The reader of European history who goes searching for Gypsies will only find them in footnotes. Today we still know little about how Gypsies have worked and lived through the centuries; we are guilty of the same ignorance towards non-sedentary groups in general. It has only been recognised tardily and with reluctance that during the Second World War hundreds of thousands of itinerants met the same horrendous fate as Jews and other victims of Nazism. Gypsies appear to appeal to the imagination simply as social outcasts and scapegoats or, in a flattering but no more illuminating light, as romantic outsiders. The world is patently intrigued by them, yet at the same time regards them with anxiety as 'undesirable aliens'. Where does such ambivalence come from? What ideas are involved under the surface of these mixed feelings? In this study, contemporary notions about Gypsies are traced back as far as possible to their roots, in an attempt to lay bare why stigmatisation of Gypsies, or rather groups labelled as such, has continued from the distant past even to today.