The documents which Hashdeu translated and analysed (1867, 1877) were found among papers in the archives of a monastery in Tismana, in a part of Little Wallachia called Oltenia. One of these, bearing the date 1387 and signed by Mircea (Mirsha) the Great, indicates that Gypsies had been in Wallachia for almost a century before that. Another of the documents was in the form of a receipt for forty families of Gypsy slaves presented as a gift; another was a receipt for some slaves given to the monastery at Prizren by the King of Serbia, Emperor Dushan, dated 1348, although Miklosich (1875, vol. iii, pp.6-7) questioned whether the wording in fact refers to Gypsies, an interpretation first given it by Shafarik (n.d., p.56). Miklosich's reservations were supported in a later study by Novakovich (1911:383), who makes a case for the reference being to cobblers rather than to Gypsies. Still another was a bill of sale for three Gypsies, the cost of whom was forty horseshoes. The original language of these references, two of which are reproduced here, appears to be Church Slavic. They were published first in Hashdeu (1867:191), and later in Miklosich (loc. cit.) and Serboianu (1930:45-46), though in the latter they are reproduced very inaccurately. In Miklosich are found
His Majesty confirms the receipt of the gifts made by my late uncle, Vladislav, voivod at Saint Anthony of Voditsa, namely the village of Zhidovishtitsa, the orchards of Bahnino, the grain mills along the Bistritsa River, and forty families of Gypsies.
There are also some Gypsies: the first, the chief artisan Raiko, then Bojko, son of Zlatar, Basil, son of Sukjas, for whom he is to give forty horseshoes each year.
The reasons for the institution of slavery in the Balkans were economic as much as anything else; at the beginning of the Middle Ages, eastern Europe in particular was profiting from its trade with the Orient. When the Muslims moved westwards into the Byzantine Empire, then a Greek-speaking, Christian nation, they cut off European access to the East, and consequently to the Holy Land as well. The maritime expansion and resulting settlement of the Americas were a direct outcome of this: an attempt to find alternative trade routes to the Indies.
Also resulting from the Islamic encroachment were the Crusades, a series of holy wars which lasted from 1099 to 1212. There were two routes which the Crusaders took from Europe to Jerusalem, one across northern Europe through Holland, Germany and Poland, thence south along the Danube, and the other through Hungary and Wallachia, both of these routes leading to ports on the Black Sea. Because of the constant military traffic through southern Europe, and the prosperity that feeding and equipping an army brings to a society in time of war, the Balkans flourished, while western Europe entered a period of slow decline. Balkan trade also prospered, since the flow of soldiers made the trade routes safer. Because of the losses of war, there was a gradual depletion of manpower throughout south-eastern Europe. The peasantry moved up in the social system to become the new middle class in Moldavia, Transylvania and Wallachia (Panaitescu, 1941).
While this was happening, the Tatars were invading Europe in a succession of attacks between 1241 and the mid-1400s. Because of the decline, and eventual fall, of Byzantium in the middle of the 15th century, and because of the Mongol invasions further north in Europe, and the Moorish domination in the southwest, a strong anti-Islamic sentiment had become very firmly established. This was the situation which Gypsies met upon their arrival in Europe.
At first, the virtual absence of a working class made welcome the skills which Gypsies brought with them from Byzantium and beyond. Two of these skills were smelting and the manufacture of firearms and shot, probably learnt in Armenia and the Byzantine Empire: the words in Armenian for both 'furnace' and 'tin', and the Greek words for 'lead', 'copper', 'nails' and 'horseshoes' have become a part of Romani vocabulary everywhere throughout Europe. But this attitude was not to last. Because of their strange language and appearance, and their dark skin, they were believed in Christian areas to be Tatars, intruders from the lands now occupied by the Muslims. This was especially true in areas remote from Islamic contact, where the local population had no first-hand idea of what actual Tatars looked like. Even today, two of the words for 'Gypsy' in the German language are Tatar and Heiden (i.e. 'Heathen', 'non-Christian'). There is indication that in Muslim-held areas, Gypsies were regarded as Christians, or at least as non-Muslims, and treated accordingly in terms of taxation and status. They may well have begun to acquire some aspects of Christianity in Armenia: the Romani word for 'Easter', for example, is derived from Armenian, although an earlier religion, which survives only in fragments today, appears to have its roots in Zoroastrianism, which could have been acquired in either India or Iran, or Manichaeanism, which existed in both Iran and Syria at the time of the exodus through those lands (Hancock, 1987).
Kenrick and Puxon believe that the present-day hatred of Gypsies in Europe is a folk-memory of this first encounter, stemming from "the conviction that blackness denotes inferiority and evil [which] was well rooted in the western mind. The nearly black skins of many Gypsies marked them out to be victims of this prejudice" (1972:19). European folklore contains a number of references to the Gypsies' complexion: a Greek proverb says "Go to the Gypsy children and choose the whitest," and in Yiddish, "The same sun that whitens the linen darkens the Gypsy," and "No washing ever whitens the black Gypsy." One word in Romani which Gypsies in some countries use as a name for themselves means 'black', and is an Indian word of ultimately Dravidian origin: Caló, among the Spanish Gypsies, and Kalo in Finland. Caucasian non-Gypsies are called Parné or Panorré "whites" in some Romani dialects, even by fair-skinned Gypsies. Hoyland repeats the Elizabethan belief that this dark skin was acquired: "Gypsies would long ago have been divested of their swarthy complexions, had they discontinued their filthy mode of living" (1816:39-40).
The closing-off of the trade routes, and the continuing necessity of feeding the soldiers and the rest of the population, began to strain the economy severely, and the establishment of a large, unpaid labor force to produce food and goods more cheaply was slowly becoming a reality. Measures soon began to be taken to keep Gypsies in southern Europe by force, so necessary had they become to the economy. Gypsies, in turn, made efforts to get away from this situation, and many successfully managed to move on into northern and western Europe. In some places, however, such as Germany and Poland, they met with such cruelty, since they were believed to be Muslims (Hancock, 1980a), that they turned back to seek refuge in the mountains and forests of southern Europe, as a result finding themselves once again in the situation from which they had previously fled. Gypsies, then, were quickly incorporated, by legislation and by force, into the system which came totally to rely upon them during the five centuries which followed.
Some writers, such as Jirechek (1919), Potra (1939) and Chelcea (1944) have suggested not only that slavery was an inherent condition of the Gypsies, originating in their pariah status in the Sudra caste in India, but that they were slaves from the very time of their arrival in south-eastern Europe, since they were brought in as such by the conquering Tatars. This was challenged by Soulis (1961:162), who cites documentation indicating the presence of Gypsies in the Balkans prior to the arrival in the same area of the Turks. This has been upheld more recently by Gheorghe (1983), who believes that part of the Romani population migrated into Europe through the Caucasus and Crimea, turning south into the Balkans. He further believes that Gypsies were allowed to move freely and work unmolested for a century or more before social and economic factors drew them into a situation of enslavement.
According to Gheorghe, it was the practice of the Rumanians to use prisoners taken in war as slaves. Citing Grigoras (1966) as his source, he gives an example of this involving Gypsies:
It is recorded ... that the Moldavian prince, Stephan the Great, after a victorious was with his Wallachian neighbours (1471), transported into Moldavia 17,000 Tsigani (Gypsies) in order to use their labour force. These figures are, maybe, exaggerated; nevertheless, they suggest the high economic value attached to Gypsies (op. cit., p.16).
He goes on to demonstrate that Gypsies so taken could accordingly be given, along with other property, as tribut or taxes by the barons to the princes, and that slavery as a national institution developed gradually through such means.