Imagine being an aristocrat, an intellectual, a man of medicine in the Middle Ages. Imagine how that would draw suspicion among a benighted populace. Being a man of wealth and power, one's enemies and their suspicions might not have amounted to much while the aristocrat lived. But once dead, the suspicious could make certain that the suspected vampire did not return.
According to the Sofia News Agency, National History Museum director Bozhidar Dimitrov explained that the skeleton indicated that the body had been stabbed several times in the stomach and chest. An iron rod was then shoved and left in the corpse. All was done to prevent the corpse from rising from the dead -- to prevent the resurrection of a vampire.
"These people were believed to be evil while they were alive," Dimitrov explained, "and it was believed that they would become vampires once they are dead, continuing to torment people."
Dimitrov noted that the skeleton likely belonged to an aristocrat of the time, suggested by the fact he had been buried near the apse of a church.
The burial site is over 700 years old.
But why would people suspect a man of letters, an aristocrat, or even a medic of being a vampire? Although difficult to pinpoint, physicians of the day practiced bloodletting, the act of purging the body of sickness and/or impurities by puncturing a vein or artery. And given that men of medicine often practiced with cadavers, the practice of collecting dead bodies might have also gained notice. The man may also have indulged in cannibalism, an act not unheard of even in recent times. Or he may have simply been a particularly reprehensible person, ruling with a hard heart and/or an iron fist -- which would make the iron rod in the chest rather apropos.
Whatever the cause of suspicion, he was definitely suspected of being a vampire, one of over one hundred discovered in Bulgaria over the years.
The Bulgarian vampire skeleton is even older than the specimen recovered by University of Florence (Italy) forensic archaeologist Matteo Borrini in 2006. Borrini, who revealed his find in 2009, discovered what appeared to be the remains of a woman who had undergone an exorcism ritual in a mass grave on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo near Venice.
According to National Geographic News, Borrini found the skeleton with a brick forced between its jaws, a common technique for dealing with those suspected of being vampires. The mass grave was dated to the 16th century and attributed to the bubonic plague. The woman may have been accused of being a witch while alive, Borrini noted, because witches were believed to have the ability to cheat death as well.
But belief in vampires does not exclude the present. Fascination with vampires and their "lifestyle" is prevalent in real-life cult-like clubs, where people act out their lives as if they themselves were vampires. Popular movies and television shows promote the traditional and the non-traditional images of the undead.
Such beliefs continue to interface with the real world, as noted by The Independent. In Romania, the relatives of Petre Toma feared he was a vampire, so they dug up his corpse in 2004. Six men, led by Toma's brother, then removed his heart using a scythe and pitchfork, burned it, then mixed the ashes into a drink, which was imbibed by Toma's ill niece, who said Toma had been visiting her at night and drinking from her heart. The niece subsequently recovered, but an outraged relative reported the series of events to Romanian authorities, the dead body disinterred, and the brother was arrested. After being found guilty and sentenced, an explanation of the importance of vampire traditions among the locals saw the sentence commuted.
(photo credit: R. de Moraine, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)