Упир Лихый

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Author: artemka
VR Publish Date: Dec 18 2015

I love getting my teeth into a problem, here's a school project that my friends and I were working on at my suggestion in January 2007. It took an age because we couldn't often get together to compare notes. It was all but finished when I had to take my enforced break from VR in May 2009

It's pretty boring but, if you're a scholar or researcher, it might give you some slightly different thought on an otherwise well-covered project

This isn't all my own work. The different writing styles are because there were seven of us involved (including a U6 student and a teacher - with some valuable input from a professor of Slavic studies. They no longer have an interest in the project, so I thought I would share it


Internet research on the history of vampires will certainly bring you into a debate about the origin of the word 'vampire'.

The debate itself is usually flawed as it follows these lines: there is an old vampiric creature called упырь or упирь, which if you translate it into English and back again, you get Упир which you find in a text about a priest, therefore the priest is the first vampire

If this form of debate is accepted we can make the same connection between a spam email and an argument that the first spam email was in 1937 and it was a pork product !

Almost certainly you will find lots of rambling references similar, or identical, to this:

The English word vampire was borrowed (perhaps via French vampyre) from German Vampir, in turn borrowed in early 18th century from Serbian вампир/vampir or, according to some sources, from Hungarian vámpír. The Serbian and Hungarian forms have parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), вапир (vapir) or въпир (vəpir), Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Russian упырь (upyr' ), Belarussian упiр (upyr), Ukrainian упирь (upir' ), from Old Russian упирь (upir' ). The etymology is uncertain. Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyr' and *ǫpir'. The Slavic word might, like its possible Russian cognate netopyr' ("bat"), come from the Proto-Indo-European root for "to fly". Another theory has it that the Slavic word comes from a Turkic word denoting an evil supernatural entity (cf. Kazan Tatar ubyr "witch"). This theory has now become obsolete, but has recently been embraced by one Polish scholar. The word Upir as a term for vampire is found for the first time in written form in 1047 in a letter to a Novgorodian prince referring to him as 'Upir Lichyj' (Wicked Vampire)


The purpose of this project is to research if the use of the word 'Upir' in 1047 related to vampirism and,
as a result, could be one possible origin of the word 'vampire'

The above reference states that the first record of the word Упир [ Upir/Upyr ] is in 1047, describing a prince. This reference also translates the word 'Upir' (and the adjective next to it) as "Wicked Vampire".

The first actual recorded use of the word Upyr was as the original name for the top part of the River Tyne before the roman invasion of Britain around 43AD [1]. We have not followed this up as it was not related to the Упир [ Upir/Upyr ], it just happened to be the same arrangement of letters in a different language and alphabet.

We would not dare to argue that the first vampire was a river, although some now might

The word Upir was also supposed to be mentioned in Arabian ‘Al Azif’ written in the beginning of 8th century [2]. The Al Azif was then translated in Greek as ‘Nekronomikon’ in 10th century. We have not looked into this further but other scholars may wish to explore this reference.

The next recorded use of the word Упир [ Upir/Upyr ] is in the 1047 text. However the text does not refer to a prince as many think. In that year a priest entered a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms he had transcribed from Glagolitic into Cyrillic [3].

Internet searches on the word Upir proved difficult. While it first appeared that there were several hundred sites to provide resources, it was soon obvious that it was actually one resource copied several hundred times (often word for word). Searches on the academic sites showed doubt and debate on the etymology of the word ‘vampire’ and its link with the word Upir. Even the basic result quoted above states clearly 'The etymology is uncertain'.

Internet references also had this annoying habit of telling you what you were expected to accept, without explaining why you were expected to accept it.

The 1047 text was a note that accompanied a handwritten book that had been prepared by a priest for a prince [5].

“Слава Тебе, Господи, Царю небесный, яко сподоби мя написати книги си ис кирило(ви)це князю Владимиру, Новегороде княжящю, сынови Ярославлю болшему. Почах же е писати в лето 6555, месяца мая 14, а кончах того же лета, месяца ноября в 19, аз, поп Упир Лихый. Темь же молю все прочитати пророчество се. Велика бо чюдеса написаша нам сии пророци в сих книгах. Здоров же, княже, буди, в век жи(ви), но обаче писавшаго не забывай”

An approximate translation would be

"Glory unto you Heavenly Lord, Tsar, that you enabled me to write this book from the Cyrillic for Prince Vladimir, of the Novgorod principality, son of the Great Yaroslav. I began to write in the year 6555, on the 14th of May, and finished the same year, November 19th, I, Priest Upir Likhyj. With this I pray that all will read this prophecy. For great are the marvels written down by the prophets for us in these books. Be healthy, o prince, live forever, but do not forget the one who writes this."

