The Romanian Influence
Although Slavic folklore can be generally credited with the initial development of vampires as the source of virtually every natural calamity that could fall upon a society in the first millennia in eastern Europe, the Slavs also greatly influenced the legends of their non-Slavic neighbors.
Of these, Romania is unquestionably the most well known and is inextricably linked to the lore of vampirism in Europe, primarily as a result of Bram Stoker's Dracula and the light his novel cast on the often horrific activities of Dracula's alleged real-life inspirational genesis, Romania's Vlad the Impaler.
Although Romania has throughout the centuries been bordered by the Slavic regions of what are now Bulgaria, Serbia, and the Ukraine, many of Romania's earliest political and social ties were with its Hungarian neighbors to the west. Despite this amalgam of political and cultural sway, Romania has historically maintained its association with the ancient Roman Empire — which is the very namesake of Romania.
Perhaps the long and deeply rooted sense of history that permeates the cultural folklore of Romania is best exemplified by the “Cave with Bones,” discovered by a team of cave specialists in the Carpathian Mountains of southwestern Romania in 2002. Radiocarbon dating revealed that human remains recovered from the cave system were over 40,000 years old, making them the oldest ever found in Europe.
The region of eastern Europe of what is now Romania was conquered by the Roman emperor Trajan in A.D. 106 and remained a province of Rome, known as Roman Dacia, for nearly two centuries. Geographically isolated from direct Roman influence, the people of Roman Dacia, a commingling of the native population and Roman colonists, developed a powerful independent sensibility.
After the fall of Roman power in the third century, the people of Romania survived invasions of Goths, Huns, and Ottoman Turks, and the rule of Austro-Hungary. Through centuries of cultural and political incursions, the Romanians have continued to retain their fierce independence and national identity. They also retain their vampiric legends.
In Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 blockbuster Bram Stoker's Dracula, Gary Oldman as Prince Vlad in his youthful incarnation pays homage to Romanian lore in his first encounter with Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) in London. At a viewing of the Cinematograph, a white wolf wreaks havoc and gets loose. Cornering Mina, Vlad subdues the wolf by yelling “Strigoi!”
Despite the influences of Slavic vampire legend, the lore of vampires in Romania has maintained its own distinction in terminology and practice. In the Romanian principality of Transylvania — homeland of the legendary Vlad Dracula — vampirism actually pulled double duty as the indistinguishable living vampire, strigoi vii, and as the dead vampire, the strigoi mort, which is thought to leave its tomb and take the form of an animal to haunt and harass the living.
The term strigoi (also spelled strigoii) is taken from the word striga, or witch, entities who are doomed to become vampires after death. In legend, the association between witches and vampires is clear, with the strigoi vii and strigoi mort believed to gather at night to plot against the living. The strigoi mort are the deadliest of the Romanian vampires and will return from the grave to suck the lifeblood of their families and livestock before eventually moving on to attack neighbors in their village.
As is common throughout eastern European lore, candidates for a Romanian vampiric rebirth are those who lead sinful lives or commit suicide. It's also believed that a pregnant woman who permits a vampire to look at her will subsequently give birth to another vampire, but there's little evidence as to exactly how a woman would know that she's indeed fallen under a vampiric gaze.
In Romania, the prime revenant contenders are children born out of wedlock, those born with a caul (the amniotic membrane of birth that often clings stubbornly to a baby's head), and children who die before baptism. Other legends have it that the seventh son of a seventh son, or the seventh child of the same sex, can also be born as vampires.
The Albanian Shtriga
Just as legends of Romanian vampirism take many of their cues from Slavic folklore, the southeastern European nation of Albania has also adopted a similar approach to the undead. As with Romania, the Albanian shtriga possesses witchlike characteristics. The term shtriga, which evolves from the Latin strix, or screech owl, describes a demonic flying creature of the night. The shtriga is believed to be a witch who behaves normally during daylight hours, but who at night will transform into an airborne insect, such as a fly or moth, and attack victims to drink their blood.
According to legend, a shtriga can be identified by a communal gathering inside a church, where crosses of pig bones are attached to the doorways. The shtriga will be unable to exit past the makeshift crucifixes and is thus recognized. Another dead giveaway is to follow a suspected shtriga after sunset until she vomits the blood of her victims. A coin can then be soaked in the regurgitated blood, creating an effective charm against further attacks.