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VISUM ET REPERTUM

One of the most important sources for the history of vampirism is the report Visum et Repertum written and attested by military surgeons in Serbia on January 26 1732. It was sent to the authorities in Belgrade and Vienna, and copied by envoys of foreign governments. Foremost it was distributed in various versions to newspapers and scientific periodicals throughout Europe causing a public as well as scientific sensation in many European countries throughout the year 1732. In fact, had it not been for this report, the word ‘vampire’ and the stories of these supposedly blood drinking corpses would probably not have become known, and consequently the popular vampire of authors like John William Polidori and Bram Stoker, as well as the vampire of 20th and 21st century popular media would not have come into existence.

A copy of the original manuscript is stored in the archives in Vienna, but the text is mostly known in somewhat different versions through various printed sources. Curiously it has rarely been translated into English, and this is certainly also the case of the report from the first investigation of the vampire case in late 1731, and other documents commenting on the report.

Visum et Repertum (Seen and Discovered)

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The story that follows is the first account of vampirism ever recorded and it provides a setting that coined the word “vampire.”

In 1718, the Austrian Empire (led by the Habsburg Monarchy) annexed most of Serbia from the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Požarevac. In order to control the invasive Ottoman Empire, Serbian hajduks (soldiers) were recruited to protect the borders. Hajduks were militiamen fighting against the Ottoman Empire’s violent occupation of the region. Many of them escaped from the Ottoman controlled Serb territory and joined the ranks on the border as Ottoman Empire’s exerted much violence and oppression against the Serbian population. Hajduk Arnont Paole was one of the men that fled from that region, taking up residency in a village recorded as Medvegia.

The first record of a vampire appeared in 1732, approximately 5-7 years after the death of Arnont Paole and following a second epidemic near Belgrade in 1732. It was at this time that reports of the epidemic reached Vienna, and the Habsburg Monarchy ordered an inquiry to be completed by Glasar and later the Regimental Field Surgeon Johannes Flückinger who closely examined the bodies. Five officers of the Habsburg court (three of which were doctors familiar with corpses) signed Flückinger’s report. The report (titled “Visum et Repertum 1732” or “Seen and Discovered” in translation) pertaining to Arnot’s death is of secondhand details as he completed it after the second outbreak.

The First Outbreak

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According to Johannes Flückinger, Arnont moved from Serbian territory occupied by the Ottoman Empire to a village in Serbia called Medvegia, located at the Morava river near the town of Paraćin. He often complained of being plagued by a vampire near Kosovo in Turkish Serbia. According to the report, “he had eaten from the earth of the vampire's grave and had smeared himself with the vampire's blood, in order to be free from the vexation he had suffered.” In 1725 Arnont fell off a haywagon and died by breaking his neck. About a month later villagers started reporting that he was plaguing them. Four of these villages died within days of issuing reports of being haunted by Arnont. Those that fell ill complained of stabs in their sides and of pain in the chest, in addition to prolonged fever and jerks of the limbs.

Following these four deaths, the villagers were issued orders from a military officer to open and examine Arnont’s grave. They dug up Arnont Paole 40 days after his death (this figure is also significant in Serbian religion as the spirit of the deceased is present for 40 days after a funeral. Inside the coffin lay Arnont’s undecomposed corpse that lay as “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.” From this the villagers determined that he was a vampire and proceeded to drive a stake through his heart to which he responded with ghastly groaning and profuse bleeding. He was thereupon burned to ashes and these were thrown into the grave. Four more stakes were driven though the hearts of deceased villagers that reported being haunted by Arnont. These freshly staked corpses were also burned in fear of further reanimation.

Johannes Flückinger collected all of these recollections surrounding Arnont’s death 7 years ago. The villagers added that they believe Arnod not only attacked people but also their cattle, feasting on their blood. Three months after Arnont’s body and the bodies of the other four villagers were burned 17 more people died, some of them within a matter of a short few days, with no previous signs of illness although they at that point complained of symptoms described above.

