Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vampires in Romania

No country is as identified with vampires as Romania. A land of rich folklore concerning vampires, its reputation was really established by Bram Stoker, whose novel Dracula (1897) began and ended in Transylvania. Though at the time Transylvania was a part of Hungary, it is now a part of Romania. Recent scholarship has confirmed that the title of Stoker’s novel was a reference to Vlad the Impaler, a fifteenth-century prince of Wallachia, a section of modern Romania that lies south of the Carpathian Mountains. Stoker derived much of his knowledge of Transylvania, where he located Castle Dracula, from Emily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest (1888). Gerard was a Scottish woman who had married a Polish officer serving the Austrian army. As a brigade commander, he was stationed in Transylvania in the 1880s. The couple resided in Sibiu and Brasov. In describing the several supernatural entities encountered in her research on practices surrounding death, she wrote:

More decidedly evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Romanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell. There are two sorts of vampires, living and dead. The living vampire is generally the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons; but even a flawless pedigree will not insure anyone against the intrusion of a vampire into the family vault, since every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent persons till the spirit has been exorcised by opening the grave of the suspected person, and either driving a stake through the corpse, or else firing a pistol-shot into the coffin. To walk smoking around the grave on each anniversary of the death is also supposed to be effective in confining the vampire. In very obstinate cases of vampirism it is recommended to cut off the head, and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing its ashes over the grave. (p. 185)

Romanian concepts concerning the vampire are strongly related to folk beliefs of the Slavic vampire in general, though the Romanians, in spite of being largely surrounded by Slavic peoples are not themselves Slavic. Romanians locate their origins in ancient Dacia, a Roman province that emerged in Transylvania and the surrounding territories after Trajan’s capture of the land in the second century C.E.. He also brought in thousands of colonists in the sparsely settled area. As the colonists and the indigenous people intermarried, a new ethnic community was born. This new community spoke a form of Latin— the basis for modern Romanian. Their subsequent history, especially over the next century is a matter of great controversy between Romanians and their neighbors, a controversy difficult to resolve due to the paucity of archeological evidence.

Following the abandonment of the territory at the end of the third century, Transylvania became the target of various invaders, including the early Slavic tribes. In the seventh-century it was absorbed into the Bulgar Empire. Though some Romanians had become Christians as early as the fourth century, the systematic conversion of the land began in the ninth century soon after the conversion of the Bulgarians under the brothers Cyril and Methodius. The Romanian church eventually aligned itself to Eastern Orthodoxy under Bulgarian Episcopal authority.

At the end of the tenth century, the Magyars (present-day Hungarians) included Transylvania in their expanding kingdom. The Hungarians were Roman Catholics, and they imposed their faith in the newly conquered land. They also encouraged immigration by, among others, the Szekleys, a branch of Magyars, and Germans. During the thirteenth century, seizing upon a moment of weakened Hungarian authority in Transylvania, a number of Romanian Transylvanians migrated eastward and southward over the Carpathian Mountains and found the kingdoms of Moldavia and Wallachia. An Eastern Orthodox bishop was established a century later in Wallachia. From that time to the present day, Transylvania would be an item of contention between Hungary and Wallachia (which grew into the present-day Romania). Ecclesiastically, both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would compete for the faith of the people.

No sooner had Wallachia and Moldavia been established than a new force arose in the area. The Ottoman Empire expanded into the Balkans and began the steady march across the peninsula that would carry it to the very gates of Vienna in the early sixteenth century. During the fourteenth century Hungary and the Turks vied for hegemony in Wallachia, thus providing a context for a prince of Wallachia by the name of Vlad to travel to the court of the Emperor Sigismund where he would join the Order of the Dragon, pledged to defend Christian lands against the invading Muslims. The Wallachian prince would become known as Vlad Dracul (1390?–1447). He in turn would be succeeded by his son, Vlad the Impaler (1431–1476), known as Dracula.

Vlad the Impaler is remembered today in Romania as a great patriot and a key person in the development of the Romanian nation. After Vlad’s death, Wallachia fell increasingly under Turkish hegemony, and Moldavia soon followed suit. Through the 1530s the Turkish army moved through Transylvania to conquer the Hungarian capital in 1541. The remainder of the Hungarian land fell under the control of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. The incorporation of the Romanian kingdoms into the Turkish Empire allowed a degree of religious freedom, and Protestantism made a number of inroads, particularly in Transylvania. Contemporary scholars have emphasized that none of the vampire legends from Romania or the surrounding countries portrays Vlad the Impaler as a vampire. In the German and some Slavic manuscripts, Vlad’s cruelty and his identification as Dracula and devil was emphasized, however, Dracula as a vampire was a modern literary creation.

In the seventeenth century, the Hapsburgs began to drive the Ottomans from Europe, and by the end of the century assumed dominance of Transylvania and began to impose a Roman Catholic establishment. Transylvania remained a semiautonomous region until 1863 when it was formally unified with Hungary. For over a century Moldavia survived amid Russians, Greeks, and Turks, each fighting for control until a united Romania came into existence in 1861. Through a series of annexations at the beginning and end of World War I, including that of Transylvania in 1920, Romania, in roughly its present size, came into existence. The Romanian majority exists side-by-side with a significant Hungarian minority in Transylvania, and the Romanian Orthodox Church competes with a strong Roman Catholic and persistent Protestant presence.

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