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Mediterranean Gypsies. A forgotten history beyond diaspora, nomadism, marginality in three Western Mediterranean areas of the Spanish Crown (Andalusia, Sicily, Sardinia, 16th- early 18th century)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MediterraneanGypsies (Mediterranean Gypsies. A forgotten history beyond diaspora, nomadism, marginality in three Western Mediterranean areas of the Spanish Crown (Andalusia, Sicily, Sardinia, 16th- early 18th century))

Período documentado: 2018-09-10 hasta 2020-09-09

The goal of the project was to contribute to a rethinking of the history of Gypsy groups in Europe in the modern era (16th, 17th, early 18th century), by applying an interdisciplinary interpretative paradigm to a specific case study: the Gypsy presence and circulation in three Western-Mediterranean areas of the Spanish Crown (Andalusia, Sicily, Sardinia). [The ethnonym ‘Gypsy’ is used here, as Roma/Rom would be anachronistic with respect to the forms ‘Gitanos’, ‘Zingari’ and variations found in the historical sources analysed]
The project had three main objectives:
1. Problematise and counter the traditional diasporic representation of Gypsies as perpetual travellers, kept in an inescapable position of social and economic marginality
2. Document and analyse the continuity of the Gypsy presence and their short-range mobility in the Western Mediterranean area
3. Investigate the strategies through which, in the modern era, Gypsies kept their group identity while also being part of the broader society.
The mono-dimensional interpretation of the Gypsies as a diasporic, nomadic and marginal minority relentlessly persecuted often depends on choosing royal ordinances, decrees and acts of Parliament, and synod proceedings, as primary sources. Due to their nature, these institutional sources do not usually offer details on the everyday life of Gypsy groups, but mainly of their repression. The hypothesis at the basis of Mediterranean Gypsies was that a different, more complex and nuanced history can surface if the analysis extends beyond the so-called Archives of Repression to include a broader range of primary sources documenting everyday life, such as parish funds, custom records and notarial deeds. Thus, a substantial corpus of original and mostly unpublished documents was collected via an extensive multi-lingual and multi-archival research conducted in Spain, Italy and the UK, and then investigated with an approach at the crossroads of transnational history, micro-history and historical anthropology.
The results of the project allow us to trace the movements of Gypsy individuals, families and groups across the Western Mediterranean area, to map out the economic and social relations they developed both among themselves and with other settled people, and to understand their articulated relationships with local and state institutions. The activities and the relational strategies elaborated by Gypsy women were also investigated as a specific case study, so as to ascertain their social role and agency, which went beyond the stereotypical image of the fortune-teller and enchantress; archival documents showed that Gipsy women worked in a variety of contexts, e.g. as weavers or field workers, and some were even active in professions traditionally associated with men, such as trading goods, particularly the horse trade.
The first year of the project was mainly devoted to collecting primary sources in European libraries and archives. In Madrid: Archivo Histórico Nacional, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Real Biblioteca del Palacio Real; in Sevilla: Archivo General del Arzobispado, Archivo Municipal, Archivo Histórico Provincial, Archivo de la Parroquia de Santa Ana de Triana; in Palermo: Archivio di Stato; Archivio Parrocchiale di San Nicolò di Bari all’Albergheria; Archivio Storico Comunale; in Cagliari: Archivio di Stato, Archivio Storico Diocesano. The project benefited from being hosted by the University of Leeds, as the Brotherton Library Special Collections holds an important Romani Collection. The second year focused on the study of the corpus, which resulted in an understanding of the movements and settlements of Gypsy individuals and family groups, their networks of internal relations and their interactions with institutions and local populations.
The project’s blog ( constitutes an accessible repository of the research findings, outputs and events, and offers a map of its multimedia digital presence (scientific and outreach publications, video webinars, radio interviews). Peer-reviewed academic outputs published to date include one article in English and two book chapters in Italian. Research results were presented in invited talks at the universities of Leeds, Cagliari, Verona, EHESS in Paris, Seville (as Visiting Research Fellow), and via participation to international conferences at the universities of Reykjavik (organised by the Gypsy Lore Society) and Cagliari. An exhibition of archival documents and a public talk on their relevance were organised with the Special Collections at the Brotherton Library and the Cervantes Institute in Leeds as part of the Yorkshire Flamenco Cultural Week (2019), attracting both academics and the general public. Finally, the presentation of the project to undergraduate and taught-postgraduate students in Leeds has fed into a contribution on Mediterranean Sea Routes to Education of Roma Children in Europe 2020, a multilingual digital project of the Council of Europe; another digital publication on Romanes, la lingua di Rom e Sinti is hosted by the Dizionario Treccani online, bridging the gap between scientific research and general readers.
Mediterranean Gypsies has furthered scholarship beyond the state of the art in four main areas. First, it has proved that expanding the corpus of documents beyond traditional sources is key to gathering new evidence and developing new knowledge. Indeed, the wide variety of sources examined has allowed the researcher to counterbalance the mainstream interpretations based exclusively on repressive sources. Second, it has highlighted the necessity to break the boundaries of national historiographies in order to understand historical phenomena in a way that is respectful of their complexity, as the case of the Gypsy circulation in different territories of the multi-national but politically unified Hispanic monarchy brings to light. Third, it has shown that the agency of social actors must be taken into account when conceptualising marginality as a blanket category. While existing conflicts with lay and religious institutions existed, documents studied for this project reveal Gypsies not only as passive victims but also as architects of their own destiny, insofar as they were able to at a given time and space. Lastly, the project has evidenced that all forms of exclusion, discrimination and persecution must be understood with reference to the specificity of the historical and geographical contexts that generate them rather than be assumed as atemporal phenomena. The research project proved that Gypsy individuals and groups could develop meaningful social interactions, thus disproving the stereotype that Gypsies were intrinsically unable to accept the social rules shared by the broader community.
The potential of the project to counter antiziganist discourses that still have currency in European society with alternative narratives on Gypsy history has already attracted the interest of different interlocutors. In addition to the dissemination activities planned by the researcher, the project’s aims and results were communicated in radio interviews and online talks organised by cultural bodies and groups of activists interested in understanding the multifaceted history of the presence of Roma communities in Southern Italy and Sardinia (now available online).
Copy of 'Discursos juridicos' by Pedro de Villalobos (1644) with anonymous hand-written notes