Monday, August 7, 2017

The Austrian Struggle Against... Vampires?

A Hajduk: and potentially: a Vampire? 
Dear Reader,

In the early to mid eighteenth century, the Austrian Empire, Russian Empire, and Ottoman Empire waged a see-saw battle for control of the Balkans. Historians traditionally see the eighteenth-century as a time of sharp Ottoman decline, but that is not entirely fair, considering Ottoman success in 1711 and 1739 at places such as Prut and Grocka. On the other hand, the Ottomans were defeated quite soundly by Prinz Eugen in 1717, and by the Russians at numerous points throughout the century. See the map below for further details.

A Map of Ottoman Decline
Our story begins in the aftermath of Prinz Eugen von Savoyen's victory at Belgrade in 1717. It may greatly enhance your enjoyment of this post if you listen to this commemorative song while reading it.  After this victory and the resulting Treaty of Passarowitz, the Austrian government ruled most of Serbia and northern Bosnia via direct military control. Communities of refugee Serbs, who were induced to resettle the acquired territory, form the heart of our story.

These Serbian communities were protected by militiamen in addition to regular Austrian military forces. These militiamen are occasionally referred to as "hajduk" (today "Hajduci") a term possibly derived from the Ottoman word ""hajdud" meaning Polish or Hungarian soldiers.[1] These soldiers served as border guards against renewed attacks from the Ottoman Empire. One of these Hajduks, Arnold Paole, was one of the first of a series "reported" vampires in the region in the 1720s and 1730s.

Arnold Paole, a Hajduk and former refugee, claimed that he had been visited/attacked by a vampire near Kosovo, before traveling to the village of Meduegna, near modern Trstenik, in Serbia. Likewise, another Serbian, Petar Blagojevich, possibly from the modern town of Kisiljevo, reportedly died and then began to prey upon his family members as a vampire. In both cases, Blagojevich in 1725, and Paole in 1732, Austrian local government officials responded to the events as a serious crisis. Austrian Kameralprovisor Frombald, (first name, alas, unknown), traveled to the village in order to deal with the crisis. Local peasants petitioned Frombald and the parish priest to permit the exhumation of the body, which after some initial hesitation, they permitted.
Hajduks, from the late 17th century

Frombald explained in a report:

"Since I could not persuade them otherwise, by promises or threats, I went to the village of Kisiljevo, taking along the priest from Gradisk, and viewed the freshly exhumed body of [Petar Blagojevich], finding in accordance with thoughtful thoroughness, that first of all I did not detect any odor which normally accompanies the dead, and the body except for the nose... was completely fresh. The hair and beard, and even the nails, of which the old ones had fallen away- had grown on him; the old skin, which was somewhat whitish, had peeled away, and a new fresh one had emerged under it... Not without astonishment, I saw some fresh blood in his mount, which, according to local belief, he had sucked from the people he had killed."[2]
The stunned Frombald looked on as, perhaps unsurprisingly, the villagers took the sane precaution of driving a sharpened stake through Petar's heart, and burning his body. [Of course, I jest. Modern medical analysis indicates that such signs in a recently deceased corpse are rather normal.] However, in the borderland between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires, numerous fears regarding death and violence trumped the rational concerns of the Kameralprovisor.

Around the same time, Serbian Hajduk Arnold Paole reported being menaced by a vampire, but that he had employed folk remedies to free himself of its dark influence. In 1725, shortly after returning to his home village, he died after falling from a hay wagon. Almost immediately, villagers began to complain of being visited by Arnold in vampire form. Four villagers died under mysterious circumstances, and the local village Hadnack ordered an exhumation of Paole. His body displayed almost the same symptoms Blagojevich, and the villagers performed the same remedy, repeating it on the four individuals who were supposed to be his victims.

The matter was considered closed, until around 6 years later, villagers in Meduegna once again began to die under mysterious circumstances. 13 villagers died after brief illnesses, and their deaths were reported to Lt. Colonel Schnezzer, the local Austrian army officer. He sent for Imperial-Contagions-Medicus Glaser, who ignored the vampiric assertions of the villagers. According to the villagers, both of the young women who had initially died were infected during their time on the Turkish side of the border. According to the villagers, in the Turkish lands, "Vampires were everywhere, in great strength."[3] Glaser began to investigate the deaths and concluded that the deaths were a result of malnutrition and extreme Eastern Orthodox fasting.[4]

Austrian Infantry in the 1740s, by David Morier

The villagers would not budge and demanded that the vampires be exhumed and executed. Consenting to an exhumation, Glaser discovered that those who died earliest were in a perfect state of preservation, while those who died later had partially decomposed. Glaser reported these findings to Botta d'Adorno, the vice-commandant in Belgrade, who organized a secondary commission, consisting of five army officers:  a Lt. Colonel, Ensign, and three military surgeons.

These military men concluded that a number of the villagers who had died were indeed in "vampiric condition," (Vampyrenstand) and ordered that those in such condition were to be executed via stakes, burned, and ashes scattered over water. The villagers concluded that Arnold Paole must have been feeding on local cattle, which were then consumed by the new victims, transmitting vampirism to them. [5] While doubtless pleasing the local villagers, the conclusions of the military men had annoying repercussions for Austrian army reformers.

Gerhard van Swieten, a figure of the Austrian enlightenment, railed against army physicians who allowed themselves to be taken in by superstition. He argued, "the stories about vampires in Moravia are still recent, and too much in need of rebuttal, for me to have a favorable opinion of the local physicians, who would never have allowed themselves to be taken in by these fables if they had been good doctors."[6] For van Swieten, rationalism and education needed to trump superstition, in order for Austrian military medicine to compete with other leading states of Europe.

So, even as Ottoman pressure and Serbian fears created stories of vampiric activity, Austrian officials were divided on the response. Should local beliefs and the vampire threat be taken seriously, as the military commission suggested, or should superstition be banished in the name of education and efficiency? All of these sentiments were at war, as the Austrian army and state attempted to control the Balkans in the mid-eighteenth century.

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Thanks for Reading,




Alex Burns








[1] Aleksandar Petrovic, The Role of Banditry in the Creation of National States in the Central Balkans During the 19th Century, MA thesis, 2003, Section: Terminology.
[2]Frombald, Wienerisches Diarium, July 21, 1725, 11-12.
[3] Klaus Hamberger, Mortuus non mordet: kommentierte Dokumentation zum Vampirismus, 48.
[4] Ibid, 46.
[5] Don Augustin Calmet, Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants: of Hungary, Moravia, et al. (2015), 333-335.
[6] Quoted in Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 332.

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