Migration, movement of people, especially of whole groups, from one place, region, or country to another, particularly with the intention of making permanent settlement in a new location. Humans have migrated since their emergence as a species. Their original differentiation into ethnic groups appears to have been a result of the isolated development of separate groups of people who migrated from a central point of origin, perhaps in Africa or Central Asia. Even in the Stone Age, however, this isolation was not complete, for migrations resulted in a complicated pattern of blood relationships through widely separated groups.

Movement of Peoples

In the more recent past, the movement and countermovement of peoples have led to accelerated mixing of stocks and mutual infusion of physical characteristics. Perhaps more important than the transmission of physical characteristics has been the transmission of cultural characteristics. The diffusion of cultures, including tools, habits, ideas, and forms of social organization, was a prerequisite for the development of modern civilization, which would probably have taken place much more slowly if people had not moved from place to place. For instance, use of the horse was introduced into the Middle East by Asian invaders of ancient Sumer and later spread to Europe and the Americas. Even important historical events can be linked to distant migrations; the downfall of the Roman Empire in the 3rd to the 6th century AD, for example, was probably hastened by migrations following the building of the Great Wall of China, which prevented the eastward expansion of Central Asian tribes, thus turning them in the direction of Europe.


A group of people may migrate in response to the lure of a more favorable region or because of some adverse condition or combination of conditions in the home environment. Most historians believe that non-nomadic peoples are disinclined to leave the places to which they are accustomed, and that most historic and prehistoric migrations were stimulated by a deterioration of home conditions. This belief is supported by records of the events preceding most major migrations.

The specific stimuli for migrations may be either natural or social causes. Among the natural causes are changes in climate, stimulating a search for warmer or colder lands; volcanic eruptions or floods that render sizable areas uninhabitable; and periodic fluctuations in rainfall. Social causes, however, are generally considered to have prompted many more migrations than natural causes. Examples of such social causes are an inadequate food supply caused by population increase; defeat in war, as in the forced migration of Germans from those parts of Germany absorbed by Poland after the end of World War II in 1945; a desire for material gain, as in the 13th-century invasion of the wealthy cities of western Asia by Turkish tribes; and the search for religious or political freedom, as in the migrations of the Huguenots, Jews, Puritans (see Puritanism), Quakers (see Society of Friends), and other groups to North America.

Choice of Routes


Throughout history, the choice of migratory routes has been influenced by the tendency of groups to seek a type of environment similar to the one they left, and by the existence of natural barriers, such as large rivers, seas, deserts, and mountain ranges. The belts of steppe, forest, and arctic tundra that stretch from central Europe to the Pacific Ocean have been a constant encouragement to east-west migration of groups situated along their length. On the other hand, migrations from tropical to temperate areas, or from temperate to tropical areas, have been rare. The desert regions of the Sahara in northern Africa separated the African from the Mediterranean peoples and prevented the diffusion southward of Egyptian and other cultures, and the Himalayas mountain system of South Asia cut off approach to the great subcontinent of India except from its eastern and western borders. As a consequence of these and similar barriers, certain mountain passes and land bridges became traditional migratory routes. The Sinai Peninsula in northeastern Egypt, bounded on the east by the Arabian Peninsula, linked Africa and Asia; the Bosporus region of northwestern Turkey connected Europe and the Middle East; the Daryal Gorge in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and southwestern Russia was used by the successive tribes that poured out of the European steppes into the Middle East; and the broad valley between the Altai Mountains and the Tien Shan mountain system of Central Asia provided the route by which Central Asian peoples swept westward.


Among the distinct effects of migration are the stimulation of further migration through the displacement of other peoples; a reduction in the numbers of the migrating group because of hardship and warfare; changes in physical characteristics through intermarriage with the groups encountered; changes in cultural characteristics by adoption of the cultural patterns of peoples encountered; and linguistic changes, also effected by adoption. Anthropologists and archaeologists have traced the routes of many prehistoric migrations by the current persistence of such effects. Blond physical characteristics among some of the Berbers of North Africa are thought to be evidence of an early Nordic invasion, and the Navajo and Apache of the southwestern United States are believed to be descended from peoples of northwestern Canada, with whom they have a linguistic bond. The effects of migration are particularly evident in North, Central, and South America, where peoples of diverse origins live together with common cultures.


