Roma in the Medieval Islamic World


Medieval Arabic sources are full of references to the Banu Sasan (Sons of Sasan) and the Ghuraba' (Strangers), an enigmatic but captivating group who begged, told fortunes, trained animals, and practiced medicine throughout the Islamic world from the mid-7th century onwards. These groups constitute peoples who would later come to be known as the Roma. Although they both produced their own texts and were written about by outsiders, relatively little scholarship has been conducted into the Roma in the Middle East. In this episode, Dr. Kristina Richardson joins me to talk about her new book Roma in the Medieval Islamic World: Literacy, Culture, and Migration (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021). Drawing on a wide variety of literary and archaeological evidence to illuminate the practices, languages, and lived experiences of the Roma in the Middle Ages, Dr. Richardson's book argues for a central role of the Roma in medieval culture and society. We discuss nomadism and mobility among the medieval Roma, their literary and artistic outputs, languages, trades, relationships with outsiders, and contemporary issues affecting the study of the Roma in the Middle East today.

Music in this episode: Desert City by Kevin MacLeod. License.

Your Host

Maggie Freeman

Maggie Freeman is a PhD candidate in the School of Architecture at MIT. She researches uses of architecture by nomadic peoples and historical interactions of nomads and empires, with a focus on the modern Middle East.

View Profile