Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The case of Arnold Paole


Arnold Paole died circa 1726. (Arnont Paule in the original documents; an early German rendition of a Serbian name or nickname, perhaps Арнаут Павле, Arnaut Pavle) was a Serbian hajduk who was believed to have become a vampire after his death, initiating an epidemic of supposed vampirism that killed at least sixteen persons in his native village of Medwegya (also rendered as Metwett; likely a German rendition of Serbian Medveđa, not to be confused with the modern Southern Serbian town of Medveđa), located at the Morava river near the town of Paraćin. His case, like the similar case of Peter Plogojowitz, became famous because of the direct involvement of the Austrian authorities and the documentation by Austrian physicians and officers, who confirmed the reality of vampires. Their report of the case was distributed in Western Europe and contributed to the spread of vampire belief among educated Europeans. Knowledge of the case is based mostly on the reports of two Austrian military doctors, Glaser and Flückinger, who were successively sent to investigate the case.

With the Treaty of Passarowitz (Požarevac, 1718), the Habsburg Monarchy annexed most of Serbia and the northern part of Bosnia, territories which had been part of the Ottoman Empire. These remained in Austrian control until the Treaty of Belgrade (1739), when the Austrians were forced to cede them back to the Turks. During this twenty-year period, these newly conquered boundary districts were subject to direct military rule from Vienna for strategical, as well as fiscal and other reasons. As a result of the devastation brought about by previous Austrian-Ottoman wars, these areas were in a poor condition, with scarce and partly nomadic population, little agriculture and an emphasis on cattle-breeding. The Austrian authorities sought to further economic development and attract German-speaking as well as Serbian and Bulgarian settlers to the new territories. Many of the Serbs, especially those who had immigrated from Ottoman-held areas, were recruited as militiamen (hajduks) for the protection of the boundaries in peace-time as well as regular military service at war in exchange for unalienable lots of land. It was in these communities that the earliest well-documented vampire attacks were attested.

This outbreak is only known from Flückinger's report about the second epidemic and its prehistory. According to the account of the Medveđa locals as retold there, Arnold Paole was a hajduk who had moved to the village from the Turkish-controlled part of Serbia. He reportedly mentioned often that he had been plagued by a vampire at a location named Gossowa (perhaps Kosovo) but that he had cured himself by eating soil from the vampire's grave and smearing himself with his blood. About 1725, he broke his neck in a fall from a haywagon. Within twenty or thirty days after Paole's death, four persons complained that they had been plagued by him. These people died shortly after. Still ten days later villagers, advised by their hadnack (a military/administrative title) who had witnessed such events before, opened his grave. They saw that the corpse was undecomposed "and that fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears; that the shirt, the covering, and the coffin were completely bloody; that the old nails on his hands and feet, along with the skin, had fallen off, and that new ones had grown". Concluding that Paole was indeed a vampire, they drove a stake through his heart, to which he reacted by groaning and bleeding, and burned the body. They then disinterred Paole's four victims and performed the same procedure, to prevent them from becoming vampires.

About five years later, in the winter of 1731, a new epidemic occurred, with more than ten people dying within several weeks, some of them in just two or three days without any previous illness. The numbers and the age of the deceased vary somewhat between the two main sources.

Glaser's report on the case states that by the twelfth of December, thirteen people had died in the course of six weeks. Glaser names the following victims (here rearranged chronologically): Miliza (Serbian Milica, a fifty-year-old woman); Milloi (Serbian Miloje, a fourteen-year-old boy); Joachim (a fifteen-year-old boy); Petter (Serbian Petar, a fifteen-day-old boy); Stanno (Serbian Stana, a twenty-year-old woman) as well as her newborn child, which Glaser notes was buried "behind a fence, where the mother had lived" due to not having lived long enough to be baptized; Wutschiza (Serbian Vučica, a nine-year-old boy), Milosova (Serbian Milošova, actually "Miloš's /wife/", a thirty-year-old wife of a hajduk), Radi (Serbian Rade, a twenty-four-year-old man), and Ruschiza (Serbian Ružica, a forty-year-old woman). The sick had complained of stabs in the sides and pain in the chest, prolonged fever and jerks of the limbs. Glaser reports that the locals considered Milica and Stana to have started the vampirism epidemic. According to his retelling, Milica had come to the village from Ottoman-controlled territories six years ago. The locals' testimony indicated that she had always been a good neighbour and that to the best of their knowledge, she had never "believed or practiced something diabolic". However, she had once mentioned to them that, while still in Ottoman lands, she had eaten two sheep that had been killed by vampires. Stana, on the other hand, had admitted that when she was in Ottoman-controlled lands, she had smeared herself with vampire blood as a protection against vampires (as these had been very active there). According to local belief, both things would cause the women to become vampires after death.

