This work is an essay/article for history buffs, no apologies, it’s aimed at vampire history buffs in particular and, more widely, anyone who has an interest in the history and the “modernity” of the aesthetic of the vampire. I offer to take you on a trip that will be at once both familiar and unknown. I don’t proclaim this to be “scientific”, I don’t proclaim it to be anything other than a fact, information gathering and data presentation thing but the one thing I have believed for my whole life, since as early as I could form a rational and inquisitive focus is that the whole of humankind, and yes I’m including us, has lost something vital and important; some piece of knowledge, some sort of key that opens the lock to “much more than is dreamed of in our philosophies”, our Vampire philosophies and the search for that key is as important and as integral to who and what we are and where we came from, how we came to be, as any of the accumulated information we currently have. Of course, finding a key is only the first part of the dilemma, the real cruncher comes in trying to find the lock it opens.
In pretty much every town in every country in the world there is a main street, our town is no exception. The vampire sub-culture, today, has its place in the global society of the internet, we, the denizens regularly travel “Main Street” to and fro between our destinations and along that route we pass by the main places, the main ‘points of interest and so forth but just like in any other society we sometimes venture into the side streets and we experience the “non mainstream”.
This article, the same as the others series, is not aimed at presenting the definitive, absolute and incontrovertible answer to the question, rather it is a presentation aimed at seeking out the most plausible of reasons for a myth, a myth that, over the following centuries, endured and grew in stature to become a major source of artistic, literary and sub-cultural treatment right up to, and beyond, the present day.
Using that as a starting point the most sensible first step is to review the historical events of the time period we are considering.
A Vampventric Timeline 801 BC to 1499 AD
800 BC: Rise of Greek city-states
753 BC: Founding of Rome (traditional date)
653 BC: Rise of Persian Empire
600 BC: Sixteen Maha Janapadas (“Great Realms” or “Great Kingdoms”) emerge in India.
563 BC: Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), founder of Buddhism is born as a prince of the Shakya tribe, which ruled parts of Magadha, one of the Maha Janapadas
551 BC: Confucius, founder of Confucianism, is born
539 BC: The Fall of the Babylonian Empire and liberation of the Jews by Cyrus the Great
509 BC: Expulsion of the last King of Rome, founding of Roman Republic (traditional date)
508 BC: Democracy instituted at Athens
500 BC: Pingala uses zero and binary numeral system
469 BC: Birth of Socrates
427 BC: Birth of Plato
384 BC: Birth of Aristotle
300 BC: Construction of the world’s largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Cholula, begins in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico.
206 BC: Han Dynasty established in China, after the death of Qin Shi Huang; China in this period officially becomes a Confucian state and opens trading connections with the West, i.e. the Silk Road.
146 BC: Roman conquest of Greece, see Roman Greece
86 BC: Siege of Athens ends with Roman conquest of Athens.
80 BC: The city of Florence is founded.
44 BC: Julius Caesar named Dictator perpetuo
40 BC: Roman conquest of Egypt.
4 BC: Widely accepted date (Ussher) for birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
30 AD: Death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Beginning of the Christian Church.
79: Destruction of Pompeii by the volcano Vesuvius.
105: Cai Lun of China invents paper
132: Zhang Heng of China invents first seismometer to detect the cardinal direction of earthquakes.
200: Lilith is referred to in the Talmud (the collection of Jewish law and tradition consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara ) where she was held to be the first wife of Adam
220: Three Kingdoms period begins in China after the fall of Han Dynasty.
258: Valerian’s Massacre of Christians.
285: Diocletian begins the biggest prosecution of Christians in Roman history.
306: (to 337): Constantine I, ends persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire
313: Edict of Milan declared that the Roman Empire would be neutral toward religious worship.
395: Theodosius I outlaws all pagan religions in favor of Christianity. Emperor Theodosius I dies, causing the Roman Empire to split permanently.
