A Brief History of Werewolves


While there are many good Werewolf / Lycanthropy timelines on the web, this one is primarily focused on cases of actual physical transformations into a wolf in history and literature. There are also many good fictional works about werewolves, which this article does not deal with.

1550 BC - King Lycaon of Arcadia serves human flesh to the god Zeus and is transformed into a wolf for his crimes. The term 'Lycanthrope' is derived from this story. The Roman poet Ovid writes about this over 1500 years later (see below).

440 BC - In "Histories of Herodotus", the traveller Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC - 425 BC) writes of the Neuri people, who transform into wolves once a year.
"It seems that these people are conjurers: for both the Scythians and the Greeks who dwell in Scythia say that every Neurian once a year becomes a wolf for a few days, at the end of which time he is restored to his proper shape." From "Histories of Herodotus" Book IV:105 translation by George Rawlinson.

400 BC - A victorious Olympic boxer by the name of Damarchus, an Arcadian of Parrhasia, is said to have changed his shape into that of a wolf at the sacrifice of Lycaean (Wolf) Zeus, and nine years after he became a man again.

37 BC - Roman Poet Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC), in the "Eclogues", tells of the change of Moeris to the form of a wolf by the use of herbs.
"These herbs, and these poisons gathered in Pontus, Moeris himself gave me; in Pontus they grow thickest. By their might I have often seen Moeris become a wolf and plunge into the forest, often seen him call up souls from their deep graves, and transplant the harvests to where they were not sown." From "The Eclogues" Eclogue VIII translation by J. W. MacKail, 1934.
This translation leads me to believe that the writer is hallucinating the transformation because of the herbs, rather than the herbs causing the transformation. Still a werewolf reference in either case as far as I am concerned.

2 BC - 8 AD - Roman poet Ovid (43 BC - 17 AD) writes "Metamorphoses" including verse about Lycaon, who is transformed into a wolf by the god Zeus as a punishment.
"He himself ran in terror, and reaching the silent fields howled aloud, frustrated of speech. Foaming at the mouth, and greedy as ever for killing, he turned against the sheep, still delighting in blood. His clothes became bristling hair, his arms became legs. He was a wolf, but kept some vestige of his former shape." From "Metamorphoses" Book I:199-243. Translation by A.S. Kline.

Pictures of the Werewolf Lycaon

Lycaon by Solis
Artist: Vergilius Solis (1514-1562)   Edition: Johann Postius von Gemersheim, Frankfurt, 1563. From University of Vermont Rare Book Collection.
Lycaon by Brooks Nathan
Brooks Nathan, Metamorphosen, 1849

60 AD Approx - "Satyricon", by Roman writer Petronius (27-66 AD), contains a fairly detailed account of a soldier who is a werewolf.
"We got under way about first cockcrow, with the moon shining as bright as day... ...Presently I looked back for my comrade; he had stripped off all his clothes and laid them down by the wayside... ...Then he made water all round the clothes, and in an instant changed into a wolf... ...he set up a howl, and away to the woods... ...I saw at once he was a werewolf and I could never afterwards eat bread with him, no!" From "Satyricon" Chapter 9: LXII translation by Alfred R. Allinson, New York, The Panurge Press, 1930.
Of particular interest is the phrase "with the moon shining as bright as day". I guess this does not automatically imply a full moon, but I do wonder if this had an influence on later beliefs that werewolf transformations took place on a full moon.

?200 ~ 299 - In France, Raimbaud de Pinetum, a trained military man, takes on the form of a wolf after being disinherited by Ponce de Chapteuil, a noble. In this form, he forces many farmers to abandon their homes, mangles old people with his fangs and gobbles up children. He returns to human form only after he has one of his paws chopped off by a woodsman.

970 - A man named Baianus is able to turn himself into a wolf through the arts of necromancy. "He chaunged himselfe into a Wolfe so often as he list, or into the likenesse of any other beaste, or in such sort that he could not be discerned of any man". Davies, R. Trevor. Four Centuries of Witch-Beliefs: With Special Reference to the Great Rebellion. New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc. 1972.

