The Vampire in History

They swept across the Bosphorus and into Eastern Europe with a vengeance, conquering the squabbling Slavs with ease. With them, they brought their middle eastern civilization, and some of their beliefs, but mostly they brought suffering. Suffering in the form of syphilis, leprosy, smallpox, tuberculosis... and God Himself seemed to turn against them, sending flood, earthquakes, and plague.

Vlad III TepesWallachia struggled under the heel of the Ottoman Turks for decades at the end of the 14th century, until Mircea the Great, allied with Sigismund of Luxembourg, led a crusade against the infidel in 1395. But the dynasty their saviour established was often more terrible than the Turk. The House named Bassarab whelped four generations of despots, beginning with Vlad.


Sent to the court of Sigismund at an early age, he was inducted into the secret society of the Order of the Dragon in February 1431. For this honor, he was addressed by the landed lords of his homeland as Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the Dragon, and for evidence carried around his neck, on his shield, and on his coin, the image of a dragon hanging on a double cross.

But, the common folk did not understand the importance of the honor given by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. They only understood that the icon entertained by the house of Bassarab was identical to the orthodox image of the devil. And, since the word "Dracul" could be translated either "dragon" or "devil", it was not difficult for them to believe that Vlad was in league with dark and terrible forces.

He returned from the Roman court with the staff of office of Prince of Wallachia and governor of Transylvania, establishing his headquarters in the fortress of Sighisoara. From there, in 1434, he began his campaign to affirm his right to the throne and to remove the Turk from his lands. In 1436, he entered the capital of Tirgoviste and became Vlad I of Wallachia. His rule was short, bloody, and troubled. Forced by the death of Sigismund, his most powerful ally, in 1437, he signed a treaty with the Sultan Murad II of Turkey, going so far as to aid him in his raids on Transylvania, spilling the blood of his own.


While still in the bosom of Sigismund's protection, Vlad Dracul sired three legitimate sons, the second of whom was also named Vlad, born in December 1431. He was groomed from childhood as a prince of the blood: proud, cold, and unfeeling. His political science was that a prince should be feared rather than loved, and he carried that philosophy into his adult life.

Fascinated as a boy by death, in the form of hangings of criminals at the Jewler's Donjon near the castle where he grew up, Vlad the Younger soon showed himself a cunning and devious child. He avoided the fate of one of his brothers, who was buried alive by the boyars, or landowners, of Wallachia, as Vlad I's popularity waned.

Held by the Turks after his father's death, he served in the Turkish army as an officer, learning the art of torture and impalement. Finally escaping from the Sultan's forces, he hid away in Moldavia until, with the aid of a force put together at great effort, he was able to reclaim the Wallachian throne in 1456, at the age of 25. His ascent to the throne was greeted by the arrival of a comet in the skies over Europe, an event of dread for most, but for Vlad an auspicious sign. He worked its image into his coin, the Wallachian eagle on the reverse to remind the carrier to whom the comet referred. He fortified Bucharest against the return of the Turk, solidifying the resistance begun by the boyars Janos Hunyadi and Michael the Brave.

To cement his power, he had to remove the boyars from their lands. In the spring of 1457, on Easter day, he took a force and surrounded the boyars at feast. He took their wives and children and impaled them around the feast tables, then chained the men and carried them away as slave labor on his new palace.

Vlad's rule was harsh and cruel, the threat of impalement a constant deterrent to crime and disloyalty. A typical story of the time recalls this in vivid detail:

"Having asked the old, the ill, the lame, the poor, the blind, and the vagabonds to a large dining hall in Tirgoviste, Dracula ordered that a feast be prepared for them. On the appointed day, Tirgoviste groaned under the heavy weight of the large number of beggars who had come. The prince's servants passed out a batch of clothes to each one, then they led the beggars to a large mansion where tables had been set... The beggars had a feast that became legendary... Most of them became dead drunk... and became incoherent, they were suddenly faced with fire and smoke on all sides. The prince had ordered his servants to set the house on fire... the doors were locked... When the fire naturally abated, there was no trace of any living soul."

The tales of Vlad Dracula's cruelty became legendary. Romanian folklore holds hundreds of horribly graphic descriptions of punishments he meted out on his subjects for crimes, real and imagined. He is accused of the deaths of 40,000 to 100,000 people, and not just by impalement. He employed strangling, hanging, burning, boiling, skinning, roasting, and burying them alive. He is known to have ordered cannibalism on prisoners.

