There was a time when vampires roamed freely in Eastern Europe while the authorities fought them by digging up corpses and burning them. As was the case with the witch mony that plagued Europe for centuries, various intellectuals wrote clever treatises on these creatures and even composed poems and painted pictures. It was these works that inspired Irishman Bram Stoker to write his great novel, Dracula.
At the beginning of the 18th century, this fever reached Western Europe thanks to the Peace of Passarowitz (1718), when almost all of Serbia and northern Bosnia became part of Austria. The occupation troops kept hearing stories related to a peculiar local practice: exhuming corpses to burn them. One of the stories that most fired the imagination of Europeans, and in particular that of the Germans, was that of Petar Blagojević (known in the rest of Europe as Peter Plogojowitz ) who died in 1725 in the city of Kisilova. He is one of the earliest known Serbian vampires and the best-documented case thanks to the report written for his superiors by the Imperial District Provider of Gradisk, Frombald , who saw his corpse staked by his neighbors. As is often the case, vampirism appeared as a result of an epidemic and the first to die, Plogojowitz, was accused of being responsible for the subsequent deaths: “nine people, young and old, died after 24 hours of illness,” they told Frombald. This is characteristic of vampire folklore: deaths are swift and unexpected . When they unearthed Peter they found that the body was “completely fresh” but not without changes : he had lost his nose and his hair and nails had grown. The poor vampire was finished off by the usual method, by driving a stake through him. According to the inhabitants of the place, although he bled profusely, he did not let out a moan, as tradition assured that it should happen.
the most famous vampire
But the case that brought vampirism to Western Europe was that of Arnod Paole , a Serbian guerrilla. He was the cause of a vampire epidemic in Medveja that began in 1726 and drew so much attention from the Austrian authorities that they launched two official investigations. The first was given by the military doctor and contagious disease expert, Johan Glaser . When he arrived in the area in December 1731, he was informed that the vampires had killed 13 people in a month and a half. Glaser only observed malnutrition but the locals threatened that they would leave the place if they were not allowed to eliminate the vampires that plagued the place: a 50-year-old woman named Milica and another 20-year-old named Stana. Glaser agreed to exhume them and autopsy them. The hysteria was such that the doctor asked permission to “execute” the corpses .
His report prompted the military authority to send a new commission in January 1732 under the direction of the surgeon Johann Flückinger : his report, known as Visum et Repertum, included the term vampire for the first time and helped spread the bloodsucking madness throughout Europe.
According to what they told him, Paole had been attacked by a vampire and to “cure himself” he used one of the techniques that -it was said- served to scare them away: he followed him to his grave and smeared his body with the vampire’s blood. Unfortunately, the poor Serb died after breaking his neck after falling from a hay wagon; Within a month of his death, four people began to say that he was bothering them. Then the local authorities decided to dig him up and discovered that the body“he was quite whole and incorrupt, and that fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears; that the shirt, the shroud and the coffin were bloodied…according to customa stake was driven through his heart and he uttered an audible scream and bled profusely. That same day his body was burned and his ashes were thrown into his grave.As the people who die because of a vampire become vampires, the four recognized as such were unearthedand the same ritual was applied to them. Since Paole was suspected of feeding on the blood of cattle, all the people who had eaten their meat had also been converted. How to know which ones? Because “in a period of three months, 17 people, young and old, died, some of them in two or three days, without previous illness.” After the exhumation of the vampires and the subsequent autopsy, the report of this commission of investigation concluded thatthe bodies of 12 of the 17 suspects had no signs of decomposition, their chest and internal organs were full of blood, apparently fresh and without coagulating, the viscera were in good condition and in several of them “the skin of the feet and hands, as well as the old nails, had fallen off but on the other hand the existence of new nails as well as skin was evident. new and clean”.The conclusion of the Austrian doctors was that they were facing the characteristics that a vampire should have. Did they really believe in them?
We don’t have much evidence of the vampire craze that swept Europe, but we do have some clues. During an excavation on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, anthropologist Matteo Borrini from the University of Florence found in 2012 the skull of a woman with a brick stuck between her teeth . According to Borrini, she was a vampire: “to kill a vampire you must remove the shroud from his head because it serves as food, and instead you have to place something inedible in his mouth.” The skeleton was found in a mass grave from 1576, where those who died of the plague were buried. Placing the brick was a way to prevent the spread of the plague as they were considered spreaders of disease. However, some researchers do not share this interpretation and think that it is a simple coincidence : it is one of the many bricks that are in the surroundings and that it could have accidentally entered the woman’s mouth after her burial. However, there are other remains that are clearer.
In that same 2012, more than 600 graves found in a church cemetery in the Bulgarian city of Sozopol, on the Black Sea, were excavated, and among them they found a couple of skeletons that seem to have been given a “special treatment” after death: one of them had a plow-like object through the left side of his rib cage and the other had an unidentified metal object in his solar plexus. According to archaeologist Dimitar Nedev, head of the Sozopol Archaeological Museum, they are proof that the city’s inhabitants protected themselves against those they thought would turn into vampires. And in 2013 two skeletons with two iron bars across their chests were found in the medieval Perperikon archaeological complex in Bulgaria.
Groom, N. (2018) The vampire: a new history, Yale University Press