Following the onset of the second epidemic the villagers complained to the Austrian military commander Schnezzer who fearing spread of disease and called Glaser, an Imperial Contagions Medic to examine the villagers and their houses. He examined them on December 12th, 1731 and blamed the deaths on malnutrition. The villagers’ fear drove families to sleep together, so some could sleep while others kept watch. They insisted that the vampires needed by be executed by the authorities and threatened that they would abandon villages if the Austrian Empire did nothing. Once the villagers convinced Glaser to examine the bodies of those exhumed, he was surprised to find they were undecomposed and had fresh blood in their mouths. Glaser took his report to Belgrade, following which Johannes Flückinger was sent to the scene with two officers, lieutenant colonel Büttner and J.H. von Lindenfels, and two other military surgeons, Siegele and Johann Friedrich Baumgarten.

The Second Outbreak

The villagers believe that since meat was consumed since Arnont’s attacks, some villagers may become vampires by eating flesh of animals that the vampire fed on. A hajduk by the name of Jovica reported that he was awakened one night two weeks prior by a blood-curdling scream let out by his step-daughter Stanojka at midnight. When he approached her she was trembling with fear that his own countenance soon reflected having heard Stanojka’s story of how Miloje throttled her. Miloje had died nine weeks prior. Stanojka experienced increasing pain in her chest and died three days after the encounter.

When she died, the villagers, local gypsies and Flückinger’s team went to the graveyard and dug up the caskets of graves suspected to hold vampires. Thirteen reports in all were issued following the examination of the bodies. Nine bodies were in vampiric condition, “das Vampyrenstand.”

The corpse of a 20-year-old woman named Stana was exhumed after having lain in ground for about a month. Stana once mentioned that she painted herself with the blood of a vampire in order to protect herself against vampires. Three days after this event she died in childbirth. The child died right after birth and was half devoured by dogs due to an improper burial. Stana’s body was undecayed and fresh blood was found filling her veins. Normally the vessels would be filled with cogulated blood. Her viscera (organs filling the body such as lungs, liver, stomach, spleen and intestines) were fresh and healthy, comparable to ones of a living person. However, the child’s placenta was not removed following the birth from Stana’s body and lochia (vaginal bleeding though which excess mucus, placental tissue and blood are expelled from the body) was still taking place. Stana’s uterus become enlarged and inflamed externally from placenta’s presence. The skin and nails on her hands and feet were peeling away on their own. One of her hands had fresh skin and nails. It was said that because she painted herself with the blood of the vampire she became one.

Milica was a 60 year old woman who died after a three-month long illness and was buried as many months ago. Her own viscera was in healthy and undecomposed condition. Fresh blood was found in her chest cavity. Villagers that remembered Milica as a thin woman were shocked to find her plump in her grave. Glaser’s report stated that Milica came from Ottoman-controlled land and that she once mentioned she ate meat of sheep killed by vampires. It was believed she became a vampire due to ingestion of this meat.

The third casket contained the body of an eight-day-old child that was buried three months ago, yet was in perfect condition.

The fourth grave contained the body of a hajduk’s son who was 16 years old when he was buried nine-weeks prior. Similarly to other cases, he died after a mysterious three-day illness and his body lay in perfect condition.

Another casket containing a hajduk’s son by the name of Joachim. He died at age 17 after a three-day illness. His body lay in perfect condition eight weeks after being buried. 

Ruža’s body had fresh blood in her chest and stomach. The body of her child dead at 18 days also had fresh blood in chest and stomach.

A girl of ten years of age also lay undecayed with fresh blood in her chest.

A few graves that lay in vicinity of these aforementioned vampires were also exhumed. Their contents containing the decomposed bodies of a mother and infant buried seven weeks prior, the decomposing body of a 21 year-old servant of a local hajduk corporal who died five weeks prior, as well as completely decomposed bodies of a mother and child.

The twelfth grave contained Miloje who at 25 years-old was found in the perfect condition of vampirism. You may recall him from Jovica’s story from when he attacked his step-daughter Stanojka. Stanojka’s own grave was opened up and inside it was found that her countenance was lifelike and undecomposed. Blood flowed when she was lifted out of the grave and blood was also found in her chest and stomach. Under her right ear a finger-long bloodshot blue mark was found. Her viscera was healthy and it appeared her skin and nails were freshly regenerated.

