Vlad III the Impaler
|Vlad III the Impaler
|Prince of Wallachia
|16th century German watercolor inscribed with the Latin text "Vladislavs Dracvla, Wallachiæ Weywoden," which translates as "Vladislav Dracula, Wallachia's ivode.
|1448; 1456–1462; 1476
|November 14, 1431
|December 1476 (age 45)
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân
Radu cel Frumos,
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân
|Vlad II Dracul
|Princess Cneajna of Moldavia
Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia called "Vlad the Impaler" and also known as Vlad Dracula or simply Dracula, in Romanian Drăculea (1431 – December 1476), was a Wallachian (southern Romania) voivode (military commander). His three reigns were in 1448, 1456–1462, and 1476. Vlad the Impaler is known for the exceedingly cruel punishments he imposed during his reign as recorded in later chronicles. However, in many stories of Slavic origin and in his native Romania he is a national and Christian hero, helping to save Europe from the Turks. In the English-speaking world, Vlad III is best known for possibly inspiring the name of Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Although this identification has been questioned, the story of Vlad and of Dracula has become intertwined in film, fiction, legend, and in serious attempts at historical reconstruction.
The very different portrayals of Vlad in various bodies of tradition also reflect political rivalries at the time of his life, between the Slavs, who generally remember him as a hero, and the German who had territorial ambitions in the region. In an interesting variation on the Dracula myth, in some Romanian tradition he is also "undead" but ready when needed to rise up to save the nation. Here, he is un-dead but potentially a Savior, not a fiend. His inhuman strength would be put to heroic, not villainous use. Vlad's legacy, for better or for worse, became the subject of culture war. The truth of his life may lie between the two versions; he may have been a less than perfect hero. It is, however, difficult to believe that no atrocities lie behind the stories of cruelty that abound in the chronicles. The challenge for the student of history is to sift through all the materials, examining the motives of those who wrote or analyzing their backgrounds and likely loyalties, to produce what might be a balanced account. This is sometimes an impossible task. With reference to Vlad III, the task of separating fact from fiction may be impossible. What attracts interest are the different ways his legend has been used, and why people choose to put his legacy to work in the way they do, as hero or as villain. The hero and the villain may be two-sides of the same coin; heroes are capable of deeds of compassion or of cruelty, of humanity or of inhumanity, of good or of evil.
The Romanian Drǎculea, meaning 'son of Dracul,' had its origin in the sobriquet or nickname of his father, Vlad Dracul ("Vlad the Dragon" in medieval Romanian), who received it after he became a member of the Order of the Dragon. The word "dracul" means "the Devil" or "demon" in modern Romanian, but in Vlad's day also meant "dragon," and derives from the Latin word Draco, "dragon." His son Vlad III would later use the name Drăculea or Drakulyain signing documents. Through various translations Vlad III eventually came to be known as Dracula. Vlad was referred to as Dracula in a number of documents of his times, mainly the Transylvanian Saxon pamphlets and The Annals of Jan Długosz. Now primarily known as the name of a vampire, "Dracula" was for centuries known as the sobriquet of Vlad III.
The old Romanian word for serpent (Cf. drac) is nowadays the most common and casual reference to the devil—while the people of Wallachia did give Vlad II the nickname Dracu (Dracul being the more grammatically correct form), any connection with a dark power was most likely coincidental.
Vlad III's post-mortem moniker of Ţepeş (Impaler) originated in his preferred method for executing his opponents, impalement—as popularized by medieval Transylvanian pamphlets. In Turkish, he was known as "Kazıklı Voyvoda" which means "Impaler Prince."
Wallachian royalty and family background
The crown of Wallachia was not passed automatically from father to son; instead, the leader was elected by the boyars (nobles of the highest rank), with the requirement that the Prince-elect be of nominally Basarab princely lineage (os de domn—"of voivode bones," "of voivode marrow"), including out of wedlock births. This elective monarchy often resulted in instability, family disputes and assassinations. Eventually, the princely house split between two factions: the descendants of Mircea the Elder, Vlad's grandfather; and those of another prince, Dan II (Dăneşti faction). In addition to that, as in all feudal states, there was another struggle between the central administration (the prince) and the high nobility for control over the country. To top it off, the two powerful neighbors of Wallachia, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, were at the peak of their rivalry for control of southeastern Europe, turning Wallachia into a battle ground.
Vlad's family had two factions, the Drăculeşti and the Dăneşti. His father, Vlad II Dracul, born around 1395, was an illegitimate son of Mircea the Elder, an important early Wallachian ruler. As a young man, he had joined the court of Sigismund of Luxemburg, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, whose support for claiming the throne of Wallachia he eventually acquired. A sign of this support was the fact that in 1431 Vlad II was inducted into the Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconis in Latin), along with the Jagiellion rulers of Poland and Serbia. The purpose of the Order was to protect Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire from Islamic expansion as embodied in the campaigns of the Ottoman Empire. Wishing to assert his status, Vlad II displayed the symbol of the Order, a dragon, in all public appearances, (on flags, clothing, etc.)
Vlad II Dracul finally became prince of Wallachia in 1436. During his reign he tried to maneuver between his powerful neighbors, opposing various initiatives of war against the Ottoman, which finally attracted the irritation of the Hungarian side, who accused him of disloyalty and removed him in 1442. With the help of the Turks (where he also had connections) he regained the throne in 1443 and until December 1447 when he was assassinated by means of scalping ("scalping," for the Turks, meant cutting the edges of the face and pulling the face's skin off, while the person was still alive and conscious on the orders of John Hunyadi, regent of Hungary.
