Gerard van Swieten

Article

May 22, 2022

Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) was an Austrian-Dutch physician. Van Swieten was born in Leiden. He was a student of Hermann Boerhaave and in 1745 became the personal physician of the Austrian emperor Maria Theresa. He made a transformation in Austrian healthcare and medical education at the University. He also founded botanical gardens, chemical laboratories, and introduced clinical instruction. He was very active in fighting superstition during the Age of Enlightenment, particularly against cases of vampires being reported in villages in Eastern Europe between 1718 and 1732. In 1755 Gerard van Swieten was sent by Maria Theresa to Moravia to investigate the situation regarding vampires. . He considers the vampire myth to be "barbarism of ignorance" and he aims to eradicate it. He investigated the case thoroughly, and wrote a report entitled Abhandlung des Daseyns der Gespenster (Discourse on the Existence of Ghosts). In the report, he explained the reasons for believing in vampires. He explained that the fermentation process and the lack of oxygen could cause corpses to decompose slowly, giving rise to the vampire myth. Some doctors support his theory, and even more are finding other causes of vampire myths, such as epidemics.

Reference

Hamberger, Klaus: Mortuus non mordet. Documentary zum Vampirismus 1689-1791. Vienna 1992