When most of us think vampires, the first that comes to mind is probably Bram Stoker's terrifying Count Dracula. This famous vampire made his debut in Stoker's novel Dracula in 1897, but he is far from the first blood-thirsty creature to stalk human nightmares.
So, who was the first ever vampire? Read on to find out the origins of the first vampire, and the stories that inspired Bram Stoker to pen his bone-chilling tale.
Vampires are mentioned in religious mythology
Believe it or not, there are multiple Bible verses that seem to hint at some sort of vampirism, though not in the form we know of today. For example, Leviticus 17:10-14 reads:
"And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people."
Ancient Greek mythology also contains several precursors to vampires, although they weren't considered undead and had attributes closer to those of demons.
The first vampire was named Ambrogio
Logically a vampire can only create another vampire. So how did vampires come to exist at all? It's a bit of a 'the chicken or the egg' type situation—until the Greek gods get involved, that is.
The first vampire started out as an Italian man named Ambrogio. According to the myth, Ambrogio took a trip to Delphi, Greece and, through a series of unfortunate events, found himself cursed and transformed into a vampire. The sun god Apollo cursed Ambrogio so that his skin would burn should it ever come in contact with the sun again. Ambrogio then gambled away his soul to the god of the underworld, Hades. And finally, the goddess of the moon, Artemis, cursed Ambrogio so that his skin would burn when it touched silver.
Artemis also granted Ambrogio immortality, inhuman speed and strength, and the ability to survive from drinking blood. Whether these would be considered a blessing or a curse probably depends on how you look at it!
The first vampire clan was based in Italy
Now a full-fledged vampire, the unfortunate Ambrogio returned to Florence, Italy. It was here that he formed the first ever Vampire Clan. It's widely believed that others in the clan were willing members—individuals who gladly sacrificed their souls for immortality and power. Eventually the Vampire Clan grew, broke apart, and spread around the world.
Bram Stoker drew inspiration from Vlad the Impaler
When it came time to write Dracula, Bram Stoker looked for inspiration a little closer to home—namely to a Romanian ruler known as Vlad the Impaler. Bram Stoker openly admitted to drawing inspiration from Vlad Tepes when creating Count Dracula. In fact, the name Dracula is directly taken from Vlad the Impaler's moniker 'Dracul'—given because of his membership to the Order of the Dragon.
However, Vlad the Impaler as a blood-thirsty, violent man was largely mythologized by the West. In Romania, he is considered a national hero who defended his kingdom from the Ottoman Turks. Although his favored method of execution was impaling (hence the name), Vlad didn't drink blood, nor was he the first real vampire.
The first fictional vampire was an English Lord
Although Bram Stoker is often credited with the first fictional vampire, there are actually a few instances in English literature before Dracula. The first vampire in fiction comes from the 1816 novel Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb where she describes a rather predatory English Lord (based on Lord Byron).
John Polidori took inspiration from this description for his 1819 short story, The Vampyre. (Fun fact: Polidori wrote the story as part of the contest which also produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). Prior to Dracula, Polidori's vampire was perhaps the most well-known. He set the standard for future vampires and began the lore of the first vampire in English literature.
There are a wealth of stories and lore surrounding the first vampire. No doubt, vampires are some of the most popular horror figures today. Do you like vampire stories?
Which are your favorites? Tell us in the comments below!