As long as there has been recorded human history, there have been tales of undead creatures who stalk the living. Vampire-like demons and spirits have existed in many different cultures for thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Asians, Africans, and Romans all had their own version of vampires.
However, folkloric vampires bared little resemblance to the sexy, suave, sparkling creatures we’re familiar with today.
The original vampires were bloated and ruddy, purplish, or dark in colour–these lovely traits were attributed to the recent consumption of blood or flesh. You knew you had a vampire on your hands when blood was seen seeping from the mouth and nose of a corpse. Other telltale signs were longer hair, fingernails, and teeth. (But not fangs…fangs came later.)
Interestingly, these are all signs of human decomposition. Corpses swell as gases accumulate in the torso, and the increased pressure forces blood to ooze from the nose and mouth. This causes the body to appear bloated or well-fed. Darkening of the skin is also caused by decomposition. The staking of a swollen corpse could cause the body to bleed, and force the accumulated gases to escape, producing a groan-like sound when the gases moved past the vocal cords.
The creatures we love and fear today came from early 18th-century southeastern Europe, where vampire sightings were fairly common, leading to “vampiric hysteria,” where many innocent people were killed and corpses were disinterred to have metal rods driven through their torsos (the wooden stake is a modern creation).
Contagious disease could explain why people got sick and died after coming into contact with a corpse, but what is uncertain is why so many witnesses were certain to have encountered these “vampires.”
In one of the first-known written accounts of a vampire, nine people claimed to have been strangled by a Serbian peasant named Peter Blagojevich. The problem? Blagojevich’s death preceded theirs.
Even Blagojevich’s family got into the act. His wife reported that he had visited her and demanded his shoes. According to legend, Blagojevich murdered his son when the young man refused him food.
When the furious villagers dug up Blagojevich, they found his body hadn’t decomposed. (Since very little was known about decomposition back then, the villagers wouldn’t have been aware of all the internal processes taking place.) His hair and beard appeared to have grown (which happens when liquid evaporates from the body, causing the skin to shrink and pull back, making it seem like hair, nails, and teeth have grown longer.) There were “new skin and nails” (while the old ones had peeled away), and blood could be seen in the mouth.
Poor Blagojevich was violently staked, which caused blood to flow through his ears, nose, and mouth, convincing the Serbians that they had at last captured their vampire.
It is curious that stories of murderous vampiric creatures can be found in every known culture. Is it our fear of death that has helped the vampire endure for millennia?
Or is it something else?
An interesting side note: human blood is actually toxic due to its high iron levels. Anyone who consumes blood regularly runs a risk of haemochromatosis (iron overdose), which can cause a wide variety of diseases and problems, including liver and nervous system damage.
What’s your favourite vampire from film, books, or television?
With files from Wikipedia