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
Now we’re talking.
Someone who knows their undead.
Although I’m all for the promise of immortality, vampires are dangerous killers and at the very top of the food chain.
One day, I’ll write The Great American Vampire Story and it will put all the rest to shame.
Great post! I’m going back to read some more!
Heather M. Gardner
Co-host: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
Blog: The Waiting is the Hardest Part [http://hmgardner.blogspot.com/]
Thanks, Heather! I look forward to it.
I’m not sure why agents are always saying vampires are a tough sell. People love stories of these bloodsuckers.
If you’re going back through my earlier posts, I recommend “D for Dyatlov.” 🙂
Toxic due to high iron content? Vampire bats must need a lot of extra iron then.
The classic Dracula story is a favorite. And I really dug the movie Near Dark.
And Underworld! Kate was a sexy vampire.
I suspect they don’t have as much iron in their blood as humans do. Apparently, we have a lot.
I really need to read Dracula, since I’m going to Romania in July. I’d always thought that I’d read it, but apparently the book I read was an abridged version.
The undead are fascinating. I did a lot of research on them for an old WIP. Vampires that aren’t sexy or beautiful make more sense to me…being undead and all. I gave my vampires the look of death but since it was fiction they were still pretty creatures.
Yes, it’s much more appealing to read about someone like Dracula or Louie than it is to read about a bloated purple guy. 😉
I find all the theories regarding the old myths to be fascinating as well.
How fascinating that natural body decomposition could give rise to vampire lore. It makes sense, though. Human make up stories to try and understand mysterious concepts. Really great post.
Thanks, Sara! I’m really enjoying your posts as well.
One of the enduring “theories” about vampires is that they came from premature burial…victims would be buried before they were dead because of poor medical knowledge, and then attempt to claw their way out of the grave when they regained consciousness.
That’s been debunked, since a person wouldn’t live very long after being buried alive, or have much fight in them.
The history of vampires is fascinating. I find it interesting the length people went to to ensure someone didn’t rise again. Now we know better. Or maybe vampires just got better at hiding. 😉
~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
Member of C. Lee’s Muffin Commando Squad
Patricia Lynne, Indie Author
It is really intriguing that every single culture had their own version of vampire, even the South Americans. I wonder why these stories were so widespread.
One of my favorite TV vamps is lacroix from forever knight.
Maybe it was the ergot that did it. Not only did they ‘see’ werewolves they saw vamps as well. Rye was one of the main staples back in the day.
Oooh, haven’t seen that one. I haven’t seen so many of the recent vampire releases, including the Twilight movies.
My favourite vampire is Jason Patric’s Michael in The Lost Boys. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. It’s an ’80s movie.
Oh yeah! lost boys. Jason Patric was so cute then. IMHO, I think the best of twilight is breaking dawn pt. 2.
And I totally forgot Alucard from Hellsing the anime! How could I forget him! He’s in my top five along with Sebastian from black butler and Sesshomaru from Inuyasha.
You would probably like ghost hunt too, if you haven’t watched it. It’s also anime.
I haven’t watched a lot of stuff. I like movies, but I’m too busy writing and reading to watch a lot of TV. When I do watch stuff on YouTube, it’s usually true-crime documentaries.
But you’ll be happy to know I do have Supernatural now. 🙂
This is the definitive post on the Undead. I was going to eat some breakfast, but I think I’ll pass until much later. Maybe tomorrow.
Of course, I won’t sleep tonight because I’ll be reliving Blagojevich’s exhumation and staking. Must have been quite a party.
As usual, you’ve captured my imagination (very vividly) and you’ve made me read your entire post. Must be some good writing going on here.
Thanks so much, Lee! Can I quote you on that?
“J.H. Moncrieff made me lose my appetite.”
I’m smelling a book blurb! 😀
Eish! as we say here in SA J.H. Or oosh, or hells bells on wheels. Or vrek! which is Afrikaans – one of our languages – which means – well many things, but this vrekked me out.
I wonder why the fascination … I had some thoughts about that a few years ago when movies books etc were the rage but I’ve forgotten what they were. Maybe a kind of rage and scapegoating? Fresh thoughts as I’m writing …
I’m really not sure, either. I understand the lure of vampires now, because we’ve made them all seductive and sexy, but why every culture had a persistent fear of them?
That I find extremely curious.
I’ve always loved vampires. As an 80s child, The Lost Boys is a big favourite, but I really enjoyed 30 Days of Night because it returned us to vampires being dangerous creators rather than pretty boys. And that was before we were presented with the speaking variety.
What I find incredible is there are still vampire rumours, fears and practices in parts of eastern Europe today. Places that are far from being undeveloped and yet they still believe. Fascinating.
A to Z participant
Yes, I’ve heard people in Romania still really believe in and fear vampires. I’m so excited for my visit in July! You never know…maybe I’ll see the real thing. 😉
And Lost Boys was awesome!
The origin stories are far more interesting than modern lore. While I do love sexy vampires, they have lost their evil nature in modern tween retellings.
I love all the origin stories of supernatural creatures. I agree–so much more interesting than a lot of modern fiction.