Dracula: The Black Death And The Origins Of The Vampire Legend


Vampires and vampire wannabes, as they are portrayed in contemporary culture and literature, are elegant creatures. They have it all: nice dental implants, great sex lives, beautiful wardrobes, impressive digs, a low-calorie, high-protein diet that keeps the weight off, fame and of course, immortality.

But they have one thing that no one wants–a bad habit that really sucks–blood, that is.

Legend and History

It wasn’t always that good for Dracula and his friends and relatives. Vampires have a similar mythology throughout the ancient world on up to recent times. As widespread as the stories are, it is interesting that they have many similarities no matter where they originated.

William of Newburgh was an English historian who lived and wrote during the 12th century. He preferred to write about weird events and oddities. Among his favorite topics were the undead. These creatures began life as ordinary humans who fell into sin and depravity. After their own sometimes gruesome and fitting deaths, they came back to life as zombies and vampires. They wreaked havoc and fear among their former friends and neighbors as they chewed and clawed their way out of the grave to walk among the townspeople spreading disease. This led many people to believe that vampirism was a contagious disease.

China has a vampire version that resembles the European vamp but this one cannot stride into the room, lean against the piano and swirl his evening cloak around himself while he grins at his victim. This one is a hopping vampire–like a rabbit. Still a nasty little demon, he hops after his victim until he wears them out and then enjoys his dinner.

Not to be outdone by China, India has some blood-suckers too. Some of them are the immortal spirits of those whose bodies were improperly cremated. The vampires came in a variety of shapes and sizes. If the hapless victim inhales or swallows one, it lodges in his intestines like a parasite and feasts on whatever might pass through.

The Greek vampires are unique because they are vegetarian vamps. The undead were generally nice guys who came back to help out their friends and families. Since they were primarily bean-eaters, there was no blood-sucking problem in Greece.

The evil Slavic vampires of Romania, Czechoslovakia and Transylvania gained their fame when Bram Stoker published a strange little love story about Count Dracula. His character was loosely based on the unforgettable legend of Vlad the Impaler.

Vampires and the Black Death

With the Black Death came a type of horror never before experienced in Europe. The plague killed approximately one-third of the population of western Europe. Mass graves proliferated throughout the land, and in some small towns everyone died, leaving no one to bury the rotting bodies and there was no escaping the stench of death.

The disease was mysterious and no one knew how it was transmitted, but they knew it was contagious. It caused people to break out in horrible pustules, especially in the arm-pits. As the patient died, the disease went on to attack various organs in their body. Doctors sometimes saw children and adults become infected and die within three days. Entire families were wiped out in a matter of days. Very few if any survived once they had been infected.

The locals tried all kinds of cures: drinking holy water, burning clothes and linens and quarantines. There had to be a reason for this so with their logic, vampires and witches became scapegoats. Mobs dug up and burned possible vampire corpses during the night and burned witches at the stake by day.

As a last resort, others killed cats and dogs, never realizing that the Black Death resided on those animals in the form of the fleas carrying the plague.