400 (earliest form): The Kama sutra, by Vātsyāyana, presents itself as a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life
The Kama Sutra is the oldest and most notable of a group of texts known generically as Kama Shastra (Sanskrit: Kāma Śāstra).
455: Vandals sack Rome, capture Sicily and Sardinia.
476: Romulus Augustus, last Western Roman Emperor is forced to abdicate by Odoacer, a chieftain of the Germanic Heruli; Odoacer returns the imperial regalia to Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno in Constantinople in return for the title of dux of Italy; most frequently cited date for the end of ancient history.
August 28: Deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer: traditional date for the Fall of Rome in the West.
522: Byzantines obtain silkworm eggs and begin silkworm cultivation.
541-542: First pandemic of bubonic plague (Plague of Justinian) hits Constantinople and the rest of Byzantine Empire.
570: Birth of Mohammad, prophet of Islam.
In 589 AD, the Chinese scholar-official Yan Zhitui makes the first reference to the use of toilet paper in history.
632: The Muslim conquests begin.
656 (to 661): The First Islamic civil war.
683 (to 685): The Second Islamic civil war.
800: On Christmas Day, Charlemagne is crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III.
808: The first mention of a mixture resembling gunpowder appeared in Taishang Shengzu Danjing Mijue by Qing Xuzi.
841: Dublin is founded on the east coast of Ireland by the Vikings.
850 (to 875): The first Norse settlers arrive on Iceland.
843: First image of a rotary grindstone in a European source—illustration shows crank, first known use of a crank in the West (Utrecht Psalter, 843)
868: First known printed book, the Diamond Sutra, printed in China using woodblock printing.
872: Ahmad ibn Tulun built a hospital in Cairo that provided care to the insane.
919: the first use of gunpowder in battle occurred with the Chinese Battle of Lang-shan Jiang (Wolf Mountain River)
1001: Vikings, led by Leif Eriksson, establish small settlements in and around Vinland in North America
1014 (to 1020): The Book of Healing, a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, is written by Avicenna, Persian scholar.
1020: The Canon of Medicine, a medical encyclopedia, is written by Avicenna, Persian Muslim scholar.
1024: The world’s first paper-printed money can be traced back to the year 1024, in Sichuan province of Song Dynasty China.
1042: the Normans establish Melfi as the capital of southern Italy.
1047: The first mention of the word “vampir” was discovered in a Slavic document that was Russian in origin. The Book of Prophecy written in 1047 AD for Vladimir Jaroslav, Prince of Novgorod, in northwestern Russia. The text was written in what is generally referred to as proto-Russian, a form of the language that had evolved from the older, common Slavonic language but which had not yet become the distinctive Russian language of the modern era. The text gave a priest the most unsavoury title; Upir Lichy, which literally translated means wicked vampire or extortionate vampire.
1054: the Great Schism, which was to be unrecoverable, in which the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox churches separated from each other.
A large supernova is observed by astronomers, the remnants of which would form the Crab Nebula.
1065: The Westminster Abbey of London, England is completed.
1078: The Tower of London in England is founded.
1086: compilation of the Domesday Book by order of William I of England; it was similar to a modern-day government census, as it was used by William to thoroughly document all the landholdings within the kingdom that could be properly taxed.
1096: University of Oxford in England holds its first lectures
1099: the Siege of Jerusalem by European Crusaders.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem is established and the Al-Aqsa Mosque was made into the residential palace for the kings of Jerusalem.
1100 (to 1300)
The age of origins of universities in the West; The term “Kindred” appears. A term meaning “of having the same belief or attitude”. It originated in 1125-75AD; Mid-European, a variation (with epenthetic d) of kinrede.
1119: Foundation of the Knights Templar.