At the end of his haunted life, Vlad Dracula is supposed to have been buried at Snagov, under the monastery he helped rebuild, on an island in the middle of a lake. The forest of Vlasia surrounds the lake, whose still waters were said to have been witness to atrocities committed by Dracula there in the ancient monastery.


Although the last of the Bassarabs, Prince Constantine, died in 1658, the memory of the viciousness and pure evil of the family endured in legend. The simple folk of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania, lived in constant terror of the vampyr, the ghosts of men like Vlad, whose bloodlust was what kept them alive even after their time on this world had expired. It was difficult for outsiders to understand the depth of this fear, ingrown to the region, without firsthand experience of its manifestation. As the region passed from one political regime to another, the people went about their lives steeped in the past, permanently stunted in their psychic growth by the trauma of the rule of Vlad the Impaler. After Dracula's death, books on his exploits were circulated widely in Europe, their sales and popularity for a while rivalling even that of the Bible.


The year 1610 was a bloody one for the inhabitants of the Castle Csejthe. Authorities, led there by a young woman who claimed to have been abducted, attacked, and barely escaped with her life, found within its walls the remains of hundreds of girls and young women. The owner of the castle, the Countess Erzsebet Bathory, was accused of having drunk and bathed in the blood of nearly 650 virgins, in the hope it would rejuvenate her. Her accomplices were tried and beheaded, but the Countess was condemned to be walled into her own chambers, where she was kept, fed through a small hole in the wall, until her death in 1640.


In 1725, in the village of Kisilova, a man named Peter Plogojowitz died. Ten weeks later, he was back, supposedly responsible for the deaths of others. In the next several years, the beginnings of the actual vampire legend as we know it today, would be formed.


He claimed to have been bothered by a vampyr, and to have eaten earth from its grave and smear himself with its blood to escape it. Yet, when Arnod Paole died from an accident around 1730 in the village of Medvegia, he was shortly afterword supposed to have been responsible for at least 4 more deaths. At the behest of the authorities, his body was exhumed, and he was found, after 40 days in the grave, to be in a passable state.

In a fit of paranoia, the authorities exhumed all the bodies in the cemetery. Of the 20 or so bodies recently deceased (within the past 8 weeks), they discovered 11 were in a state of apparent vampirism. The bodies had apparently grown new skin, hair, and nails, and fresh blood was discovered in them when dissected. Paole had apparently been very busy, and indiscriminate in his favors, victimizing a child of 8 days as easily as a woman of 60 years.


In 1819, the "New Monthly Magazine of London" published a story entitled "The Vampyre" and attributed its authorship to Lord Byron. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that the author had actually been Byron's doctor, John Polidori (1795-1821). The sexual nature of this tale was titilatting to the usually cold British demeanor and set the stage for the seductive nature of the vampire tales to come. In appearance, the vampire, named Lord Ruthven, was gentlemanly and handsome, yet his temperament and deportment was most passionate and violent.


In the middle of the 18th century Britain was inundated with what were called "Penny Dreadfuls." These mini-novels were like the comic books of today, though uncensored, and had an avid following. The character of "Varney the Vampire" (1846) starred in over 800 issues of these books, taking the readers through tales of horror, sex, and violence, and furthering the vision of the vampire as a blood-sucking monster who hypnotized his victims into submission.


He was of the race that "turned night into day, and day into night," commanded wolves, and despised humankind. The author of his story is as unknown today as it was in 1860, when the story first appeared, but bits of his personality endure in today's vampires.


Drawing on the sources readily available in the last decade of the nineteenth century, including information provided by Arminius Vabery, a researcher for the British Museum, Abram Stoker (1847-1912) filled out the details of the nightmares that tortured his sleep and rendered the masterpiece Dracula in 1897. Written in the epistolary style peculiar to his time period, it has never been equalled for instilling horror in the reader.


The appearance of Dracula at the turn of the century was taken as an announcement of the true nature of the vampire. Few changes have been wrought on its image since then, although recently attempts have been made to soften the vicious core of its image into a more palatable fare.

With the coming of motion pictures, the vampire found a new audience. From the genius of Murnau's "Nosferatu" (1922) and Browning's "Dracula" (1931) to the latest efforts by such diverse talents as Rice, Coppola, and King, the vampire leaps at us from the printed page, art, and motion picture. It has become a fixture in the imagination of modern civilization, the symbol of the darkness that resides within all of us.

Source: written by H. David Blalock

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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