The identity of Vlad Dracula’s mother is somewhat uncertain, the most likely variant being that she was a Moldavian princess, niece or daughter of Moldavian prince Alexandru cel Bun. In some sources she is named Chiajna—Princess. Vlad seems to have had a very close relationship with Moldavia: he spent several years there after his father’s death; he left with his presumed cousin Stephen the Great to Transylvania, and helped the latter gain the crown as Prince of Moldavia in 1457 and was later helped by Stephen to return to the throne of Wallachia in 1476.
Vlad III seems to have had three brothers. The oldest was Mircea II, born before 1430, and who briefly held his father's throne in 1442, and who was sent by Vlad Dracul in 1444 to fight in his place during the crusade against the Turks that ended with the Varna defeat. Mircea II was an able military leader, and fought some successful yet small campaigns against the Ottomans prior to his capture along with his father in 1447. Mircea II, captured by the boyars, had his eyes burned out, after which he was buried alive. Vlad IV, also known as Vlad Călugarul (Vlad the Monk), was born around 1425 to 1430, and was Vlad's half-brother. Vlad the Monk spent many years in Transylvania waiting for a chance to get the throne of Wallachia, trying a religious career in the meantime, until he became prince of Wallachia (1482). Radu, known as Radu cel Frumos (Radu the Handsome), the youngest brother, was also Vlad’s rival as he continuously tried to replace Vlad with the support of the Turks, to which he had very strong connections. Radu seems to have been also favored by the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II.
From his first marriage, to a Wallachian noble woman, Vlad III apparently had a son, later prince of Wallachia as Mihnea cel Rău (Mihnea the Evil), and another two with his second wife, a relative of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.
Vlad was very likely born in the citadel (a military fortress) of Sighişoara, Transylvania in 1431. He was born as the second son to his father Vlad Dracul and his mother Princess Cneajna of Moldavia. He had an older brother named Mircea and a younger brother named Radu the Handsome. Although his native country was Wallachia to the south, the family lived in exile in Transylvania as his father had been ousted by pro-Ottoman boyars. In the same year as his birth, his father, Vlad Dracul, could be found in Nuremberg, where he was vested into the Order of the Dragon. At the age of five, young "Vlad" was also initiated into the Order of the Dragon.
Hostage of the Ottoman Empire
Vlad's father was under considerable political pressure from the Ottoman sultan. Threatened with invasion, he gave a promise to be the vassal of the Sultan and gave up his two younger sons as hostages so that he would keep his promise. These years were influential in shaping Vlad's character; he was often whipped by his Ottoman captors for being stubborn and rude. Here is where he learned his torture tactics. He developed a well-known hatred for Radu and for Mehmed, who would later become the sultan. According to Florescu and McNally, he also distrusted his own father for trading him to the Turks and betraying the Order of the Dragon oath to fight them.
Brief reign and exile
Vlad's father was assassinated in the marshes near Bălteni in December of 1447 by rebellious boyars allegedly under the orders of John Hunyadi. Vlad's older brother Mircea was also dead at this point, blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive by his political enemies at Târgovişte. To protect their political power in the region, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and the Sultan put Vlad III on the throne as his puppet ruler. His rule at this time would be brief; Hunyadi himself invaded Wallachia and ousted him the same year. Vlad fled to Moldavia until October of 1451 and was put under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II.
Bogdan was assassinated by Petru Aron, and Vlad, taking a gamble, fled to Hungary. Impressed by Vlad's vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan Mehmed II, Hunyadi pardoned him and took him in as an advisor. Eventually Hunyadi put him forward as the Kingdom of Hungary's candidate for the throne of Wallachia.
In 1456, Hungary invaded Serbia to drive out the Ottomans, and Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia with his own contingent. Both campaigns were successful, although Hunyadi died suddenly of the plague. Nevertheless, Vlad was now prince of his native land.
Main reign (1456–62)
Vlad's actions after 1456 are well documented. He seems to have led the life of all the other princes of Wallachia, spending most of his time at the court of Târgovişte, occasionally in other important cities, such as Bucharest, drafting laws, meeting foreign envoys and presiding over important judicial trials. He probably made public appearances on relevant occasions, such as religious holidays and major fairs. As a pastime he probably enjoyed hunting on the vast princely domain, with his friends. He made some additions to the palace in Târgovişte (out of which Chindia Tower is today the most notable remainder), reinforced some castles, like the one at Poienari, where he also had a personal house built nearby. He also made donations to various churches and monasteries, one such place being the monastery at Lake Snagov where he is supposed to have been buried.
Since the death of Vlad's grandfather (Mircea the Elder) in 1418, Wallachia had fallen into a somewhat anarchical situation. A constant state of war had led to rampant crime, falling agricultural production, and the virtual disappearance of trade. Vlad used severe methods to restore some order, as he needed an economically stable country if he was to have any chance against his external enemies.
The early part of Vlad’s reign was dominated by the idea of eliminating all possible threats to his power, mainly the rival nobility groups, i.e. the boyars. This was done mainly by physical elimination, but also by reducing the economic role of the nobility: the key positions in the Prince’s Council, traditionally belonging to the country’s greatest boyars, were handed to obscure individuals, some of them of foreign origin, but who manifested loyalty towards Vlad. For the less important functions, Vlad also ignored the old boyars, preferring to knight and appoint men from the free peasantry. A key element of the power of the Wallachian nobility was their connections in the Saxon-populated autonomous towns of Transylvania, so Vlad acted against these cities by eliminating their trade privileges in relation with Wallachia and by organizing raids against them. In 1459, he had 30,000 of the German settlers (Saxons) and officials of the Transylvanian city of Kronstadt who were transgressing his authority impaled.