1136: William of Newburgh born. A twelfth century British chronicler of vampyre incidents, was born in Bridlington. As a youth he moved to a priory of Augustinian Canons at Newburgh, Yorkshire. He became a Canon and remained at Newburgh for the rest of his life. Urged to devote himself to scholarly pursuits by his superiors he emerged as a precursor of modern historical criticism and strongly denounced the inclusion of obvious myth in historical treatises. His magnum opus, the Historia Rerum Anglicarum, also known as The Chronicles was completed near the end of his life. Chapters 32 to 34 relate to a number of stories of contemporary revenants, which William had collected during his adult years. Accounts such as that of Alnwick and Melrose Abbey have been repeatedly cited as evidence of a vampyre lore existing in the British Isles in ancient times. William died at Newburgh some time between 1198 and 1208
1145 (to 1148): The Second Crusade is launched in response to the fall of the County of Edessa.
1185: First record of windmills.
1189 (to 1192): The Third Crusade is an attempt by European leaders to reconquer the Holy Land from Saladin.
1190 Walter Map’s De Nagis Curialium includes accounts of vampire-like beings in England.
1193: Establishment of the first known merchant guild.
1202 (to 1204): The Fourth Crusade of 1202–1204 captures Zara for Venice and sacks Byzantine Constantinople, creating the Latin Empire.
1215: King John signs the Magna Carta at Runnymede in England.
1217 (to 1221): Fifth Crusade
1228 (to 1229): Sixth Crusade under the excommunicated Frederick II Hohenstaufen, returns Jerusalem to the Crusader States.
1248 (to 1254): Seventh Crusade
1272 (to 1274): The Second Council of Lyon attempts to unite the Churches of the Eastern Roman Empire with the Church of Rome.
1280’s: Eyeglasses invented in Italy.
1315 (to1317): The Great Famine kills millions of people in Europe.
1347 (to 1350): The “Black Death” plague sweeps the world. The plague kills around a third of the population of Europe and It was, at the time, thought by many to be of ‘Vampyric’ origin.
1429: Joan of Arc ends the Siege of Orléans and turns the tide of the Hundred Years’ War.
1431: May 30 – Nineteen-year-old Joan of Arc is burned at the stake.
Vlad Dracula (i.e. Son of Dracul) also known as Vlad the Impaler, was a historical figure upon whom it is suggested Bram Stoker partially based his famous vampyre character.
The name “Dracula” was applied to Vlad during his lifetime. It was derived from “Dracul” a Romanian word that can be interpreted either as “devil” or “dragon”. Thus “Dracula” would seem to have significance as meaning “son of the dragon” or “son of the devil”. He was born in Sighisoara (then Schassburg) a town in Transylvania
1438: Pachacuti founds the Inca Empire.
1439: Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400 – 1468) German goldsmith and printer, credited with inventing movable type printing in Europe, and mechanical printing globally.
1440 (to 1469): Under Moctezuma I, the Aztecs become the dominant power in Mesoamerica.
1448: Vlad Dracula first attempts to claim the Wallachian throne.
1450: Invention of the harpsichord
1453: The Fall of Constantinople marks the end of the Byzantine Empire
1456: Vlad Dracula then began his six year reign as ruler of Wallachia, during which his reputation was established.
1459: Most probably, in the spring of 1459, Vlad committed his first major act of revenge upon those he considered responsible for the death of his father and older brother.
On Easter Sunday, after a day of feasting, he arrested the Boyar families. The older members he simply had impaled outside the palace and city walls. He forced the rest to march from Tirgoviste to the town of Poenari where, over the summer, they were forced to build his new outpost overlooking the Arges River.
It was this chateau that was to become identified later as Castle Dracula. Vlad Dracul’s manner of terrorizing his enemies and the seemingly arbitrary manner in which he had people punished, earned him the nickname “Tepes” or “The Impaler”.
1462: Mehmed the Conqueror is driven back by Wallachian prince Vlad III Dracula at The Night Attack.
1476 (to 1477): Vlad Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks, possibly at the hands at the hands of an assassin, at some point towards the end of December 1476 or early the following year. (It is a known fact that he was dead by 10 January 1477.)
1481: Spanish Inquisition begins in practice with the first auto-da-fé.