1101 - Death of Vseslav Bryachislavich, the most famous ruler of Polotsk, believed by many to be a werewolf.

1182 - Welsh historian Giraldus Cambrensis (1146 - 1223) encounters Irish werewolves who transform during the Yuletide feast. The werewolves were reportedly natives of Ossory, whose people had been cursed by St. Natalis for their wickedness.

1502? 1521? - The three werewolves of Poligny, Pierre Bourgot, Michel Verdung (or Udon), and Philibert Mentot are burnt at the stake for eating children, consorting with wild she-wolves, and transforming into wolf form via a magic salve.

1541 - In Pavia, Italy, a farmer in the form of a wolf is said to have torn many men in the open country to pieces. After being captured, he assures his captors that the only difference between himself and a natural wolf, was that in a true wolf the hair grew outward, whilst in him it struck inward. In order to put this assertion to the proof, the magistrates cut off his arms and legs, and he dies from wounds.

1574 - Gilles Garnier, the Werewolf of Dole, is burnt at the stake. After fifty witnesses had testified against him, Garnier was put to the rack where he confessed to killing and eating several children in November and December of 1573. He was supposedly captured in the form of a wolf during an attack on one of his victims.

1578 - Jacques Rollet goes on trial in Paris. He was found guilty of being a loup-garou. While in the shape of the wolf, he had supposedly devoured a little boy. He was burnt alive in the Place de Greve.

1588 - The Werewolf of Auvergne is burned at the stake. She is discovered when a large wolf attacks a hunter, who escapes after cutting off the wolf's paw. Upon returning to his village, he produces the paw to show a friend, but is shocked to find it has transformed into the hand of a woman. Even more shocking is that the friend recognises his wife's wedding ring on the severed hand, and returnes home to find her hiding her bloody stump under her apron.

1589 - Peter Stubb is executed in Germany after supposedly terrorising the countryside near Cologne in the form of a Wolf. Under the pain of torture, Peter Stubb (also called Peter Stube, Peeter Stubbe, or Peter Stumpf) claimed the devil had given him a magical belt which enabled him to transform into a large powerful wolf. In this form, he allegedly committed many murders and other heinous crimes, some of which are described in "The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter".

1590 - Michel Jaques confesses to becoming a wolf seven or eight times after anointing himself with an unguent given to him by the devil. Although he had tried (and failed) to kidnap children on two different occasions, he had never eaten any.

1598 - The "Werewolf of Châlons", known also as the "Demon Tailor", was arraigned in France on December 14, on murder charges. The unnamed man was reputed to have lured children into his tailor shop in Paris, where he did unspeakable things to them, murdered them and consumed the remains. When he could not lure victims that way, he roamed the woods, supposedly in a wolf's form, to find them, and he was alleged to have killed several dozen.
The same year, the Gandillon family, a sister, brother and two of the man's children were tried together in France. Pernette Gandillon believed she was a wolf and displayed wolf-like behavior. She attacked two children one day, and the older one survived to identify her to authorities. They seized her and "tore her to pieces". They then accused her brother, Pierre, of being a witch and a shape-shifter. He and his son confessed that they possessed an ointment that allowed them to change into wolves. The scars on their bodies reportedly attested to attacks from dogs when they were in wolf form. Once they were imprisoned, they moved around on all fours and howled. Pierre's daughter was also accused as a witch, and all three were hanged and burned. But only Pernette had been a killer.
Also in the same year, Jacques Roulet, a begger, is arrested in Caude in the vicinity of Angers, France. Apparently some men found two wolves feeding on the mutilated corpse of a 15 year old boy. Upon pursuing the wolves, they discovered Roulet nearby half naked with his hands covered in blood and gore. He admitted under severe duress that he was able to transform himself into a wolf by means of a salve given to him by his parents. He also revealed that in the company of his brother Jean and cousin Julien, also shapeshifters, he had killed numerous women and children and devoured their flesh. Roulet was committed to an insane asylum for two years because the authorities in Paris deemed his confession to be unreliable on account of his feeblemindedness.

