In light of the recent news kerfuffle regarding a child found in a Romani (gypsy) camp; it got me wondering:

At what point in history did the idea1 of gypsies stealing children start?

And from where and in what manner did the idea propagate through Europe?

1. Real or imagined or some admixture of the two.

  • 1
    The meme seems to have entered the 21st century mostly unscathed. One British mother says: "My family and I are extremely delighted at the news that a four-year-old girl has been found in a gypsy camp..." and "We have always believed that Ben's abduction was gypsy-related..." Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 6:51
  • I think it is important to note that the notion that "Romany steal children" is used as justification for contemptible predjudice and violence. I believe for many Romany it is likely to be a trigger. (Although blood libel, and child stealing are historical phenomena, I think we are remiss if we treat "child stealing Romany" the same way we treat other arbitrary historical facts.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 16:31
  • An not just for Romani, but almost any ethical group. This the accusation probably arose very quickly after discrimination started against Romani. Hence, this accusation probably stretches back to the 16th century, when discrimination against Romani seems to have become widespread. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 19:46
  • 1
    Labeling this question as propaganda is, in itself, a propaganda. We should look after the social, economic, and historical causes in all seriousness, and not hold idle rants about who is prejudicial against who.
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 21:18
  • @vsz I took great care in wording this question in a "neutral" way, if such is possible. Technically the term propaganda is a neutral description, much like meme, cliche or stereotype; as propaganda originally meant "coordinated propagation". If it entered the dysphemism treadmill rather quickly then it was because the utility value of propaganda encouraged its propagation; but assessing the propagation of propagation (propaganda) is not inherently propaganda itself. There may be a European cultural blind-spot regarding agriculturalists vs nomadics, but I wasn't asking that question. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


Cervantes published La Gitanilla (The Gypsy Girl) about 1613, so the meme was strong at the beginning of the 17th century. The main character was a princess stolen as a girl by the gypsies.


A Roman soldier stumbled into a stranger's house and saw a bunch of people drinking red wine. "What are you drinking there?" - asked the soldier, licking his lips. "Blood of Jesus" - replied one of the parishioners. "Who is that Jesus you are talking about?" - the soldier was taken aback. "Here he is" - said the parishioner and pointed to the icon of baby Jesus. After stumbling out and wiping vomit off his lips the soldier told everyone he knew that Christians are stealing babies and drinking their blood.

OK, OK, the above conversation is fictional. However, there is sufficient historical evidence that Romans were indeed accusing Christians of stealing babies and drinking their blood. Tertullian, an early Christian author, defended Christians against blood libel in 3rd century AD.

Somewhat later, when Rome turned Christian, the folk tales about Christians had to be quelled, and the blood libel was redirected at Jews.

The tales of foreign people speaking strange language and living amongst "us" and stealing babies persisted, although it never had anything to do with reality. And when Roma people came to Europe they fit the folk tale stereotype just as well as Jews. And to this day there are plenty of idiots in many European countries who propagate the libel, directed to either Romani or Jews.

  • European culture had or has both anti-Semitism and anti-Ziganism, possibly supported by the same cultural underpinning. But I'm going to have to down vote this answer for two reasons: Firstly, it doesn't answer the question asked; Secondly, it opens the door for any latent antiziganists (not you of course) wishing highlight differences or similarity with antisemitism and flooding the post. Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 23:50
  • @LateralFractal: OK, I was really answering the question "At what point in history did the idea of strangers living among us stealing children start?", which is related but not identical to the asked one. As you stated, antisemitism and antiziganism are likely to be caused by the same cultural or psychological causes.
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 26, 2013 at 3:23

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