1488: Portuguese Navigator Bartolomeu Dias sails around the Cape of Good Hope.
1492: Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas from Spain.
1495: The first written mention of Scotch whisky is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland. A friar named John Cor was the distiller at Lindores Abbey in the Kingdom of Fife
1497 (to 1499): Vasco da Gama’s first voyage from Europe to India and back.
Up a dark alley 801 BC – 1499 AD: The formative years
700 years of history pass by in the blink of a ‘page down’ button, 7 centuries of struggle, achievement, disaster, triumph and life and somewhere in amongst that time frame the concept of the vampire as the archetypal ‘undead revenant that rises from its grave at night to prey on the living’ comes into being. The Demons of the ancients are beginning to disappear and their place is being taken by more supernatural than semi-divine entities. Why does this happen? What drives mankind to consider things in a more pragmatic light? Is it a natural progression of belief? A change brought about by greater social awareness? The dawning of an understanding that ‘the Gods’ are not entirely what they seemed?
The earliest indicative of non-divine, or non-divinely generated, beings with ‘vampiric’ abilities appear to be in Slavic culture largely originating in the spiritual beliefs and practices of pre-Christianized Slavic peoples and also in the way they regarded life after death.
The origins of the ‘Slavic’ peoples are noted in Byzantine records of the early 6th century BC by which time the Slavic tribes inhabited a vast area of central-eastern Europe. They were identified by the names ‘the Antes’ and ‘the Sclaveni’ . Historiograhpers of the time describe tribes, known by these names, emerging from the area of the Carpathian Mountains, the lower Danube and around the Black Sea,
Commenting in 545AD, Procopius wrote;
“the Sclaveni and the Antae actually had a single name in the remote past; for they were both called Spori in olden times.”
He goes on to describe their social structure and beliefs:
“For these nations, the Sclaveni and the Antae, are not ruled by one man, but they have lived from of old under a democracy, and consequently everything which involves their welfare, whether for good or for ill, is referred to the people. It is also true that in all other matters, practically speaking, these two barbarian peoples have had from ancient times the same institutions and customs. For they believe that one god, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims.”
Indeed, the “Old Religion”of the Slavic peoples endured even after the official “Christianisation” of their society which began in the 9th century, and was not complete until the second half of the 12th century.
There exist, in the Slavic folklores, according to the article “Ancient Slavic mythology” at Pagan Space.net, “fairy tales about various fantastical characters and creatures such as Alkonost, Baba Yaga, Koschei the Deathless, Firebird, Zmey, songs and tales of legendary heroes such as Russian bogatyrs, and superstitions about various demons and spirits such as domovoi, likho, vilas, vampires, vodyanoy, rusalkas etc. Many of these tales and beliefs may be quite ancient, and probably contain at least some elements of old mythical structure, but they are not myths themselves. They lack a deeper, sacral meaning and religious significance, and furthermore they tend to vary greatly among various Slavic populations.”
The recorded first use of a word meaning ‘vampire’ was, of course, the 1047A.D. reference in the “Book of Prophecy”. The use of the term “Upir Lichy”, or “wicked vampire”, “extortionate vampire” was applied to a priest and this speaks not only to an extended understanding of the word vampire, such as we have in our modern dictionaries but also to the fact that the very concept of the vampire could be applied metaphorically. Another point is that the text was written in ‘proto-Russian’ and this language form had evolved from an older, common Slavonic language. This forms another point of reference in support of the Slav peoples as being the original source of vampire folklore.
Furthermore, the word for vampire has parallels in virtually all Slavic languages:
Bulgarian and Macedonian вампир (vampir),
Czech and Slovak upír,
Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór,
Ukrainian упир (upyr),
Russian упырь (upyr’),
Belarusian упыр (upyr), from Old East Slavic упирь (upir’).
In his book The Vampire, His kith and Kin author Montague Summers writes:
“The word Vampire (also vampyre) is from the Magyar vampir, a word of Slavonic origin occuring in the same form in Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, and Bulgarian with such variants as Bulgarian, vapir, vepir; Ruthenian vepyr, vopyr, opyr; Russian upir, upyr; South Russian upuir; Polish upier.”