Vlad III was also constantly on guard against the adherents of the Dăneşti clan. Some of his raids into Transylvania may have been efforts to capture would-be princes of the Dăneşti. Several members of the Dăneşti clan died at Vlad's hands. Vladislav II of Wallachia was murdered soon after Vlad came to power in 1456. Another Dăneşti prince, suspected to have taken part in burying his brother Mircea alive, was captured during one of Vlad's forays into Transylvania. Rumors (spread by his enemies) say thousands of citizens of the town that had sheltered his rival were impaled by Vlad. The captured Dăneşti prince was forced to read his own funeral oration while kneeling before an open grave before his execution.
Following family traditions and due to his old hatred towards the Ottomans, Vlad decided to side with the Hungarians. To the end of the 1450s there was once again talk about a war against the Turks, in which the king of Hungary Matthias Corvinus would play the main role. Knowing this, Vlad stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans in 1459 and around 1460 made a new alliance with Corvinus. This angered the Turks, who attempted to remove him. They failed, however; later in the winter of 1461 to 1462 Vlad crossed south of the Danube and devastated the area between Serbia and the Black Sea.
In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II, the recent conqueror of Constantinople, raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars and in the spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror was greeted by the sight of a veritable forest of stakes on which Vlad the Impaler had impaled 20,000 Turkish prisoners. With his army of 20,000–30,000 men Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia and occupying the capital Târgovişte (June 4, 1462), so he resorted to guerrilla war, constantly organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks. The most important of these attacks took place on the nights of June 16–17, when Vlad and some of his men allegedly entered the main Turkish camp (wearing Ottoman disguises) and attempted to assassinate Mehmed. Unable to subdue Vlad, the Turks left the country, leaving Radu the Handsome to continue fighting. Despite Vlad achieving military victories, he had alienated himself from the nobility, which sided with Radu the Handsome. By August 1462 Radu had struck a deal with the Hungarian Crown. Consequently, Vlad was imprisoned by Matthias Corvinus.
His first wife, whose name is not recorded, died during the siege of his castle in 1462. The Turkish army surrounded Poienari Castle, led by his half-brother Radu the Handsome. An archer shot an arrow through a window into Vlad's main quarters, with a message warning him that Radu's army was approaching. Florescu and McNally explain that the archer was a former servant of Vlad who sent the warning out of loyalty despite having converted to Islam to get out of enslavement by the Turks. Upon reading the message, Vlad's wife flung herself off the tower into a tributary of the Argeş River flowing below the castle. According to legend, she remarked that she "would rather have her body rot and be eaten by the fish of the Argeş than be led into captivity by the Turks." Today, the tributary is called Râul Doamnei (the Lady's River).
The exact length of Vlad's period of captivity is open to some debate. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. Apparently his imprisonment was none too onerous. He was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Hungary's monarch; so much so that he was able to meet and marry a member of the royal family (the cousin of Matthias) and have two sons who were about ten years old when he reconquered Wallachia in 1476. Florescu and McNally place Vlad III the Impaler's actual period of confinement at about four years from 1462 to 1466. It is unlikely that a prisoner would have been allowed to marry into the royal family. Diplomatic correspondence from Buda during the period in question also seems to support the claim that Vlad's actual period of confinement was relatively short. The openly pro-Turkish policy of Vlad's brother, Radu (who was prince of Wallachia during most of Vlad's captivity), was a probable factor in Vlad's rehabilitation. During his captivity, Vlad also adopted Catholicism. Apparently in the years before his final release in 1474 (when he began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia), Vlad resided with his new wife in a house in the Hungarian capital (the setting of the thief anecdote). Vlad had a son from an earlier marriage, Mihnea cel Rău.
Return to Wallachia and death
Around 1475 Vlad the Impaler was again ready to make another bid for power. Vlad and voivode Stefan Báthory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed force of Transylvanians, a few dissatisfied Wallachian boyars, and a contingent of Moldavians sent by Vlad's cousin, Prince Stephen III of Moldavia. Vlad's brother, Radu the Handsome, had died a couple of years earlier and had been replaced on the Wallachian throne by another Ottoman candidate, Basarab the Elder, a member of the Dăneşti clan. At the approach of Vlad's army, Basarab and his cohorts fled, some to the protection of the Turks, others to the shelter of the Transylvanian Alps. After placing Vlad Ţepeş on the throne, Stephen Báthory and the bulk of Vlad's forces returned to Transylvania, leaving Vlad in a very weak position. Vlad had little time to gather support before a large Ottoman army entered Wallachia determined to return Basarab to the throne. Vlad's cruelties over the years had alienated the boyars who felt they had a better chance of surviving under Prince Basarab. Apparently, even the peasants, tired of the depredations of Vlad, abandoned him to his fate. Vlad was forced to march to meet the Turks with the small forces at his disposal, somewhat less than four thousand men.
There are several variants of Vlad III the Impaler's death. It is generally believed that he was killed in battle against the Ottoman Empire near Bucharest in December of 1476. Others say he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field or during a hunt. Other accounts have Vlad falling in defeat, surrounded by the bodies of his loyal Moldavian bodyguards (the troops loaned by Prince Stephen III of Moldavia remained with Vlad after Stephen Báthory returned to Transylvania). Still other reports claim that Vlad, at the moment of victory, was struck down by one of his own men. However 'one undisputed fact' is in the end Vlad's body was decapitated by the Turks and his head was sent to Istanbul and preserved in honey, where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that Kazıklı Bey was finally dead.
Sources: Legend or History?