Among the most far-reaching series of ancient migrations were those of the peoples who spread the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-European Languages). According to a prevalent hypothesis, a large group of Indo-Europeans migrated from east-central Europe eastward toward the region of the Caspian Sea before 3000 BC. Beginning shortly after 2000 BC, the Indo-European people known as the Hittites crossed into Asia Minor from Europe through the Bosporus region, and at about the same time the bulk of the Indo-Europeans in the Caspian Sea area turned southward. The ancestors of the Hindus (see Hinduism) went southeastward into Punjab, in northwestern India, and along the banks of the Indus and Ganges rivers; the Kassites went south into Babylonia; and the Mitanni of northern Mesopotamia went southwestward into the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and other parts of the region between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea known as the Fertile Crescent.

A migration of great importance to Western civilization was the invasion of Canaan (later known as Palestine) by the tribes of the Hebrew confederacy, which developed the ideas on which the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions are founded. These nomadic Semitic tribes, from the Arabian Peninsula and the deserts southeast of the Jordan River, moved (15th-10th century BC) into a settled region that was alternately under the control of Egypt and Babylonia.

Ethnic Migrations from 300 BC to AD 600

The civilizations of the ancient world were centered in cities and countries situated along the edges of the great European and Asian landmass, around the Mediterranean Sea, in the Middle East, in India, and in China. The huge interior area was crossed and recrossed by nomadic tribes, which periodically overran the coastal settlements. Central Asia was the main reservoir of these nomadic hordes, and from it successive waves of migrations penetrated eastward into China, southward into India, and westward into Europe, driving before them subsidiary waves of displaced tribes and peoples. In the 3rd century BC, the Huns, or Hsiung-nu, as they were called by the Chinese, advanced eastward from Central Asia toward China and westward toward the Ural Mountains, driving other groups before them.

In another movement the Cimbri, thought to have been a Germanic people, drove southward from the eastern Baltic Sea region and twice entered the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC. In the 1st century BC, Germanic groups from the southwestern Baltic area, possibly as a consequence of Cimbri pressure, also drove down into central Europe, occupying the territory between the Rhine and the Danube rivers. By the 3rd century AD, a newly expanding group, the Mongols, had arisen in Central Asia. As a result of their pressure, the Huns invaded China and crossed over the Ural Mountains into the Volga River region. This migration displaced the Goths, who traveled from southwestern Russia toward the European domains of the Roman Empire, and in turn forced the Germanic Vandals into Gaul and Spain at the beginning of the 5th century AD. The Visigoths (western Goths) continued their westward advance through Italy, Gaul, and Spain, driving the Vandals before them into northern Africa and eastward to present-day Tunis. The Ostrogoths (eastern Goths) followed the Visigoths into Italy and settled there. The Huns, who had begun their movement in Central Asia eight centuries earlier, followed the Goths into Europe, after being displaced by the Mongols, and settled in what is now Hungary about the middle of the 5th century. The Mongols also forced great numbers of Slavs (see Slavic Peoples) into eastern Europe. Thus, one of the most momentous and far-reaching events of history, the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the 3rd to the 6th century of the Christian era, was largely brought about by migrations.

After the Hun invasions in the 3rd and 5th centuries, a period of equilibrium began. In the East, the Chinese maintained their strength against the nomads. In the West, Europe consolidated its own strength.

The Spread of Islam

The weakness and decay of the Persian and the Byzantine empires encouraged the spread of a new migration out of Semitic Arabia that was far more extensive than that of the Hebrews into Canaan. United under the banner of Islam in the 7th and early 8th centuries, Arab tribes swept eastward through Persia to Eastern Turkistan and into northwest India; westward through Egypt and across northern Africa into Spain and southern France; and northwestward through Syria into Asia Minor. The Arab penetration into Central Asia stimulated nomadic raids on the frontiers of the Chinese Empire and forced the western Asian Magyar tribes to move in the direction of Europe, crossing the Ural Mountains and southern Russia and finally reaching Hungary, where they settled in the 9th century.

