Peter Plogojowitz the Serbian Vampire

Peter Plogojowitz was a Serbian farmer who was believed to have become a vampire after his death. This case was one of the earliest, most sensational and most well documented cases of vampire hysteria. It had been investigated by an Army enquiry sitting at Belgrade  There was nothing unusual about Plogojowitz, he was a simple, sixty-two year old farmer who owned some land around Kisilova (possibly the modern Kisiljevo). He seemed extremely hale and hearty. Despite his apparent good health, Peter Plogojowitz suddenly sickened and died. Three nights after his interment, there were sounds from the kitchen of his house, and upon entering, his son, found the likeness of Plogojowitz standing there. The apparition asked him for food. When a meal was set down before him, he ate it, then rose and left the room, presumably going back to the grave.

The next day, the son (who was very alarmed at his experience), told neighbours what had happened. He waited up the following night but the apparition of his father didn’t appear. Yet the next night, he was back and asking for more food. This time, the son refused and Plogojowitz gave him a malevolent and threatening look before leaving. The next day Plogojowitz’s son suddenly died. His death was only the first of six in the village, all of whom seemed to die within hours of each other.

The cause of their deaths seemed to be due to exhaustion and excessive blood loss. Before dying, each of them had complained that they had seen the shape of Peter Plogojowitz either in their bedrooms or in a dream. In these dreams, he seemed to glide toward them and catch them by the throat, then lowered his head to bite and draw their blood from the wound. He was believed to have killed nine persons in this way within the space of a week. Despite the best efforts of the local apothecary, all those who had seen or dreamed of Plogojowitz died extremely quickly.

The local magistrates were determined to put an end to what was happening before a full-scale vampire hysteria broke out. They contacted a local Army commander who happened to be staying nearby, asking him to investigate. The commander arrived in Kislova, bringing with him two other officers, and proceeded to order the immediate exhumation of the body of Peter Plogojowitz. They actually opened all the graves of those who had died subsequent to the farmer’s death, but paid close attention to the corpse that had been Plogojowitz. They found it almost undecayed and lying as if in a trance. In fact, it even appeared to be breathing almost imperceptibly. To the absolute terror of the examiners, the eyes were wide open, and several of those who observed them swore that they moved a little, following the movements of those around the body. His hair and nails had grown, a number of old wounds were now encased in freshly grown skin, and the joints remained supple and moved easily. The farmer’s mouth was smeared with fresh blood, and his complexion was extremely florid, as though gorged with the substance. The commander and his assistants concluded that this was indeed the vampire who had been terrorizing the district and they should put an end to it.

In accordance with local custom, a sharp wooden stake was driven into the cadaver’s heart, resulting in great quantities of fresh blood pouring forth from every part of the body. Wood was subsequently gathered and formed into a pyre upon which the corpse was then burned. No evidence of vampirism was found upon any of the other bodies that were exhumed along with Plogojowitz. Their copses were replaced in caskets and reburied. After this the dreams and apparitions ceased, as did the deaths in the village.

Returning to Belgrade, the commander and his officers formally convened again and made a report, concluding that Peter Plogojowitz had indeed been a vampire. It was published by Wienerisches Diarium, a Viennese newspaper, today known as Die Wiener Zeitung. Along with the report of the very similar Arnold Paole case of 1726-1732, it was widely translated West and North, contributing to the vampire craze of the eighteenth century in Germany, France and England. The strange phenomena or appearances that the Austrian officials witnessed are now known to accompany the natural process of the decomposition of the body.

Because of the military involvement, this was one of the best attested cases of its time, and placed Central and Eastern Europe firmly at the centre of vampire lore.

Encyclopedia of the Undead by Dr. Bob Curran;

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