It is clear that the words Упир Лихый were not written about a prince, but were used by the priest about himself.

Лихый - LIKHYJ

“Слава Тебе, Господи, Царю небесный, яко сподоби мя написати книги си ис кирило(ви)це князю Владимиру, Новегороде княжящю, сынови Ярославлю болшему. Почах же е писати в лето 6555, месяца мая 14, а кончах того же лета, месяца ноября в 19, аз, поп Упир Лихый. Темь же молю все прочитати пророчество се. Велика бо чюдеса написаша нам сии пророци в сих книгах. Здоров же, княже, буди, в век жи(ви), но обаче писавшаго не забывай”

Let us ignore the Упир [ Upir/Upyr ] for the moment and concentrate on the next word Лихый which appears to be an adjective.

Many theories have evolved, the most active one is that the adjective Лихый translates as ‘Wicked / Evil’ [6]. It is this that appears to have lead people to believe something sinister about the word 'Upir' before it. However, the translation is doubtful and, because of this, people leave the translation open as Likhyj [the approximate western letters exchanged for the Russian ones] [15].

We couldn’t understand why a religious man writing to a Prince, offering the result of hard work, would suddenly describe himself as 'evil' and then carry on with his note.

The main problem was that we couldn’t see the original text. Bizarrely It cannot be found. We only see a version of it that has been made using a modern Cyrillic keyboard

This creates real problems. The original text was almost certainly written in Old Church Slavonic [7], it was the first literary Slavic language, developed from the Slavic dialect of Thessaloniki (Solun) by the 9th century Byzantine missionaries [16].

Certainly the word Лихый is grammatically incorrect in modern Russian. You can't usually have ы after x [17]. We couldn’t tell what the typist was trying to represent.

The Лихый [ Likhjj ] word appears in the accompanying text but, without seeing the original document, it is impossible to know if the typist had created a general approximation to a whole series of words he didn't recognise or as they changed cases*.

Our guess, if the word is russian, is Лихoй meaning 'dashing', 'valiant, or perhaps ‘swift’ [18][19][8]. Swift, in the context of the letter, where he is taking the trouble to point out how long it has taken him to write the book, it makes more sense than wicked or evil.


Упир - UPIR

That leaves us with Упир, which corresponds with the western alphabet as Upir [15].

“Слава Тебе, Господи, Царю небесный, яко сподоби мя написати книги си ис кирило(ви)це князю Владимиру, Новегороде княжящю, сынови Ярославлю болшему. Почах же е писати в лето 6555, месяца мая 14, а кончах того же лета, месяца ноября в 19, аз, поп Упир Лихый. Темь же молю все прочитати пророчество се. Велика бо чюдеса написаша нам сии пророци в сих книгах. Здоров же, княже, буди, в век жи(ви), но обаче писавшаго не забывай”

Religious scripts before and after 1047, when noted, were often signed with the priest’s name [20][21]. Just as today they would use (say) Father David, they would use ‘поп or жрец _ _ _’ [7][9][16]

We wondered if Upir could simply be the priest’s name. Certainly Upir was being used as peasant’s name in 1495 [14]

It could also be that Упир was the closest Russian to the Swedish name Öpir, and the priest was actually a Swedish priest called Öpir Ofeigr [9].

The Swedish Slavicist, Anders Sjöberg [22], states that a priest Öpir Ofeigr would have accompanied Prince Iaroslav’s Swedish Queen with their son, Vladimir (as Prince of Novgorod) when they held court in Novgorod in 1046/7 [10].

Öpir Ofeigr is the name of one of Sweden’s most prolific rune-carvers in the second half of the 11th century, Öpir, signed all of his stones. He would have left Novgorod and returned to Sweden following the deaths of Queen Ingegerd in 1050 and her son Vladimir in 1052 when Prince Iaroslav placed the Byzantine-linked Ostromir as governor in Novgorod in 1054 [11]

This would explain the single reference of Upir in Novgorod, and the absence of signed runes in the earlier part of Öpir’s life, it would also explain how Christian elements from both East and West were interlinked at this time [22]

We couldn’t find any mention of anything further extraordinary in Father Upir’s [Öpir’s] life. Some unproven speculation has been made in modern texts that he may have taken part in orgies that formed part of the wedding celebrations at the time.