China and the Mongols

Expansion of Chinese frontiers under the Song (Sung) dynasty in the 11th century forced the Seljuk Turkish tribes out of Central Asia. These tribes moved westward across the Ural Mountains into the Volga River region and thence south into Persia, Armenia, Asia Minor, and Syria, settling among the peoples there. In the 13th century, Mongol tribes under famed conqueror Genghis Khan, in one of the most astounding military migrations of recorded history, swept out of Mongolia and captured China, Turkistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Asia Minor, southern Russia, and even parts of eastern Europe. The Ottoman Turks, forced from their pasturelands in western Asia during the brief period of Mongol supremacy, migrated westward and entered Asia Minor in the 14th century, taking Constantinople (then the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in what is now northwestern Turkey) and advancing as far as Vienna, Austria, in the 15th century.

The Scandinavian Invasions

The maritime region consisting of Scandinavia and other lands bordering the North and the Baltic seas was a subsidiary reservoir of migratory groups. In the 5th and 6th centuries, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, displaced by the Visigoths, sailed from northwest Germany and overran southern Britain. Norwegian mariners captured the Shetland, Orkney, Faroe, and Hebrides islands in the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century, Swedish fighters poured out of the Baltic region through southern Finland, sweeping down into Russia and through the Ukraine along the Dnepr River. During the 9th century, Norwegians settled in Iceland and in Normandy in France. Icelanders reached Greenland in the late 10th century and established a colony there. Subsequently, they sailed even as far as North America but left no permanent settlers. The growth of the system of nation-states in Europe during the 2nd millennium AD once more restored the equilibrium in the West, and no important ethnic invasions occurred thereafter.

Recent Migrations

More people have moved and resettled during the past 450 years than in any similar period of human history. The migrations preceding this period were collective acts, more or less voluntarily undertaken by the members of a group, but many of the more recent migrations have differed in at least two significant ways: They have been either voluntary individual acts or they have been enforced group movements, entirely against the will of the people who are being moved. The two types of migration began almost simultaneously after Europeans arrived in America in the late 1400s, and they have continued in one form or another up to the present day.

Before the 20th Century

The era of modern migrations that began with the opening up of the western hemisphere was continued under the impetus of the Industrial Revolution. Millions of western, and then eastern, Europeans, seeking political or religious freedom or economic opportunity, settled in North and South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the globe. As many as 20 million Africans were forcibly carried to the Americas by slave traders and sold into bondage. Millions of Chinese settled in Southeast Asia and moved overseas to work in the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, and the Americas. A large colony of Hindus was established in southern Africa, and many people from Arab lands migrated to North and South America.

The migrations from Europe were principally voluntary, in the sense that the emigrants could have stayed in their respective original homelands if they had accepted certain religions, creeds, political allegiances, or economic privations. The involuntary migrations were primarily those of the Africans captured for slave labor, but slave shipments were halted during the first half of the 19th century. At about the same time, however, a large-scale, more or less forced migration took place from southern Africa to the central and eastern parts of the continent, spurred by the expansionist force of the Zulu (see Mfecane). Finally, a great many of the Chinese, Indian, and other Asian migrations, as well as some of the migrations of eastern and southern Europeans, were not strictly definable as either free or unfree. The individual migrants signed agreements to travel in consignments of contract labor; and, although ultimately many of these laborers settled permanently and with equal rights in the lands to which they went, the terms of their original contracts often severely limited their freedom and, in effect, left them little better than slaves for long periods of time.

After World War I


The peak of modern migration was reached in the 50 years preceding World War I (1914-1918). After 1920, however, many nations, and particularly those that had been receiving the bulk of the immigrants, placed restrictions on immigration. Tightening of passport and visa requirements cut voluntary migration to much smaller proportions during the 1920s.

