Legends and belief in the werewolf go back millenia. Including tales all over the world of humans, usually shaman, who could transform into animals. In Asia it was weretigers or werepanthers. Werehyenas in Africa, werepumas in South America, and skinwalkers (witches wearing wolf skins to transform) in Navajo beliefs.
In ancient Greece and Rome there are several tales and accounts of people transforming into wolves. Herodotus, in his Histories, writes about a tribe, the Neuri, in north-east of Scythia, who would transform into wolves once a year. Pausanias, and later the Roman poet Ovid, tells the story of how Lycaon was turned into a wolf by Zeus as a punishment for the crime of feeding a murdered child to the god. Ovid also wrote about men wandering the woods of Arcadia in the form of wolves. Along with Ovid, Pliny the Elder recounts several tales of wolf transformations. And in the Satyricon, by Gaius Petronius Arbiter, a man transforms into a wolf by putting his clothes in a pile and peeing in a circle around them!
During the Medieval period there were a few written reports of lycanthropy. Liutprand of Cremona relates that Bajan, son of Simeon I of Bulgaria, used magic to turn himself into a wolf.
Marie de France’s poem Bisclavret, in which the nobleman Bizuneh, for unknown reasons, had to transform into a wolf once a week. His wife steals his clothing he needs to restore him to being a human, he befriends the king while in his wolf form. While at court he was gentle and pleasant but then when his wife and her new husband appeared at court. He attacked and killed them. The king deemed the attack justly motivated, and the truth was unveiled.
The concept of wolf-men was prominent in Germanic pagan traditions although it waned as the region was Christianized lasting longest in the Scandinavian Viking world. Berserkers were said to take on the properties of wolves or bears
Pre-Renaissance to the Modern Era
After the Middle ages belief in werewolves split into two aspects. One based on the Germanic tales that came down from Scandinavian traditions and became associated with witchcraft. The other came from the Slavic vlkolak, which was tied to vampire and revenant beliefs.
In western Europe werewolf accusations were brought up at witchcraft trials. In 16th-century France there were quite a few trials regarding werewolf attacks. While most of those cases had no evidence of wolf activity there were a few that did prove murder and cannibalism. As well there were wolf attacks that became blamed on werewolves in a mass panic. Fear of werewolves grew in frenzy over the centuries, accusations at witch trials likewise grew. Various treatises and book chapters on werewolves and lycanthropy were written. By the 19th-century belief in werewolves waned but still existed in pockets of the population.
Most of what we know about werewolves today were formed by movies and popular media. Changing by the full moon; man-wolf hybrid creature; wolf’s bane; becoming a werewolf from being bitten by another; all come from Hollywood.