The History of Zombies

Zombie: Soulless corpse said to be revived by witchcraft or magic. The most common portrayal of a zombie is a corpse that has come back to life and wanders around feasting upon the living.

Zombies have been a thing of recent pop culture. Starting in the 1970s, their popularity sky rocketed in the film industry with movies such as Dawn Of The Dead, and Night of the Living Dead. Now they have spread to books, television, graphic novels, video games, and even music. But the history of the zombie goes back rather deep into history. Farther than you might believe. Most people think that zombies came from when people would accidentally be buried alive and try to dig out of the ground. That theory was formulated in the 1500 and 1600’s, but there is evidence of zombies in the oldest text in the world. That’s right, there are zombies in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written almost 4,000 years ago!

Zombies in ancient text

The oldest reference to zombies comes from the oldest text in the world The Epic of Gilgamesh. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ishtar, the goddess of war, sex, and love, is rejected by Gilgamesh when she tries to seduce him. Being a goddess and not entirely prone to rejection, she runs off to her father, Anu, the god of the heavens and the sky, and threatens to release a plague of zombies on to the world if he doesn’t help her out. Here’s the actual text: “I will knock down the gates of the netherworld, I will smash the door posts and leave the doors flat down, and will let the dead go up and eat the living!” That is the exact premise of a zombie apocalypse  in ancient literature, literally the most ancient literature out there. There are even references to zombies in The Bible! Zechariah 14:12 “And the lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will be like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away.” The exact definition of a zombie apocalypse. Isaiah 26:19 – 2o “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise…go, my people, enter your rooms and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves until their wrath has passed us by.” Another zombie apocalypse in The Bible. The dead rise and people must go and hide until they’ re gone. I’m starting to sense a trend here.

In African culture

In the African religion of Voodoo, someone who has died may be brought back to life by a sorcerer through magic. But once they have been revived, the now zombie must be under the control of the sorcerer because they can’t have any will of their own. Though the reanimation is only temporary in Voodoo religion, this is where the more modern version of the zombie has arisen from. When African natives were brought to the new world for slavery they brought he religion of Voodoo with them and thus the concept of zombies. Because of this, zombies then started to appear in Haitian culture and many other Caribbean cultures.

In Popular culture

Zombies have recently become a major topic in popular culture. Starting with horror movies in the 70’s such as George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead. These are the two most influential zombies movies ever made and most zombie characteristics come from these movies. Characteristics include, the dead rising back to life and feasting on the human living, being grotesque and mutilated corpses, and the only way to kill a zombie is by destroying the brain. Zombies have also made their way into comics and television shows, such as The Walking Dead, which is one of the most successful stories of a zombie apocalypse ever. The genre of zombie oriented fiction is only growing stronger and will be much more prevalent in future pop culture.


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