Miklosich suggests the Turkish uber, witch, as a possible source. Another derivation, which is less probable is from the root Pi–to drink, with the prefix va, or av. From the root Pi–come the Greek πίνω I drink, some tenses of which are formed from the root Po–, such as a perfect πέπωκα; a future passive ποθήσομαι; to which must be added the perfect infinitive.”
The lowest level of development of Slavic mythology includes various groups of home or nature spirits and magical creatures, which vary greatly amongst different Slavic nations. Procopius had mentioned, from the 5th century, that Slavs worshipped river and nature spirits, and traces of this mythological structure can still be found in the tales about vilas (nymphs), vampires, witches, and werewolves.
So, it seems likely then that the commonly accepted archetype of the vampire did indeed originate with the Slavic races, a conclusion that is supported by Balkan history expert and author Dr. James Lyon PhD. who wrote;
“Many people are unaware that the word “vampire” (vampir in Serbo-Croatian) is a south Slavic word that was introduced to western languages between 1725-1734 by the Austrian Army following its encounters with the vampire phenomenon in then-occupied Serbia. In other words, the original concept of the vampire springs entirely from the lands of the former Yugoslavia,”
Arguably, the first major work containing reference to tales of such creatures was the 1190 work by Walter Map, entitled De Nugis Curialium (Trifles of courtiers) which included accounts of vampire-like beings in England. One such tale tells of a “wicked man” in Hereford who rose from the dead and wandered the streets of his village at night calling out the names of those who would die of sickness within three days. The reported response, by Bishop Gilbert Foliot, was “Dig up the body and cut off the head with a spade, sprinkle it with holy water and re-inter it”
A similar story is told by the English Abbot of Burton who recounts that there were two runaway peasants, reportedly from sometime around 1090, who died suddenly of unknown causes and were buried, but as the Abbot writes:
“the very same day in which they were interred they appeared at evening, while the sun was still up, carrying on their shoulders the wooden coffins in which they had been buried. The whole following night they walked through the paths and fields of the village, now in the shape of men carrying wooden coffins on their shoulders, now in the likeness of bears or dogs or other animals. They spoke to the other peasants, banging on the walls of their houses and shouting “Move quickly, move! Get going! Come!”
It was reported that the villagers became sick before dying but eventually the bodies of the revenants were exhumed, the heads cut off and their hearts removed, which put an end to the spread of the sickness.
During the twelfth century the serious consideration of the existence of Vampires took on new light with treatments by some of the most renowned scholars of the day, one such example being William of Newburgh who was born in the year 1136. As a precursor of modern historical criticism, William strongly denounced the inclusion of obvious myth in historical treatises.
A contemporary British chronicler of, and commentator on vampyre incidents, William was born in Bridlington and, as a youth he moved to a priory of Augustinian Canons at Newburgh, Yorkshire. He became a Canon and remained at Newburgh for the rest of his life.
Urged to devote himself to scholarly pursuits by his superiors he emerged as a precursor of modern historical criticism and strongly denounced the inclusion of obvious myth in historical treatises. His major and lifelong work, the Historia Rerum Anglicarum (also known as The Chronicles) was completed near the end of his life. Chapters 32 to 34 relate to a number of stories of contemporary revenants which William had collected during his adult years. Accounts such as that of Alnwick and Melrose Abbey have been repeatedly cited as evidence of a vampyre lore existing in the British Isles in ancient times. Of vampires William wrote;
“It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony”
This indicated that in a relatively short period, 1047 to the publication of William’s work 1198, the vampire concept and folklore had become cemented into contemporary thinking as a serious and scholarly issue, and an iconic figure, and subject, that was never to go away.
