Serbian 18th Century Vampires – a Fuel for the European Vampire Craze

Serbian Vampire

Vampyris ServiensibvsWhile the neighboring Romania rightfully enjoys the world’s recognition as the “vampire capital”, Serbia is endowed with some of the earliest legal cases of vampirism. In the first half on 18th century, when many Serbian areas were subsequently passing from Ottoman to Austro-Hungarian hands, stories about Petar Blagojevic (Plogojowitz) and Arnaut Pavle (Arnold Paole) flooded Western European press. The first died in 1725 and the second a year later in 1726. Both were believed to escape their graves by night and murder fellow villagers by strangulation and blood sucking. Their exhumation was followed by Austrian authorities who governed the region at that time. Official records of the investigations reached the newspapers of Vienna, whence it spread to Germany, France and England. Thus the Serbian vampires shaped many beliefs about vampirism which gradually inspired a horror genre of its own.

Petar Blagojevic was a peasant from Kisileva who died aged 62. Two months after, he appeared to his wife, asking for shoes. Villagers of various age started dying abruptly, reporting that Blagojevic visited them by night and throttled them. They would live up to a day after the incident, after which they perished. With nine such cases during only eight days, inhabitants of Kisileva realized they have no time to wait. They requested the permission from local Austrian authorities to perform the necessary vampire killing upon Blagojevic’s grave. A medical officer of the Austrian army surnamed Frombald was in charge of the area. He protested, but terrified villagers would not listen to him. When he saw that they will open the grave at any cost, he came in person, along with the local priest, to witness the event and make a record of it for the Austrian government. He wrote that the body of Blagojevic was not decomposed; on the contrary, he had fresh hair and nails, his mouth were full of blood and more of it rushed from ears and nose when the stake was struck through his heart. After the transfixion, the corpse was burned at the stake and Frombald learned that the locals have a peculiar name for this kind of creatures – vampyri. Although some scholars find it disputable, Austrian 19th century linguist Franz von Miklosich claimed that the word “vampire” was indeed of Slavic origin. The case of Blagojevic (Plogojowitz) was published in widely read Viennese newspaper Wienerisches Diarium, but the next vampire we’re about to meet achieved even greater popularity.

Arnaut Pavle

Arnaut Pavle was a Serbian mercenary (“arnaut”) in the Ottoman army whose profession was erroneously recorded as his first name by the Austrian authorities. According to the legend, his encounterVisum et Repertum with the vampire in Greece made him leave the army career and return to his native village by the river Morava. There he married and told the terrifying story to his wife – Greek vampire was haunting him until Pavle succeeded locating his grave, exhuming the body and burning it. He took some other precautions, namely eating the soil from the grave and spreading the vampire’s blood over his own skin to protect from further attacks. However, it seems that these measures did not save Pavle from becoming the vampire himself. A month after the accident in which he died, four people started complaining that he visits them by night, and all of the victims suffered mysterious deaths soon afterwards. The villagers followed the usual procedure of exhumation, upon which they found the “proofs” of vampirism, similar to Blagojevic’s case. They transfixed and burned the bodies of Pavle and all of his four victims, to prevent them from awakening as vampires, since they were surely infected. However, this time it did not help; five years later, in 1731, the same village went through another vampire epidemics. Seventeen women, men, children and newborns died in a matter of days. The circumstances were suspicious as some of the dying reported being attacked by the vampire. Austrian authorities were alarmed. They sent the official investigation team, consisting of three military surgeons and two soldiers. Upon the exhumation of seventeen bodies, five were found decayed while twelve appeared fresh, with new hair and nails, and swollen with blood. One of the surgeons, Johann Flückinger, wrote the famous report “Visum et Repertum” – “Seen and Discovered” where he described the event in detail. He says the team was followed by the villagers as well as local Gypsies who had to do the dirty work of opening the graves and severing heads from the suspicious bodies. One immediately recalls the presence of Gypsies in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and movies it inspired! Flückinger reports about the dissections and doesn’t hide his surprise over the condition of the alleged vampires. He wonders about “regular fragrant fresh bleeding” as well as “plumpness and perfect body” found in some victims who had been known to be skinny and worn out during their life. “Visum et Repertum” was published for a wide audience in 1732 and became immensely popular in the West, influencing “scientific” and fictional works on vampirism.