In the Hanseatic townships of mediaeval Germany, Gypsies were subject to the extremely rigid laws which affected all the inhabitants during that period. Many were imprisoned, for example, for not being on the taxpayer's register, or for not having a fixed address or steady employment. Because of their circumstances, Gypsies were especially vulnerable, and many sought refuge in the forests to escape these penalties. The difficulty of maintaining a livelihood under such conditions, and the harshness of the northern European winters, together with the steadily increasing harrassment of Gypsies in particular, reduced their numbers in Germany drastically within the first few years.
Those who remained were subject to growing persecution; in the museum in the Ancient Free City of Nördlingen may be seen many of the implements of torture used against the Gypsies in Germany, and a placard showing a Gypsy, whose flesh had been whipped from his body before being taken to the gallows, bearing the words "Punishment for Gypsies and their women found in this country." In 1726, Charles VI passed a law that any male Gypsy found in the country was to be killed instantly, while Gypsy women and children had their ears cut off, and were whipped all the way to the border. Gypsy hunting was a common sport; in 1826, Freiherr von Lenchen displayed his trophies publicly: the severed heads of a Gypsy woman and her child. In 1835, a Rheinish aristocrat entered into his list of kills "A Gypsy woman and her suckling babe."
The first academic treatment of Gypsies was written by the German ethnographer Heinrich Grellmann in 1783, upon whose research all later scholarship was built. With few exceptions, 19th century studies reflected the distaste and prejudices of their authors; Grellmann himself admitted to feeling "an evident repugnancy, like a biologist dissecting some nauseating, crawling thing in the interests of science" while doing his fieldwork ("ein offensichtlicher Widerwille wie der eines Naturwissenschaftlers, der ein ekelerregendes Kriechtier im Interesse der Wissenschaft seziert"; 1783:7). His contemporary, the Lithuanian minister M. Zippel, wrote that "Gypsies in a well-ordered state in the present day are like vermin on an animal's body" ("Zigeuner in einem guten geordneten Staat während der gegenwärtigen Zeit, sind wie Schädlinge an der Körper eines Tieres"1793:148). In the 20th century, Martin Block exhibited much the same attitude. He could not help experiencing "an involuntary feeling of mistrust, or repulsion, in their presence" ("ein unfreiwilliges Gefühl des Misstrauens oder des Widerwillens in ihrer Gegenwart"; 1936:16).
[Illustration with caption]
"Punishment for Gypsies and their women found in this country" Nördlingen, 1700
This detached attitude is not unusual among those who specialize in Gypsy Studies; in his foreword to the 1963 reprint of Groome's Gypsy Folk Tales, the late Walter Starkie drew attention to this:
[Groome's] experiences with the majority of Gypsiologists in Germany and elsewhere left him dissatisfied, for he discovered that they were not interested in frequenting the Gypsy camps or talking to the Romanichals; all their interest was concentrated upon Romani, as though it were a dead language like ancient Greek (Groome, 1963:v).
It has nevertheless been German scholarship in this area, more than any other, that has provided the foundation for modern Romanological studies. Grellmann's work attracted a number of Indianists, who became interested in Romani and who made passing references to its genealogy in their work. Such scholars included Schlegel, Bopp and Jülg. Contemporary with them was a handful of Romanologues who were publishing descriptions of specific dialects of European Romani: Bischoff, von Heister, Puchmeyer and Graffunder among them. In 1844, Augustus Pott produced the first scientific historical and comparative study of the language, for which he has come to be regarded as the father of Romani linguistics; this work was supplemented by the research of Ascoli, also writing in German, and in the 1870s and 1880s Franz Miklosich produced the first etymological and dialectological studies. A number of 19th-century German Indo-Europeanists cut their philological teeth on Romani, although its study today remains, as then, marginal.