Europe and Totalitarianism

With the growth, during and after the 1920s, of totalitarian states, powerful dictators were able to order the deportation of large masses of the population from their homes to other, usually distant, parts of the national domain. During the enforced collectivization of agriculture in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the 1930s, for example, millions of peasants, denounced by the government as enemies of the state, were sent to "corrective" labor camps in Siberia and other remote regions or were resettled far from their homelands. Later, the ranks of these unwilling migrants were swelled by other Soviet citizens condemned to forced labor for real or alleged political opposition to the regime.

Another upsurge in the movement of peoples took place during World War II (1939-1945) and its aftermath. Following the partition of Poland by Germany and the USSR in 1939, hundreds of thousands of Poles were forcibly removed from their homes by the Soviet government and were sent to Siberia. The Soviets followed a similar policy in 1940, after they annexed the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—and in 1941 and 1943, when they dissolved the German Volga and Kalmyk autonomous republics. With the dissolution of these German autonomous republics, 600,000 people were condemned to forced labor beyond the Ural Mountains and Arctic Circle. After the war, approximately 1 million Tatars, adjudged politically unreliable by the state, were moved from Crimea to labor camps and exile colonies.

The German regime of Adolf Hitler, besides exterminating in its concentration camps 6 million Jews and other people from all over occupied Europe, deported 2 million to 3 million more. Many were pressed into slave labor in Germany; others, mainly Poles, were dispossessed and forced to migrate from the parts of their country that Germany had annexed. Replacing them were "racial" or "ethnic" Germans who were moved from eastern and southeastern Europe. At the end of the war, a reverse movement occurred as some 2 million to 3 million Germans were repatriated from Poland and many Polish nationals moved west after an expansion of Soviet boundaries in the west. To the south, another 2 million to 3 million German-speaking Czechs who had become German citizens were moved from the Sudetenland to Germany. Some Germans and East Europeans also migrated to other parts of the world.

Since World War II

The partition in 1947 of the Indian subcontinent into two independent states, one Hindu (India) and one Muslim (Pakistan), resulted in large-scale population transfers. Some 6.6 million Muslims entered Pakistan from Indian territory, and an estimated 5.4 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 resulted in the migration of hundreds of thousands of Jews to that state and the displacement of about 720,000 indigenous Palestinians into neighboring countries. Another major migration of Jews to Israel began in 1989, when Soviet emigration restrictions were eased, and increased after the breakup of the communist state. In 1991 virtually all the Jews in Ethiopia were airlifted to Israel. Elsewhere in Africa millions of people moved away from their native regions and nations, fleeing famine and civil war. In an upheaval reminiscent of the India-Pakistan partition, the violence that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia into separate, ethnically based states in the early 1990s forced millions to leave their homelands.

Elsewhere in Europe during the second half of the 20th century the trend of migration has been a relatively peaceful movement from east to west and from south to north. Millions have left Eastern Europe, at first to escape repressive communist governments and later to flee the chaos and poverty that came after those governments fell. From the south—from Mediterranean countries such as Turkey and from former African colonies such as Senegal—migrants have come in search of economic opportunity. Many found they were not welcome. In Germany and France there have been protests, sometimes violent, against immigrants.

In North America the international movement has been mainly from south to north as millions of migrants from Cuba and other Caribbean islands, from Mexico, and from elsewhere in Latin America have settled in the United States, mostly in California, Florida, and Texas.

Internal Migration


The Industrial Revolution also gave rise to an important kind of migration within nations. The most significant example of this migration pattern was the great movement of people from rural and agricultural areas to urban centers. This movement came to the industrial countries in the 1800s, then exploded in the so-called Third World countries in the 20th century. Migration within nations also involves shifting centers of industry. In the United States, the movement of workers and their families west and south to the Sun Belt has revamped the demographic map of the nation. In addition, the United States has seen the gradual diffusion of ethnic groups throughout the country; for example, the northward migration of African-Americans out of the southern states.