiträge zur Minderheitengeschichte

Liebe Leserinnen und Leser,

auf dieser Seite präsentieren wir Ihnen aktuelle Beiträge zum Thema „Minderheitengeschichte und Bürgerrechte“. Essays, Aufsätze oder andere Debattenbeiträge von ausgewiesenen Forscherinnen und Forschern, von Nachwuchswissenschaftlerinnen und -wissenschaftlern sowie herausragende Arbeiten von Studierenden sollen den Diskurs in einem vergleichsweise neuen Feld der Geschichtswissenschaft anregen.

Kommentare zu den in loser Folge hier publizierten Arbeiten sind ausdrücklich erwünscht. Wir beginnen mit einem englischen Essay von Sandra Klos zur Konstruktion von Roma als Außenseiter, als die „Anderen“ der Kultur im 15. Jahrhundert. Es handelt sich dabei um einen Beitrag zur Forschungsdiskussion, der auf einer originären Quellenauswertung basiert und einen noch kaum wissenschaftlich erschlossenen Aspekt der Forschung zu Sinti und Roma, Stereotypisierung und frühem Antiziganismus beleuchtet. Wir danken Frau Klos für die Möglichkeit, ihre Arbeit hier zu veröffentlichen, ferner danken wir herzlich auch Prof. Dr. Daniel König, in dessen Seminar der Text als Hausarbeit angenommen wurde.

Um eine Vollversion der Arbeit inklusive Literaturverzeichnis zu erhalten, klicken Sie bitten auf den Titel des Beitrags.


Sandra Klos

Narratives of Otherness. Debates on the Origins of Romani Peoples in the Fifteenth Century

[Zitation: Sandra Klos: Narratives of Otherness. Debates on the Origins of Romani Peoples in the Fifteenth Century, in: Beiträge zur Minderheitengeschichte, 1/2016,, (25.6.2016).]


Spiezer Chronik, 15. Jahrhundert, siehe S. 3

“The eternal outsiders” is the headline of an article by Wolfgang Wippermann, professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, which was published in the current issue of the popular scientific magazine Zeit Geschichte which deals with German migration history.[i] The article explains how in the 15th century, Romanies[ii] sought “asylum” in Western European cities showing “residence permits” from their lords. As Wippermann states, they had been fully integrated in the late medieval Christian-feudal society, until 1498, when they were suddenly expelled by the Reichstag for “grotesque” reasons. Persecutions continued, leading up to the destruction of approximately half a million Romanies in the Holocaust. The article sums up with a warning not to underestimate sudden swings, but also with the reminder of the 15th century as a positive example of “successful integration.”

Themes like flight, asylum, or migration are highly topical today, thus attracting scholarly as well as popular interest in the assumed moment of first contact between Western European societies and the newly arriving foreigners in front of the town gates. Implicitly, these narratives of a teleological history of persecution, for which Wippermann’s article only stands pars pro toto, comment on the complex causality of the Holocaust[iii] and seek strategies for a more sustainable integration of Romanies in non-Romani societies.[iv] The romanticizing of the 15th century as a “golden age”[v] for Romanies, as the first monograph written on this topic by Heinrich Moritz Gottlieb Grellmann stated, has afterwards been put into perspective but still has not lost all of its explanatory power.[vi] When and why did this change of attitude occur and what constituted the assumed earlier period of successful integration? For Grellmann and many of the succeeding historians, a determining factor was the way in which Romanies presented themselves as a group and where they came from, as well as the non-Romani reactions to those accounts.

One of the most prevalent stories portrays the arriving Romanies as devout Christian pilgrims from their homeland Egypt that atone for their sins – either for an intermittent period where they turned apostate during a Muslim invasion, or alternatively, for refusing the Holy Family shelter during their biblical flight from Herod. The ‘golden age’-theory says that due to their ability to ‘pass’ as pilgrims and penitents, Romanies enjoyed more privileges than ordinary nomadic beggars and could secure letters of safe conduct by powerful lords, such as Sigismund of Hungary. A few decades later, however, the story suffered a loss of authenticity and in the late 15th and early 16th century, expulsions and a century-long history of persecution began, according to Wippermann.[vii]

In research, there are two dominant evaluations of this popular account. One already appears in a number of sources of the 16th and 17th century and was enforced by Grellmann, namely that pretending to be pilgrims was a blunt lie of the Romanies, who unjustly wanted to profit from benefits reserved for genuine pilgrims and penitents.[viii] The second interpretation is more recent and was titled most pointedly by Angus Fraser, the “Great Trick.”[ix] In Fraser’s view, Romanies simply invented a clever strategy that would allow them to survive in an otherwise hostile environment. Rather than a lie to scrounge benefits, it was a necessary trick, “brilliant in concept,”[x] by a self-determined people executing their agency.

Either way, both appellations, lie or trick, are based on various problematic premises. First of all, they both uncritically assume that Romanies acted in an organized, unified, and purposeful manner.[xi] My first chapter will therefore briefly outline some theoretical thoughts and approaches to answer the question whether the 15th century foreign traveling bands could have been perceived as a people. Secondly, despite the fact that there are no Romani ego-documents from this period, scientific consensus assesses the pilgrim-narrative almost unanimously as a statement by Romanies themselves.[xii] My second chapter will thus revisit the source material to problematize this premise of a Romani self-statement. Thirdly, if we assumed that any lie or trick was not imposed on them by non-Romani society, any prevalent and recorded origin story would have at least needed the out-group’s validation.[xiii] Hence, in my third chapter, I will take into account those late medieval efforts that tried to allocate the Romanies’ arrival in contemporary conceptions of man and the world in order to reconstruct familiar options of assignment and comparison. While late medieval migrations have only been an ephemeral concern to the traditional field of early medieval ethnicity studies, various possibilities of contextualizing and relating Romani discourses to other ethnicity discourses have been overlooked as a consequence. Thus in my last chapter, I wish to develop new questions currently disregarded by the dominant narrative of Romani studies of the lost ‘golden age’ when “the greatest trick of all was played on western Europe in the early fifteenth century.”[xiv]