I have never traveled to a place that hasn’t got a ‘tale of the undead’ of some sort. Stories of beings neither alive nor dead consuming the blood of living beings can be found in nearly every culture around the world in many different varieties spanning over many centuries. Thanks to the genius of Bram Stoker, we call these entities ‘vampires’ and have an image of them in our heads as sinister, pale, suave and mysterious. Stephenie Meyer, of course, ruined this image many years later with her depiction of vampires being vegetarian, greasy haired and sparkly.
ANCIENT PERSIA: SUMER
The Persians is thought to be the first civilization to have tales of blood-drinking demons. Excavated pottery shards depict creatures in the process of drinking blood from people. A version says that Lilitu, and beings of her nature, who drinks blood for fun, started from Sumer. Sumer was an infertile beautiful maiden who were believed to be a vampire. After she’s chosen a lover, she would never let him go. Apparently even in ancient times clingy girls were considered scary.
ANCIENT BABYLONIA: LILITU, LAMASHTU and GALLU
Ancient Babylonia had Lilitu, who was a bird-footed night demonic sexual predator. Lilitu gave rise to Hebrew’s Lilith. Babylonian’s Lilitu was considered a demon and was often depicted as drinking the blood of mothers and babies, but Hebrew’s Lilith newborns and their mothers. Legend has it that she would closely watch pregnant women when they went into labor, so she could snatch the newborn afterwards.
Lamashtu, Lilitu, and Gallu, another Babylonian blood-drinking demon, are invoked in different amulet texts. Gallu also appeared in Graeco-Byzantine myth as Gello, reprising her role as a child-stealing-and-killing female demon. Lamashtu, a Babylonian goddess was said to be a malicious “Daughter of Heaven” or of Anu. She had a lion’s head and a donkey’s body. And she sucked blood.
ANCIENT GREEK: EMPUSA, LAMIA and STRIGES
The Ancient Greeks also had some blood-drinking beings. Empusa was the bronze-footed daughter of Hecate. She would transform into a young woman and seduced men before drinking their blood. Lamia was one of Zeus’ lovers. Hera discovered their affair and killed of all Lamia’s children. Lamia, understandably upset, then took her vengeance by sucking the blood of young children. The Striges, vampiric bird-like beings, also feasted on children, but they also liked young men. Homer’s Odyssey also mentions vampiric tendencies. There, the undead are just shades, too insubstantial to be heard by the living and cannot communicate with them without drinking blood first. When Odysseus traveled into the underworld, he had to sacrifice a black ram and a black ewe so that the shades there could drink their blood and communicate.
It’s been no secret that Stoker based his vampire of Vlad the Impaler, who was in fact human, but in ancient times blood drinking and activities of that sort were attributed to demons, sinister spirits, even the devil. These legends paved the way to the vampires we know and love today, although they weren’t technically considered vampires when using today’s definition. They were never sparkly.