Vlad Dracula


The first installment of the People Series is about Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler because of his chosen way of killing people by impalement or simply Dracula. My interest to find out more about him was stemmed when I was looking for ideas of what books to read next and came across Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula". I have heard before that the character of Dracula was based on a real personality and I was curious to find out if this was true and if so who was this person. What I found out was not what I expected.


Vlad Dracula, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes (Tse-pesh), or Vlad III, was born in the citadel of Sighisoara, Transylvania, in 1431. Transylvania, Moldovia and Wallachia are today joined together as Romania. His father, Vlad II, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a secret fraternity sworn to to uphold Christianity and defend the empire against the Ottoman Turks. It is said that at age five, young Vlad also become a member of the Order of the Dragon. Undoubtedly Vlad III is most commonly known for inspiring the character of Dracula in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel with the same name.

Vlad Dracula's Names

"Drac" is the Romanian word for dragon and "ul" is the definitive article and thus Vlad III's father came to be known as Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the dragon. The added "a" means the son of, so essentially Vlad III was known throughout his life as Vlad Dracula, the son of the dragon.

The word Tepes stands for impaler in Romanian, this name originated after his death and it came from Vlad Dracula's preferred method of execution, impalement.

Vlad III has also been referred to as simply Dracula in a number of documents of his time, including the Transylvanian Saxon pamphlets and "The Annals of Jan Dlugosz".

Historical Background

In 1431 Vlad Dracul (Vlad Dracula's father) was named the military governor of Transylania by King Sigismund. Vlad Dracul was not satisfied with being a mere governor and so he made a plan to seize Wallachia from Alexandru I. In 1436 his plan succeeded and after killing Alexandru he became the prince of Wallachia. During his reign Vlad Dracul tried to remain neutral between his powerful neighbors, the Hungarians and the Turks. In 1442 the Turks invaded Transylvania and were defeated but John Hunyadi of Hungary forced Vlad Dracul to flee with his family. Essentially Vlad Dracul betrayed the Order of the Dragon and in 1443 he regained the Wallachia throne once again with the support of the Turks. To assure his faith to the Sultan, Vlad Dracul sent his two younger sons, Vlad Dracula and Radu, to Adrianople as hostages to insure that he will not plan to strike against the Turks.

In 1447, John Hunyadi orchestrated a coup to assassinate Vlad Dracul because of his pro-Turkish policy which Hunyadi, having devoted his life to fight the Ottoman Empire did not approve of. Upon receiving the news of Vlad Dracul's death, the Turks released Vlad III but Radu decided to stay behind. With the help of Pasha Mustafa Hassan's Turkish cavalry, Vlad Dracula seized the Wallachian throne at the age of seventeen for a brief period of time. Only two months later, Hunyadi forced Vlad Dracula to surrender his throne and flee to his cousin, the prince of Moldovia.

In 1456, Vlad Dracula invaded Wallachia and defeated Vladislav II. Thus he became prince of Wallachia, his native land, where he instituted his strict policies, stood up against the Turks and thus began his reign of terror by impalement.

The Reign of Vlad Dracula

Vlad Dracula's reign of terror began almost as soon as he gained the throne. Early on in his reign he had a feast for all the boyars and their families to celebrate Easter. During the feast he had all the nobles arrested and those who where old an weak were impaled on the spot while those who were healthy were condemned to slavery and put to work on the rebuilding of his Poenari Castle on the Arges river. According to records the slaves labored until their clothes fell off from wear and then they were forced to continue working naked with most of them dying in the process.

One day Vlad Dracula wanted to cleanse his Kingdom from the people he considered lazy, who suffered from an illness or disability or were simply impoverished. He announced that nobody will suffer from hunger in his Kingdom and invited all the poor and unfortunate souls to a banquet. When his guests were all fed, and not to mention drunk, Vlad asked everyone how they would like not to feel hunger ever again and not to have to worry about anything. The crowd's reply was enthusiastic so he ordered his men to board up the hall and then set it on fire. Nobody escaped alive from this ordeal.

Rumours exist that Vlad Dracula also ate the flesh and drank the blood of his enemies, as well as held dinner parties next to people that has just been impaled. Vlad felt proud of his work and anyone who showed dislike when looking at the corpses soon suffered the same fate. He liked to arrange the stakes in various geometric patterns, most commonly in a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of his target city. The length of the spear indicated the rank of the victim and the corpses were left to decay for months. Apart from impalement, Vlad also had people decapitated, skinned alive, burnt, dismembered, had their eyes gouged out and sometimes just physically disfigured.

No one dared break Vlad Dracula's laws for fear of being punished or killed. He especially enjoyed torturing and killing women, maidens who have lost their virginity, unchaste widows and women committing adultery. Such women were punished by cutting off their breasts, mutilating their sexual organs and impaled on red hot stakes.

The End

Although Vlad Dracula was a feasome enemy, in 1462 finally the Turks succeeded in forcing him to flee to Transylvania. Not wanting to leave anything for the Turks, Vlad destroyed his Kingdom by burning every village to the ground and poisoning the wells. In Transylvania Vlad met King Matthias Corvinus, but the King had heard of Vlad's inhuman ways and he had him imprisoned in the Hungarian capital of Visegrad. As time passed, Vlad was allowed to come and go as he pleased as long as he reported to King Matthias.

For nine years, while Vlad Dracula was in King Matthia's custody, Vlad's brother Radu occupied the throne of Wallachia. When Radu lost favor with the boyars and King Matthias, the latter and Prince Stefan Bathory of Transylvania joined forces with Vlad and after months of attacks he returned to Wallachia to occupy the throne. The boyars, knowing the possible pitfalls of Vlad's reign opened to the idea of Basarab's return, thus Vlad found himself in a precarious situation where his army was undermanned and left with only a few thousand men to combat the Sultan's ever growing army. The battle was difficult but Vlad Dracula fought against overwhelming odds a refused to accept defeat, but eventually they would meet their doom. Vlad Dracula is thought to have been killed during battle near Bucharest in December 1476, and it is claimed that he was accidentally struck by one of his own men. Ultimately the Turks decapitated Vlad's body and his head was sent to Constantinople to be displayed on a stake as proof that Vlad the Impaler was dead.

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Radu said...

Very well written post. Having read a lot about Vlad III Dracula I appreciate the accuracy of information.

What I would add is that, while Vlad Dracula was for sure enjoying some atrocities, seems like they were exaggerated by Germans to defame Dracula, especially after he killed citizens of Braşov among which a lot of Saxons. Also, there are no proofs he was eating parts of the impaled people or drinking them blood.

For the rest, I really enjoyed the post and couldn't find any things to comment upon :)