The legacy and the legend of Vlad Ţepeş is mostly the result of different stories about him. The Romanian, German, and the Russian stories all have their origins in the fifteenth century. Besides the written stories the Romanian oral tradition provides another important source for the life of Vlad the Impaler: legends and tales concerning the Impaler have remained a part of folklore among the Romanian peasantry. These tales have been passed down from generation to generation for five hundred years. Through constant retelling they have become somewhat garbled and confused and they have gradually been forgotten in later years. However, they still provide valuable information about Dracula and his relationship with his people.
Many of the tales contained in the pamphlets are also found in the oral tradition, though with a somewhat different emphasis. Among the Romanian peasantry, Vlad Ţepeş was remembered as a just prince who defended his people from foreign aggression, whether those foreigners were Turkish invaders or German merchants. He is also remembered as a champion of the common man against the oppression of the boyars. National poet of Romania Mihai Eminescu wrote the memorable verses "Unde eşti tu, Ţepeş Doamne, ca punând mâna pe ei, Să-i împarţi în două cete: în smintiţi şi în mişei" (where are you, lord Ţepeş, to get them and split them into two gangs, fools and rascals"). Vlad's fierce insistence on honesty is a central part of the oral tradition. Many of the anecdotes contained in the pamphlets and in the oral tradition demonstrate the prince's efforts to eliminate crime and dishonesty from his domain. Presidential candidate Traian Băsescu referred to Vlad Ţepeş and his method of punishing illegalities in his anticorruption discourse during the election campaign of 2004.
However, despite the more positive interpretation, the Romanian oral tradition also remembers Vlad as an exceptionally cruel and often capricious ruler. There are several events that are common to all the pamphlets, regardless of their nation of origin. Many of these events are also found in the Romanian oral tradition. Specific details may vary among the different versions of these anecdotes but the general course of events usually agrees to a remarkable extent. For example, in some versions the foreign ambassadors received by Vlad Ţepeş at Târgovişte are Florentine, in others they are Ottoman. Florescu and McNally believe he may have done this to both nationalities at different times. The nature of their offense against the Prince also varies from version to version. However, all versions agree that Vlad, in response to some real or imagined insult (perhaps because they refused to remove them in Vlad's presence), had their hats nailed to their heads. Some of the sources view Vlad's actions as justified; others view his acts as crimes of wanton and senseless cruelty.
The reputation of Vlad Ţepeş was considerably darker in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe and Romania. In the West, Vlad III Ţepeş has been characterized as an exceedingly cruel madman. The number of his victims ranges from 40,000 to 100,000. Much of the information about his atrocities and cruelty comes from the German stories written about him, which were for the most part politically, religiously and economically inspired propaganda against Vlad Ţepeş. Although some of the stories have some basis in reality, most of them are either fictional or exaggerated. According to the German stories the number of victims he had killed was at least 80,000. In addition to the 80,000 victims mentioned he also had whole villages and fortresses destroyed and burned to the ground. These numbers are most likely exaggerated. For example in one episode in the German stories Vlad impaled 600 merchants from Braşov and confiscated all their goods. A document written by Vlad’s rival Dan III in 1459 mentions that 41 merchants were impaled. It is highly unlikely that a rival of Vlad’s would have reduced the number of Vlad's victims.
The atrocities made by Vlad in the German stories include impaling, torturing, burning, skinning, roasting, and boiling people, feeding people human flesh (their friends or relatives), cutting off limbs, drowning, and nailing of hats to the heads of people. His victims included men and women of all ages, religions and social classes, children and babies. The exaggeration of cruelties in the German stories is quite clear when compared to the Russian or the Romanian stories about Vlad Ţepeş from which the meaningless violence and cruel atrocities are almost absent. The exaggerated and propagandistic view is especially clear in one sentence in the stories which describes him as "one of the worst tyrants of history, far worse than the most depraved emperors of Rome such as Caligula and Nero. Christianity like Herodes, Nero, Diocletius and all other pagans combined hadn’t even thought of."
In the Memoirs of a Janissary. Konstantin Mihailović (b. c. 1435), it is documented by Mihailović that the Ottomans feared Vlad III, and Mihailović goes into great detail about how Vlad III would often cut off the noses of Turkish soldiers, sending them to Hungary to boast of how many of the enemy he had killed. Mihailović also documents that the Ottomans were fearful of Wallachian attacks at night. He does allude to the famed "forest of the impaled," where Vlad III was alleged to have lined the roadways with thousands of impaled Turkish soldiers. However, Mihailović did not actually see this. He was with the army at that time, but was in the rear portion of the Ottoman army, recounting it based on the word of others.
The actions taken by Vlad Ţepeş must be viewed in the light of the standards and morality of his time. Most of the actions taken by Vlad can be justified on moral grounds or they had a utilitarian purpose or in some cases both. Most of the tortures done by Ţepeş in the different stories were actually normal punishments in that time. It is also common sense to think that if Vlad really was a bloodthirsty tyrant and a madman, the Hungarian king would not have had him marry a relative of his and put him on the throne of Wallachia.
Impalement was Ţepeş's preferred method of torture and execution. His method of torture was a horse attached to each of the victim's legs as a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually oiled, and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp; else the victim might die too rapidly from shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the anus and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other bodily orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother's chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.
As expected, death by impalement was slow and painful. Victims sometimes endured for hours or days. Vlad often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that constituted his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The corpses were often left decaying for months.
There are claims that thousands of people were impaled at a single time. One such claim says 10,000 were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu (where Vlad the Impaler had once lived) in 1460. Another allegation asserts that during the previous year, on Saint Bartholomew's Day (in August), Vlad the Impaler had 30,000 of the merchants and officials of the Transylvanian city of Braşov that were breaking his authority impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad the Impaler feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Braşov, while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.