1602 - Michée Bauloz, along with Jeanne de la Pierre and Suzanne Prevost are condemned. Changed into wolves by the Devil's ointment, these women purportedly kidnapped a child and ate him at the Sabbat.

1603 - 13 year old Jean Grenier, the son of a poor laborer, insisted a neighbor had taken him into the woods and introduced him to M. de la Forest, a dark-skinned man who gave them both a salve and a wolf-skin cape. Thereafter, Grenier had found himself able to change into a wolf. Before the courts, he confessed to killing and eating children, that had indeed been missing in the area (St. Sever districts of Gascony in south-west France). The court believed him to be an imbecile who was hallucinating, and not responsible for his acts, so he was sent to perpetual imprisonment in a monastery at Bordeaux.

1623 - There are a series of court trials in which eighteen men and thirteen women are tried for lycanthropy. A woman named Ann testifies that she had been a werewolf for four years, and had killed a horse as well as some smaller animals. She had later hidden the wolf skin under a stone in the fields.

1692 - An 80-year-old man named Thiess is tried in Jurgenburg, Livonia. He confesses to being a werewolf, relating a fantastical tale of werewolves descending into hell to fight witches and recover grain from failed local crops. Judges sentence Thiess to ten lashes for acts of idolatry and superstitious beliefs.

1764 - 1767 - The Beast of Gévaudan terrorises the general area of the former province of Gévaudan, in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France. It was described as being a wolflike creature the size of a cow with a wide chest, a long sinuous tail with a lion-like tuft of fur on the end, and a greyhound-like head with large, protruding fangs. There was over 100 victims.

1852 - Traveling vendor Manuel Blanco Romasanta confesses to the murders of thirteen people. For "fun and profit", he had converted the body fat of his prey into luxurious soaps to be sold from his traveling vendor's stand. Romasanta was tried in Allariz and eluded capital punishment by professing he was a werewolf.

1865 - "The Book of Were-Wolves" is written by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (28 January 1834 - 2 January 1924), an English Victorian hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar, best-known for writing the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers".

1933 - Eccentric British Occult writer and clergyman Montague Summers (10 April 1880 - 10 August 1948) completes and publishes "The Werewolf". He is known primarily for his 1928 English translation of the medieval witch hunter's manual, the Malleus Maleficarum, as well as for several studies on witches, vampires, and werewolves, in all of which he professed to believe in.

1948 - Robert Eisler (1882-1949) delivers his lecture "Man into wolf: An anthropological interpretation of sadism, masochism, and lycanthropy" to the Psychiatric Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in London, England. In 1950 and 1969, a book of the same name was published, containing the speech, as well as a hundred pages of lengthy footnotes on the subject.


Histories of Herodotus - Herodotus

The Eclogues - Virgil

Metamorphoses - Ovid

Satyricon - Petronius

The Book Of Were-wolves: Being An Account Of A Terrible Superstition - Sabine Baring Gould

Werewolf - Montague Summers

Man into wolf: An anthropological interpretation of sadism, masochism, and lycanthropy - Robert Eisler

Bibliography & Links:

Lycaon at Wikipedia

Time Line of Greek History and Literature

The wrath of Heaven

Metamorphoses Book I (A. S. Kline's Version)

Ovid at Wikipedia

Woodcuts and Engravings of Ovid's Metamorphoses

Ovid: Metamorphoses, B. I.

Herodotus at Wikipedia

Histories of Herodotus

The Eclogues By Virgil

Virgil at Wikipedia

The Eclogues of Virgil

The Sayricon of Petronius

Satyricon at Wikipedia

Petronius at Wikipedia

Man into Wolf

Beast of Gévaudan at Wikipedia

Vseslav of Polotsk at Wikipedia

Werewolves of Ossory

Sabine Baring-Gould at Wikipedia

Page last updated 2006-05-09