According to Flückinger's report, by the seventh of January, seventeen people had died within a period of three months (the last two of these apparently after Glaser's visit). He names Miliza (Milica, a sixty-nine-year-old woman, died after a three-month illness); an unnamed eight-year-old child; Milloe (Miloje, a sixteen-year-old-boy, died after a three-day illness); Stana (a twenty-year-old woman, died at childbirth after a three-day illness, reportedly said herself that she had smeared herself with vampire blood) as well as her newborn child (dead right immediately after birth, and, as Flückinger observes, "half-eaten by the dogs due to a slovenly burial"); an unnamed ten-year-old girl; Joachim (a seventeen-year-old, died after a three-day illness); the hadnack 's unnamed wife; Ruscha (Ruža - variant of Ružica - a woman, died after a ten-day illness); Staniko (Stanjko, a sixty-year-old man); Miloe (Miloje, the second victim of that name; a twenty-five-year-old man); Ruža's child (eighteen days old); Rhade (Rade, a twenty-one-year-old servant of the local hajduk corporal, died after a three-month long illness); the local standard-bearer's (bajraktar's) unnamed wife, apparently identical to Milošova in the other report along with her child; the eight-week-old child of the hadnack; Stanoicka (Stanojka, a twenty-year-old woman, the wife of a hajduk, died after a three-day illness). According to her father-in-law Joviza (Jovica), Stanojka had gone to bed healthy fifteen days ago, but had woken up at midnight in terrible fear and cried that she had been throttled by the late Miloje. Flückinger states that the locals explain the new epidemic with the fact that Milica, the first to die, had eaten the meat of sheep that the "previous vampires" (ie Paole and his victims five years ago) killed. He also mentions, in passing, the claims that Stana had, before her death, admitted having smeared herself with blood to protect herself from vampires and would hence become a vampire herself, as would her child.

The villagers complained of the new deaths to oberstleutnant Schnezzer, the Austrian military commander in charge of the administration. The latter, fearing an epidemic of pestilence, sent for Imperial Contagions-Medicus (roughly, Infectious Disease Specialist) Glaser stationed in the nearby town of Paraćin. On the twelfth of December 1731, Glaser examined the villagers and their houses. He failed to find any signs of a contagious malady and blamed the deaths on the malnutrition common in the region as well as the unhealthy effects of the severe Eastern Orthodox fasting. However, the villagers insisted that the illnesses were caused by vampires. At the moment, two or three households were gathering together at night, with some asleep and other on the watch. They were convinced that the deaths wouldn't stop unless the vampires were executed by the authorities, and threatened to abandon the village in order to save their lives if that wasn't done. Failing to "get this out of their heads", Glaser consented to the exhumation of some of the deceased. To his surprise, he found that most of them were not decomposed and many were swollen and had blood in their mouths, while several others who had died more recently (namely Vučica, Milošova, and Rade) were rather decomposed. Glaser outlined his findings in a report to the Jagodina commandant's office, recommending that the authorities should pacify the population by fulfilling its request to "execute" the vampires. Schnezzer furthered Glaser's report to the Supreme Command in Belgrade (the city was then held by Austrian forces). The vice-commandant, Botta d'Adorno, sent a second commission to investigate the case.

The new commission included a military surgeon, Johann Flückinger, two officers, lieutenant colonel Büttner and J.H. von Lindenfels, along with two other military surgeons, Siegele and Johann Friedrich Baumgarten. On the seventh of January, together with the village elders and some local Gypsies, they opened the graves of the deceased. Their findings were similar to Glaser's, although their report contains much more anatomical detail. The commission established that, while five of the corpses (the hadnack's wife and child, Rade, and the standard-bearer's wife and child) were decomposed, the remaining twelve were "quite complete and undecayed" and exhibited the traits that were commonly associated with vampirism. Their chests and in some cases other organs were filled with fresh (rather than coagulated) blood; the viscera were estimated to be "in good condition"; various corpses looked plump and their skin had a "red and vivid" (rather than pale) colour; and in several cases, "the skin on ... hands and feet, along with the old nails, fell away on their own, but on the other hand completely new nails were evident, along with a fresh and vivid skin". In the case of Milica, the hajduks who witnessed the dissection were very surprised at her plumpness, stating that they had known her well, from her youth, and that she had always been very "lean and dried-up"; it was only in the grave she had attained this plumpness. The surgeons summarized all these phenomena by stating that the bodies were in "the vampiric condition" (das Vampyrenstand). After the examination had been completed, the Gypsies cut off the heads of the vampires and burned both their heads and their bodies, the ashes being thrown in the Morava river. The decomposed bodies were laid back into their graves. The report is dated 26 January 1732, Belgrade, and bears the signatures of the five officers involved.

On the thirteenth of February, Glaser's father, Viennese doctor Johann Friedrich Glaser, who was also a correspondent of the Nuremberg journal Commercium Litterarium, sent its editors a letter describing the entire case as his son had written to him about it already on the eighteenth of January. The story aroused great interest. After that, both reports (especially Flückinger's more detailed version) and the letter were reprinted in a number of articles and treatises.


Glaser's report in the original German.

Johann Friedrich Glaser's letter to the editors of Commercium Litterarium (also in German).

Flückinger's report in the original German.

An English translation of Flückinger's report.

Nowosadtko, Jutta. 2004. Der Vampyrus Serviensis und sein Habitat: Impressionen von der österreichischen Militärgränze. In: Militär und Gesellschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit. 8 (2004). Heft 2. Universitätsverlag Potsdam.

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