An old Romanian story says that Vlad left a gold cup in the middle of the street, then returned to pick it up the next day since no one touched it, as people were so afraid to commit crimes during his reign due to these horrific means of torture and capital punishment.
Many have attempted to justify Vlad's actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Most of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia, while the boyars had proven their disloyalty time and time again (Vlad's own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars). His actions were likely driven by one or more of three motives: personal or political vendettas, and the establishment of iron-fisted law and order in Wallachia.
Vlad Ţepeş is alleged to have committed even more impalements and other tortures against invading Ottoman forces. It was reported that an invading Ottoman army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. It has also been said that in 1462 Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man noted for his own psychological warfare tactics, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad's capital of Târgovişte. Many of the victims were Turkish prisoners of war Vlad had previously captured during the Turkish invasion. The total Turkish casualty toll in this battle reached over 40,000. The warrior sultan turned command of the campaign against Vlad over to subordinates and returned to Constantinople, even though his army had initially outnumbered Vlad's three to one and was better equipped.
Almost as soon as he came to power, his first significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire of revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his reign he gave a feast for his boyars and their families to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that led to his father's assassination and the burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their life times. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. One answered that at least 30 princes had held the throne during his life. None had seen less than seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Târgovişte to the ruins of Poienari Castle in the mountains above the Argeş River. Vlad the Impaler was determined to rebuild this ancient fortress as his own stronghold and refuge. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from another nearby ruin. According to the stories, they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few of the old gentry survived the ordeal of building Vlad's castle.
Throughout his reign, Vlad systematically eradicated the old boyar class of Wallachia. The old boyars had repeatedly undermined the power of the prince during previous reigns and had been responsible for the violent overthrow of several princes. Apparently Vlad Ţepeş was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In place of the executed boyars, Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince. Many of Vlad's acts can be interpreted as efforts to strengthen and modernize the central government at the expense of the decaying feudal powers of nobility carried over from the Middle Ages.
The German stories about Vlad Ţepeş
The German stories circulated first in manuscript form in the late fifteenth century and the first manuscript was probably written in 1462 before Vlad’s arrest. The text was later printed in Germany and had major impact on the general public becoming a best-seller of its time with numerous later editions adding and alternating the original text.
In addition to the manuscripts and pamphlets the German version of the stories can be found in the poem of Michel Beheim. The poem called Von ainem wutrich der heis Trakle waida von der Walachei (“Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia”) was written and performed at the court of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor during the winter of 1463.
To this day four manuscripts and 13 pamphlets are found as well as the poem by Michel Beheim. The surviving manuscripts date from the last quarter of the fifteenth century to the year 1500 and the found pamphlets date from 1488 to 1559-1568.
Eight of the pamphlets are actually incunabula because they were printed before 1501. The German stories about Vlad Ţepeş consist of altogether 46 short episodes, although none of the manuscripts, pamphlets or the poem of Beheim have all of the episodes in them.
All of the stories start with the episode telling how the old governor (meaning John Hunyadi) had Vlad's father killed and how Vlad and his brother renounced their old religion and swore to protect and uphold the Christian faith. After this the order of the episodes differs in the different manuscripts and editions of the pamphlets. The title of the German stories varies in different manuscripts, incunabula and pamphlets with mainly three different titles with variations
The German stories about Vlad Ţepeş were written most likely for political reasons, especially to blacken the image of the Wallachian ruler. The first version of the German text was probably written in Braşov by a Saxon scholar. According to some researchers the writer of the text did little else than mirror the state of mind of the Saxons in Braşov and Sibiu who had borne the brunt of Vlad’s wrath in 1456-1457 and again in 1458-1459 and 1460.
Against this political and cultural backdrop it is quite easy to understand the hostility towards Vlad Ţepeş. Although there is historic background for the events described in the German stories, some of them are either exaggerated or even fictitious. The Hungarian king Mathias Corvinus is also said to have had a part in the blackening of the image of Vlad Ţepeş.
Corvinus had received large subsidies from Rome and Venice for the war against the Ottomans, but because of a conflict with Emperor Frederick III of the Holy Roman Empire he couldn’t afford the military support for the fight.
By making Vlad a scapegoat Corvinus could justify his reasons for not taking part in the war against the Ottomans. He arrested Vlad and used a forged letter where Vlad announced his loyalty to the Sultan, as well as the horror stories about Vlad, to justify his actions to the Pope. In 1462 and 1463 the court in Buda fostered the dissemination of the negative legend of Vlad in central and Eastern Europe, and capitalized on the horrors attributed to him.
The purpose of the stories soon changed from propaganda to literature and became very popular, best-sellers of their time, in the German world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Part of the reason for this success was the newly invented printing press, which allowed the texts to filter to a wide audience.
Vlad's atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. According to the pamphlets, he appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity, adulterous wives, and unchaste widows were all targets of Vlad's cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off. They were also often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes that were forced through the body until they emerged from the mouth. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife. The woman's breasts were cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Târgovişte with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad also insisted that his people be honest and hard-working. Merchants who cheated their customers were likely to find themselves mounted on a stake beside common thieves. Vlad also viewed the poor, sick and beggars as thieves. One horrific tale tells of him inviting all the sick and poor in the area to a large dinner only to have them locked inside and the building burned.