The next recorded reference we used was to a Slavic blood sucking creature was in a Nomokanon in 1262 [12] and it was called Vukodlak (although it was more like a werewolf). We think this was the first mention of a Slavic vampire.

If the word Upir had been in use to describe a creature at that time (as opposed to just someone’s name) we wonder why they would not have used that term for this creature. The name Vukodlak was later used widely across the Slavic countries appearing as vlokodlaci, vorkolak, vârcolac, vrykolaka, vurkolak, vârcolaci and svârcolaci [12] [23]

We could not find when Upyr or Upir started to be used as a term for mythological creatures. Certainly we can’t find it being used before 1262. Franz Miklosich, a late 19th century linguist, suggested that "upir" is derived from "uber", a Turkish word for "witch". Andre Vaillant suggested just the opposite--that the Northern Turkish word "uber" is derived from the Slavic "upir". More recently, Jan Perkowski, who has done a great deal of research on the vampires of the Slavs, also favours a Slavic origin to the word. None of these people mention where the word Upir came from, apart from the theories offered by Kazimierz Moszynski suggests that "u-pir" is from a Serbo-Croatian word "pirati" (to blow). Aleksandr Afanas'ev points to the Slavic "pij" (to drink), which may have entered the Slavic language from the Greek, via Old Church Slavonic. A. Bruckner proposes Russian "netopyr" (bat) [13].


We think any link between the priest of 1047 and the later vampire Upir c1262 unproven at this time.
We think the (mis)spelling is a coincidence of transcribing

We found a problem that was common with all online dictionaries that translate a text into English. It is best illustrated by the word LEAD An online dictionary presented with one translation only руководство. Translating руководство back gives you LEAD. American scholars would recognise that context and pronunciation would be required to separate the heavy grey metal from the action of leadership. British scholars would require even more clarification to separate out two further meanings of LEAD, a dog’s leash and an electrical appliance’s cord. Before any reliance can be placed with online dictionaries you have to know where the dictionary author learned their English and where the users learned theirs.

In this example the translated phrase “He was killed with a heavy lead” could lead an American to assume that the victim was battered but a Briton would be more inclined (with the word heavy in Britain also meaning hefty or strong) towards strangulation.

This also plays its part in the confusion caused by the debate which relies heavily on translating the old vampiric creature called упырь or упирь, into English and back again, to get Упир

The problem gets much worse as two or three different alphabets are involved

A similar problem exists when trying to translate the word vampire into modern Russian; the textbooks show it as вампир (vampir)

* Unlike English russian words change appearance in use depending on who is speaking them and what is being spoken about - they change 'case'

[1] John Sykes, Paper - Historical register of remarkable events, which have occurred in Northumberland
[2] http://www.secretsbg.com/magic/magic.php?num=n6
[3] Franklin 2002, p. 95.
[4] http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&sa=X&oi
[5] http://www.textology.ru/drevnost/srp2.shtml
[6] http://www.faqs.org/faqs/paranormal/vampyres/vampire-faq/
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Church_Slavonic
[8] Collins russian-english dictionary
[9] Anders Sjöberg: Paper Pop Upir' Lichoj and the Swedish Rune-carver Ofeigr Upir 109
[10] John H Lind - VARANGIANS IN EUROPE'S EASTERN AND NORTHERN PERIPHERY The Christianization of North- and Eastern Europe c. 950-1050
[11] http://www.answers.com/topic/ostromir
[12] http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A11101654
[13] http://www.faqs.org/faqs/paranormal/vampyres
[14] http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=upir
[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_alphabet
[16] http://www.christianity-guide.com/christianity/old_church_slavonic.htm
[17] http://www.alphadictionary.com/rusgrammar/spelling.html
[18] http://www.lexilogos.com/english/russian_translation.htm#
[19] http://www.online-translator.com/#
[20] http://www.bl.uk/learning/citizenship/sacred/sacredintro.html
[21] http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm
[22] http://www.digplanet.com/wiki/%C3%96pir
[23] http://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A11101654

Co authors:
Janet Tresize
Jane Askins
Anthony Whitehall
Mark White
Mark Popel
Nick Mayhew

Prof S Franklin

Other materials (uncited):

◾ The Emergence of Rus, 750-1200 (with Jonathan Shepard) (London & New York: Longman, 1996)
◾ Writing, Society, and Culture in Early Rus, c. 950-1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
◾ Byzantium - Rus - Russia: Studies in the Translation of Christian Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002)
◾ Slavonic Sources', in May Whitby (ed.), Byzantines and Crusaders in Non-Greek Sources, 1025-1204 (Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 122. London: The British Academy, 2007), 157-81

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