33.5.6 The Mongols and the Gypsies¶
A curious side result of these later Mongol perturbations, those of the fourteenth century of which Timurlane was the head and centre, was the appearance of drifting batches of a strange refugee Eastern people in Europe, the Gipsies. They appeared some when about the end of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries in Greece, where they were believed to be Egyptians (hence Gipsy), a very general persuasion which they themselves accepted and disseminated. Their leaders, however, styled themselves «Counts of Asia Minor». They had probably been drifting about Western Asia for some centuries before the massacres of Timurlane drove them over the Hellespont. They may have been dislodged from their original homeland-as the Ottoman Turks were by the great cataclysm of Jengis or even earlier. They had drifted about as the Ottoman Turks had drifted about, but with less good fortune. They spread slowly westward across Europe, strange fragments of nomadism in a world of plough and city, driven off their ancient habitat of the Bactrian steppes to harbour upon European commons and by hedgerows and in wild woodlands and neglected patches. The Germans called them «Hungarians» and «Tartars», the French, «Bohemians». They do not seem to have kept the true tradition of their origin, but they have a distinctive language which indicates their lost history; it contains many North Indian words, and is probably in its origin North Indian. There are also considerable Armenian and Persian elements in their speech. They are found in all European countries today; they are tinkers, pedlars, horse dealers, showmen, fortune-tellers, and beggars. To many imaginative minds their wayside encampments, with their smoking fires, their rounded tents, their hobbled horses, and their brawl of sun burnt children, have a very strong appeal. Civilization is so new a thing in history, and has been for most of the time so very local a thing, that it has still to conquer and assimilate most of our instincts to its needs. In most of us, irked by its conventions and complexities, there stirs the nomad strain. We are but half-hearted home- keepers. The blood in our veins was brewed on the steppes as well as on the plough lands.