The Russian stories about Vlad Ţepeş
The Russian or the Slavic version of the stories about Vlad Ţepeş called Skazanie o Drakule voevode (Tale about Voivode Dracula) is thought to have been written sometime between 1481 and 1486. Copies of the story were made from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century. There are some 22 extant manuscripts about Vlad in Russian archives. The oldest one is from the year 1490 and it ends as following: First written in the year 6994 (meaning 1486), on 13 February; then transcribed by me, the sinner Elfrosin, in the year 6998 (meaning 1490), on 28 January. The Tale about Voivode Dracula is neither chronological nor consistent, but mostly a collection of anecdotes of literary and historical value concerning Vlad Ţepeş.
There are 19 episodes or anecdotes in the Tale about Voivode Dracula and they are longer and more constructed than the German stories. The Tale itself can be divided into two sections. The first 13 episodes are more or less non chronological events and are most likely closer to the original folkloric oral tradition about Vlad. The last six episodes are thought to have been written by a scholar who had the idea of collecting the anecdotes because they are chronological and seem to be more structured. The Tale about Voivode Dracula starts with a short introduction and then with the story about the nailing of hats to ambassadors heads and it ends with the death of Vlad Ţepeş and information about Vlad’s family.
Out of the 19 episodes there are ten that are almost the same as in the German stories. Although there are similarities between the Russian and the German stories about Ţepeş there is a clear distinction with the attitude towards Vlad Ţepeş in these stories. Unlike in the German stories, the Russian stories tend to give a more positive image of Vlad. He is seen as a great ruler, a brave soldier and a just sovereign. There are also tales about atrocities but even most of them seem to be justified as the actions of a strong one-man ruler. Out of the 19 episodes only four seem to be exaggerated with violence. Some elements of the episodes of the Tale about Voivode Dracula were later added to Russian stories about Ivan IV of Russia.
The nationality and identity of the original writer of the Tale about Voivode Dracula is disputed. The two most plausible explanations are that the writer was either a Romanian priest or a monk somewhere in Transylvania or a Romanian or Moldavian from the court of Stephen the Great in Moldova. One theory is also that the writer would have been a Russian diplomat named Fedor Kuritsyn but it is very unlikely that we can find a name to the real writer of the Tale.
The Vampire Legend and Romanian attitudes
It is most likely that Bram Stoker found the name for his vampire from William Wilkinson's 1820 book, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them. It is known that Stoker made notes about this book. It is also suggested by some that because Stoker was a friend of a Hungarian professor (Arminius Vambery/Hermann Bamberger/Ármin Vámbéry) from Budapest, Vlad's name might have been mentioned by this friend. Regardless of how the name came to Stoker's attention, the cruel history of the Impaler would have readily lent itself to Stoker's purposes. The events of Vlad's life were played out in a region of the world that was still basically medieval even in Stoker's time. The Balkans had only recently shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and ancient superstitions were still prevalent. Transylvania had long been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it had also been an Ottoman vassal (although it never fell under Turkish domination, and was in fact semi-independent and at times under Habsburg influence).
Recent research by Miller and others suggests that Stoker knew little about the Prince of Wallachia. Miller says that since Stoker kept detailed notes, it is odd that he never mentioned Vlad. Some have claimed that the novel owes more to the legends about Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory (1560 - 1614), a serial killer who died, bricked into her prison cell after being convicted of murder, in 1614.
The legend of the vampire was and still is deeply rooted in that region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in various stories from across the world. However, the vampire, as he became known in Europe, largely originated in Southern Slavic and Greek folklore — although the tale is absent in Romanian culture. A veritable epidemic of vampirism swept through Eastern Europe beginning in the late seventeenth century and continuing through the 1700s. The number of reported cases rose dramatically in Hungary and the Balkans. From the Balkans, the "plague" spread westward into Germany, Italy, France, England, and Spain. Travelers returning from the Balkans brought with them tales of the undead, igniting an interest in the vampire that has continued to this day. Philosophers in the West began to study the phenomenon. It was during this period that French Biblical scholar and Benedictine abbot Dom Augustine Calmet (1672–1757) wrote his famous treatise on vampirism in Hungary. It was also during this period that authors and playwrights first began to explore the vampire legend. Stoker's novel was merely the culminating work of a long series of works that were inspired by the reports coming from the Balkans and Hungary.
Given the history of the vampire legend in Europe, it is perhaps natural that Stoker should place his great vampire in the heart of the region that gave birth to the story. Once Stoker had determined on a locality, Vlad Dracula would stand out as one of the most notorious rulers of the selected region. He was obscure enough that few would recognize the name and those who did would know him for his acts of brutal cruelty; Dracula was a natural candidate for vampirism.
Tales of vampires are still widespread in Eastern Europe. Similarly, the name of Dracula is still remembered in the Romanian oral tradition but that is the end of any connection between Dracula and the folkloric vampire. Outside of Stoker's novel the name of Dracula was never linked with the vampires encountered in the folklore. Despite his alleged inhuman cruelty, in Romania Dracula is remembered as a national hero who resisted the Turkish conquerors and asserted Romanian national sovereignty against the powerful Hungarian kingdom. He is also remembered in a similar manner in other Balkan countries, as he fought against the Turks.
It is somewhat ironic that Vlad's name has often been thrown into the political and ethnic feuds between Hungarians and Romanians, because he was ultimately far from an enemy of Hungary. While he certainly had violent conflicts with some Hungarian nobles, he had just as many Hungarian friends and allies, and his successes in battle with the Turks largely benefited Hungary in the long term. Hungary later found itself under siege but was never entirely penetrated by Ottoman forces. Though neither the first nor the last powerful ruler to take on the Ottoman Empire, Dracula's demoralizing battle tactics were quite influential in damaging the illusion of Turkish invincibility and reversing the European aura of appeasement.