Following the exhumation of these graves, local gypsies cut off the heads of the vampires and burned them along with the bodies. Decomposing bodies were returned to their graves, while the ashes of vampires were thrown into the river Morava.

Johannes Flückinger’s report was signed with the following inscription and officer’s names:

"The undersigned attest herewith that all which the Regimental Medical Officer of the Foot Regiment of the Honorable B. Furstenbusch has observed in the matter of vampires - along with both medical officers who signed with him - is in every way truthful and has been undertaken, observed, and examined in our own presence. In confirmation thereof is our signature in our own hand, of our making, Belgrade, January 26, 1732.

L.S. Johannes Fluchinger, Regimental Medical Officer of the Foot Regiment of the Honorable B. Furstenbusch.

L.S. J.H. Siegel, Medical Officer of the Honorable Morall Regiment.

L.S. Johann Friedrich Baumgarten, Medical Officer of the Foot Regiment of the Honorable B. Furstenbusch.

L.S. Buttener, Leieutenant Colonel of the Honorable Alexandrian Regiment.

L.S. J.H. von Lindenfels, Officer of the Honorable Alexandrian Regiment."

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The report Visum et Repertum was sent it to the authorities in Belgrade who forwarded it to the war council at the court in Vienna along with a request for remuneration of Flückinger and his two colleagues. The council dealt with the matter on February 11th, but more correspondence was necessary before Flückinger and his fellow officers received their remuneration in November 1732.

In the meantime, however, the report had been reprinted in various newspapers and journals, causing a large scale debate in certain parts of Europe. This sensation was helped on its way by some of the people who were somehow connected with what had happened.

As early as the very day that the Visum et Repertum was signed, i.e. on January 26 1732, a standard bearer serving in Serbia, von Kottwitz, wrote a letter from Belgrade to professor Michael Ernst Ettmüller in Leipzig asking for an explanation of the phenomena observed.

Glaser himself tried to attract some attention to his experiences by first sending a copy of his report to the Collegium Sanitatis in Vienna, and later on to his father, Johann Friedrich Glaser. Glaser Sr. wrote about it to one of the editors of the scientific journal Commercii Litterarii ad rei medicae et scientiae naturalis incremementum institute published in Nürnberg. His letter was published in Latin in the journal on March 22nd 1732, and caused a debate on vampires in that journal which lasted for the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, Carl Alexander Prince of Württemberg, who had been in charge of Serbia and Belgrade, was travelling to the court of king Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia in Berlin. Apparently, they discussed the Visum et Repertum, because the king asked The Royal Prussian Society of Sciences to state a verdict on the contents of the report. The society convened on March 7th and finished a statement on the vampires or blood suckers on March 11th, in which they stated that all the phenomena that had been observed on the examined corpses could be explained by well-known natural processes.

Particularly in Leipzig, but also in other places, however, the matter of vampires and how one were to explain the apparent incorruptibility of the corpses, the illness of the victims, and the claims concerning being haunted by vampires, were debated in numerous books and journals.

Later on, the vampire case from Medvedja was retold numerous times. The names of persons and places were changed along the way, so sometimes Arnont Paole became e.g. Arnod Paole or Arnold Paul. In the middle of the 19th century, Herbert Mayo decided to try and use ‘the romancing vein … to try and restore the original colours of the picture’, i.e. he dramatised the story, when he recounted it in his letters ‘on the truths contained in modern susperstitions’ that were first published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. It is this version that is more or less used by Dudley Wright and Montague Summers, and it is amazing to find that the ‘original colours of the picture’ include a story of doomed love between Arnod Paole and his neighbour, Nina. Curiously, we are even told that ‘it was on a grey morning in early August that the commission visited the cemetery of Meduegna,’ although we know it actually happened in January. The tradition of mixing up fact and fiction when it comes to vampires apparently is far from new.

The accompanying excerpts of the Visum et Repertum are from a contemporary copy that was sent from Vienna to the Danish government.

 

 

 

 

 

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