The twelfth century AD can, therefore be held to be ‘The Formative Years’ of Vampire folklore in contemporary and scholarly thinking. Little was achieved in trying to dispel such as the accounts were, by and large, anecdotal and subject to a variety of interpretations depending on the belief of the observer. Social fears and mores, religious interpretations and the ever present mythological and supernatural belief idiosyncrasies were to play a major part still but the very fact that such clear and unambiguous accounts were able to be gathered belies the denial of such things in the common perceptions of the world.
Thus belief and reports of such ‘vampiric’ activities continued and it wasn’t to be until the mid-14th century that popular consciousness returned to consideration of such matters. From 1347 (to 1350): The “Black Death” plague swept the world. The plague killed around a third of the population of Europe and it was, at the time, thought by many to be of ‘Vampyric’ origin. Then, in 1431, began a historical episode that was to become the catalyst for the greatest tale of the history of the Vampire.
In the year1431, the same year as nineteen-year-old Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by the English, Vlad Dracula (i.e. Son of Dracul) was born. Also known, during his lifetime, as Vlad the Impaler, he was a historical figure upon whom it is suggested Bram Stoker partially based his famous vampyre character.
The name “Dracula” was applied to Vlad during his lifetime. It was derived from “Dracul” a Romanian word that can be interpreted either as “devil” or “dragon”. Thus “Dracula” would seem to have significance as meaning “son of the dragon” or “son of the devil”. He was born in Sighisoara (then Schassburg) a town in Transylvania.
In 1448 Vlad Dracula first attempted to claim the Wallachian throne but it wasn’t to be until 1456 that he began his six year reign as ruler of Wallachia, during which his reputation was established. Sometime in 1459, most probably in the spring, Vlad committed his first major act of revenge upon those he considered responsible for the death of his father and older brother. On Easter Sunday, after a day of feasting, he arrested the Boyar families. The older members he simply had impaled outside the palace and city walls. He forced the rest to march from Tirgoviste to the town of Poenari where, over the summer, they were forced to build his new outpost overlooking the Arges River. It was this chateau that was to become identified later as Castle Dracula.
Vlad Dracul’s manner of terrorizing his enemies and the seemingly arbitrary manner in which he had people punished, earned him the nickname “Tepes” or “The Impaler”.
Somewhere between 1476 to 1477 Vlad was killed in battle against the Turks, possibly at the hands at the hands of an assassin, most probably at some point towards the end of December 1476 or early the following year. It is a known fact that he was dead by 10 January 1477. While there were many account of his bloodthirsty activities there is no substantial evidence to suggest that he drank the blood of his victims so whether or not he can be rightly considered to be a ‘vampire’ is a matter that remains shrouded in mystery.
The period of time between 801 B.C. and 1499 A.D. can be seen to be, if not the most populated with tales of “vampires” per se, the most integral period with respect to the global acceptance and the iconic cementing of the vampire in contemporary culture.
While the majority of vampires in the time period were not necessarily of the sanguine variety the concept of the vampire as a revenant, rather than a demonic manifestation, became firmly rooted in the world as a possible and realistic event and it was this shift in thinking that would lead to the eventual “Vampire Hysteria” that would take hold in Europe, and to the classical treatments of the Vampire aesthetic in pre-modern literature and metaphysical considerations.
1. Etymologie Wörterbuch des Slav. spr.
2. Æschylus, Septom contra Thebas, 820-821: βασιλέοιν δ᾽ ὁμοσπόροιν
πέπωκεν αἱμα γαῖ᾽ ὑμ᾽ ἀλλήλων φόνῳ·
3. Aristophanes, Uespae, 1502: ἀλλ᾽ ὁῦτός γε καταποθήσεται
Bartlett, Robert (2000). England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-925101-0.
Caciola, Nancy (1996). “Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture”. Past & Present 152: 3–45. JSTOR 651055.
Walter Map, De nugis curialium.
William of Newburgh, Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs), full text on-line.
The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead Paperback
by J Gordon Melton (Author)
ISBN-13: 978-1578592814 ISBN-10: 1578590760 Edition: Third Edition, Third edition