It should be taken into account that Romanian folklore and poetry paints Vlad Ţepeş as a hero, anything but a vampire. In this tradition, he is the "undying hero who in the moment of need will rise up and save the Romanian nation from destruction." There is even a strong "law and justice" motif in the stories; he is "a stern but just prince." His favorite weapon being the stake, coupled with his reputation in his native country as a man who stood up to both foreign and domestic enemies, gives Dracula the virtual opposite symbolism of Bram Stoker's vampire. For this reason, the association of his name with vampirism does not make sense to Romanians. In Romania he is still considered by some to be a "savior" to the people of his country. He is also considered one of the greatest leaders and defenders of Romania and was voted one of "100 Greatest Romanians" in the Mari Români television series aired in 2006.
A good description of Vlad Dracula survives courtesy of Nicholas of Modrussa, who wrote:
He was not very tall, but very stocky and strong, with a cruel and terrible appearance, a long straight nose, distended nostrils, a thin and reddish face in which the large wide-open green eyes were enframed by bushy black eyebrows, which made them appear threatening. His face and chin were shaven but for a moustache. The swollen temples increased the bulk of his head. A bull's neck supported the head, from which black curly locks were falling to his wide-shouldered person.
His famous contemporary portrait, rediscovered by Romanian historians in the late nineteenth century, had been featured in the gallery of horrors at Innsbruck's Ambras Castle.
Ţepeş' image in modern Romanian culture has been established in reaction to foreign perceptions: while Stoker's book did a lot to generate outrage with nationalists, it is the last part of a rather popular previous poem by Mihai Eminescu, Scrisoarea a III-a, that helped turn Vlad's image into modern legend, by having him stand as a figure to contrast with presumed social decay under the Phanariotes and the political scene of the nineteenth century (even suggesting that Vlad's violent methods be applied as a cure). This judgment was in tune with the ideology of the inward-looking regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu, although the identification did little justice to Eminescu's personal beliefs.
All accounts of his life describe him as unrepentantly ruthless, but only the ones originating from his Saxon detractors paint him as exceptionally sadistic or somehow insane. These pamphlets continued to be published long after his death, though usually for lurid entertainment rather than propaganda purposes. It has largely been forgotten until recently that his tenacious efforts against the Ottoman Empire won him many staunch supporters in his lifetime, not just in modern day Romania but in the Kingdom of Hungary, Poland, the Republic of Venice, and even the Holy See, not to take into account Balkan countries. A Hungarian court chronicler reported that King Matthias "had acted in opposition to general opinion" in Hungary when he had Dracula imprisoned, and this played a considerable part in Matthias reversing his unpopular decision. During his time as a "distinguished prisoner" before being fully pardoned and allowed to reconquer Wallachia, Vlad was hailed as a Christian hero by visitors from all over Europe.
Vlad in popular culture and in the media
Apart from the Dracula movies, which are partially based on Vlad as well as Elizabeth Bathory, there has been comparatively fewer movies about the man who inspired the vampire. In 1979, Romania released a movie based on his six-year reign and his brief return to power in late 1476 called Vlad Ţepeş (sometimes known, in other countries, as The True Story of Vlad the Impaler), in which the character is portrayed with a mostly positive perspective, while, at the same time, also mentioning the excesses of his regime and his practice of impalement. The lead character is played by Ştefan Sileanu.
The 2000 movie Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula, filmed on location in Hungary and starring Rudolf Martin, attempts to portray Vlad the Impaler as a generally sympathetic, though tragic figure. The film takes a number of liberties with the details of his life, but remains overall a fairly accurate outline of his story. In literature, he is found as a main character of Elizabeth Kostova's book The Historian: A Novel, published in 2005.
The 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula, a film adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, claims that the Dracula character is truly Vlad the Impaler. In the opening of the film, which is set in Transylvania in 1462, he leaves his beloved wife Elisabeta at his castle to fight an army of Turks, who have invaded Transylvania and are threatening all of Christendom. Vlad Draculea, as he is known in the film, leads his army to victory against the Turks and impales many of them on stakes, before praising God for his triumph. However, he then experiences a premonition in which Elisabeta flings herself out of the window of the castle to her death in the river hundreds of feet below, since the surviving Turks shot an arrow through the castle window, with a letter attached to it falsely informing her of Vlad's death in the battle. Rushing back to the castle, a distraught Vlad is shown his wife's dead body in the chapel, and is told by an elderly priest that due to her suicide, Elisabeta's soul cannot enter heaven. Overcome with grief and anger, Vlad renounces God and proceeds to plunge his sword into a stone crucifix nearby, causing blood to gush out of the hole and fill up the floor of the entire chapel. Vlad then swears that he will live beyond his own death and avenge Elisabeta's unnecessary death with all the powers of darkness, and then drinks some of the blood from a goblet next to the stone crucifix.
Over four hundred years later, in 1897, Vlad is still alive in Transylvania and is revealed through the course of the film to have been transformed into a vampire, becoming known as Dracula and possessing all of the strengths and weaknesses described in Bram Stoker's novel. The film then follows the plot of the novel, except the character of Mina Harker is revealed to be the reincarnation of Elisabeta, sharing her exact physical appearance, and a passionate romance between Mina and Dracula is added in the film to coincide with the opening of the film (Dracula turning Mina into a vampire so they can be together as husband and wife for an eternity, just as he and Elisabeta were meant to be together all of their lives). In the climax of the film, once Dracula has been fatally wounded by having his throat slashed and a hunting knife embedded into his heart, Mina/Elisabeta provides the finishing blow by impaling the dying Vlad/Dracula to the floor with the knife, who reverts back to his original Vlad appearance and then dies. Through Dracula's death, Mina is freed of the vampire's curse, in accordance with the novel.
