Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form
of blood) of living creatures, regardless of whether they are undead or a living person. Although vampiric entities have been recorded in many cultures and in spite of speculation by literary historian Brian Frost that the
"belief in vampires and bloodsucking demons is as old as man himself", and may go back to "prehistoric times", the term vampire was not popularized until the early 18th century,
after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, although local variants were also known by different names,
such as vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked
and people being accused of vampirism.
While even folkloric vampires
of the Balkans and Eastern Europe had a wide range of appearance ranging from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses, it
was the success of John Polidori's 1819 novella The Vampyre that established the archetype of charismatic and sophisticated
vampire; it is arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century
The notion of vampirism has
existed for millennia; cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern
vampires. However, despite the occurrence of vampire-like creatures in these ancient civilizations, the folklore for the entity
we know today as the vampire originates almost exclusively from early 18th century Southeastern Europe, when verbal traditions of many ethnic groups of the region were recorded and published. In most
cases, vampires are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire. Belief in such legends became
so pervasive that in some areas it caused mass hysteria and even public executions of people believed to be vampires.
rituals were used to identify a vampire. One method of finding a vampire's grave involved leading a virgin boy through a graveyard
or church grounds on a virgin stallion—the horse would supposedly balk at the grave in question. Generally a black horse
was required, though in Albania it should be white. Holes appearing in the earth over a grave were taken as a sign of vampirism.
Corpses thought to be vampires
were generally described as having a healthier appearance than expected, plump and showing little or no signs of decomposition.
In some cases, when suspected graves were opened, villagers even described the corpse as having fresh blood from a victim
all over its face. Evidence that a vampire was active in a given locality included death of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbours.
Folkloric vampires could also make their presence felt by engaging in minor poltergeist-like activity, such as hurling stones on roofs or moving household objects,
and pressing on people in their sleep. Tales of supernatural beings consuming the blood or flesh
of the living have been found in nearly every culture around the world for many centuries. Today, we would associate these
entities with vampires, but in ancient times, the term vampire did not exist; blood drinking and similar activities were attributed
to demons or spirits who would eat flesh and drink blood; even the Devil was considered synonymous with the vampire. Almost every nation has associated
blood drinking with some kind of revenant or demon, or in some cases a deity. In India, for example, tales of vetālas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, have been compiled in the Baitāl Pacīsī; a prominent story in the Kathāsaritsāgara tells of King Vikramāditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive one. Piśāca, the returned spirits of evil-doers or those who died insane, also bear
vampiric attributes. The Persians were one of the first civilizations to have tales of blood-drinking demons:
creatures attempting to drink blood from men were depicted on excavated pottery shards. Ancient Babylonia and Assyria had tales of the mythical Lilitu, synonymous with and giving rise to Lilith (Hebrew לילית) and her daughters the Lilu from Hebrew demonology. Lilitu was considered a demon and was often depicted as subsisting on
the blood of babies. And Estries, female shape changing, blood drinking demons, were said to roam the night
among the population, seeking victims. According to Sefer Hasidim, Estries were creatures created in the twilight hours before God rested. And injured Estrie could be healed by eating bread
and salt given her by her attacker.
In modern fiction The vampire
is now a fixture in popular fiction. Such fiction began with 18th century poetry and continued with 19th century short stories,
the first and most influential of which was John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), featuring the vampire Lord Ruthven. Lord Ruthven's exploits were further explored in a series of vampire plays
in which he was the anti-hero. The vampire theme continued in penny dreadful serial publications such as Varney the Vampire (1847) and culminated in the pre-eminent vampire novel of all time: Dracula by Bram Stoker, published in 1897. Over time, some attributes now regarded as integral
became incorporated into the vampire's profile: fangs and vulnerability to sunlight appeared over the course of the 19th century,
with Varney the Vampire and Count Dracula both bearing protruding teeth, and Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) fearing daylight. The cloak appeared in stage productions
of the 1920s, with a high collar introduced by playwright Hamilton Deane to help Dracula 'vanish' on stage. Lord Ruthven and Varney were able to
be healed by moonlight, although no account of this is known in traditional folklore. Implied though not often explicitly
documented in folklore, immortality is one attribute which features heavily in vampire film and
literature. Much is made of the price of eternal life, namely the incessant need for blood of former equals. For more on the
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