The film presents Vlad the Impaler as a brutal but tragic character who became the immortal vampire Dracula out of his love for his deceased wife, and shows his actions as Dracula to be his own personal war against God for denying the entry of Elisabeta's soul into heaven, mixing historical fact with the fiction of Bram Stoker's world-famous vampire character. His appearance as Vlad is similar to historical depictions of Vlad the Impaler; his suit of armor in the battle against the Turks has a distinct wolf-like appearance; he is shown to be able to fight multiple armed men single-handedly, both as Vlad and Dracula, and golden dragons appear frequently on his clothes and in his castle once he becomes the vampire Dracula. In the film, Vlad/Dracula was played by Gary Oldman, and Elisabeta/Mina was played by Winona Ryder.
Elizabeth Miller has written:
Though many Westerners are baffled that a man whose political and military career was as steeped in blood as was that of Vlad Dracula, the fact remains that for many Romanians he is an icon of heroism and national pride. It is this duality that is part of his appeal.
Treptow, describing Vlad as "one of the most controversial figures of fifteenth century Europe," Vlad remains obscured behind a veil of myths, the origins of which can be traced to his own lifetime." Alongside stories of cruelty, there are tales of him as "a strong and just leader." Treptow describes on the one hand how Vlad is remembered as a bloody tyrant and on the other as a national and Christian hero, who stood up against the Turks in defense of his homeland and of the whole of Europe.
Treptow cites a passage from a Slavic source in which, as he begins battle against the Turks, Vlad says to his men, "whoever is afraid of death, he will not go with me" as part of the hero-tradition surrounding his memory, or legend. Myth, legend and the stuff of cultural war overlays the historical Vlad so thickly that it is a daunting task to sift fact from fiction. Even if Vlad III was not the inspiration for Stoker's Dracula, Dracula and Vlad have become intertwined in fiction, film as well as in serious academic studies. His legacy serves to illustrate how someone's hero can be somebody else's villain. The truth may lie between the two; it is difficult to believe that he did not commit any atrocities, that no cruelty really lies behind all the myths. There is a sinister attraction attached to the idea of living forever, even if the price is consumption of innocent human blood. Perhaps this is why the Dracula story has proven so popular; it has also spawned stories of Dracula-slayers, who sometimes posses powers of their own, of a good rather than an evil nature. The Dracula legend becomes one of good versus evil; the introduction in some versions of what might be called "good vampires" may be a return to the authentic Vlad, who was somewhere between good and evil.
|Prince of Wallachia
|Prince of Wallachia
Radu cel Frumos
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân
|Prince of Wallachia
Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân
- Kurt W. Treptow, Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula (Portland, OR: Center for Romanian Studies, 2000, ISBN 9739839223).
- Jan Długosz and Maurice Michael, The Annals of Jan Długosz: An English abridgement (Chichester, UK: IM Publications, 1997, ISBN 9781901019001).
- Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces (Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company, 1989, ISBN 0316286559).
- J.B. Calvert, Romania History of Central Europe, 2005. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
- Vlad the Impaler Notable Names Database. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
- Laonikos Chalkokondyles, The Histories: Book 9 (Harvard University Press, 2014, ISBN 978-0674599192), chapter 104.
- Konstantin Mihailovic, Memoirs of a Janissary (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2010, ISBN 978-1558765313).
- David B. Dickens and Elizabeth Miller, Michel Beheim, German Meistergesang, and Dracula. Journal of Dracula Studies 5 (2003). Retrieved June 8, 2022.
- William Wilkinson, An account of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, with various political observations relating to them (Ayer Co Pub, 1971, ISBN 0405027796).
- Elizabeth Miller, Dracula: sense & nonsense (Westcliff-on-Sea: Desert Island Books Ltd., 2000, ISBN 9781874287247).
- Greeks who occupied powerful positions in the Ottoman administration, often dominating the diplomatic service.
- Vlad Tepes (1979) Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
- Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula (2000) Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
- Elizabeth Miller, Dracula: The History of Myth and the Myth of History. Dracula's Homepage, 2005. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Babinger, Franz. Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992. ISBN 9780691010786
- Chalkokondyles, Laonikos. The Histories: Book 9. Harvard University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0674599192
- Długosz, Jan, and Maurice Michael. The Annals of Jan Długosz: An English abridgement. Chichester, UK: IM Publications, 1997. ISBN 9781901019001
- Florescu, Radu R. and Raymond T. McNally. Dracula: Prince of Many Faces. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company, 1989. ISBN 0316286559
- Florescu, Radu R. and Raymond T. McNally. In Search of Dracula. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. ISBN 0395657830.
- Kostova, Elizabeth. The Historian: a novel. New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2005. ISBN 0316011770
- Mihailovic, Konstantin. Memoirs of a Janissary. Markus Wiener Publishers, 2010. ISBN 978-1558765313
- Miller, Elizabeth. Dracula: sense & nonsense. Westcliff-on-Sea: Desert Island Books Ltd., 2000. ISBN 9781874287247.
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Reader's Library Classics, 2022 (original 1897). ISBN 978-1954839380
- Treptow, Kurt W. Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula. Portland, OR: Center for Romanian Studies, 2000. ISBN 9739839223
- Wilkinson, William. An account of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, with various political observations relating to them. Ayer Co Pub, 1971. ISBN 0405027796
All links retrieved May 3, 2023.
- Vlad the Impaler: The real Dracula Live Science
- Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula (2000) (TV).
- Coins attributed to Vlad III Tepes.
- Vlad the Impaler's thirst for blood was an inspiration for Count Dracula National Geographic
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